Boston Red Sox Retired Numbers: Who's Next?
The Boston Red Sox are different than every other team that I’ve covered in my Retired Numbers Series so far. While most teams retire numbers in a semi-random fashion, the Red Sox actually have two specified rules for retiring numbers. First, the player must have spent a decade in Boston; second, they must be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Granted, they have already allowed an exception in Johnny Pesky. So, although I will make special mention of the players who qualify (or might qualify) under the current rules, I will also discuss other players. Some of them might stand a chance under the “fan favorite exemption”, but otherwise, think of it as a list of possibilities should the Red Sox change their policy.
On to the analysis.
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Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement.
They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player).
WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR).
The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine).
Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1980, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Already Retired Numbers
The Red Sox, rather surprisingly (to me, at least), did not retire a number until 1984 (May 24th, to be exact).
According to Wikipedia, the first number retired was No. 4, in honor of Joe Cronin (which surprised me even more). He was player-manager with the Sox from 1935 to 1945 and then just as the manager for two more years after that. He took over as general manager in 1947, and left before the 1959 season to become American League President.
His playing time with the Red Sox saw him put up 27 bWAR and 36 fWAR. For his career (from 1926 to 1945), he totaled 63 bWAR and 75 fWAR.
Wikipedia says that Ted Williams was honored five days after Cronin. No. 9 played his whole career in Boston, from 1939-1960 (with 1943-1945 off for military service). During his career, he put up 125 bWAR and 140 fWAR.
Bobby Doerr, No.1, came next. He was another career-Red Sox, playing from 1937 until 1951 (with 1945 off for military service). Baseball-Reference has him at 48 bWAR, while Fangraphs has him at 61 fWAR.
No. 8, Carl Yastrzemski, was the next to be honored. In his career, which lasted from 1961 to 1983 (again, all with the Red Sox), Yaz accumulated 89 bWAR and 109 fWAR.
Boston saw a slight lull; after Yaz’s ceremony in 1989, it would be 11 years until the next number was retired. Carlton Fisk got the honor, spending 1972-1980 as No. 27 for Boston (with brief call-ups in 1969 and 1971). 38 of Fisk’s 67 career bWAR and 40 of his 74 career fWAR came with the Red Sox.
Pesky is the earlier-mentioned “fan favorite exception” to both rules. His No. 6 was retired in 2008, both for his playing days and his days as a coach and manager (among other things) with the organization.
He played from 1942-1954, missing 1943-1945 due to World War II. He started with Boston and left in 1952, giving him a total of eight years with the Red Sox as a player. All 31 career bWAR and 35 of his 37 career fWAR came with Boston.
Jim Rice’s No. 14 was honored in 2009, two days after his induction into the Hall of Fame. His career, which was spent entirely with the Red Sox, lasted from 1974-1989 and saw Rice post 42 bWAR and 56 fWAR.
Compared to the League
There are basically three parts I can look at to compare team’s retired numbers. I can look at it using bWAR or fWAR; I can look at value with the team versus career value; or, I can look at the average value versus the median values for an honored player.
Oddly enough, despite the Red Sox’s rather strict rules, they don’t necessarily appear to have the highest standards in the league. For every possible average value (career bWAR, career fWAR, fWAR with team, and bWAR with team), the Red Sox rank somewhere in the second quartile.
Median career values (both bWAR and fWAR) also put the Red Sox somewhere in the second quartile for highest standards.
However, on median WAR (both bWAR and fWAR) with the franchise, the Red Sox rank in the third quartile. Basically, this means that even though the Red Sox set standards that would seem to keep their retired numbers more exclusive than other teams, they don’t appear any more or less selective from a numbers standpoint.
Other teams have managed to retain similar standards to Boston without having any explicit rules.
So Who’s Next?
As I said in the opening, I will consider all players in this section, even those who don’t technically qualify under the team’s policy (in case they decide to make any exceptions or change their system).
Starting in a roughly chronological order, Harry Hooper both played 12 seasons with the Red Sox and made the Hall of Fame. Both Baseball-Reference (39.1 bWAR) and Fangraphs (46 fWAR) have him among the 10 best Red Sox hitters in history.
But, he never wore a number for the team and he doesn’t seem famous enough to be honored another way (as some other pre-number starts have).
Tris Speaker also didn’t have a number and only played parts of nine seasons with the team (although 56.2 bWAR and 58 fWAR in those seasons certainly helps).
Cy Young, like Speaker, probably is famous enough to earn an honor like that. He was (for a long time) the best pitcher in team history, with 56.3 bWAR, and his fame has endured, through ways like his namesake award and his status as the all-time wins leader.
He’s invalidated by the 10-year rule, having only played in Boston from 1901 through 1908. This actually highlights a shortcoming of the rule: pitchers seem to be taken out of consideration. When compared to hitters, pitchers seem much more likely to change teams, thanks to the uncertainty of the position.
Case in point, of the Red Sox top 10 pitchers in team history (by bWAR), all but three are invalidated due to the 10-year rule.
Cy Young, second in team history, has already been mentioned. Pedro Martinez, third in team history with 47.6 bWAR, only played seven seasons with the team (1998-2004, although there is a special point of his case that I’ll touch on later). Lefty Grove is fourth with 38.7 bWAR in eight seasons (1934-1941).
Luis Tiant, next on the list, is a borderline Hall of Famer with 34.0 bWAR from his time in Boston, but also only eight seasons there (1971-1978). Granted, the list of candidates with less than a decade on the team trails off after that, but it does seem to limit the team’s options somewhat.
So Who's Next? Part 2
Among pitchers with more than 10 seasons with the Red Sox, Mel Parnell didn’t make the Hall of Fame and wasn’t particularly special (29.0 bWAR in exactly 10 seasons, 1947-1956). Those 10 seasons constitute his entire career, by the way.
Even though he is seventh in team history among pitchers in bWAR, he seems more like a trivia question (as one of the few Red Sox pitchers to spend a decade with the team).
Tim Wakefield is sixth on the pitchers list, with 30.4 bWAR. He’s also pitched an almost ridiculous 17 years with the team. However, he stands almost no chance of making the Hall.
Without that rule, he might stand a good chance as a sentimental pick, given his long tenure with the team and role in two World Series winners. However, he was never especially dominant. His case might be a toss-up were it not for the laid-out rules.
That leaves the Red Sox’s No. 1 pitcher of all-time: Roger Clemens.
His time with the Sox (1984-1996) saw him post 74.8 of his 128.4 bWAR (and, while I didn’t use fWAR for pitchers, he’s credited with 86.3 fWAR with the team, and 145.5 for his career).
So, he has the Hall of Fame-esque career and he has 13 years with Boston. All that’s left is to actually make the Hall of Fame. The voters may feel the need to punish him for his steroid ties, but I have a feeling that he will make it in to Cooperstown eventually.
He already has one slight advantage.
So Who's Next? Part 3
Teams can remove numbers from circulation without retiring them. In some cases, this is to honor a player who died wearing that number (for example, the Astros, Cardinals, and Rockies have taken Darryl Kile’s 57 out of circulation since his death).
However, sometimes, this is done as a preclude to retiring a number, either because the player in question is still playing or the team is waiting for something.
The Red Sox currently have five numbers out of circulation. No one has worn Roger Clemens’ No. 21 since he left the team, which may be an indication that they are waiting for him to make the Hall of Fame (the aforementioned advantage).
In addition, Pedro Martinez was the last player to wear No. 45; although he only played seven seasons with the Red Sox, they were quite dominant.
Curt Schilling’s 38 is also removed from circulation, according to Wikipedia. Although Schilling only played four years with the team (2004-2007), he was a key part in two World Series winners and had some dominant postseasons. Baseball-Reference credits him with 14.5 bWAR from his time there (69.7 career), while Fangraphs gives him 17.8 fWAR (out of 86.1 career).
However, Pedro seems much more likely case to be the exception (maybe once he goes into the Hall of Fame as a Red Sox?). While four years (and a World Series ring) might be enough to enshrine Curt for some teams, it probably won’t be enough to overwhelm the Red Sox.
Two hitters have their numbers pulled. The first is Wade Boggs.
Boggs actually has fulfilled all of the criteria; he made the Hall in 2005 and played 11 seasons in Beantown. Wikipedia notes that his No. 26 wasn’t removed until he made the Hall of Fame, though, so they may be waiting to honor him (possibly because he went to two division rivals after his Boston days?).
However, I doubt they would permanently turn down any player who actually reached both benchmarks. For reference, both bWAR (71.5) and fWAR (76) place him as third all-time among Red Sox hitters.
The other player, like Pedro, will have to hope for a fan favorite exemption; Nomar Garciaparra’s No. 5 has only been issued once since he was traded away in 2004. Even then, the player in question (Rocco Baldelli) had to make a special request.
He did only play nine seasons with the team (1997-2004 plus a late call-up in 1996), but they were one heck of a run (37.1 bWAR, 40 fWAR). And it isn’t like he left voluntarily; he even retired on a one day contract with the team.
For as beloved as he is, though, he hasn’t fulfilled either requirement (although, if you add the one day contract in, you could count that as a 10th year, I guess; I’m not sure how strict they are with the rules on this).
So Who's Next? Part 4
Now, to quickly hit some older players: Rico Petrocelli (1963 & 1965-1876; 46 fWAR, 35.6 bWAR) and Dom DiMaggio (1940-1942 & 1946-1953; 41 fWAR, 31.9 bWAR) both had good runs with the team, but neither made the Hall of Fame and there seems to be little momentum in either case.
Jimmie Foxx (1936-1942; 43 fWAR, 33.6 bWAR) was a Hall of Famer, but didn’t play a decade with the team and is probably best remembered as an Athletic anyway.
Wikipedia claims there have been some fan movements in favor of retiring Tony Conigliaro’s number, although he does short fall short on both rules.
Before reaching the current players, there’s one more hitter I need to mention. Dwight Evans is listed as the fourth-best hitter in team history by both systems (70 fWAR, 61.8 bWAR). He has achieved some recognition as highly underrated in statistically-minded baseball communities in the recent past, which may eventually help him make the Hall through the Veterans’ Committee.
If he were to make the Hall this way, he would become eligible under the Red Sox’s rules (since he played from 1972-1990 with the team).
Recent retiree Manny Ramirez was only with the team for eight seasons (2001-2008), but that constituted the majority of his career. He also put up good numbers (31 fWAR, 31.2 bWAR, both of which are hit pretty hard by his abysmal fielding) and led the team to two World Series (including earning MVP honors in the 2004 Series).
I do think he will make the Hall one day, even with the steroid issue. The question will be, do things like going in as a Red Sox or the two rings count as sufficient extra credit?
So Who's Next? Part 5
Moving on to the current roster: I’m not sure what it would take for a manager, but Terry Francona has to look like a promising choice right now. He’s currently in his eighth season and I see almost no way that he doesn’t make it two more.
I’m also a little less certain on Hall of Fame standards for managers, but I would think he has to be on the right track.
Among the non-Wakefield pitchers: Josh Beckett looks to be well off the Hall of Fame track and needs four more years with the team (his current contract will only take him through three more). He’ll be 32 next season, so this is likely too late for a major push.
Clay Buchholz has shown promise.
But really, Jon Lester is the best candidate.
Through his six seasons so far, he has 21.4 bWAR and 21.1 fWAR, while his current contract, like Beckett’s, runs through at least 2014. On top of that, he’s only 27, so there still should be several good seasons left.
The hitters can similarly be parsed down.
Jason Varitek is the elder statesman of the group. Even though he’s played 15 years with the team, his numbers are nowhere near even Nomar’s (23.4 bWAR, 25 fWAR). He stands little chance, honestly.
Jacoby Ellsbury, like Buchholz, is young and promising, but his track record to date (particularly before this year) doesn’t get him into the Hall.
Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are like Beckett; they both (will likely) have many good years with the team, but they joined rather late. Even with their mega-contracts, they’ll still only have eight and seven years with the team respectively, assuming they don’t resign.
They’ll both be struggling to reach the minimum tenure, even before we talk about their Hall of Fame chances.
David Ortiz needs one more season to qualify for the ten year rule. I doubt he’ll make the Hall unless he either 1) plays at an all-star level into his 40s; or 2) gets a significant push from sentimental Hall voters.
He may qualify under the “fan favorite exemption” as well, given his postseason heroics and all. I’m not sure that would do it, though. So far, Big Papi has 30.2 bWAR and 32 fWAR with the team.
Kevin Youkilis has parts of eight years under his belt so far. However, he got a late start, not even getting a regular job until 2006 (when he was 27). He has 28 fWAR and 30.2 bWAR so far, but I’m still skeptical he can keep up at a Hall of Fame pace, seeing as he’s now 32.
Like most of the others, he’d likely need some sort of exemption.
Dustin Pedroia is probably the best bet, outside of Boggs and Clemens. In his six seasons so far, Pedroia has put up 24.0 bWAR and 25 fWAR with his current contract running through 2014 (with a 2015 option).
He’s almost 28, so he should have some prime years left. Right now, he’s on a Hall of Fame pace and it looks like staying with the team for a decade shouldn’t be a problem.
So, in Closing...
Before I continue on, I would just like to say that this is by far the most people I have had on any “In Closing” list so far, with 26. It’s made this a very interesting analysis.
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Boston Red Sox in the future are, in order:
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