Monday, March 10, 2014

The Top Five Red Sox Players to Wear Number Eight

I think we all know who is going to top this list. But a surprising number of good players have worn the '8' for the Sox, including one player I had never heard of and has a decent case for a HoF bid.

5. Hal Wagner (1946-47) - Hal was a catcher for the Sox. He originally came to the team in 1944 but then had to suit up for the war in 1945. Upon his return he took the '8' and went back behind the plate. He went to the All-Star game in 1946 and was in the Top 30 for MVP voting that same year. He was also in the Top 10 for walks in 1946, which is surprising considering he only hit .230 that season. It probably didn't help him much that during the '46 Series he went hitless in 13 at-bats. So early in the 1947 season, Wagner was traded to the Detroit Tigers.

4. Birdie Tebbetts (1947-50) - And here is the guy Wagner was traded for. Born in Burlington, VT, raised in Nashua, NH and a graduate of Providence College (a philosophy major to boot), Tebbetts played 3 1/2 seasons with the Sox after being traded from Detroit, all at catcher and all wearing the '8'. While with the Tigers Tebbetts went to two All-Star Games. He went to two more with the Sox, in 1948 and 1949. Tebbetts also was in the Top 20 for MVP voting in both of those years. But Tebbetts was getting old by then; in 1950 he was the oldest player in the AL at the age of 37. He also slagged some of his teammates, calling them "moronic malcontents." So in the off-season the Sox sold Tebbetts to the Indians, replacing him behind the plate for one season with the immortal Les Moss before Sammy White took over for the next eight seasons. Tebbetts said of the sale that "I was sold for a dollar by one drunk owner to another." Tebbetts went on to gain more fame as a manager, even being named the NL Manager of the Year by the AP for getting the Reds into third-place in 1956.

3. Robert “Indian Bob” Johnson (1944-45) - Boston was the last stop for "Indian Bob" (which is now my new favorite nickname). After spending 10 years with the Athletics and one with the Senators, the Red Sox bought the rights for the now 38-year old outfielder. All he did was go to the All-Star Game in both years. He was Top 10 in MVP voting in 1944 and Top 20 in 1945 at the age of 39. (Maybe Clemens should've added this guy to his report.) He was 3rd in batting average in 1944 at .324 and led the AL that year with a .431 OBP and. He was 2nd in slugging in 1944 (.528) and 6th in 1945 (.425). Johnson was 2nd in the AL in 1944 with 106 runs scored and 106 runs batted in, a remarkable piece of symmetry. He was Top 10 in hits in 1944, Top 10 in total bases twice (1944-45), Top 10 in doubles in 1944 and triples twice (1944-45). He was also Top 10 in RBIs for both 1944 and 1945. After the 1945 season Johnson retired at the age of 39.

Now, I had never heard of "Indian Bob" before I researched for this post. In 13 seasons, Johnson had a lifetime .296 batting average. He had 2,051 hits, scored 1,239 runs, drove in 1,283 runs and hit 288 homeruns. He recorded over 4,000 putouts and had a lifetime .968 fielding percentage in the outfield. Even today, Johnson is 147th all-time in home runs, 249th all-time in hits (more than Johnny Bench or Bill Mazeroski), 151st all-time in runs scored (more than Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey or Willie Stargell) and is 118th all-time in RBI (ahead of Hank Greenberg or Pie Traynor). His OPS of .899 ranks 65th all-time. He is the all-time leader for assists by a left fielder with 184. So why isn't he even in the conversation for the Hall of Fame?

I can guess at the primary reason; he played during WWII when the talent level dropped. But last I checked, they don't discount stats from this era when compiling records, so it shouldn't count against him. His numbers are good enough to warrant at least a discussion about the Hall. If you use Bill James' HoF Monitor metric, "Indian Bob" scores a 92 where a 100 represents a good chance to make the Hall. His JAWS score of 57.1 WAR is 19th all-time for left fielders. The exact same score as Ralph Kiner...who is in the Hall of Fame. So why have I never heard of this guy before now? It makes me want to start an "Indian Bob for the Hall" movement even though he'd wear an A's hat if he went in.

2. Doc Cramer (1936-40) - Also nicknamed "Flit", Doc Cramer came to the Sox from the Athletics in early 1936. An outfield fixture for the next five years, Doc made the All-Star squad four times (1937-40) and was Top 30 in the MVP voting in 1938. He was Top 10 in runs scored twice (1938-39) and Top 10 in hits three times (1938-40), leading the AL in 1940 with 200 hits. He was Top 10 in singles all five seasons he played in Boston and led the AL in 1939 and 1940. Doc was an excellent lead-off hitter, batting over .300 all five seasons he was with the Sox. After the 1940 season he was traded to the Senators for Gee Walker, who was traded that same day to the Cleveland Indians.

1. Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983) - Oh, like there was any doubt about who was going to top this list...

Where do you begin when trying to talk about one of the all-time greats, the man they retired the '8' for in 1989? Yaz played all 23 years of his career in Boston. He was the key part of the 1967 "Impossible Dream" Season that resurrected the Red Sox as a franchise. That same year he won the Triple Crown. He went to 18 All-Star Games. He was ML Player of the Year in 1967 and won the MVP as well. Yaz won seven Gold Gloves in left field (1963, 65, 67-69, 71, 77) and was Top 30 in MVP voting a remarkable 14 times. He was Top 10 in batting average nine times and led the AL three times (1963, 67-68). He was Top 10 in OBP 10 times and led the AL five times (1963, 65, 67-68, 70). He was Top 10 in runs scored nine times and led the AL three times (1967, 70, 74). He was Top 10 in hits seven times and led the AL two times (1963, 67). And it goes on and on; he was Top 10 in doubles nine times and led the AL three times (1963, 65-66). He was Top 10 in HRs six times and led the AL in 1967. He was Top 10 in RBIs seven times and led the AL in 1967. Yaz was a walk machine; he was Top 10 a whopping 12 times and led the AL twice (1963, 68). Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989, his career totals are still impressive. Eighth all-time in hits, doubles and total bases, sixth in walks, second all-time in games played, 13th in RBI, 18th in runs scored and 35th in home runs. In the field his 195 assits as an outfielder are 57th all-time. His JAWS score of 75.7 is fourth-best for left fielders. His lifetime WAR of 96.0 is 23rd all-time for position players.

Yaz is truly one of the living legends of the sport. And the cherry on the top was when he got those well-deserved WS rings from the Sox as a staff member. He may not have gotten them as a player, but he sure as Hell earned them.

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