Boston Red Sox top 25-man roster in franchise history
The BoSox Injection staff has compiled a list of Boston Red Sox legends to put together an all-time best 25-man roster from the franchise’s history.
The Boston Red Sox have a long and storied history that dates back well over a century. Throughout the years we have seen legends grace the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park, tipping their caps emblazoned with the franchise’s trademark B to the fans.
It’s been good to be a Red Sox fan over the last decade or so, with the franchise delivering three World Championships since 2004. Prior to that the franchise suffered through a series of insufferable disappointments, yet even during a lengthy title drought the Red Sox were still the home of some of the greatest players to ever grace the baseball diamond.
The rich history of this franchise has no shortage of star players, many of whom have gone on to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, which the BoSox Injection crew has sorted through to compile a list of the all-time best 25-man roster in Red Sox history.
Keep in mind that this isn’t simply a list of the top-25 players in team history. Every position needs to be accounted for, including a bench and bullpen that provides serviceable backups for our starters. We have made these selections as if we were constructing an actual team using the best options available from Red Sox history. In other words, our bench can’t be filled with all outfielders and we needed to select at least a few pitchers that have a history of throwing out of the bullpen.
With that in mind, let’s look at the roster we have put together.
*Note: Stats per FanGraphs.com
Career stats: .269/.341/.457, 376 HR, 1330 RBI, 128 SB, 68.3 WAR
With Red Sox: .284/.356/.481, 162 HR, 568 RBI, 61 SB, 38.3 WAR
Fisk was born to be a Red Sox player, literally. The 6’3″, 200-pounder projected the physique of an Olympian athlete around the streets of Charlestown, and was always considered a local boy by all of the Fenway faithful.
He was an 11-time All-Star, the American League Rookie of the Year and the Gold Glove Award winner in 1972, a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and had his jersey numbers retired in both Boston and with the Chicago White Sox, the only other team that he played for.
The numbers speak for themselves, but his life was more than that. The fact that his jersey in Boston was #27 and #72 in Chicago was evidence of a stubborn man who would not see defeat as acceptable.
Ask the New York Yankees fans about the rivalry between Fisk and their own famous catcher, Thurman Munson. The plate collision between the two, as Munson tried to score on a bunt that Fisk recovered, sent shock waves throughout both teams and their fans, resulting in a bench-clearing brawl and both catchers getting ejected.
Fisk solidified his status as one of the greatest Red Sox players of all time in the 1975 World Series, against the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati. His arms waving the ball fair captured the essence of what the Red Sox stood for. Nobody gave the team a chance to beat the great Johnny Bench and the Reds, but Fisk helped lead the Red Sox in a heavyweight title fight that they just lost in seven games.
That was as close as the Red Sox would get to another World Series Championship for over a decade. However, Fisk’s contributions refueled the greatest feud in sports with the Evil Empire. He was considered a Bostonian, and when he went toe-to-toe, literally and figuratively, with the Yankees, Fisk was one of Boston’s own. It was like Fisk represented each Massachusetts blue-collar worker who wanted to take a shot against the sworn enemy from New York.
Fisk represented the heart that beat in every chest in Boston, and for that he deserves to be considered the best Red Sox catcher of all time.
Career Stats: .325/.428/.609, 534 HR, 1922 RBI, 87 SB, 101.8 WAR
With Red Sox: .320/.429/.605, 222 HR, 788 RBI, 38 SB, 37.6 WAR
In even the darkest of times there are certain opportunities that become available and that was the circumstances that brought Foxx to Boston for the 1936 season. Foxx, a cornerstone of the Philadelphia Athletics, became available due to the Great Depression, when A’s owner-manager Connie Mack was forced to sell off star players from his team. Tom Yawkey, the then young and wealthy owner of the Red Sox, sent $150,000 to the A’s for “The Beast.”
Foxx was in his prime at 28-years-old and was a two-time MVP while in Philadelphia. Foxx had already led the American League three times in home runs and was now to be power central and playing first base for the Red Sox. He did not disappoint.
Foxx established a team home run record – since topped by David Ortiz – by swatting out 50 in 1938. He also won his second batting title and established a team record that season with 175 RBI, capturing his third MVP Award with his dynamic season. In his seven Boston seasons, Foxx was an All-Star on six occasions and narrowly missed a second Boston MVP Award with a second place finish in 1939.
Defensively Foxx was more than capable as a first baseman and also saw major league duty at third base, the outfield and as a catcher. “Double X” was regarded as a smart base runner who could occasionally swipe a bag, having reached double digits in steals three times in his career.
Foxx’s career in Boston ended with a multitude of negative issues from a chronic drinking problem, sinus issues, turbulence with manager Joe Cronin and both failing eyesight and marriage.
Foxx was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.
Career Stats: .301/.366/.445, 133 HR, 662 RBI, 134 SB, 46.2 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
It’s fair to say that Dustin Pedroia has been the heart and soul for the Boston Red Sox ever since he won the Rookie of the Year Award back in 2007. Since the moment he made an incredible diving stop to preserve Clay Buchholz’s no-hitter, we learned that Pedroia was going to be a special player.
He went on to win the 2008 American League MVP Award, and has also won four Gold Gloves in his career, making him the first Red Sox infielder to achieve that feat. Pedroia has been a sensational player for quite some time, but his performance on the field hasn’t been the only contribution to the team.
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The second baseman hurt his finger on Opening Day in 2013, but played for more than 150 games when the team needed him the most and ended up being a pivotal player during the championship run.
He has also been an outspoken player when the team is going through rough patches. During the whole Bobby Valentine saga, Pedroia was one of the few players who stood up for the team and confronted the ex-manager. When Valentine made some comments regarding Kevin Youkilis’ style of play, the second baseman was the first one to stand up for his teammate and defend him publicly.
Pedroia bounced back in 2016 from a couple of injury plagued seasons to prove he remains among the elite at his position. We can count on him remaining a vital part of the Red Sox for several more years to come, where he will only add to his already impressive resume.
Career Stats: .328/.415/.443, 118 HR, 1014 RBI, 24 SB, 88.3 WAR
With Red Sox: .338/.428/.462, 85 HR, 686 RBI, 16 SB, 70.8 WAR
When you think of Red Sox third baseman, the first one that comes to mind is Wade Boggs. Sure, the Red Sox have had some solid 3B in the past, but no other that could hit like Boggs. He was a solid player in the field (he actually won 2 gold gloves late in his career), but his bat is what got him on this list.
Boggs was not only one of the best hitters in the Red Sox lineup throughout the 80’s, he was arguably the best all-around hitter in all of baseball during his career, next to Tony Gwynn. While he did hit 24 home runs for the Sox in 1987, he routinely hit less than 10 home runs per season. Boggs also didn’t rack up a ton of RBI (1014 total; 89 RBI in 1987 was his best), but he was on base constantly and was an incredibly difficult out for opposing pitchers.
Boggs was known for his incredible batting averages, hitting over .360 four times in his first seven seasons in Boston, and hitting under .300 only three years in his 18 year career. He was a singles machine – in 1985 he had 240 total hits and 187 of them were singles. Wade currently has the 33rd best career batting average of all time at .328. He also has 3,010 career hits, and he holds the record for best career average at Fenway Park at .369.
Boggs was voted to the All-Star game twelve straight times, eight of which were with the Red Sox. He entered the MLB Hall of Fame in 2005.
While the break-up was tough for some Sox fans, especially when he departed for the rival Yankees, Boggs was loved during his time with the Sox. He was known for being incredibly superstitious, eating a ton of chicken before every game, having an affinity for beer and his friendship with wrestler Mr. Perfect.
There is no doubt that Wade Boggs is one of the best hitters in Red Sox history, which he was finally recognized for when the franchise retired his No. 26 at Fenway Park in May 2016.
Career Stats: .313/.361/.521, 229 HR, 936 RBI, 95 SB, 41.4 WAR
With Red Sox: .323/.370/.553, 178 HR, 690 RBI, 84 SB, 38.9 WAR
Thanks to three World Series championships after 86 years of torture, it is easy to forget how different the Red Sox were before the 2004 season. Of course we had 1999 with Pedro Martinez’s Cy Young campaign, but Nomar Garciaparra was one of the players who always knew how to make a Red Sox fan happy.
Nomar won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1997 and finished in the top five in MVP voting while he was with the Red Sox. Known for his offensive power, Nomar won back-to-back batting titles in 1999 and 2000, becoming the first American League hitter to accomplish that feat since Joe DiMaggio. His .372 batting average in 2000 is the fourth closest to Ted Williams’ team record of .406 in 1941 and while Williams himself was alive, he thought that Nomar had the skills to become his successor as a .400 hitter.
Even though the shortstop was traded at the deadline in 2004, his former Red Sox teammates voted for him to receive a World Series ring that year. Even Curt Schilling has said that if not for Nomar, the Red Sox might not have been in a position to finally win the World Series.
After playing for the Cubs, Dodgers and A’s, Nomar signed a one-day contract with the Red Sox in 2010 so that he could retire as a member of the team. Until this day, it is common to see Nomar whenever the Red Sox are holding a ceremony at Fenway Park. Recently he sent a congratulations video to Pedro the day the Red Sox retired his number.
Career Stats: .344/.482/.634, 521 HR, 1839 RBI, 24 SB, 130.4 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
Two Most Valuable Player Awards, four times with a second place finish on MVP, two Triple-Crowns, six batting titles, all-time OPS leader, 17 All-Star selections, last .400 hitter, 20.75 walk percentage and a key name in any debate on the greatest hitter who ever lived.
Williams was signed out of San Diego, where he played for the hometown Padres, by Red Sox GM Eddie Collins and in 1938 reported to spring training where his brashness soon had Williams shipped to the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. Williams left with a hard dose of swagger and bluster aimed at the team veterans. What did Williams do? Won the AA Triple-Crown.
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Williams was originally a right-fielder when he returned to Boston for his rookie season in 1939, but the following season was relocated to his permanent spot in left field. Williams was never a great outfielder, but was competent enough and did have an accurate arm.
The Red Sox also recognized his power potential and in 1940 installed the bullpens to their current location at Fenway Park and created “Williamsburg.”
Williams engaged in notorious and venomous battles with the press and fans who would often delight in arousing Williams’ ire. Relations with the press are reported to have cost Williams an MVP Award when one writer left him off the ballot. But the leather-lunged fans – especially on the road – knew the right comments could get Williams to do a slow burn.
Two seasons stand out for me with Williams and both were at the end of his career. The first was 1958 when Williams hit .388 at the age of 39 and the next was his last season in 1960. In his farewell year he hit .316, but hammered 29 home runs and had 72 RBI in only 310 at-bats. Not bad for a 41-year-old.
Late in his career Williams established a boy’s camp in Lakeville, Massachusetts to provide a camp environment that he never had as a child. Williams was deeply involved in charitable work – especially the Jimmy Fund and was a standard at the Boston Sportsman Show for many years.
Later Williams managed for four seasons for the Washington Senators and the Texas rangers and was on one occasion named Manager of the Year in the American League before retiring from baseball.
Career Stats: .298/.383/.419, 87 HR, 618 RBI, 100 SB, 34.6 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
A star who excelled on both sides of the ball for the Boston Red Sox over parts of eleven seasons, Dom “The Little Professor” DiMaggio was the youngest of the three DiMaggio brothers who played center field in the majors (Joe, Vince). While overshadowed by his power-hitting brother Joe in the American League, Dom was a superior center fielder. In 1948, DiMaggio recorded 503 putouts in the outfield, which was the American League record until 1977, still standing as the third most in the history of the league.
The Red Sox only appearance in the World Series between 1918 and 1967, was in 1946 against the St. Louis Cardinals. In Game 7, DiMaggio tied the game with a double but an injured hamstring on the play knocked him out of the game. Enos Slaughter‘s “mad dash” from first to score the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth would not have happened according to Slaughter himself, who said he never would have tried it if DiMaggio had been in center field on the play. In addition to the close call in 1946, DiMaggio started for Red Sox clubs that lost in a playoff for the AL pennant in 1948 and lost the last two games of 1949 when winning one would have put them in the World Series.
DiMaggio was no slouch offensively. He lead the league in runs twice and stolen bases once (albeit with just 15). For his career DiMaggio was a .298 hitter, with a high water mark of .328 for a 1950 Red Sox team that scored 1027 runs. Seven times DiMaggio appeared in the All-Star game, and six times received MVP votes, in just ten seasons as a full-time player between 1940 and 1953. Like numerous players, DiMaggio lost three years in the prime of his career to military service.
In 2003, DiMaggio was part of the Red Sox version of the “Core Four”, immortalized in David Halberstam’s book The Teammates which chronicles the 60-year friendship between DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr.
DiMaggio was on hand for the raising of the 2004 World Championship banner on Opening Day of 2005 with his pals Pesky and Doerr. One important point that New England Patriots fans will enjoy is that DiMaggio was one of the original investors in the American Football League’s Boston Patriots who are now known as the New England Patriots.
Career Stats: .272/.370/.470, 385 HR, 1384 RBI, 78 SB, 65.1 WAR
With Red Sox: .272/.369/.473, 379 HR, 1346 RBI, 76 SB, 64.3 WAR
Dwight Evans was a fixture on the Boston Red Sox roster for a total of 19 seasons from 1972-1990. He broke into the big leagues at just 20 years old and became one of the BoSox most reliable right fielders of all time. Throughout those years with the Sox, he was awarded eight Gold Gloves, nominated for five MVP awards, recognized as an All-Star three times and won two Silver Slugger awards.
This fan favorite also known as “Dewey” was not only Boston’s best right fielder, but one of the most consistent and reliable outfielders in MLB during his career. He had a laser-like throwing arm and maintained a .987 fielding percentage in right field over the 19 seasons in which he played at that position. Base runners knew not to try and go for that extra base when Evans had the ball. His superb fielding ability is most remembered by the amazing grab he made that ultimately robbed Cincinnati Reds’ Joe Morgan of a home run in the 11th inning of Game 6 in the 1975 World Series.
Evans played in an impressive 2,505 games for the Boston Red Sox. This is second most games ever played by someone in a Boston uniform, just behind the leading Carl Yastrzemski. Even though he is most known for his fielding skills, Evans did also demonstrate a consistent bat as well as extensive understanding of the strike zone. He currently ranks third all-time in walks for the Sox.
Throughout his time with Boston, Evans proved that he had outstanding fielding skills and a consistent bat. Fans, fellow players, and coaches alike will forever remember his success and commitment to this organization as Evans was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2000.
Career Stats: .286/.380/.552, 541 HR, 1768 RBI, 17 SB, 50.5 WAR
With Red Sox: .290/.386/.570, 483 HR, 1530 RBI 13 SB, 48.2 WAR
David Ortiz is not only the best designated hitter in franchise history, he has emphatically stated his case for being the best in MLB history (sorry, Edgar Martinez).
Big Papi stamped his ticket to Cooperstown by belting his 500th career home run last year. The 2016 season would be his last, but Ortiz will hang up his cleats sitting in 17th place on the all-time home run list.
As impressive as his regular season numbers are, Ortiz has really made a name for himself with his clutch postseason performances. His 17 home runs are the 7th most in postseason history, while he ranks tied for 4th with his 61 RBI.
Ortiz is responsible for some of the most memorable hits in franchise history, including walk-off home runs to beat the Yankees in extra-innings in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS, as well as a game-tying Grand Slam in the bottom of the 8th against the Tigers in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS that helped even the series. These examples merely scratch the surface of Ortiz’s postseason heroics that have helped lead the Red Sox to three Championships during his tenure in Boston.
Ortiz is a 10-time All-Star with a resume that shows he has led the league in home runs and RBI at least once, including 2006 when he led the league in both. He shockingly has never won an MVP, due in part to the bias against the DH, but he has finished in the top-5 five times.
There were many that assumed Ortiz’s career was winding down years ago when injuries conspired to deprive him of his bat speed, only for a healthy Ortiz to rally back with a late career resurgence. Ortiz belted more homers and drove in more runs this season than any player over the age of 40 has ever tallied in a single season. No hitter has ever walked away from the game following a season even remotely as productive as the final chapter of Ortiz’s storied career, but he’s going out on his terms rather than hanging on too long as so many other legends have done.
Bench – Catcher
Carer Stats: .256/.341/.435, 193 HR, 757 RBI, 25 SB, 24.7 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
You might be thinking, wait a minute – Varitek isn’t one of the top dozen or so hitters to ever wear a Red Sox uniform. You would also be correct in that assessment, but this is where we remind you that we’re putting together a team and this hypothetical roster needs a backup catcher.
The Red Sox acquired Varitek in one of the all-time great trades in franchise history, stealing the catching prospect (along with young right-hander Derek Lowe) from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for closer Heathcliff Slocumb. The deal didn’t work out too well for Seattle, while Varitek and Lowe became vital members of the Red Sox resurgence.
Varitek quickly established himself as one of the game’s best catchers, earning high praise for his game-calling abilities and rapport with his pitching staff. He’s a three-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner, but it’s his leadership qualities that provided his most significant value to the franchise. It’s rare that the Red Sox hand out the title of Captain to anyone, but Varitek embodied the role.
Bench – Outfielder
Career Stats: .285/.379/.462, 452 HR, 1844 RBI, 168 SB, 94.8 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
Carl (Yaz) Yastrzemski (pronounced YAS-TREM-SKI, as noted in 2004 movie “Fever Pitch”) may not have Boston Red Sox in his name anywhere, but he may as well have. Playing his entire 23-year career with the Sox, he is by no small measure one of their greatest players in history and could well stake claim to the title. He is the Red Sox all-time leader in hits, singles, doubles, runs, RBIs and games played. Indeed, he ranks number one in the history of baseball for games played with one club. He hit for the AL Triple Crown in 1967, something not replicated until 2013. So should you still struggle to pronounce the surprisingly straightforward name – you can always call him “Mr. Red Sox”.
Why then would Yaz be languishing on our bench? Well, possibly the only hitter who was his better at his natural position of left field was his predecessor, Ted Williams. Williams indeed, is the only player in Red Sox history to club more homers than Yaz and was a bigger offensive threat, there’s no doubt. But that’s not to suggest Yaz takes a back seat here, indeed he was in many respects the superior player to Williams. He had not just a prolific bat but majestic fielding ability, winning 7 Gold Gloves to go along with his obscene 18 appearances at the All-Star game.
It would be impossible to compile any list of greatest baseball players ever, never mind just the Red Sox, and not have Yaz somewhere in the offing. What does he bring from the bench? An impact bat, capable of making consistent contact late on in games, providing an insurance policy for Williams, or just about anyone really.
And his defence. His defence that, perhaps more than any offensive left fielder in Boston’s history, stands out. He knew the Green Monster intimately and played it flawlessly. Stick him in with a Red Sox lead and pitchers can go about their business confident that any rogue fly-balls sent to Yaz’s domain are as good as caught. Yaz is elite, clutch, impenetrable, every baseball superlative you can think of and best of all – he’s ours.
Bench – Outfielder
Career Stats: .312/.411/.585, 555 HR, 1831 RBI, 38 SB, 66.3 WAR
With Red Sox: .312/.411/.588, 274 HR, 868 RBI, 7 SB, 29.6 WAR
If you’re wondering what a team with left fielders like Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski needs with yet another left fielder in the wings, I don’t blame you. In fact I agree, with one caveat – Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez, as you can tell by looking at his stats, came to Boston and mashed his way into the hearts of the Fenway faithful. Indeed, he’s the perfect Fenway slugger. A hulking, right-hander who swings his bat with speed and crushing power leading to effortless homers sent careering over the Monster.
Ramirez is an impact bat, perhaps like none other – one of those players you kind of expect to hit the grand slam when he’s up with the bases loaded. It’s what he does. His sheer power potential during his stint in Boston was nigh historic, immortalised by his hitting a 501 foot dinger, second only to Ted Williams in the history of Fenway. Whew.
His heroics in the 2004 World Series earned him MVP, and his constant, seemingly unending supply of pop gave pitchers no rest when sandwiched between hitters like David Ortiz and Mike Lowell. Ramirez could be a genuine game changer coming from the bench. Sure that would negate his defenses, but who cares? What Manny does best is hit the ball really hard and for that, hes top dog.
Bench – Outfielder
Career Stats: .283/.360/.484, 306 HR, 1111 RBI, 72 SB, 49.2 WAR
With Red Sox: .308/.383/.520, 124 HR, 521 RBI, 43 SB, 30.7 WAR
If there is a center fielder who could challenge the case that Dom DiMaggio is the greatest center fielder in team history, it would be Fred Lynn. The Red Sox drafted Lynn in the second round of the 1973 draft. Lynn pounded 27 homers over a little more than a minor league season, earning a September call-up in 1974 in which he posted a remarkable .419/.480/.698 line over 51 plate appearances. Lynn would start in center field for the Red Sox for the next seven seasons.
1975 was a tremendous year for the Red Sox and for Lynn. Playing a spectacular center field, Lynn earned both Rookie of the Year and American League Most Valuable Player awards, leading the league in runs, doubles, slugging percentage and OPS. The Red Sox overcame the memory of late season meltdowns in 1972 and 1974, to take the American League East crown in 1975. In the playoffs the Red Sox dispatched the three time defending World Champion Oakland Athletics in three straight games (it was best of five then) to get to their first World Series in eight years. The frightening Lynn crash into the center field wall in the incredible Game Six of the World Series, which was won by the Fisk home run in the 12th inning, was a preview of things to come for Lynn.
Lynn’s all-out center field play earned him four Gold Gloves but made it difficult him to stay on the field, playing 150 games only one time in Boston (and his whole career). After the crushing disappointment of 1978, Lynn came back with a vengeance in 1979. The native Californian led the league that year in batting average (his lone batting title), OBP and Slugging Percentage, pounding 39 homers and knocking in 122 runs, but came in fourth in the MVP voting despite this performance. Lynn would have been the runaway winner if that had happened this season as his WAR was 8.8, compared with MVP Don Baylor‘s 3.7.
1980 was another injury plagued season for Lynn, who played in only 110 games, once again slumping from the glory of the previous season. The Red Sox traded him to the Angels after that season, breaking the hearts of many Red Sox fans, including my own. While with the Angels, Lynn hit the only grand slam in All-Star game history in 1983. He finished his career with a .347/440/.601 batting line in 440 games at Fenway Park.
An All-Star for all of his seven full seasons in Boston, Lynn will always have a special place in the hearts of Red Sox fans who grew up with him as their center fielder. He is an easy choice to be part of the All-Time 25 man roster.
Bench – Infielder
Career Stats: .288/.362/.461, 223 HR, 1247 RBI, 54 SB, 53.3 WAR
With Red Sox: Played entire career in Boston
Old time Boston Red Sox fans will say: “Dustin, who?” For many fans, the flagship of second basemen in Boston is Hall of Fame member Bobby Doerr. A nine-time All-Star, six times surpassing 100 RBI, and the oldest living member of the HOF. A quality performer on offense and defense who Ted Williams called “Our silent captain.”
Doerr retired with a career fielding record of double plays by a second baseman that has since been broken. Doerr was routinely among the league leaders in DP’s, assists and putouts that were all representative fielding prowess before metrics measuring guides, but it was his bat that sets Doerr apart.
A powerful right-handed hitter who was built for Fenway Park, where Doerr hit a career .315 with 145 home runs. A career K% of 7.6 demonstrates Doerr’s ability as a contact hitter and a career ISO of .173 gives a view of his power. Doerr made one post season appearance with the Red Sox in 1946 and hit .409 to lead the team in a seven-game loss to the Cardinals. At 33-years-old Doerr was done.
Doerr had a history of back ailments and finished up in 1951 by playing only 105 games, yet still managed to hit .289 with 13 home runs and 73 RBI. Risking further back injury forced Doerr to return to his farm in Oregon where fate intervened and within a few years the back healed. Eventually, Doerr returned to baseball as a coach and scout including three years as a coach with Dick Williams becoming part of the magical 1967 “Impossible Dream” squad.
Starting Pitcher 1
Career Stats: 219 W, 2.93 ERA, 10.04 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 84.3 WAR
With Red Sox: 117 W, 2.52 ERA, 10.95 K/9, 2.01 BB/9, 51.8 WAR
In November of 1997, then-general manager Dan Duquette robbed the struggling Montreal Expos franchise of reigning NL Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez, acquiring perhaps the greatest pitcher to ever put on a Red Sox uniform.
The crowd at Fenway Park buzzed with electricity anytime Pedro took the mound, creating a euphoric atmosphere unlike any other. If you were unable to attend the game, any Pedro start still became must-watch TV. His performances were captivating, keeping fans in a near hypnotic trance as they watched him dazzle opposing hitters with his deceptive fastball and unhittable circle-change.
The prime of Martinez’s career saw him produce the most dominant back-to-back seasons in the modern era. Pedro led the league in 1999 with 23 wins, a 2.07 ERA and an astounding 313 strikeouts to capture his second career Cy Young, while finishing as the runner-up in the MVP race. As unfathomable as it seems for anyone to top that season, Pedro was arguably even better the following year, lowering his ERA to 1.74 and producing a career-best 291 ERA+ and 11.7 WAR.
Martinez’s last season in Boston came in 2004, when he helped the Red Sox capture their first World Series title in 86 years. He fled to the New York Mets when Boston balked at signing the 33-year old to a long-term deal. The sting of watching Pedro put together another All-Star campaign for another team left fans bitter with ownership for letting their ace get away, but when injuries and ineffectiveness derailed the last few years of his career it served as a reminder that it’s best to let a player go a year too early rather than several years too late.
Pedro will forever be remembered most for his time in Boston, which is now symbolized by the Red Sox cap that he wears on his Hall of Fame plaque.
Starting Pitcher 2
Career Stats: 354 W, 3.12 ERA, 8.55 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 133.7 WAR
With Red Sox: 192 W, 3.06 ERA, 8.40 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 76.8 WAR
By the time it was all said and done, Roger Clemens had played 24 seasons with four different teams, but his 13 years with Boston may have been his most dominant. Clemens’ record with the Red Sox was 192-111 with a 3.17 ERA and 2,201 strikeouts (169 per year). Just take a look at his ERA during the stretch from 1986-92 – 2.48, 2.97, 2.93, 3.13, 1.93, 2.62, 2.41 – amazing numbers.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Roger Clemens was arguably the most dominant pitcher in all of baseball. He also had some incredible individual seasons on their own. He delivered 20-plus wins in two seasons for Boston, 1986 and 1987. In 1988, Clemens finished the season with 291 strikeouts (second best career wise as he had 292 for Toronto in 1997).
The ’86 season may go down as the best season of his career. He went 24-4 with 238 strikeouts and won the AL Cy Young Award, the first of three during his time in Boston, as well as the AL MVP in a landslide. This was the first time a pitcher had won MVP since Vida Blue in 1971 and no pitcher would do it again until Justin Verlander in 2011. He also threw 20 strikeouts in one game against the Mariners in 1986, the first pitcher to do so at the time. He added another 20 strikeout game in 1996 against the Tigers in Detroit. He is the only player in MLB history to have thrown 20 strikeouts in two games.
Clemens was an 11-time All-Star, including five times as a member of the Red Sox. He is still waiting for a call from Cooperstown, but he was elected into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014 despite a messy divorce with Boston when he left for Toronto after the ’96 season.
Despite what some fans may think of him personally, there is no doubting that The Rocket is arguably the best pitcher in Red Sox history.
Starting Pitcher 3
Career Stats: 511 W, 2.63 ERA, 3.43 K/9, 1.49 BB/9, 131.5 WAR
With Red Sox: 192 W, 2.00 ERA, 4.42 K/9, 0.99 BB/9, 54.8 WAR
To have the highest accolade in pitching performance named after you gives an inkling to just how good Young was. The record books are littered with Young’s achievements and a sizable portion of the statistics with the Red Sox.
Young was 34-years-old when he – along with many other National League stars – joined the fledgling American League. Young was viewed as a pitcher whose best days were behind him after having a disappointing 19-19 record for St. Louis in 1900, marking the first time Young failed to win 20 games in nine years. Little did anyone realize that a pitching second wind (or win) was about to take place.
Young proceeded to win the pitching Triple Crown in 1901 with his 33 wins being followed by another 32 in 1902. Young then “slipped” to 28 wins in the pennant winning 1903 season. He went 2-1 in the first World Series as Boston defeated Pittsburgh. That represented Young’s only Word Series appearance.
In 1904, Young accomplished another first with the American League’s first perfect game and one of three career no-hitters. He continued to pitch for Boston until age 42 when he was traded to Cleveland prior to the 1909 season despite going 21-11 in Boston for 1908. Young is tied with Roger Clemens as Boston’s career leader in pitching victories.
Young was noted for being a solid baseball citizen who took pride in his clean living and professional approach to the game and especially to umpires. But Young was not done with Boston, since he returned in 1911 to play for the Boston Rustlers (Braves) before retiring with a sore arm. Of note is that Young won 36 games in the last season (1892) that there was no pitching mound and the distance to home plate from the mound was 55 and ½ feet. When the mound was added and the distance expanded, Young did not miss a beat.
Starting Pitcher 4
Career Stats: 300 W, 3.06 ERA, 5.18 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 88.8 WAR
With Red Sox: 105 W, 3.34 ERA, 4.34 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 34.6 WAR
What would happen to a pitcher that went 108-36 in five seasons at the Triple-A level? In the pitching conscious world of today, anyone who could produce 20+ wins a season while blowing batters away would be ushered to the majors ASAP. For Lefty Grove it was a different era since there was no farm system, so Grove stayed at Baltimore in the International League until the right price was reached and he was sold to the Philadelphia Athletics.
Bypass Grove’s Philadelphia years, but the consensus was Grove was the best pitcher in the game. Seven straight seasons of leading the league in strikeouts, four times in wins and five times in ERA in an age of hitters. And, of course, a Most Valuable Player Award.
Grove became available when the A’s were starting to go broke during the Great Depression and Tom Yawkey’s Red Sox made a “trade” to acquire Grove, with the most notable player sent to the A’s being a check for $125,000.
Grove arrived in spring training of 1934 as the apparent ace of the Red Sox, only to crash and burn with an arm issue that resulted in an 8-8 record. In 1935, Grove – now a stylish curve ball pitcher – recovered to 20-12 and led the league in ERA. Grove would never win twenty again, but did win three more ERA titles and managed to hang on to win his 300th at age 41.
Left-handed pitchers also have a stigma about their dysfunctional behavior patterns that is either real or imagined, but with Grove there was some validity to it. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin and Grove often had “differences of opinion” that was the polite euphemism for confrontations. Volatile behavior was often a Grove trademark – especially in his early career – a temperamental lefty.
Grove was elected to the HOF in 1947 on the first ballot.
Starting Pitcher 5
Career Stats: 216 W, 3.46 ERA, 8.60 K/9, 1.96 BB/9, 79.7 WAR
With Red Sox: 53 W, 3.95 ERA, 7.65 K/9, 1.44 BB/9, 15.0 WAR
Back in November of 2003, then-general manager Theo Epstein sat down for Thanksgiving dinner with Curt Schilling and his family for what would end up being one of the most important holiday’s in Red Sox history. Boston’s wunderkind GM visited the Schillings for the holiday while pitching the idea of joining the Red Sox to the veteran right-hander. After much negotiation, Epstein finally convinced Schilling to waive his no-trade clause to accept a deal that would ship him to Boston.
“I want to be part of bringing the first World Series in modern history to Boston,” said Schilling following the announcement of the trade. “And hopefully more than one over the next four years.”
Those words would prove to be prophetic, as Schilling teamed with Pedro at the top of the rotation to give the Red Sox the most formidable one-two punch in baseball. The trade paid immediate dividends, as the Red Sox would snap an 86-year title drought in Schilling’s first season in Boston. One of the most memorable highlights of that postseason run was Schilling battling through injury in the infamous “Bloody Sock” game to win Game 6 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees, putting Boston on the verge of what would become one of the most epic comeback stories in sports history.
As impressive as Schilling’s career numbers are, the postseason was where he truly shined. He was 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in his postseason career, including three World Series victories. In his final season, Schilling helped deliver another championship to the Red Sox. The last time he took the mound, Schilling held the Colorado Rockies to a single run over 5.1 innings in Game 2 of the World Series, which Boston would go on to sweep in 2007.
Career Stats: 146 W, 3.44 ERA, 8.36 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 38.9 WAR
With Red Sox: 110 W, 3.64 ERA, 8.21 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 28.1 WAR
Jon Lester is the best pitcher to come out of the Red Sox farm system in a long time. To put it in perspective how difficult it has been for this organization to groom elite pitchers, you have go all the way back to Clemens over 30 years ago to find another starting pitcher in the same class as Lester that came up through this system. Every other ace pitcher to take the mound for Boston since then was either signed as a free agent or traded for.
Lester has never been the most dominant pitcher in the league, having never finished higher than 4th place in Cy Young voting. What he has been is a consistent workhorse that has piled up 200+ innings in 8 of the last 9 years.
Aside from one brutal year in the forgettable Bobby Valentine season, Lester was a guy that could be counted on to pile up innings while posting an ERA that would hover around 3.50 every season. In the hitter-friendly AL East, that’s pretty impressive.
The most impressive part of Lester’s career has been what he has done in the postseason. He may not have any regular season hardware, but he does have a pair of championship rings from his time in Boston. The first one he earned by capping a sweep in Game 4 of the World Series, shutting out the Colorado Rockies over 5.2 innings. When the Red Sox won again in 2013, it was Lester winning twice in the series against the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up only a single run in 15.1 innings between his two outings. Lester would add a third ring to his collection in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs, helping to end a title drought that lasted over a century.
Lester’s best year in Boston came in 2014 in a contract year, which also coincided with the Red Sox struggles taking them out of the playoff race. He was shipped to the Oakland Athletics at the trade deadline, ending his tenure with the only franchise he had ever known. The Red Sox made an effort to sign him last winter in free agency, but the shiny 2.46 ERA that he produced in his career year earned him a lucrative contract from the Cubs that Boston wasn’t willing to match.
Career Stats: 197 W, 390 SV, 3.50 ERA, 6.58 K/9, 2.02 BB/9, 61.8 WAR
With Red Sox: 88 W, 1 SV, 3.93 ERA, 5.06 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 18.8 WAR
Known for being one of the game’s most dominant closers during the late 80’s – early 90’s, Dennis Eckersely was also one of the game’s best starters in his earlier years with the Red Sox.
Eck came to Boston in 1978 on the heels of his first All-Star appearance in his final year with the Cleveland Indians. He delivered back-to-back seasons with a 2.99 ERA in his first two seasons with the Red Sox, finishing 4th and 7th respectively in the Cy Young race.
Eckersley was an All-Star in ’82, but broke down the falling season when he posted the first losing record (9-13) of his career to go along with a brutal 5.61 ERA. A shoulder injury derailed the start of his season in ’84, leading the Red Sox to trade him to the Chicago Cubs mid-season for former batting champ Bill Buckner. You may have heard of him.
The Hall of Fame credentials were primarily built based off of his career after he left Boston, but Eckersley was still a successful starter for six-plus seasons with the Red Sox. He ranks inside the top-20 in team history in wins and WAR among starting pitchers and even recorded the final save of his career in his otherwise forgettable return to Boston to wrap up his career in 1998.
Eck now works for NESN and occasionally fills in as the color commentator on Red Sox broadcasts, where he has taught fans vital baseball terminology, such as “Moss”, “Salad” and “Cheese” of several different varieties.
Career Stats: 229 W, 15 SV, 3.30 ERA, 6.24 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, 54.8 WAR
With Red Sox: 122 W, 3 SV, 3.36 ERA, 5.45 K/9, 2.54 BB/9, 28.5 WAR
Luis Tiant’s career is one of great highs and lows, but perhaps the pinnacle of the colorful Cuban’s career came with the 1975 Red Sox.
The Red Sox had essentially picked Tiant up off the scrap heap. After an incredible 1968 season in which he posted a remarkable 1.60 ERA for the Cleveland Indians, leading the league in shutouts while winning 21 games, he slumped terribly the next season. Tiant had trouble adjusting to the lowered mound, which changed after the 1968 season, leading the league in homers allowed and walks and losing 20 games with a 3.71 ERA.
Cleveland traded him to Minnesota, where he was plagued by injury before being released. After Atlanta would not bring him to the majors, the Red Sox signed him to a minor league deal. Tiant worked out of the bullpen in 1971, posting a rough 4.85 ERA in his first season in Boston. Despite those disappointing results, the trade of Sparky Lyle in March 1972 kept him with the team for that season. After working the first half of the season in the bullpen, Tiant went on a 40 inning scoreless streak as a starter that kept him in the rotation to stay. He won the American League comeback player of the year for 1972, winning 15 games and leading the league with 1.91 ERA.
The 1975 American League Champion Red Sox brought Tiant into national focus with his flamboyant style of pitching and variety of arm angles and pitches. Earlier in his career he had been a hard thrower, but by this point, Tiant excelled with deception and changing speeds. In the World Series, Tiant shut out the Reds in Game 1, even scoring a run, comically scampering around the bases on an overcast dreary day at Fenway. Tiant won Game 4 in a complete game, 155 pitch effort in which he was constantly working out of jams, but manager Darrell Johnson had enormous confidence in the wily Cuban, something you don’t see much of in today’s game. After the team bailed him out after a poor performance in Game 6, the team was 4-0 in games he started that postseason.
Tiant won 21 games in 1976 but started to fade in 1977 with a 4.53 ERA. The following year, Tiant rebounded with a 3.31 ERA and won the final game of the Red Sox regular season to get the Red Sox into a one-game playoff, but that did not get him a new contract. Perhaps he had payback in mind when he signed with the Yankees.
Tiant has a strong Hall of Fame case, but his 31 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility was his best showing. Tiant’s 229 career wins and 49 shutouts are better than Hall of Famers Jim “Catfish” Hunter (224 wins, 42 shutouts, five titles), Don Drysdale (209 wins, 49 shutouts, though a 2.95 ERA and three titles), and Jim Bunning (224 wins, 40 shutouts, no-hitters in both leagues), but perhaps those additional accomplishments are what put those other pitchers over the top.
No matter what the Hall of Fame says, “El Tiante”, big game pitcher, ebullient cigar smoker, and personality extraordinaire will never be forgotten for his eight years in Boston and deserves his spot on the Red Sox All-Time 25 man roster.
Career Stats: 117 W, 11 SV, 2.03 ERA, 6.20 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, 26.2 WAR
With Red Sox: 117 W, 9 SV, 1.99 ERA, 6.26 K/9, 2.61 BB/9, 26.2 WAR
The dominance of Wood lasted only two brief seasons before the pitching flame was diminished and eventually extinguished, but what a two seasons it was. In an “if” moment, it comes down to medical advances that impacted Wood’s career – a broken thumb, appendicitis and a shredded arm. If Doctor Frank Jobe had been in practice the arm may have been repaired.
Howard Ellsworth Wood was born in Kansas City, Missouri and started his trek to Boston in the Three-I League. In that era there was no farm system so if a player sparked an interest his contract could be purchased by another team and, if fortunate, by a major league club. First was being purchased by the Kansas City Blue, who were attracted by his speed. Wood’s next move was to Boston when the Red Sox purchased his contract.
“Joe Wood was one of the best pitchers I ever faced throughout my entire career.” – Ty Cobb
Wood’s first appearance was on August 24th, 1908 at the Huntington Street Grounds where the 18-year-old Wood lost 6-4. That was the beginning of three seasons of relative mediocrity and some personal turbulence with ownership. Then came 1911 and 1912.
The Red Sox of 1911 barely finished above .500 (78-75), but Wood gave a taste of what was to come the following season finishing with a 23-17 record 2.02 ERA. Now on to the memorable 1912 season and the opening of Fenway Park.
Wood finished 1912 with an astounding 34-5 record that included 10 shutouts, 16 wins in a row and finished off the season with a 3-1 record in a Boston World Series Championship that is known as “The Snodgrass Muff” over a fielding error by the Giants Fred Snodgrass that gave the Red Sox an extra inning win to close out the final game.
For the next three seasons Wood saw limited service time as a starter going 36-13 in that span, but did lead the American League in ERA (1.49) in 1915. Wood’s pitching career was essentially over in 1915, but not his baseball career as he returned as a position player with the Cleveland Indians and finished with a .283 career average. Wood then started his next baseball life as coach of Yale University and Saint John’s University.
Career Stats: 94 W, 4 SV, 2.28 ERA, 3.60 K/9, 3.25 BB/9, 12.4 WAR
With Red Sox: 89 W, 4 SV, 2.19 ERA, 3.65 K/9, 3.21 BB/9, 12.3 WAR
Omitting Ruth from a spot on any all-time Boston Red Sox roster would be similar to expunging Da Vinci from a conversation on the great minds of the Renaissance or George Washington from a list of great presidents of the United States. Ruth had as much influence as any player in the history of the game, as he was the absolute best player in MLB history.
The story of Ruth is well known, by even the most casual of fan and leaves no need to repeat the obvious regarding his youth, voracious appetite for life, cultural influence, worldwide recognition, and quite possibly saving baseball itself from the Black Sox Scandal. But this is about Ruth in Boston.
Ruth arrived in Boston as a 19-year-old in 1914 and managed a 2-1 record in three starts. The next four seasons became the core seasons for arguably one of the best left-handers in the American League. Ruth went 78-40 in that time frame, but in 1918 appeared in 95 games in a season that ended on September 1st with flu and war issues. That year Ruth was 13-7 and led the league in home runs and OPS. His total of 11 home runs exceeded the total of four other teams in the league. In that four-year span Ruth led all American League pitchers at least once in ERA, complete games, shutouts and games started.
In 1919 Ruth’s pitching record was 9-5 in 15 starts and he captured another home run title, setting a new standard with 29. Ruth also led the league in runs, RBI and had an OPS of 1.114. Ruth held the World Series record for consecutive shutout innings and compiled a WS record of 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA.
Ruth’s next stop was with the New York Yankees and best to leave that alone.
Career Stats: 41 W, 368 SV, 2.44 ERA, 10.0 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, 19.0 WAR
With Red Sox: 23 W, 219 SV, 2.33 ERA, 10.67 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 13.9 WAR
Who better to place at the back end of the bullpen than the franchise’s all-time leader in saves?
Jonathan Papelbon came up through the Red Sox system targeting a spot in the rotation, but was moved to the bullpen after making only three starts in the big leagues. It didn’t take long for the team to realize that was where he belonged. Papelbon thrived under the pressure of closing the door in the ninth inning, moving into the closer role in his first full season in 2006. He logged 35 saves that season, posting a ridiculous 0.92 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. Papelbon finished as the runner-up in the Rookie of the Year vote while making his first of four straight All-Star appearances.
Eventually Papelbon would wear out his welcome in Boston. His brash demeanor would tend to rub some people the wrong way, so as much as his fiery attitude helped him on the mound, it didn’t always make him popular in the clubhouse. When Papelbon reached free agency after the 2011 season the Red Sox allowed him to walk away. The final memory of Papelbon in a Red Sox uniform would end up being of him giving up the game winning run to seal Boston’s epic September collapse that cost them a playoff spot on the final day of the season.
The end of his Red Sox tenure may not have been pretty, but it’s not how we should remember Papelbon’s time in Boston. The iconic image of catcher Jason Varitek leaping into his arms after Papelbon struck out the final batter to seal Boston’s 2007 World Series victory will forever symbolize how much he meant to this franchise.