Retired numbers: Boston Red Sox

10 greats have been honored, but half a dozen still deserve consideration

No big-league franchise has been more successful in the 21st century than the Boston Red Sox.

New England’s team has won four World Series over the past 21 seasons (2004, 2007, 2013, and 2018), a feat unmatched by any other club. Only the San Francisco Giants (three titles since 2000), New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals (two apiece) have come close.

And a fifth title might be on the horizon, since Boston reached this year’s All-Star break with the very best record in the American League.

But Red Sox Nation has also known its share of heartache. The club famously failed to win a single championship between 1918 and 2004 — an 86-year drought — despite employing some of the greatest players in baseball. Guys like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Roger Clemens, and Wade Boggs.

The Sox have done well by these heroes, regardless of their on-field frustrations. The numbers of 10 former stars are displayed on the right-field facade in Fenway Park. Almost all of the obvious candidates have been included, as we shall see in this, the 23rd stop in my club-by-club rundown of retired jerseys.

Yet the job isn’t done, since a case could be made that more retirement ceremonies are still in order at Fenway. I have a half-dozen suggestions.

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Red Sox’ numbers already retired

Eight of the 10 Boston heroes whose numbers have been retired can also be found in the Plaque Gallery in Cooperstown. Here’s the full rundown in numerical order.

No. 1 Bobby Doerr (1937-1951) was a run-producing machine. The second baseman drove in more than 100 runs in six seasons, and he scored at least 90 in five separate years. Doerr possessed a surprising mix of power (topping the American League in slugging average in 1944) and speed (leading the league with 11 triples in 1950). 

No. 4 Joe Cronin played a solid shortstop for Boston for 11 years (1935-1945), keeping his batting average above .300 in six of those seasons. Cronin also served as the Sox’ manager for that entire span, remaining in that job two seasons after his retirement as a player and winning the 1946 AL pennant. He later moved to the front office and the AL presidency.

Few players have started a career as well as No. 6 Johnny Pesky (1942-1952), who led the American League in hits during each of his first three years. The shortstop and third baseman batted better than .310 in five seasons, yet he somehow made only one All-Star team. He is one of two men on this list who is not in the Hall of Fame.

No. 8 Carl Yastrzemski (1961-1983) won AL batting titles in 1963, 1967, and 1968. The year in the middle (’67) was his greatest, as Yaz seized the Triple Crown with a .326 batting average, 44 homers, and 121 runs batted in, and was named the Most Valuable Player. He also won seven Gold Gloves as a left fielder.

Yastrzemski’s predecessor in left field, No. 9 Ted Williams (1939-1960), is commonly hailed as the greatest pure hitter in big-league history. He won six AL batting titles, peaking at an incredible .406 in 1941. Williams won a pair of MVP trophies and deserved others, only to be blocked by New York writers who dominated the award process.

No. 14 Jim Rice (1974-1989) took MVP honors in 1978, when he launched 46 homers and drove home 139 runs, both league-leading totals. He hit at least 39 home runs in four different seasons. The left fielder also demonstrated the ability to hit for a solid average, topping .300 in seven seasons.

No. 26 Wade Boggs was a fixture at third base for 11 seasons (1982-1992) with the Red Sox. He earned five batting titles during that span, including consecutive wins from 1985 to 1988, never hitting below .357 in those four years. Boggs piled up 2,098 hits for Boston before moving on to the Yankees and Rays. He finished with 3,010.

His immortal home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series cemented a lifetime link between No. 27 Carlton Fisk and the Red Sox. Yet the catcher actually played fewer games for Boston (1,078 in the 1969-1980 span) than his 1,421 for the White Sox in 13 subsequent seasons. Fisk qualified for seven All-Star squads in a Boston uniform.

No. 34 David Ortiz (2003-2016) never won an MVP Award, though he frequently came close. The designated hitter finished among the American League’s top six votegetters on six occasions. He led the league in homers with 54 in 2006 and topped the RBI standings three times. Ortiz, like Pesky, is not in the Hall of Fame, though his omission is a simple matter of eligibility. He’ll make his initial appearance on the ballot this fall.

No. 45 Pedro Martinez pitched for five different clubs, though his longest stretch was a seven-year run (1998-2004) with the Red Sox. The righthanded ace notched 117 victories for Boston, compared to 102 for the other four teams. He also earned two of his three Cy Young Awards while with the Sox.

Red Sox’ candidates for retired numbers

The Sox have done a fairly good job of honoring their greatest players, thereby keeping the number of candidates at a respectable level. Here are six who deserve consideration, including two who played before numbers were affixed to uniforms.

No. 15 Dustin Pedroia (2016-2019) was the sparkplug of Boston’s 2007 and 2013 world-championship teams. The second baseman was named the league’s Rookie of the Year in ’07 and its MVP a year later. He hit better than .315 in three seasons and finished with a career BA of .299. He also won four Gold Gloves.

No. 21 Roger Clemens won 192 games for the Red Sox over 13 seasons (1984-1996), while registering 38 shutouts and 2,590 strikeouts. No pitcher in club history has surpassed any of those numbers. Clemens won three Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in Boston. He ranks third on the club’s all-time list for wins above replacement (80.8), trailing Williams and Yastrzemski.

No. 23 Luis Tiant was a strong and flashy starting pitcher for the Red Sox during one of the club’s periods of resurgence (1971-1978). He won at least 20 games in three of those years, totaling 122 in eight seasons. Tiant led the American League with an ERA of 1.91 in 1972 and with seven shutouts in 1974.

Only Yaz played more games for the Red Sox than No. 24 Dwight Evans (1972-1990), who appeared in 2,505. He ranks sixth in club history in WAR (66.5), and he’s one of only four Red Sox batters to pile up more than 2,300 hits, joining Yaz, Williams, and Rice. Evans was equally flashy in the field, winning eight Gold Gloves as a right fielder.

The Gold Glove didn’t exist when Tris Speaker patrolled center field for the Red Sox (1907-1915), but contemporaries considered him the greatest fielder at his position. He also was a solid hitter, racking up a .337 BA in his nine Boston seasons, putting him third to Williams and Boggs in Red Sox history. Speaker also ranks seventh in WAR (55.7) on Boston’s all-time list.

No pitcher has won more games than Cy Young, who recorded 511 victories in all, including 192 during his eight seasons with the Red Sox (1901-1908). The latter number puts him in a tie with Clemens for the franchise lead. Young’s greatest season in Boston was the very first, when he went 33-10 with a league-leading 1.62 ERA. Young is fifth in club history with a 66.7 WAR.

The outlook

Ignore the fact that Speaker and Young didn’t have numerals on their uniforms. Several other franchises have retired blank jerseys to honor stars from the numberless era.

Yet such a move seems unlikely at this late date. The Sox traded Young to the Cleveland Indians in 1909, then shipped Speaker to the same club seven years later. Boston has had a century to honor both Hall of Famers — and has chosen not to do so. No change of heart seems imminent.

That leaves the four stars of more recent vintage. Clemens is clearly the most deserving, but the Sox are understandably hesitant. Election to the Hall of Fame should have been automatic in 2013, but allegations of steroid abuse scared away a substantial number of voters.

Clemens inched his way up to 62% in this year’s voting, but that still leaves him 13 points short of the 75% threshold for election. And next year will mark his final appearance on the ballot.

If the voter acquiesce in 2022, the Sox are likely to follow suit and retire Clemens’s number. If not, he’ll have to wait a few years for the Modern Era Committee to consider his Cooperstown fate. Any chance of a jersey retirement will probably depend on its decision.

Evans and Tiant have also gotten Hall of Fame consideration, though neither came close to election. The former peaked at 10%, the latter at 31%. Both are eligible for committee consideration in the future, which could affect their odds of having retirement ceremonies.

Pedroia enjoyed a great career, though he seems unlikely to make the Hall of Fame. But he possesses something the other candidates lack — a direct link to the highly successful Red Sox of the 21st century. He was a key member of the 2007 and 2013 championship squads, and he was still around — badly injured, but on the roster — for the 2018 title.

It’s a good bet that Pedroia’s No. 15 will eventually join the other numerals on Fenway’s outfield facade.

And it may seem crazy, but Clemens still could make it, too. Nobody on the Red Sox has been issued No. 21 since he left Boston a quarter-century ago. No ceremony has been held, but the club seems secretly interested in retiring his number for good.

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