Boston Red Sox: Greatest All-Time Team

Boston Red Sox (1901-Present)

Also known as the Americans

Also known as the Pilgrims

American League (1901-Present)

American League Champion: 1903, 1904, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 1946, 1967, 1975, 1986, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018

World Series Champion: 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, 1918, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2018

Ban Johnson’s original plan was to put a franchise in Buffalo and leave Boston to the National League. The ownership of the team ultimately chose to put the club in Boston and challenge the National League’s Beaneaters (Braves) directly. It was a shrewd decision. The team quickly lured two of the best players in baseball away from the National League. Future Hall of Fame member Jimmy Collins was signed away from the crosstown Beaneaters to play third base and manage the new franchise, and the one and only Cy Young was taken from the National League’s St. Louis Browns. Boston was an immediate powerhouse in the new League. A close second in 1901 and a solid third in 1902. The Red Sox would eventually win the battle for Boston when the crosstown Braves fled to Milwaukee in 1953. 

1903 became the crucial year for the Junior Circuit. The National League sued for peace prior to the season, putting the American League in a much more solid position financially. Also, the two Leagues agreed to an end of the season competition between the champions of the two Leagues, the first World Series. When the Boston Americans won the Championship in the new League in 1903, they were matched up against the National League Champion, Pittsburgh Pirates. This was a Pirate team that had just won their third straight National League Title. The Americans were given no chance, and when the Bucs jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the Series it seemed to be a disaster for Boston and the American League. We know what happened next. Cy Young and Bill Dinneen combined for four straight complete game wins and Boston stunned the mighty Pirates by winning the last four games of the best of 9 Series, winning the Series 5 games to  3. This win was as important to the new League as the New York Jet’s Super Bowl III upset of the Baltimore Colts was to the Football AFL.

Boston repeated as American League Champions in 1904, but the New York Giant’s John McGraw, fearing that they would have to face the crosstown New York Highlanders (later known as the Yankees) announced that they would not participate in the 1904 World Series. When Boston closed strong to capture the American League Flag away from the Highlanders, the Giants were already committed to not playing. 

The Boston Americans continued to be one of the better teams in the Junior Circuit until 1920. They won the World Series four times in a seven year stretch between 1912 and 1918. With Babe Ruth leading the way, they seemed on the verge of dynasty status. The Red Sox were sold prior to the 1920 season, and new owner Harry Frazee shocked the baseball world, and sold “The Babe” to the New York Yankees for $125,000. The transaction was a turning point for both franchises. The Yankees became the most successful sports franchise in American history, and the Bosox would not win another World Series Title for 84 years. The “Curse of the Bambino” plagued the team throughout the careers of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Roger Clemens.

They didn’t win another Pennant until 1946, losing the World Series in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals, in what would be Ted Williams only appearance in the Fall Classic, on Enos Slaughter’s mad dash home in the bottom of the ninth of game seven.

They waited another 21 years for their next try in the Series, but they again lost to the Cardinals in seven games. This was the Series where St. Louis’ Bob Gibson went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, striking out 26 batters in his three complete game wins.

Their next World Series appearance was in 1975, when they took Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” to another seventh game. The Sox jumped off to a 3-0 lead in Game 7, but Cincinnati came back to win 4-3.

11 years later they made the Fall Classic again. This was the cruelest one of all. Leading the series 3 games to 2 against the New York Mets, they scored twice in the top of the 10th inning to lead 5-3 with two outs in the bottom of the 10th. Just one out away from victory, the Mets rallied to tie the affair and then win when Mookie Wilson’s slow ground ball went through the legs of Boston’s First Baseman Bill Buckner to force a seventh game. In Game 7 the Red Sox again jumped off to a 3-0 lead, but their bullpen faltered and the Mets rallied for an 8-5 Series clinching triumph. The “Curse of the Bambino” seemed to never end; four World Series appearances; four Game 7 heartbreaks.

The curse ended soon after the hiring of Bill James in 2003. The Boston Red Sox finally broke the curse with their World Series win in 2004, and have won three more World Series Titles since, in 2007, 2013 and 2018. They are now one of the most powerful franchises in all of sports.

Catcher

Not much controversy here, it’s Carlton Fisk (1969-1980) of 1986 game six home run fame.  

First Base

How we handle the outfield will decide what we do with first base. Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983) and Dwight Evans (1972-1990) both played many games at first base late in their careers, if we can’t put them in the outfield, we can consider them at first base. With David Ortiz (2003-2016) we have another problem, where do we put him? Of his 1,953 games with Boston, only 145 were at first base. The others were as the Designated Hitter. Ugh, what do we make of that? Let’s not go there. Jimmie Foxx (1936-1942) is the most effective Red Sox who was a real first baseman, but his prime years were in Philadelphia, though he did have big seasons his first four years with Boston. Since we decided to put Yaz in right, that leaves the choice between a right fielder (Evans), an aging legend (Foxx), and a DH (Ortiz). As much as we want to go with a real ballplayer (Foxx or Evans), David Ortiz (2003-2016) offensive numbers are good enough to cover for his zero value on defense. 

Second Base

This a lesson learned about rating players in mid career. Two years ago it seemed certain that Dustin Pedroia (2006-Present) was poised to pass Bobby Doerr (1937-1951) as the best second baseman in Red Sox history. Now it seems Pedroia’s playing days may be over. As good as Pedroia has been since 2006, he is still short of the Hall of Famer, Bobby Doerr  (1937-1951). Due to his home ballpark Doerr is overrated as a hitter, but nobody doubts his defensive ability. Unless Pedroia’s injury woes cease, Doerr will remain on top.

Third Base

Another no brainer, Wade Boggs (1982-1992) is one of the 10 greatest third baseman of all time. We wish shortstop was this easy.

AUGUST,1990: Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox tosses the ball before a August, 1990 season game. (Photo by: Bernstein Associates/Getty Images)

Shortstop

The choice at shortstop is a pick-em, and there are not just two contenders, but four. It might surprise you, but by the metrics we use Rico Petrocelli (1963-1976) is first, followed by Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2004), Johnnie Pesky (1942-1952), and Vern Stephens (1948-1952). Stephens is last, even though he was a monster at the plate and an above average defensive shortstop. The downside for Stephens is he only spent five years in Boston. Rating Pesky is interesting, because he was the regular shortstop when the Bosox acquired Stephens, and Manager Joe McCarthy moved Johnnie to third base to make room for Stephens. This indicates that in McCarthy’s mind Stephens was the better shortstop. With current data and their reputations while playing doesn’t seem to support that. Joe McCarthy is the most successful manager in baseball history, so his opinion carries substantial weight. We’ll call their defense a draw. Stephens was a much better offensive player. Nomar Garciaparra came into the League as a phenom, but injuries cut short what looked like a Hall of Fame career. His defense was not up to the other three, but as an offensive player, only Stephens could match him. He finished 2nd in the MVP voting in 1998 and in the top ten 4 other times. Rico Petrocelli spent his entire 13 year career in Boston, playing mainly shortstop for his first 8 season and moving to third base in his final five. This is a real difficult choice, but we’ll go with Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2004). The sustained level he obtained between 1997 and 2003 was greater than the other three. The only regret is with Pesky. Johnnie had an excellent rookie year in 1942, then spent three years in military service, returned to the Red Sox and had an even better year in 1946. Another player who spent, what should have been his best years, in the service of his country.

Left Field

Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983) and Jim Rice (1974-1989) are both in the Hall of Fame. Bill James rates Yaz as the 5th greatest left fielder of all time, while he places Rice 27th. That seems to eliminate Rice. The problem for Yastrzemski is that Bill James’ greatest left fielder of all time was also a Red Sox, Ted Williams (1939-1960). This means Yastrzemski is going to have to make the team at another position. 

Center Field

Reggie Smith (1966-1973)? Fred Lynn (1974-1980)? No; it’s Tris Speaker (1907-1915) by a wide margin.

Full-length of Tristan Speaker as Boston Red Sox

Right Field

Even though Harry Hooper (1909-1920) is in the Hall of Fame and Dwight Evans (1972-1990) is not, Evans was clearly the better player. The only problem with naming Evans is what about Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983)? As good as Yastrzemski was, he’s not better than Ted Williams, so he doesn’t make it in left. Could he handle right field? In his 22 seasons, he played right field only eight times, but he was in center 159 times. Evans was clearly better on defense, but Yaz was much better at the plate. We’ll go with Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983)

Pitchers

Roger Clemens (1984-1996) has an asterisk next to his name which is hard to dismiss. Whether he used steroids while in Boston is not known. His record in Boston puts him slightly ahead of the man who’s name is on the award he won a record seven times. Three of those Cy Young’s were with Boston, and also his MVP Award in 1986. Clemens remains a controversial figure, but we’re judging him solely on his record.

Cy Young (1901-1908) was a remarkable pitcher. He won 286 games in the National League before jumping to the American League in 1901 and then won another 231 games in the Junior Circuit. 192 of those were with the Boston Americans. To be blunt, his records for career wins and complete games are unapproachable. His years with the Cleveland Spiders were better than his years in Boston, but 40% of Cy Young is still more valuable than any other Red Sox Pitcher, except Roger Clemens.

What is George “Babe” Ruth (1914-1920) doing on the best pitcher list for the Red Sox? In his six years with Boston Ruth went 89-46 with an ERA under 2.30. He was 3-0 in World Series play with an ERA of 0.87. Add to that he was Babe Ruth at the plate, setting a Major League record by hitting 29 home runs in 1919. Stan Musial, years later summed him up best, “Ruth had to be the greatest player of all time because he could pitch and bat clean up in the big leagues like the star of a high school team.” The Babe did exactly that for Boston.

The #4 spot is a close call between three members of the Hall of Fame. “Smokey” Joe Wood (1908-1915) spent his entire pitching career in Boston, but after he blew his arm out he became an outfielder and was good enough there to play right field for the Cleveland Indians when they won the World Series in 1920. Just about his entire claim to be on this list is his unbelievable 1912 season, when he went 34-5 and led the Red Sox to their second World Series Title. Robert “Lefty” Grove (1934-1941) is one of the five greatest pitchers of all time, but like Young, his best years were with another team, the Philadelphia Athletics. His career record in Boston was 105-62, and a 3.34 ERA, which is not quite up to Woods’ 117-56 and 1.99. Pedro Martinez’ (1998-2004) record in Boston was much more similar to “Smokey” Joe’s, 117-37, ERA 2.52. This is unfair to Grove and Martinez, because they pitched during the big hitting 1930s (Grove) and 1990s (Martinez), while Woods hurled in the dead ball era of the 1910s. Innings pitched doesn’t help us much, because they are all bunched between 1539 (Grove) and 1383 (Martinez). It comes down to this; Joe Wood was a force at the plate, hitting .290 with an OPS of .784 (in the dead ball era in 1912) in his monster season and was a good enough hitter to play the outfield for a World Championship team in 1920. Grove hit like a pitcher, batting .130 with an OPS of .391 in Boston, and, because of the DH rule, Martinez had zero offensive value,. “Smokey” Joe Wood (1908-1915) is the choice, mainly because he had offensive value.

Manager

Jimmy Collins (1901-1906) was the Franchise’s first manager. In his six years, his team had 2 firsts, a second, and a third place finish. He led Boston to victory in the historic 1903 World Series, and then wasn’t allowed to defend his title the next year when John McGraw refused to meet his team in 1904. His teams had a record of 455-376 while he was at the helm. Terry Francona’s (2004-2011) record in Boston was 744-552. His teams only won one American League East title, but as a Wild Card (what in the world is that?) won a World Series in 2004, and another World Series in 2007. Francona’s record is a little better than Collins’.

MVP

It would be fun to make an argument for Tris Speaker as the Most Valuable Boston Red Sox, or Cy Young, or even Babe Ruth. But you really can’t. As good as Speaker was, only half his overall value was in Boston. The Cy Young case is much the same, while only about 20% of Ruth’s production was with the BoSox. Ted Williams gave five years of his life serving his country in World War II and Korea. Without giving Ted any credit for those seasons missed he is still way ahead of his distinguished competition. 

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