Boston Red Sox: The 5 Greatest Shortstops in Team History
The Boston Red Sox have had some of the greatest shortstops baseball has ever seen. The position often attracts the most athletic players, and Boston has had a number live up to that reputation.
For a franchise as storied as the Red Sox, it comes as no surprise that some of their finest players have manned the left side of the infield. From high levels of production, to winning awards, to having parts of the ballpark named after them, Boston shortstops have done it all.
Click through for a list of the five greatest shortstops in the history of the Red Sox.
5. Rick Burleson
Played for Boston 1974-1980
Boston Stats: 1,031 G, .274 BA, 38 HR, 360 RBI, 1,114 H, 514 R, 310 BB, 67 SB
Not a flashy player, Burleson was nevertheless one of the finest shortstops to ever roam the infield for the Red Sox.
The “Rooster” was known for his fiery intensity on the field and his excellent all-around play. According to SABR’s Ray Birch, former teammate Bill Lee said of Burleson’s epic competitiveness: "Some guys didn't like to lose, but Rick got angry if the score was even tied.”
Although he committed a record-tying three errors in his major league debut, he went on to become one of the best defensive shortstops of his generation, winning a Gold Glove in 1979. He also had a combined dWAR of 12.1 during his tenure in Boston, and his Range Factor per nine innings of 5.25 as a shortstop ranks second all-time at the position.
Despite his talented glove, he was no slouch at the plate. Arguably, his finest season with Boston came in 1977, when he hit .293 with three home runs, 52 RBI and 194 hits in 154 games.
4. Rico Petrocelli
Played for Boston 1963, 1965-1976
Boston Stats: 1,553 G, .251 BA, 210 HR, 773 RBI, 1,352 H, 653 R, 661 BB
Despite being a New York native, Rico Petrocelli became one of the most beloved Red Sox players of all time.
He was a member of both the 1967 “Impossible Dream” and 1975 teams, which are two of the most memorable squads in franchise history despite losing the World Series each season.
Petrocelli was an excellent fielder but was even better with his bat. The right-handed hitter’s best season came in 1969 when he hit .297 with 40 home runs (then a record for shortstops) and 97 RBI in 154 games.
Ranked by ESPN Boston as the Red Sox’s 48th-greatest player of all time, Petrocelli was done as a productive regular by the time he was 31 and retired at the age of 33.
Towards the end of his career, he switched to third base after he started to slow down in the field, but not before establishing a legacy as one of the finest shortstops in team history.
3. Johnny Pesky
Played for Boston: 1942, 1946-1952
Boston Stats: 1,029 G, .313 BA, 13 HR, 361 RBI, 1,277 H, 776 R, 581 BB
You know a baseball player has had a good career when a part of a major league stadium is named after him.
Johnny Pesky inspired the eponymous right field foul pole (Pesky Pole) in Fenway Park. Although he hit only six career home runs in Boston and there is no definitive story of how the pole got its name, fans embraced its association with the former shortstop.
A left-handed hitter, Pesky lived up to his last name by seemingly always being on base. He led the American League in hits in 1946 and 1947, and finished his career in Boston with a .401 OBP.
Only once did he hit less than .306 during his seven full seasons as a member of the Red Sox. His best year came in 1946 when he hit .335 with two home runs, 55 RBI and 115 runs scored in 153 games.
Pesky became a beloved figure in Boston, serving as a coach and ambassador for the team for nearly 60 years after he retired as a player. There was outrage when only four members of the current team attended his funeral when he passed away at the age of 92 in 2012, even though it was in the midst of the season.
2. Joe Cronin
Played for Boston: 1935-1945
Boston Stats: 1,134 G, .300 BA, 119 HR, 737 RBI, 1,168 H, 270 2B, 645 R, 585 BB
In addition to having some of the best statistics of any Boston shortstop, Joe Cronin was also undoubtedly the busiest.
He came up as a star with the Washington Senators and was considered such a baseball genius that he became their manager at the age of 26.
The Red Sox traded for Cronin during the 1934 offseason, and he went on to play for them for 11 seasons and served as their manager for 13 years.
Cronin made up for his average fielding with an outstanding bat. His best season in Boston came in 1938 when he hit .325 with 17 home runs, 51 doubles and 94 RBI in 143 games.
His longevity as the manager underscored his effectiveness. He was 1,071-916 as Boston’s skipper, and won the 1946 American League pennant.
The true testament of Cronin’s impact on the Red Sox is reflected in his No. 4 being one of just eight numbers retired by the team.
1. Nomar Garciaparra
Played for Boston: 1996-2004
Boston Stats: 966 G, .323 BA, 178 HR, 690 RBI, 1,281 H, 709 R, 279 2B, 50 3B
Nomah! That one-word refrain spoken with the appropriate Massachusetts inflection represented just how much Red Sox fans loved Nomar Garciaparra.
Garciaparra’s memorable name was secondary to the spectacular production he contributed during his time in Boston.
In addition to winning the 1997 American League Rookie of the Year award, the right-handed hitter also made six All-Star appearances and won two batting titles, including 2000, when he hit a sizzling .372.
He was traded away in the midst of the 2004 season, just months before the Red Sox went on to win their first World Series title in 86 years.
Perhaps more than any other player in team history, Garciaparra’s popularity transcended the New England region, as he even served as inspiration for an ongoing sketch on Saturday Night Live. He will forever be connected with Boston and the Red Sox.
Statistics via Baseball-Reference