Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Seven

The number ‘7’ has been seen on the back of quite a few players, 31 to be exact. Some of those players were excellent, some were good and some…well, Easy Ed Romero wore it in 1986. Nevertheless, some damn fine players for the Sox have worn the ‘7’, including one of the most beloved Sox players of all time.

Honorable Mention. Trot Nixon (1996, 1998-2006) - I really considered leaving him off the list. He is a beloved player to be sure, but stat-wise he didn’t overwhelm me. He never led in a single category and never made the MVP voting list. But Nixon was here for a long time. Nixon was 9th in Rookie of the Year voting in 1999. In 2003 he was Top 10 in the AL in OBP (7th - .396), Slugging (5th - .578) and OPS (4th - .975). Nixon was a gritty player, always leaving everything he had on the field.

5. Dick Stuart (1963-64) - Stuart came to Sox in a trade with Pittsburgh in November of 1962. He left almost exactly two years later in a trade with the Phillies. But in between, he was a monster at the plate for Boston. His two-year average:
608 AB | 164 H | 38 HR | 116 RBI | .822 OPS | 122 OPS+ |
His glove? Not so much. He led the AL in both seasons in errors committed at first. But his bat propelled him to being in the Top 30 for MVP voting in the AL both seasons. He also led the AL in total bases (319) and RBI (118) in 1963.

Stuart also had some of the best nicknames in the game. His poor fielding at first earned him the legendary nickname "Dr. Strangeglove" even before he came to Boston. Once there, his struggles in the field earned him another name; "The Boston Strangler". Had the DH position existed in the 60s, Stuart could have possibly been a legend.

4. J.D. Drew (2007-2011) - Would that Drew had played with half the fire of Nixon. I don't like putting him here. I was never a big fan of Drew's. I think paying him $14M a year was way too much considering his production. Nevertheless, his numbers warrant his inclusion.

In his five seasons with Boston, Drew was a .264 hitter with an OPS of .824. That's an OPS+ of 114. He averaged 16 HR and 57 RBI per season, and averaged 2.3 WAR per season. He was named to the 2008 All-Star game. He had a pretty good glove, leading AL right-fielders in fielding percentage in 2009 and 2010. But his range factor in right was always below the league average. Which means he caught the balls he reached...but he wasn't reaching as many balls as he should.

The simple truth is that Drew's numbers never matched up to his talent or his paycheck.

3. Rick Burleson (1974-80) - The Rooster was a first-round pick for the Sox in 1970. During his stint in Boston, he was one of the best shortstops in the AL. He was a three-time All-Star with Boston (1977-79). He won the Gold Glove for shortstop in 1979. He was Top 30 in MVP voting three times. Burleson was Top 10 in hits twice (1977, 1980) as well as doubles (1977-78). He was Top 10 in singles three times (1977-79). After the 1980 season Burleson was traded with Butch Hobson to the Angels for Carney Lansford, Rick Miller and Mark Clear.

The interesting thing about Burleson is that his glove disguised his deficiencies at the plate. His average OPS was just .688 in his seven years in Boston, but he averaged a 2.6 WAR. That is because in four of his seven seasons his defensive WAR exceeded his offensive WAR.

2. Reggie Smith (1967-73) - Reggie was actually signed by the Twins in 1963 but then somehow swiped by Boston late that year in the draft. He was a powerful switch-hitter with a cannon for an arm. He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting in 1967 to Rod Carew. He was a two-time All-Star (1969, 1972). He finished in the Top 30 for MVP voting four times (1969-72). He won a Gold Glove in 1968. In Boston, Smith never hit less than 15 homers in a single season. He was Top 10 in home runs twice (1971-72) and in RBI twice (1969, 71). He was Top 10 in batting average three times (1969, 70, 73) and Top 10 in slugging percentage five times (1969-73). Smith was Top 10 in runs four times (1968, 70-72) and in hits three times (1969-71). He led the AL in total bases in 1971 with 302 and in extra-base hits with 65. Smith was Top 10 in doubles four times (1968-71) and led the AL in doubles twice (1968, 71). He was traded to the Cardinals with Ken Tatum in 1973 for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo.

Not that it has anything to do with his time in Boston, but Reggie Smith is likely best known to you for two incidents in the NL. When he was with the Dodgers in 1978, Don Sutton said he was more important to the team than Steve Garvey. That led to the famous wrestling match between the two. Then in 1981, a fan in Candlestick Park hucked a batting helmet at him after some back-and-forth jawing. Smith, standing at six feet and almost 200 pounds, leaped into the stands and pummeled the poor bastard. Suffice it to say, he was ejected.

1. Dom DiMaggio (1940-42, 1946-53) - "Who hits the ball and makes it go?/ Who runs the bases fast, not slow?/ Who's better than his brother Joe? / Dominic DiMaggio...

“The Little Professor”, always over-shadowed by his brother nationally, was a great player in his own right. He spent his entire career with the Sox, batting leadoff and patrolling center-field. Dom was a seven-time All-Star (1941-42, 46, 49-52). He finished in the Top 30 for MVP voting six times (1941, 46, 48-51). Dom was in the Top 10 three times for batting average and on-base percentage (1946, 49, 50). He was in the Top 10 for runs scored seven times (1941-42, 46, 48-51) and led the AL in 1950 and 1951. Dom was in the Top 10 for hits seven times (1941-42, 46, 48-51). He was in the Top 10 for doubles six times (1941-42, 48-51) and stolen bases seven times (1941-42, 46-50), leading the AL in stolen bases in 1950.

If there was a list of the all-time under-rated baseball players, Dom would have to be on the list. You look at his numbers and you cannot deny his talent. Yet how often is he ever in the modern-day conversation of great Sox players? And as I stated in the last installment, why has there been no movement to retire Dom's number? If the Sox were willing to bend the rules for Pesky, then Dom is worthy of the same consideration. And don't get me started on Dwight Evans.

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