Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Five

The number '5' is currently worn by Jonny Gomes. He did it proud last year with some timely hitting when it counted. While the '5' hasn't been the most prestigious number in Boston history, it has represented its share of All-Star talent.

5. Pinky Higgins (1937-38) - Michael Franklin "Pinky" Higgins came to the Sox in 1936 via a trade with the Philadelphia A's. Higgins manned third base for the next two seasons in a solid if unspectacular fashion. He averaged a .303 BA with an .802 OPS along with 106 RBI per season over those two years. His glove was more of a liability, as he was second in errors at third both years. After the 1938 season he went to the Tigers in a forgettable trade.

Where Higgins made his mark in Boston was as a manager. "Mark" being a relative term. Over his eight years as manager the Sox never finished higher than third. His record with Boston was 560-556. But he was instrumental in the pervasive racism that influenced Boston's front office during that time. Along with Joe Cronin and Tom Yawkey, Higgins was responsible for Boston not signing players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Billy Williams. Also known as three Hall of Fame players Boston would have had on their team if not for the three racist idiots who ran the team at the time.

4. Tony Perez (1980-82) - It's odd to have a Hall of Famer to be in fourth. But by the time Perez came to Boston, he was on the tail end of his impressive career. He signed as a free agent with the Sox in November of 1979 and proceeded to have one last great year.

In 1980, at the age of 38, Perez hit 25 home runs (7th best in the AL) and racked up 105 RBI (8th best). He also had a .786 OPS (OPS+ 108). Not a world-beating season, but it was good enough to get 22nd in the MVP voting that year. After playing 151 games in 1980 Perez was limited to 153 games over the next two seasons and the Sox let him go.

3. George Scott (1966-71, 79) - Boomer played first for the Red Sox from 1966-71. He was then traded to the Brewers after the '71 season, before being traded back to the Sox in 1976 for Cecil Cooper. This was a big mistake, because Boomer wasn’t the Boomer of old by then. But in his heyday he could play. He was an All-Star in 1966 and third in Rookie of the Year voting. He finished Top 30 in MVP voting in 1967 and 1971. He won three Gold Gloves wearing the '5', in 1967-68 and 1971.

2. Vern Stephens (1948-52) - 'Junior' Stephens played short for most of his time in Boston. A solid player, he was a four-time All-Star (1948-51). He finished Top 10 in MVP voting twice (1948-49). Stephens led the AL in RBIs twice (1949-50). He was Top 10 in slugging percentage three times (1949-51), Top 10 in runs three times (1948-50), Top 10 in hits three times (1948-50), Top 10 in total bases three times (1948-50) and Top 5 in home runs three times (1948-50). Stephens was traded to the White Sox in February of 1953 and was out of the game by 1955. Sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1968 at the age of 48. Stephens was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006.

1. Nomar Garciaparra 1996-2004 - Nomah! It still kills me that he was traded in 2004. Intellectually I understand why, but emotionally it still sucks. You can make an argument he is the best shortstop in Sox history*. Where to begin? In his rookie year (1997 - he only played 26 games in 1996), Nomar won the Silver Slugger, made the All-Star team, was Top 10 in MVP voting and won Rookie of the Year. He was a five-time All-Star (1997, 1999-2000, 2002-03). He was Top 15 in MVP voting six times (1997-2000, 2002-03). Nomar was Top 10 in batting average four times (1998-2000, 02) and led the AL in 1999 and 2000. He was Top 10 in slugging percentage three times (1998-2000), Top 5 in OPS two years (1999-2000) and Top 10 in hits six times (1997-2003). Nomar was Top 5 in doubles four times (1997, 1999-2000, 2002) and Top 5 in triples three times (1997-98, 2003). He was Top 10 in RBIs two times (1998, 2002). He was the heart and soul of the Sox for the vast majority of his time in Boston. And when he retired as a Red Sox (thanks to the ubiquitous one-day contract), it made a lot of Boston fans happy, myself included.

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*Burleson, Petrocelli and Cronin being the other possibilities. Stephens played for too short a time to be on the list.

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