Jim Rice had a public personna that was hard to like but Red Sox fans loved his game. If he had played his first full season in Boston during any year other than 1975, his 22 home runs, 102 RBIs, and .309 batting average would have easily won him the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Instead, he was not even considered the best rookie on the Red Sox. That honor went to his fellow “Gold Dust Twin,” Freddy Lynn who also captured that season’s AL MVP Award (Rice finished third in the MVP voting.) During the seven seasons the two would play together as teammates, Rice clearly emerged as the better ballplayer but his strained relationship with the Beantown sports media helped to make Lynn the more popular of the two in Red Sox nation.
Rice won three AL home run titles, led the league twice in RBIs and captured his own MVP Award in 1978. What he couldn’t do was help Boston win a World Series. He missed his first chance in 1975 when he broke his hand during a late-reguar-season game. We all know what happened against the Mets in ’86 and then Oakland knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs in the ALDS two seasons later. Those were Boston’s only three postseason appearances during Rice’s sixteen years with the team.
The knocks against Rice were his poor defensive skills and the fact that he did not like to walk. Still, he was one of the best hitters in baseball during the 16 seasons he played as a Red Sox. His 2,452 career hits and 389 home runs put him in third place in each category on the all-time franchise lists.He also finished with a .298 lifetime batting average. If it weren’t for a series of hand injuries early in his career, his offensive numbers would have been even more impressive.
For years, sports writers refused to put Rice in Cooperstown. Finally, in 2009 he got the necessary votes and was enshrined in the Hall. During all the years that had passed since I first began watching play for Boston, I never remember seeing this guy smile but that streak ended on the day he was deservedly enshrined in the Hall. Jim Rice was a great Red Sox.
Galen Cisco grew up on his parents farm in Ohio and became a great high school football and baseball player. He fulfilled a boyhood dream by then attending Ohio State where he became an All American pitcher on the school’s baseball team and was a two way starter at running back and linebacker for Coach Woody Hayes’ Buckeyes. In his senior year, Ohio State beat Oregon in the 1958 Rose Bowl. Cisco was good enough on the gridiron to pursue a career in the NFL. Instead, he chose baseball and was signed by the Red Sox. It took the right-hander four years to work his way through Boston’s Minor League system. His teammates in the minors were fellow pitchers, Don Schwall and Dick Radatz. Boston’s front office was hoping these three prospects would rejuvenate what had become a very mediocre Red Sox pitching staff. Cisco got his first taste of the big leagues appearing in 17 games for the 1961 Red Sox. He did not pitch well that year, finishing with a 2-4 record and a sky-high 6.71 ERA. His sophomore season was not much better. He was 4-7 with a 6.07 ERA when the Red Sox decided to throw in the towel on Cisco and put him on waivers in September of 1962. The newly formed New York Mets claimed him immediately and Galen spent the next four years pitching pretty decently for the very worst team in all of baseball. He actually returned to pitch for Boston during the 1967 Impossible Dream season but he was released at the All Star break that year. In 1969, he reappeared on the staff of the newly formed Kansas City Royals. He retired after that season with a 25-56 record, which was much more a reflection of the caliber of teams Cisco played on than it was his pitching ability. After hanging up his glove, Cisco became a highly respected Major League pitching coach for the next three decades.
Lefty Grove did not start pitching for an organized baseball team until he was 17-years-old. Though he started the game late, he had the makings of a fastball that would one day become legendary and since he was born in Maryland, it was real easy for the Baltimore Orioles to scout him and sign him before any Major League team could beat them to it. Grove would spend the next five seasons pitching for the Birds, compiling an amazing 108-36 record during that span. The problem was, he should have won at least half those games in the Major Leagues but the Orioles were in no hurry to lose their meal-ticket. They waited till Grove was 25 years of age in 1925 before accepting Connie Mack’s offer of $100,600 for their star pitcher.
Grove would then spend the next nine seasons helping Mack’s A’s become an American league mini-Dynasty. During those nine years, Grove would lead the AL in wins four times, ERA five times and strikeouts in seven years in a row. He would also help Philadelphia capture three straight AL Pennants (1929, ’30 and ’31) and two straight World Series. But it was not easy or much fun playing with or managing old Lefty. He was mean and ornery most of the time and didn’t get along with Mack at all. That’s why Connie did not cry when financial difficulties hit the A’s franchise and he was forced to unload many of his star players, including Grove who had gone 24-8 during his last season with the A’s in 1933. Tom Yawkey had just purchased the hapless Red Sox franchise that had been losing loads of money and ball games consistently since the Babe Ruth trade fourteen years earlier. The new owner idolized his new pitching star and pretty much treated him like the crown prince of his baseball team.
Boston fans were disappointed when Yawkey’s new boy got off to a mediocre 8-8 start as a Red Sox in 1934. Then in ’35, the Fenway faithful were treated to a much more typical Lefty Grove season, when he went 20-12 and led the league with a 2.70 ERA. During his eight years in Boston, Grove would go on to compile a record of 105-62 and help attract new players and new fans to the franchise. His most historic win in a Red Sox uniform was his last one in 1939. He pitched six innings in Boston’s 8-6, August 16th victory over the Washington Senators to earn his 300th career victory. He retired after that 1939 season at the age of 41 and was later elected to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame in his first year of eligibility. His real name was Robert Moses Grove and he died in 1975 at the age of 75.
When it was announced that the Red Sox had acquired starting pitcher Erik Bedard as part of a three team transaction on July 31, 2011, you couldn’t blame the Red Sox front office or all of Red Sox Nation for celebrating. After all, Bedard was a veteran southpaw who had been good enough to put together a 28-16 record over a two season span with very bad Baltimore Orioles’ teams and in 2011 he would post his sixth consecutive ERA under 3.70. He had undergone shoulder surgery in 2009 and Baltimore had then decided to let him sign a free agent deal with the Mariners. He had pitched very well for Seattle at the start of the 2011 season until a sprained knee landed him on the DL in June of last year. When he got hurt, the Mariners were battling for first place in the AL West but by the time he returned to action, the team had collapsed, losing 17 straight games. That’s when Boston decided to send four prospects to Seattle for Bedard and inserted him into their rotation. He ended up getting eight starts with the Red Sox and he pitched OK in most of them. But his record as with Boston was just 1-2 and he was part of the team’s fateful September Soxplosion. Boston did not try to re-sign him after the season and he will pitch for the Pirates in 2012. Bedard was born on March 5, 1979 in Ontario Canada.
The Red Sox picked up this Shelbyville, Kentucky-born outfielder in a late-exhibition-season trade with the Mariners, in March of 1994. During the next two seasons, he was Boston’s fourth outfielder. He got off to a slow start as a Red Sox when he hit just .222 in 1994 but he became a very important part of Boston’s 1995 AL East Championship club by hitting a career high .284 that year with 7 home runs and 41 RBIs for first-year Manager Kevin Kennedy. Boston then included Tinsley in a January 1996 six-player swap with the Phillies that brought reliever Heathcliff Slocumb to Beantown. The Red Sox got him back from Philadelphia six months later and he became Boston’s starting center fielder for the balance of the 1996 season. But in 92 games that year, he hit a very unproductive .245 and the following November, he found himself back in Seattle with the Mariners. 1997 would be Tinsley’s final big league season.
Since no current or former Red Sox were born on this date, we selected one from a nearby date in March (March 5th.) Not nearly as popular as another Bird who was playing in Boston at the same time, veteran reliever Doug Bird ended his eleven-season big league career as a member of the 1973 Red Sox bullpen. This tall right-hander had spent his first six big league seasons as a very effective reliever for the Royals. He appeared in 292 games for that franchise during that time, including 42 as a starter and compiled a record of 49-36 with 58 saves for Kansas City. He was also very effective for the Royals during his first five postseason pitching stints, all of which took place during KC’s three straight ALCS’s against the Yankees beginning in 1976. But in Bird’s final-ever playoff appearance in Game 3 of the 1978 ALCS, he gave up a crushing go-ahead home run to the Yankees’ Thurman Munson and I believe it was that gopher ball that convinced the Royal front office to trade the Corona, California native to the Phillies in April of 1979. After just one year in Philadelphia he spent the next two with the Yankees and then two more with the Cubs before getting traded to Boston in December of 1982. He did not pitch well for the Red Sox, going 1-6 with just 1 save and an ERA in the sixes. He was released after the 1983 season and retired.
If I was going to make a movie about the life of a baseball player, one of the the players I’d strongly consider would be today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Moe Berg was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent men to ever play Major League Baseball, The son of Russian Jews, Berg graduated from Princeton and Columbia Law School. He began his big league career with Brooklyn in 1923, as a middle infielder. He hit just .198 in his rookie season and he didn’t play in another big league game until 1926, with the Chicago White Sox. It was during the 1927 season that Moe volunteered to catch after both of Chicago’s regular receivers were injured. That switch of positions turned out to be a great career move that would keep Berg in the big leagues as a back-up catcher for the next dozen seasons. He moved around a lot, going from the Windy City to Cleveland and then to Washington and back to Cleveland. In 1935, he signed on with the Red Sox and spent the last five seasons of his big league career as Boston’s back up catcher. He only got in 148 games during those five seasons and averaged .262. His one Beantown specialty was becoming the preferred catcher of the great Lefty Grove. So why would I seriously consider making a movie about a guy who usually got fewer than 100 at bats in any of his fifteen big league seasons?
After Moe Berg quit playing, he coached for Boston for a couple of years and then became a spy. He could speak 12 languages and when World War II broke out, Berg joined the US Office of Special Services as an espionage agent. He was sent on several secret missions in Europe. When the war ended, Berg struggled to find a career that challenged him. He went broke on a bad business investment and spent the rest of his life traveling around the country living off friends and relatives.
Since no Red Sox past or present was born on the first day of March, we thought we’d recognize former Boston pitcher Don Schwall’s birthday, one day early. Passionate Red Sox fans who are at least as old as me will remember this native of Wilkes-Barre, PA well. He was a huge guy, six feet six inches tall who was an All-Big Eight basketball player at Oklahoma in the late fifties. He would become an All Star in his rookie season with Boston in 1961, even though he did not make the team in spring training.
I’ve been following Major League Baseball pretty closely since I was just six-years old. Here is my line-up consisting of my favorite Boston players at each position who have played for the Red Sox since 1960:
1b Pete Runnells
2b Dustin Perdroia
3b Frank Malzone
ss Jon Valentin
c Jason Varitek
of Dwight Evans
of Reggie Smith
of Carl Yastrzemski
dh Orlando Cepeda
sp Luis Tiant
cl Sparky Lyle
Frank Malzone happens to be my all-time favorite Boston Red Sox. He was born in the Bronx, played sandlot baseball as a kid in the shadow of Yankee Stadium and then got signed by the Red Sox. It took him seven years to make it to Fenway, slowed by both a dislocated ankle in Minor league ball and two years of military service. But when he did finally put on the Red Sox uniform, it was well worth the wait for Boston’s fans. His first full season in Beantown was 1957 and all he did that year was drive in 103 runs, average .292 and become the first rookie ever to lead the league at his position in assists, putouts, double plays and fielding percentage. That performance earned him a trip to the All Star game, a Gold Glove but not the 1957 Rookie of the Year Award. He was denied that when the baseball writers association that gives that award changed the rules, and all of a sudden the 75 at-bats Malzone had had the previous two years disqualified him. It was the biggest heist in Boston since the Brinks holdup.
He would win a total of three Gold Gloves and make six AL All Star teams during his nine full seasons as a Red Sox. Unfortunately, Boston would release Malzone agter the 1965 season, forcing him to finish his big league career dressed in an Angel uniform. Even though the hundreds of Red Sox teammates who played with Frank during his tenure in Boston will tell you Malzone was one of the nicest guys they ever played with, he was most definitely not an “Angel.” Malzone realized that after just one year out west and retired after the 1966 season. His career numbers with Boston include 1,486 hits, 133 HRs, 728 RBIs and a.274 batting average. When his playing days were over, Malzone rejoined the Red Sox as a scout.