Monday, February 3, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Four

You'll no longer see the '4' on a player's back, since it was retired in 1984 to honor Joe Cronin (one guess on who's first in this list). But some very good players have worn this number besides Cronin, including a Silver Slugger and an All-American college halfback who was also an AL MVP.

5. Butch Hobson (1976-80) - The first guy I ever saw play third base for the Red Sox. He was an average player who had one above-average year in 1977 when he finished 23rd in the MVP voting thanks to 30 HRs and 112 RBI. Ignored by the voters were his league-leading 162 strikeouts. And the 23 errors he committed at third. All told, Hobson committed 91 errors at third from 1977-79, which has to be some kind of record. But he had that one good year at the plate and that's enough to earn the fifth spot. He was traded in December of 1980 along with Rick Burleson to the Angels for the #3 guy on this list. You younger readers may remember Hobson as the exceedingly mediocre manager of the Red Sox from 1992-94.

4. Tommy Harper (1972-74) - Harper came to the Sox in a massive 10-man with the Brewers after the 1971 season. In Tommy's three years with the Sox he was Top 30 in MVP voting twice (1972-73). He led the AL with 54 stolen bases in 1973 and was Top 10 in stolen bases all three years he spent in Boston. He was third in runs scored in the AL in 1972 and seventh in 1973. He was also voted the Red Sox MVP in 1973. Considered the fastest player in Red Sox history, although Jacoby Ellsbury definitely gave Harper a run for that honor.

3. Carney Lansford (1981-82) - Traded to the Sox in December of 1980 in a deal that sent Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson to the Angels, Lansford ripped it up his two years in Boston. He won the Silver Slugger Award in 1981 for third base. He batted .336 to lead the AL in batting average in 1981. That same year he was Top 10 in OBP, Runs, Hits, Doubles and Singles. He was 6th that year in the AL MVP voting. Yet he didn't make the All-Star Team, with Buddy Bell inexplicably being voted as the reserve third baseman behind George Brett. Complete miscarriage of justice. Following the 1982 season he was traded to Oakland to make way for Wade Boggs. I always thought they at least could have tried to play Carney somewhere else and keep them both.

2. Jackie Jensen (1955-59) - An All-American halfback at California who also pitched the Cal baseball team to the first College World Series title, Jensen was a machine while playing outfield for the Sox. While wearing the '4' he was a two-time All Star (1955, 1958), he won the AL MVP Award in 1958 and was Top 30 in MVP voting a total of four times. He also won a Gold Glove in 1959. He was Top 10 in OBP four times (1955-56, 58-59), in OPS four times (1955, 57-59), in runs scored three times (1955, 57, 59), in hits two times (1955-56), in home runs four times (1955, 57-59) and in RBIs five times (1955-59), leading the AL in 1955, '58 and '59. And the best part was he was traded to the Sox for Mickey McDermott and Tom Umphlett. And if you said "Who?" then you understand what a great trade this was. Sadly, Jensen's career was cut short by an intense fear of flying that made it almost impossible for him to play West Coast teams. When it got worse, he retired in 1961. He passed away in 1982 from a heart attack at age 55. He was entered into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000.

1. Joe Cronin (1935, 1937-47) - Of all the retired numbers, Cronin's seems to get the most blank stares from people when you mention his name. This is insane to me considering what an integral part of the Sox he was during his tenure here. He not only was a damn good shortstop but he managed the team as well. With the Sox he was a five-time All Star (1935, 37-39, 41). He finished Top 30 in MVP voting five times. He was Top 10 in OBP three times (1938-39, 41), in doubles four times (1935, 38-39, 41) and in RBIs three times (1937, 39, 40). As a manager he got the Red Sox to the 1946 World Series and had them finish second four times, each time behind the damned Yankees. His record with the Sox was 1071-916, a .539 winning percentage. No one has coached the team longer or gotten more wins than Joe Cronin*. Like Jackie Jensen, he was a gift from the Washington Senators, who traded Cronin to the Sox for Lyn Lary and $225,000. Cronin was one of the best player-managers in the history of the game, maybe the best.**

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* Tito could have passed Cronin in wins with another in another five years or so.

** Cronin was also an unrepentant racist who cost the Sox a chance to sign Jackie Robinson AND Willie Mays. Think Ted Williams would have liked those two guys as teammates?

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