Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Red Sox Team of the Decade: 1980-1989

During the first half of the 1980's, the Red Sox were fairly boring.  They did not have the dynamic players that other teams did, and were a fairly one-dimensional club.  They had power, but little else.  Most of the team in the early part of the decade, was aging and left over from better years.  Boston did not take full advantage of the new free agency during this time period as ownership was mostly ambivalent toward improving the club.  It was only after the team started developing its own stars that things went the right direction.  Boston went to the World Series in 1986, and the ALCS in 1988. 

Gedman played for Boston every season during the 1980's.  Taking over as the primary starting catcher after Carlton Fisk left for the White Sox after the 1980 season, Gedman was a two-time All Star, though injuries eventually took their toll.  He had a three-year span from 1984 through 1986 when he was one of the best hitting catchers in the game.  Gedman finished second in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1981.  He was a pretty good defensive catcher as well, leading the league in runners caught stealing three years in a row and being in the top five in percentage most seasons he was a starter.  This position was easy, only Fisk had a comparable year to Gedman's best seasons, and he only played one year in Boston that decade.

In what was something of a tough position, Buckner's longevity was enough to outlast the one great year by Nick Esasky.  Buckner played for the Red Sox from 1984 through most of 1987 and was a productive hitter, though his defense left something to be desired.  Buckner came to Boston from the Cubs in 1984 and had back-to-back 100 RBI seasons in 1985 and 1986.  He had his best season in 1985 when he hit .299 with 201 hits, 18 home runs, 110 RBIs, and even stole 18 bases.  Unfortunately, despite his decent run with the Red Sox, he is mostly remembered for his critical error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series which shifted the momentum in the Series.  That is a shame.

Like Gedman, Marty Barrett was an easy choice for his position.  The best individual season for a Red Sox second-baseman was Dave Stapleton's 1980 season, but he played in only 94 games and never had anything close to that season again.  Jerry Remy was decent for a couple of seasons, but not as good as Barrett.  Barrett took over as the starting second-baseman in 1984 and was a solid performer who was a pesky contact hitter, difficult to strike out, and steady on defense.  He led the league in sacrifice hits three years in a row.  Barrett is best known for winning the ALCS MVP in 1986 when he hit .367 with five RBIs.  He had a combined 24 hits in the postseason that season.  Barrett was never a star and definitely did not have much power, but he did the little things that count.

This was one of the more difficult choices in this post.  Boston did not have a lot of production from the shortstop position over the decade, and most of the players did not stick around for very long.  Glenn Hoffman had the longest tenure, but he was not even the starter for all of those seasons, and he definitely was not as good as Jody Reed.  Spike Owen was decent, but not great.  Jackie Gutierrez was terrible and Rick Burleson only played one season.  So Jody Reed gets the nod with his two full seasons.  He started off well, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1988 with a .293/.380/.756 season.  He did not have much power, but was a very good #2 hitter, with a strong ability to get on base and did not strike out much.  He hit 42 doubles in 1989, the first of three straight 40 double seasons. 

One of the easiest choices of this post was third base.  It is hard to top a Hall of Famer.  Only Carney Lansford, who won the batting title in 1981, received any consideration whatsoever.  Boggs was one of, if not the, best hitter of the decade.  His best years occurred exclusively in the 1980's.  He won all five of his batting titles, and had his streak of seven consecutive 200 hit seasons occur entirely within the 1980's.  Boggs was a five-time All Star and won five Silver Slugger Awards.  He was simply an amazing hitter and drew a ton of walks as well.  Boggs became a Hall of Famer based on his amazing run in the 1980's.

Absolutely no contest here.  Dwight Evans spent almost the entire decade in right field.  Evans had been in right field for the Red Sox for several seasons, but was mostly known as a dynamic defensive right-fielder with a terrific arm and some power.  He blossomed into a star in the 1980's, a bit of a late bloomer.  He had a great 1981 season and was third in the MVP race, it was one of four seasons in which he finished in the top ten in the MVP race.  He led the league in OPS twice during the decade and also won five of his eight Gold Glove Awards and both of his Silver Slugger Awards during that decade.  Surprisingly, he was only an All Star twice during the decade.  Evans led the league in home runs during the 1980's.  He was a star, and became a borderline Hall of Famer.    

I was surprised with this decision.  Tony Armas had a terrific season in 1984, as he led the league in home runs (43) and RBIs (123), while winning the Silver Slugger Award.  But Ellis Burks was a far better all-around player, and Armas was mostly one-dimensional.  He exploded onto the scene in his rookie season of 1987 and was a 20/20 player right away.  Burks was the kind of dynamic, all-around talent that Boston had been lacking for several years.  He was a five-tool player and stole more than 20 bases all three years he played for Boston in the 1980's.  Only injuries prevented Burks from realizing his full potential while playing for the Red Sox.  

I strongly considered Mike Greenwell for this position, but it was too hard to ignore the Hall of Famer Rice, even though Greenwell's 1988 season was the best left field season for the Red Sox during the 1980's.  That year, Greenwell finished second in the MVP vote, the highest Rice finished during the 1980's was third in 1986.  Rice was still a devastating power hitter in the early 1980's, but he was not quite at the height of his stardom.  He had one last gasp in 1983 when he led the league in home runs (39) and RBIs (126).  He also continued to hit for a high batting average, hitting .305.  Rice was an All Star in 1980 and 1983 through 1986.  He won the Silver Slugger in 1983 and 1984.  He had his last great season in 1986, hitting .324/.384/.490 with 200 hits, 20 home runs, and 110 RBIs.  Unfortunately, he declined swiftly after 1986.  

Designated hitter was tough.  No one lasted more than a couple of seasons.  There were a few good seasons though, so it was possible to pick a winner.  Carl Yastrzemski was nearing the end of his career and was nowhere near the hitter he once was.  Don Baylor had a very good season in 1986 from a power standpoint, but a low batting average.  Jim Rice became the DH when Mike Greenwell emerged, but he was nowhere near as productive either.  Mike Easler actually had the best season at DH during the 1980's in 1984 when he hit .313/.376/.516 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs.  It was a terrific season for the left-handed hitter.  He declined significantly in 1985 though, hitting just .262/.325/.412 with 16 home runs and 74 RBIs.  After the season he was shipped to the Yankees for Baylor.

Who else could it be?  Roger Clemens emerged as one of the best pitchers in the game in 1986.  He won the AL MVP and the AL Cy Young Award when he went 24-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts.  He set a new record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game against the Mariners and led the pitching staff on the team's way to the World Series.  He followed that up by winning the Cy Young Award again in 1987 with a 20-9 record, 2.97 ERA, and 256 strikeouts.  Clemens was an All Star twice during the decade in 1986 and 1988, when he struck out 291 batters, a team record that lasted until 1999.  Clemens was easily the best Red Sox pitcher of the decade and would go down as one of the best pitchers of all time.

Somewhat lost in the dominance of The Rocket was the fact that Boston had a very good #2 starter in southpaw Bruce Hurst.  Hurst came up to the Majors in 1980, but took a few seasons to become an established starter.  In 1983 and 1984, he had identical 12-12 records, then went 11-13 in 1985.  But those records were more of a function of a mediocre team, as Hurst had decent numbers otherwise.  He had his first good season in 1986 when he was 13-8 with a 2.99 ERA and 167 strikeouts.  He was dominant in the post-season and would have been the World Series MVP had Boston held on.  He had his only All Star season in 1987 when he was 15-13 with a 4.41 ERA and a career high 190 strikeouts.  His best season in Boston came in his last one when he was 18-6 with a 3.66 ERA.  After the season, he joined San Diego as a free agent.

The owner of one of the best nicknames in baseball history, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was a pretty good pitcher when he was healthy.  Unfortunately, that was not nearly often enough and eventually led to an early exit from the game.  Boyd came up in 1982 and was in the league to stay by the end of 1983.  He was 15-13 with a 3.70 ERA in 1985 with 154 strikeouts, though he led the league in hits allowed.  He had a very good season in 1986 when he was 16-10 with a 3.78 ERA and 129 strikeouts.  Unfortunately, some off-field incidents prevented him from being even better.  Boyd's career was derailed by blood clots in his shoulder in 1987 and it took several years for him to get back to full strength.  By then, he was pitching for the Expos.

Eckersley was not quite the starting pitcher he was in the late 1970's with the Red Sox, but he still had some decent seasons.  He started the decade off with a 12-14 record and a 4.28 ERA.  After a mediocre 1981 season, Eckersley bounced back in 1982 and was named an All Star for the second time in his career.  He was 13-13 for a bad Red Sox team with a 3.73 ERA and 127 strikeouts.  Eckersley continued his decline for a couple more seasons before being traded to the Cubs for Bill Buckner.  He would later resurrect his career as a closer for the Athletics and the rest was history.  Other starting pitchers considered for this list were Mike Torrez, John Tudor, Bob Ojeda, Al Nipper, and Mike Boddicker.

I just covered Bob Stanley in a post a couple of days ago.  Stanley retired as the then-team record holder in saves and appearances.  He was an All Star in 1983 when he had a terrific season, going 8-10 with a 2.85 ERA and a team record 33 saves, a record which would stand until 1991.  Stanley was a stalwart in the Red Sox bullpen for several more seasons, eventually retiring in 1989 after a couple of down seasons.  His career saves record would stand until Jonathan Papelbon eventually bested it.

Lee Smith was one of the most dominant relief pitchers of all time and retired as the career record holder in saves.  His record would eventually be shattered, which is likely why Smith has not been elected to the Hall of Fame.  Smith came up with the Cubs and was traded to the Red Sox prior to the 1988 season in a bad deal for Chicago.  The Cubs received Calvin Schiraldi and Al Nipper in the deal.  Smith was 4-5 with a 2.80 ERA and saved 29 games.  He struck out 96 batters in 83.2 innings.  The next season he was 6-1 with 25 saves and a 3.57 ERA.  He again struck out 96 batters, this time in just 70 innings.  Smith started the 1990 season with Boston, but was traded to the Cardinals early in the season.  He would continue to put up big numbers as a closer after the trade.  Mark Clear, Tom Burgmeier, and Dennis Lamp were also considered as relief pitchers.

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