The Boston Red Sox have had some great infielders, but what about the others? My selections for the bottom.
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Oct 2, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Members of the 2004 2007 2013 World Series team as well as current players gather in the infield as part of pregame ceremonies in honor of designated hitter David Ortiz (34) before a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
BoSox Injection has run a series of articles and will continue to do so on the various best at each position in Boston Red Sox history. This is the crème de la crème of Red Sox notoriety and many are in the Baseball Hall of Fame and/or the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Great players who you may or may not had the opportunity to watch play.
With age comes a longer frame of reference and some natural comparisons. I can compare the fielding excellence of Jim Piersall with that of Dwight Evans or Mookie Betts. I have seen Ted Williams hit and David Ortiz. Fortunately, I can go even further back to primary sources whom I have known who actually followed baseball before the Red Sox existed.
That said, I will now present to you not the best, but the worst. My lineup of players that needed to be cut from the herd. My focus will be solely on the years I have followed the team. What Red Morgan did in 1906 will be excluded. Some may have left an impression in a short period of time and others a body of work that still lingers as a target for future futility.
This segment will be dedicated to the infield and as a bonus my catcher. I may get to the outfield and pitching at a later date, but will certainly be traumatized by the bad memories surfacing from the following.
Dick Stuart was awful in the field. Just the nicknames of “Stone Fingers” and “Doctor Strange Glove” should be a clue. Stuart had range, but never used it. Stuart also refined the matador style to a ground ball that became an art form. Pitchers absolutely despised Stuart. How much?
In 1963 – Stuart’s first season in Boston – he was going for the home run title against Harmon Killebrew of the Twins. The Twins came to Boston for a late season three-game set and Killer hit five out. In the first game of the series, he blasted three and the one I remember was late in the game against Arnold Earley.
Earley was a hard throwing lefty and he tossed Stuart a muffin that I could hit. The next two games saw two more dingers and Killebrew won the title 45-42. Stuart could do one thing with spectacular results – hit towering home runs and it showed with his insatiable ego.
With the Pittsburgh organization, a young Stuart hit 66 home runs one season in the low – very low – minors. After that, Stuart had a penchant for signing his autograph Dick “66” Stuart. Two seasons and it was out-of-town for Stuart.
Felix Mantilla didn’t hit for the Braves nor did he hit for the New York Mets. Arriving in Boston, Mantilla – a right-hand hitter – developed an affection for the short left field and pounded out 30 home runs in 1964 – 19 of which were hit at Fenway.
With the Braves, Mantilla was a bench player on that great 1957 championship team and later filled a similar role for the Mets. As bad as the Mets were they took Mantilla and his .275 average and shipped him to Boston after the 1962 season.
Mantilla was a player without a position since no matter where you placed him the ball would find him at the most inopportune of times. This being the Red Sox circa 1963-65 his lack of fielding had no real impact on a team so devoid of talent.
The Mantilla I remember is at second base where he was guaranteed to flip the ball to shortstop Eddie Bressoud on a double play attempt that would place Eddie in harm’s way. Mantilla had little range, but that was the result of a pause. What is a pause? Mantilla mastered the style of waiting for a half second on a ground ball in his vicinity before reacting to it. With Stuart playing first base the right side of the infield just didn’t exist.
Mantilla actually made the All-Star team in 1965 – his last season in Boston. For his 11 year career Mantilla slammed 89 home runs and 32 were at Fenway Park. Mantilla hit .305 at Fenway and finished his career with a .261 average.
Butch Hobson was totally useless at third base. Think Pablo Sandoval was bad in 2015? In 1978 Hobson made 43 errors while stationed at third base. That season I had the opportunity to witness many a game from the grandstand along third base. Lucky me. If I was on the opposite side of the field I may have had to have worn a batting helmet for protection against Hobson tosses.
Hobson did not have a single strength in the field. He was capable of botching a ball to his right or left with equal aplomb. His strong-arm was entertaining on tosses to second where invariably it went to the left of Jerry Remy – a perfect position for Remy to be dismantled by a base runner.
In an attempt to be fair and balanced Hobson would get into defensive streaks of competence and incompetence – much like a hitter enjoying a bevy of hard hits followed by a languishing of absolutely nothing. Hobson would make some amazing Brooks Robinson style plays, but often the result was an errant throw.
Hobson at bat was a venture unto itself. A powerful right-handed hitter capable of home runs in bunches. The downside was Hobson was also quite capable of strikeouts in bunches.
Don Buddin was supposed to be the Red Sox shortstop for ten years. A product of the Yawkey checkbook with a reported $50,000 bonus. Buddin surfaced in Boston as a 23-year-old in 1956 hitting .239. After a one-year military stint, it was back to Boston.
The next four seasons were a long story of atrocious play by Buddin. The nicknames proliferated and by favorite was “Bootin’ Buddin.” The errors came in all shapes from the juggling of a routine one-hop grounder to a dynamic stop in the hole only to heave the ball somewhere into right field.
Bad fielding can be accepted, but bad hitting cannot. Buddin just could not hit. His career average iwith Boston was .244 and his projected right-hand power never materialized. Buddin did finish his Fenway career with a .269 average at home, but more was expected. Why he never got untracked is a mystery since he appeared to have the talent, but never managed to put it all together.
For several seasons the double play partner for Buddin was Pete Runnels. Runnels actually played as many games at first base and if you saw him play second you would understand why. A great hitter – especially at Fenway Park – but well below average in the field.
Without any hesitation, I would say the worst double-play combination I saw in Boston was Buddin and Runnels.
The Red Sox have enjoyed some decent backstops in my memory banks. When I started following the team the main man was Sammy White. White was an above average receiver with a nice swing who caught over 1,000 games for Boston.
You could certainly cherry pick some, such as Russ Gibson, who didn’t hit much, but Gibson had a strong-arm and was an excellent defensive backstop. A cheap shot could be taken and Haywood Sullivan be mentioned, but I will resist that and go back to the 1960s and target Bob Tillman.
Big things were expected of Tillman since he had one attribute that the Red Sox searched out – he was a big right-handed hitter with great power potential. Usually, a bat can hide some defensive deficiencies, but in the case of Tillman, a career average of .236 with Boston dashes that. Tillman did hit 17 home runs one season, but that was his high water mark for power.
The Red Sox pitching staff of the early 1960s probably deserved Tillman. What stands out with a recent check was his career 24 CS%. Today that might be somewhat palatable, but not in that era. Tillman from my recollection was no Fred Astaire behind the plate and appeared somewhat boxy in his moves.