The Red Sox have many names that will forever resonate throughout New England: Williams, Yastrzemski, Rice, Garciaparra and Martinez are just a few that fans will always associate with a career full of highlights.
Not everyone can be a legend, though.
Some players have a couple memorable moments, but as a whole, their careers do not stand out in any profound way. They have all blended into one unit: the “That Guys.”
Rather than allow these players to go unrecognized, every week I am going to take a look at the Red Sox career of one of the “That Guys.” I’ll look at what defined his tenure in Boston, what he actually accomplished on the field and what he went on to do after leaving.
This week’s subject: one-year wonder Nick Esasky.
After being drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 1978 MLB draft, Esasky made it to the big leagues in June of 1983. He enjoyed a productive half-season in Cincinnati after replacing Johnny Bench as the third baseman, then became a jack-of-all trades for the Reds for the next five years.
He played every day at third base in 1984, left field in 1985, both in 1986 and first base in 1987 and 1988. His backup at first for the 1987 season? Future Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
After the 1988 season, Esasky’s relationship with manager Pete Rose had degenerated to the point that the Reds decided to ship him to Boston along with Rob Murphy in exchange for Todd Benzinger and Jeff Sellers.
Esasky said of his problems with Rose that “Maybe it was an attitude thing. Maybe it was a personality clash. I’m low key and just try to do my job.”
Although Esasky only played one season in Boston, it was a memorable one. He had several tremendous individual efforts, including an April game that saw him go 4-for-4 with a double, home run and four RBI to officially put himself on the map as a centerpiece of the Red Sox offense.
Esasky was strong all season, and put together an August that was one of the all-time best in Red Sox history. In 33 games, the first baseman collected an astonishing 42 hits and drove in 35 runs, marks that have not been matched since.
His numbers buoyed a strong Sox offensive attack that led the AL in runs scored, and the team scored 27 more runs (159 total) in August than they did in any other month of the season. They could not sustain that pace, however, and their 14-13 September finish left them in third place, six games behind division-winner Toronto.
Esasky was a force at the dish, leading the Sox in many major offensive categories. He led the team in home runs (30), RBI (108), slugging percentage (.500) and total bases (282). His propensity for taking big swings also made him the team leader in strikeouts with 117.
He was also among the offensive leaders in the entire AL, finishing fifth in home runs, fourth in slugging percentage and third in RBI. Though he only finished 18th in MVP balloting, his contributions on offense were invaluable to a Sox team that only had one other player (Dwight Evans) hit 20 home runs.
The Sox were ultimately done in by their pitching. The staff ranked 10th of the 14 AL teams in ERA, causing the team to miss the playoffs and waste what would turn out to be the finest (and last) season of Esasky’s career.
A native of the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Esasky spurned the Sox in the winter of 1989-90 to sign a three-year, $5.7 million contract with the Braves. At the time, Esasky said that signing with the Braves, “was a decision that was long coming,” and at age 29 it looked like in Esasky, Atlanta had found a future cornerstone.
However, a mere nine games into the 1990 season, Esasky was forced to the DL with what was diagnosed as vertigo. Though the team did their best to treat the problem, Esasky never played in another MLB game.
After spending the rest of 1990 and all of 1991 on the DL, Esasky attempted to make a comeback in June of 1992. After reporting to Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate in Richmond on a 20-game rehab assignment, the Braves elected to keep him on the team indefinitely while he continued to recover. After another month in the minors and with no promotion in sight, Esasky asked for (and was granted) his release.
During his recovery and attempted comeback, Esasky was featured in two interesting pieces by The New York Times and Sports Illustrated. The Times piece can be read here, and the SI piece can be read here.
Since his retirement, Esasky has remained largely out of the public eye. He did, however, return to Fenway Park two weeks ago for the 100th anniversary celebration.