Boston Red Sox: The Greatest Players in Team History, Position by Position

Andrew SeifterContributor IFebruary 2, 2011

Boston Red Sox: The Greatest Players in Team History, Position by Position

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    The title of the article says it all, Red Sox Nation.  Let's do this.  But first, a few quick ground rules:

    Some of the players on this list played part of their careers for other teams, but only accomplishments in a Red Sox uniform will be considered.

    The era a player played in will be factored in when considering all statistics.  Players' numbers will be compared to their contemporaries, not just to players from other eras who played the same position.

    Longevity counts, but the biggest factor will be how much a player stood out from the pack during the years they played in Boston.

    A player must have played the majority of their career at a position (more games there than anywhere else) to be considered the best player at that position.

    This list is meant to depict the best overall player at each position, not to build a functional baseball team.  There will be no attempt made to balance power and speed in the lineup, etc.

    That should just about cover it.  It's time to put together the Boston Red Sox All-Time Team.

Catcher: Carlton Fisk

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    Yes, Fisk played a couple more years with the "other" Sox than he did with the Red Sox, but many of the best years of his career were as a member of the Red Sox and he clearly left his mark during his decade in Boston.

    Fisk was the American League's first unanimous Rookie of the Year in 1972, when he hit .293 with 22 HRs and a league-leading nine triples.  In case you didn't know, catchers don't usually lead the league in triples.

    In 1977, Fisk put together the best year of his career, hitting .315 with 26 HRs, 106 runs, 102 RBIs and seven steals. In 1980, Fisk concluded the Red Sox portion of his Hall of Fame career with a .285 batting average, 578 runs, 152 HRs and 526 RBIs.

    It's true that Fisk is second all time to Jason Varitek in hits, runs, home runs and RBIs among Red Sox catchers, but Varitek has had the benefit of playing in a more offensive era and playing nearly 500 more games than Fisk in a Red Sox uniform (so far). 

    While Varitek leads in the counting stats, Fisk tops Varitek in career batting average (.285 to .258), on-base percentage (.360 to .343) and slugging percentage (.484 to .436) as a Red Sox. Per 500 at-bats as a Red Sox, Fisk had a .285 average, 21.47 HRs, 74.29 RBIs, 81.64 runs and 8.19 steals, while Varitek had a .258 average, 18.66 HRs, 73.92 RBIs, 64.80 runs and 2.56 steals. 

    Defense is not a factor. Fisk and Varitek each had one Gold Glove while playing in Boston, so Varitek's early offensive decline makes this an easy call in Fisk's favor.  It also doesn't hurt that Fisk was involved in one of the most iconic moments in Red Sox history, waving the ball fair in the 1975 World Series. 

    An honorable mention for third place goes to Rick Ferrell, who hit a franchise-leading .302 while playing catcher for the Red Sox from 1933-1937.

First Base: Jimmie Foxx

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    Foxx only played six full seasons in Boston, but he sure made them count. 

    He took home the American League MVP award in 1938, leading the league in batting average (.349), RBIs (175), total bases (398), on-base percentage (.462) and slugging percentage (.704).  He also finished second in the league that year in home runs (50) and runs (139). 

    During a five-year run with the Red Sox from 1936-1940, Foxx never finished outside the top five in the American League in home runs or outside the top 10 in runs or RBIs.  In just 887 career games in Boston, Foxx hit .320 with 721 runs, 222 HRs and 788 RBI.

    Despite his limited time in Boston, Foxx leads all Red Sox first basemen in runs and RBIs. He is also No.1 among Red Sox first baseman in batting average, and trails only Mo Vaughn in home runs, with just eight fewer homers in 540 fewer at-bats. 

    Foxx, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, was wearing a Red Sox uniform when he became the second-youngest hitter to ever hit 500 HRs on September 24, 1940.

    Vaughn is a close second among Red Sox all-time first basemen. In addition to hitting the most home runs of any Red Sox first baseman, Vaughn is second only to Foxx in runs, RBIs and batting average. 

    Vaughn may eventually be overtaken by Kevin Youkilis if Youkilis continues to log enough games at first base.  Youkilis has played the majority of his career at first thus far, but is moving back to the hot corner this year to accommodate Adrian Gonzalez, so it may be a while before he plays first again. 

    For now, Youkilis is already ahead of George Scott as the third-best first baseman in Red Sox history.  Youkilis has a career batting average that is .045 points higher than Scott while scoring more runs and putting up comparable HR and RBI totals in 700 fewer at-bats.

Second Base: Bobby Doerr

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    Dustin Pedroia may someday be the best second baseman in Red Sox history, but considering the impressive numbers Bobby Doerr put up during his 14-year Hall of Fame career, Pedroia still has a ways to go.

    Doerr played his entire career with the Red Sox from 1937-1951, finishing with a .288 average, 1094 runs, 223 HRs and 1,247 RBIs.  He has 677 more runs, 169 more home runs and 829 more runs than any other second baseman in Red Sox history.  In fact, Doerr has the sixth-most RBIs and 11th-most home runs of any second baseman to ever play the game.

    There is a significant drop off at second base after Doerr and Pedroia.  Billy Goodman, Pete Runnels, Jerry Remy, Mike Andrews and Marty Barrett are all in the conversation for next best.  I came of age as a sports fan in the 1980's, so I'll give the edge to Barrett, who is second among Red Sox second basemen in runs and third in RBIs.

Third Base: Wade Boggs

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    While many Red Sox fans were no doubt unhappy to see Wade Boggs ride off into the sunset while winning a World Series title with the Yankees, two Red Sox championships later it shouldn't be too hard to appreciate Boggs' fantastic body of work while he played in Boston.

    Boggs leads all Red Sox third basemen in runs, doubles, on-base percentage, and of course, batting average.  Amazingly, Boggs had a .337 average with the Red Sox, and he hit below .325 only once between 1982 and 1991 while hitting .349 or better six times during that span.  Boggs won five batting titles, had seven consecutive seasons of at least 200 hits and 100 runs scored, and has the highest career batting average of any third baseman in the modern era. 

    While Boggs deserves the top spot for his unparalleled on-base skills, Frank Malzone was the best run producer to ever man the hot corner in Beantown.  Although he never topped 21 home runs in a season, Malzone was a consistent producer who leads all Red Sox third basemen in HRs and RBIs.  Malzone was also a superb defender who won the first three AL Gold Gloves ever awarded at the position. 

    No other Red Sox third baseman is of much note, although Butch Hobson did have two 28-plus home run seasons in the late 1970's and then (poorly) managed the team from 1992-1994.

Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra

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    Shortstop is a surprisingly difficult choice.  The Red Sox have had more solid players man this position over the years than perhaps any other position besides left field. 

    Nomar Garciaparra is understandably the first SS that comes to mind for a lot of Red Sox fans.  But the Red Sox also had an abundance of excellent shortstops from 1935-1952, and Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky and Vern Stephens are each worthy of consideration here, too.

    Cronin, who played for the Red Sox from 1935 to 1945, was a .303 hitter during his tenure in Boston.  Cronin put up at least 95 RBIs in all six seasons in Boston in which he received at least 500 at-bats, and he had 97 or more runs in five of those six seasons. 

    It's true that many of the best years of Cronin's Hall of Fame career occurred while he was with the Washington Senators, but he certainly earned his spot in Red Sox history.  He managed the team all 10 seasons he played for them, as well as the 1946 and 1947 seasons, and then served as the Red Sox' general manager from 1947 to 1959, when he became the American League president.

    Just as Cronin's playing days were winding down, Pesky emerged. In his rookie year of 1942, Pesky led the league with a rookie record 205 hits while finishing second to teammate Ted Williams in batting average and sixth in the league in runs. He finished third in the MVP balloting that year behind Williams and Joe Gordon. Like Williams, Pesky then missed three years of his prime from 1943-1945 while serving in World War II.  Upon returning from the war, Pesky again led the league in hits in 1946 and 1947. 

    Pesky hit .306 or better in six of his seven full seasons in Boston and scored more than 100 runs six times during that span.  Pesky holds a special place in the hearts of Bostonians: he became known as "Mr. Red Sox," was one of "The Window Boys," and was the inspiration for the famed "Pesky Pole" in right field, named by former teammate and Sox broadcaster Mel Parnell in honor of Pesky's lack of power. 

    Despite his excellent numbers, Pesky lost his starting shortstop job to Stephens in 1948.  Stephens, who came over to the Red Sox from the St. Louis Browns, finished among the league leaders in countless statistical categories during a three-year run from 1948-50 in which he had at least 113 runs, 29 HRs and 137 RBIs each year.  Those were the only three seasons in which Stephens had more than 400 at-bats in a Red Sox uniform, however. 

    Finally, there's Nomah.  Garciaparra is the Red Sox all-time leader among shortstops in runs, HRs and RBIs, and ranks second only to Pesky in batting average. Garciaparra had at least 101 runs, 21 HRs and 96 RBIs in each of the six season in Boston in which he broke 500 at-bats, and he won the American League batting title in 1999 and 2000 with averages of .357 and .372, respectively.

    Garciaparra played in an offensive era, but so did Cronin, Pesky and Stephens.  All four Sox shortstops displayed flashes of brilliance in Boston, but none of them had the longevity to finish among baseball's all-time leaders at the position. 

    Because Garciaparra put up the best numbers in comparable eras and comparable stints in Boston, he is the team's best all-time shortstop, followed by Cronin, Pesky and Stephens.

Left Field: Ted Williams

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    The Splendid Splinter. Yaz. Rice. Manny. Heck, even "the Gator" Mike Greenwell had a pretty nice run.  Maybe it has something to do with spending so much time in the shadows of the Green Monster, but the Red Sox have had more monstrous performances from left fielders than any other team in baseball history. 

    That said, the top spot unquestionably goes to the Kid.  Ted Williams isn't just the best left fielder in Red Sox history; he's the best player in Red Sox history, and you can make a pretty good case that he's the greatest player in baseball history.

    Williams played his entire career in a Red Sox uniform. Like Pesky, Ted missed three prime years to serve his country in World War II, but still finished his career with astonishing numbers: a .344 batting average, 1,798 runs, 521 HRs and 1,839 RBIs. 

    Based on his power output just before and after joining the war effort, Williams would have added around 110 HRs to his total if he hadn't missed those three years, which would have put him behind only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays on the all-time home run list

    But Williams wasn't even primarily a power hitter. He's perhaps best known for being the last man to hit .400, but his .344 career average is also far and away the highest of any hitter in the post-war era.  His closest competitor is Tony Gwynn, who hit .338 but had little power (135 career home runs). Next  on the list are Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki and Stan Musial, each coming in at a .331 career mark.

    Carl Yastrzemski earns the honor as the best player in Red Sox history not to earn a starting spot on the all-time team.  Yaz, too, played his entire career in Boston, and was the definition of longevity and  had no less than 455 at-bats in any season from 1961 to 1979. 

    When all was said and done, Yaz had more plate appearances than any player in baseball history besides Pete Rose, and more runs (1,816) and RBIs (1,844) than any player in Red Sox history, edging out Williams in both categories.  He is also second in Red Sox history in home runs (452), third in steals (168) and second in Gold Gloves (seven).

    Jim Rice and Manny Ramirez also deserve mention.  Rice, who was finally elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009, actually hit more home runs (324) and drove in more runs (1,224) than Yastrzemski did as an outfielder (Yaz also played plenty of 1B and DH).  Overall, Rice hit .298 with 1,249 runs, 382 HRs and 1,452 RBIs.

    Ramirez played half of his best years for the Cleveland Indians, before joining the Red Sox in 2001.  While Manny's overall numbers are quite impressive (555 home runs and counting), his output in Boston looks pretty good on its own.  In eight seasons as a member of the Red Sox, Ramirez put up a .312 average, 743 runs, 274 HRs and 868 RBIs.  The fact that Ramirez has been repeatedly linked to performance-enhancing drugs does somewhat tarnish his legacy, however.

Center Field: Tris Speaker

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    Tris Speaker played less than half of his Hall of Fame career in Boston, but his first seven full seasons were played there and he trails only Dom DiMaggio in games played in center field for the Red Sox.

    Speaker's .337 career average with the Red Sox is third in club history behind only Williams and Boggs. Speaker is also second in Red Sox history with 267 stolen bases, and although he played in an era where hitting double-digit home runs was a rarity, he finished in the top five in the American League in homers each of his first four seasons in Boston.

    Speaker's best season with the Red Sox was in 1912, the year Fenway Park opened.  That year, Speaker tied for the league lead in HRs (10), led the league in doubles (53), finished third in the AL in average (.383), second in runs (136) and tied for fifth in RBIs (90).

    DiMaggio had a few impressive years, including a .328 average and 131 runs in 1950, but he couldn't compare to his famous brother...or even to Fred Lynn.  Lynn only played six seasons in Boston, but he hit .308 with 124 HRs and four Gold Gloves during that span.  His finest season was 1979, when he won the batting title, finished tied with Rice for second in the American League in HRs (39) and was fourth in the league in runs (116) and RBIs (122).

Right Field: Dwight Evans

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    Dwight Evans is the best right fielder in Red Sox history, and he may also be the team's most underrated player.

    From 1981-1990, Dewey hit the most home runs of any player in the American League.  He is third in club history—at any position—in runs, fourth in HRs and fourth in RBIs.  He also has the most Gold Gloves of any Red Sox player (eight).  Not too shabby for a player who is usually an afterthought in discussions of the team's all-time greats. 

    While Evans stands out as the Red Sox' top right fielder, Jackie Jensen also had a fine career.  Jensen, who was quite unremarkable during short stints with the Yankees and Senators, bust out upon joining the Red Sox in 1954.  From 1954-59, Jensen had at least 23 HRs and 103 RBIs five times.  The one year he failed to reach those marks, he hit a career-high .315. 

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz

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    David Ortiz has hit 291 HRs and 932 RBIs since joining the Red Sox in 2003, the vast majority of them as a designated hitter.  The DH has only been around since 1973, but no other Red Sox DH comes close to Ortiz's production.

    Big Papi's prime years were 2004 and 2007, when he put up the following lines: .301-94-41-139, .300-119-47-148, .287-115-54-137 and .332-116-35-117.  Like Ramirez, Ortiz takes a hit for being linked to steroid use, but his numbers are so far above any other Red Sox DH that he easily earns the distinction of being the team's all-time best at the position.

    Other notable names include Yastrzemski, who was primarily a DH from 1979-1983 (when he was already well past his prime), Don Baylor, Andre Dawson and Jose Canseco.

Starting Rotation: Roger Clemens, Cy Young, Joe Wood, Pedro Martinez, Luis Tiant

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    The top four starters in Red Sox history are clear: Roger Clemens, Cy Young, "Smoky" Joe Wood and Pedro Martinez. 

    Some Sox fans may want to deduct points from the Rocket because of his time in pinstripes, but he and Young belong at the top of the all-time Red Sox rotation.  In fact, a strong case can be made that either Young or Clemens is the best pitcher in baseball history. 

    Young and Clemens put up strikingly similar numbers in several respects as members of the Red Sox. Young's 511 career wins are the most in baseball history by a wide margin, but he (192-112) and Clemens (192-111) have nearly identical win-loss records as members of the Red Sox franchise. Each also threw 38 shutouts while pitching approximately 2,700 innings for Boston.  

    There are of course some differences as well.  Young bests Clemens by more than a full run in ERA (2.00 to 3.06), but Clemens pitched in a much more hitter-friendly era and nearly doubled Young's strikeout total (2,590 to 1,341) in less than 50 more innings. Clemens, you may recall, twice set the record for strikeouts in a game with 20. 

    While Young and Clemens mixed dominance with longevity, Wood and Martinez had several seasons in a Boston uniform that were every bit as dominant, if not more so. 

    Wood made all but one of his 158 career starts for the Red Sox, and ended up with 117 wins, 56 losses and a team record 1.99 ERA. Just as Tris Speaker's best year was Fenway Park's first, so it was for Wood.  His 1912 season was one for the record books, as he finished with a 34-5 record to go along with a 1.91 ERA. 

    Like Clemens, Martinez played in a much more hitter-friendly (and pitch-count friendly) era, but he also had some special seasons in Boston.  Martinez was utterly dominant in 1999, going 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in just 213.1 innings.  He followed that up with another incredible year, going 18-6 with a 1.74 ERA and 284 Ks. Then, after missing much of 2001 with a rotator cuff injury, Martinez bounced back with a 20-4 record, 2.26 ERA and 239 Ks in 2002. 

    During his seven seasons in Boston, Martinez put up a 2.52 ERA and matched Wood's 117 wins, while losing just 37 games.

    The fifth spot in the Red Sox all-time rotation is a difficult choice between several truly outstanding pitchers.

    Dutch Leonard, Carl Mays and some guy named Ruth each pitched over 1,000 innings for the Red Sox in the late 1910's with ERAs at or below 2.21.  With those three guys anchoring the rotation, it's no surprise the Red Sox won the World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918.

    Lefty Grove also had several dominant seasons in Boston, but most of his absolute best years were as a member of the Philadelphia Athletics.  Mel Parnell does not get full due for his excellent pitching in the late '40's and early '50's.  Parnell, who played his entire career in Boston, won 18 or more games four times in a five year stretch from 1949-1953, and finished with a very solid 3.50 ERA in a fairly strong hitters era. 

    But the fifth spot ultimately must go to El Tiante, Luis Tiant. After suffering injuries in consecutive years with the Indians and Twins that many believed would end his career, Tiant returned with a bang for the Red Sox, putting up a 15-6 record and 1.91 ERA to win the AL Comeback Player of the Year award in 1972.  Tiant would go on to win 20 or more games three times over the next four years.  All told, during his eight seasons in Boston, Tiant won 122 games with a 3.36 ERA.

Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon, Bob Stanley and Dick Radatz

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    The Red Sox have brought in an incredible number of big-name closers from other teams over the years, including Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon, Jeff Russell, Keith Foulke, Ugueth Urbina, Heathcliff Slocumb and Rick Aguilera.  And yet many of the best relievers in Red Sox history are home grown. 

    In terms of accomplishments in a Boston uniform, Jonathan Papelbon is the best closer in team history.  Papelbon has a 2.22 career ERA and a team record 188 saves and counting.  Last season was the first since Papelbon took over as closer in which he's had an ERA above 2.34, and he's sure to bounce back in 2011.

    From the late '70s to late '80s, Bob Stanley was a serious innings-eater out of the Boston bullpen who often threw the final three innings of a game.  Stanley, who had a respectable 3.64 ERA, pitched at least 140 innings in seven separate seasons during his Red Sox career.  He currently sits second in team history with 132 saves, while also winning 115 games—an impressive combination.

    Finally, Dick Radatz pitched just four full seasons for the Red Sox during the 1960's, but he made the most of them.  In 1963 and 1964, Radatz amazingly won 15 or more games while also saving 25 or more.  He led the league in saves in 1962 and 1964; he finished second in saves in 1963, and was fifth in MVP voting that year.  He also had an ERA below 2.30 three times during his stint with the Red Sox, and an overall ERA of 2.65 with the club. His 104 saves are third-most in Red Sox history.

Bonus Round: The Heretofore Unmentioned

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    So there you have it, the greatest players at each position in Red Sox history.  As one of the most historic teams in professional sports, this was no small task.  I tried to be as thorough as possible, but if you feel I left anyone out, go ahead and make your case in the comments. 

    I will leave you with a list of (mostly '80s and '90s) Red Sox players that I would have liked to mention earlier, but it's impossible to make a reasonable case that they belong in the discussion: Ellis Burks, Tom Brunansky, Bill Buckner, Carlos Quintana, Bruce Hurst, Tim Wakefield, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, Tim Naehring, Jack Clark, Troy O'Leary, Tony Pena, Jon Valentin, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Mike Lowell.  If you have no qualms with my rankings, feel free to add some names to this list.