Friday, August 10, 2018

All-Time One-Year Wonder: Left Field

I'm going to do something a little different with the One-Year Wonder posts. I have decided to go position-by-position and see if I can determine who the best player at each position would be who only spent one year with the Red Sox. This requires a lot of time and research. I am not naming every single player who spent just one season with the Red Sox at each position, but just the better-known players. At the end of the post, I will pick the single best player for each position.

In the inaugural season of the Boston Americans (they would not become the Red Sox until 1908), a number of players jumped leagues from the National League to the fledgling American League.  Tommy Dowd was one such player.  He had been a decent, if unspectacular player, particularly with the old St. Louis Browns (now Cardinals).  Dowd was the first left fielder for the Boston Americans and put together a season very similar to his time in the National League.  He hit .268/.315/.337 with three home runs and 52 RBIs.  He led the team with 33 stolen bases.  Dowd is noteworthy for technically being the first ever player to play for Boston as he hit leadoff in the team's first game when they were the visiting squad.  He was also the first to ever steal a base.  After the season, he played a few more seasons in the minors, but never played in the Majors again.  

There are several Hall of Famers in this post and Burkett is the first of these.  Burkett was a former star in the National League for many years in the 1890's and won three batting titles for Cleveland and St. Louis.  He moved to the American League in 1902 with St. Louis where he spent three more seasons before being traded to Boston in a terrible deal for Boston.  George Stone was sent to St. Louis where he won a batting title himself.  Burkett on the other hand played one season in Boston in which he hit .257/.339/.344 with four home runs, 47 RBIs, 13 triples, and 13 stolen bases.  It was not a bad season and he actually had a 116 OPS+, but this was it for his career and Stone turned in multiple great seasons.  This was one of the first really bad trades Boston made.

TEX VACHE - 1925
A 35-year-old rookie, Vache had spent several seasons in the minor leagues before finally being brought to Boston in 1925.  This was a very bad period of time for Boston.  Vache though, made the most of his opportunity and was one of the better players on the team, which really was not saying all that much for this particular Red Sox team.  Vache made it into 110 games (only 53 in the field) and hit .313/.382/.464.  He hit three home runs and drove in 48 runs, overall good hitting numbers, but he was less than impressive in the field, committing nine errors.  1925 would end up being Vache's only Major League experience, but he makes it into this post because of his impressive batting line.

Here is another really bad trade in Red Sox history.  Durst had been a backup outfielder for the great Yankees teams of the late 1920's, including the Murderer's Row 1927 team.  The Yankees did not really need him so they traded him to Boston shortly into the 1930 season for a pitcher who was 39-96 with the Red Sox.  That pitcher was Red Ruffing who promptly developed into a Hall of Famer.  Durst on the other hand, played just the rest of that one season and hit .245/.290/.351 with one home run, five triples, and 19 doubles, and drove in 24 runs.  He did play in more games than at any point with the Yankees, but perhaps there was a reason that he was never a starter in New York.  After the season, he played several seasons in the minors, but never made it back to the Majors.

The second Hall of Famer on the list is the former Tigers and Senators star Heinie Manush.  Manush had won a batting title, led the league in hits twice and doubles twice, and been an All Star over the years, but he was nearing the end of his career when the Red Sox acquired him in a trade from the Senators for Roy Johnson and Carl Reynolds.  The idea was to team him up with his former player/manager from Washington, Joe Cronin, and give the team some much needed offense.  Unfortunately, he only ended up playing in 82 games with the Red Sox and did not do a lot with the stick, hitting .291/.329/.371, but with no home runs, 15 doubles, and 45 RBIs.  These were not the numbers the Red Sox were looking for when the team acquired him.  Luckily, Boston also acquire d Jimmie Foxx for the 1936 season so Manush's disappointing season was not a complete offensive drain.  After the season, he hooked on with the Brooklyn Dodgers and had one more great season before bouncing around a little and fading out.  He has a Tigers cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

The next season, Boston tried out another player who would only be in town for a year.  Mills was a long-time minor leaguer who could hit a fair amount.  He did not play much in the Major Leagues, mostly due to his fielding inadequacies.  He played just seven seasons in the Majors, and only two of those were full seasons.  Nonetheless, in 1937 he found himself the starting left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, his only season with the team.  He played in 123 games and had his best season in the Major Leagues by hitting .295/.361/.418 with seven home runs, 58 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases.  Mostly pedestrian numbers, but reasonably promising for a player who had never played in more than 29 games in the Majors before.  He made 14 errors in the field though, for a poor .946 fielding percentage.  After the season, Boston packaged him with Bobo Newsom and Red Kress and sent him to the St. Louis Browns in exchange for left fielder Joe Vosmik, finally solving the left field problem temporarily.  Mills had a similar, if slightly worse season in St. Louis then went back to the minors were he would spend most of the rest of his career, occasionally getting the call to the Majors with the Yankees and Indians.  I need to find this card, and most of the others from this set.

World War II had a major impact on Major League Baseball.  Many able-bodied players were drafted into the armed services, leaving the player pool severely drained.  The result was that a lot of players who were not good enough to play in the Majors made it and many older players were able to extend their careers.  Al Simmons is one of the latter.  The third Hall of Famer in this post was 41 years old and well past his prime.  He was a terrific player in the 1920's with the Philadelphia Athletics, winning two batting titles and having some terrific power as well.  He then bounced around for a while but was still mostly successful.  He was basically retired after the 1941 season, until the U.S. went to war.  He was brought back with the Red Sox in 1943, but was clearly done.  He played in just 40 games and hit .203/.248/.263 with the last home run of his Major League career and 12 RBIs.  He tried another comeback the next season back with the A's but made it into just four games and that was it.

Boston was Stairs's second team among the twelve that he played for in his career.  He was already 27 and looked more like a career minor leaguer at the time.  He was purchased by the Red Sox from the Expos prior to the 1994 season and spent most of his time in the Red Sox organization in the minors.  He was called up later in the 1995 season and played in 39 games, hitting .261/.298/.398 and hit his first Major League home run.  He also drove in 17 runs.  He appeared in a pinch-hitting role against Cleveland in the ALDS, but struck out.  After the season he was granted free agency and hooked on with Oakland.  It would have been hard to predict the run of success he started with Oakland in 1997 when he was already 29 years old.  He went on to be a solid hitter for several years afterwards and played for ten more teams.   

The fourth Hall of Famer on this list is the all-time leading base stealer, by a huge margin.  He stole 1,406 bases in his career, almost 500 more than the runner-up, Lou Brock.  Henderson is also the all-time leader in runs with 2,295.  He spent most of his career to that point with the Athletics, but also appeared with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Angels, Mariners, and Mets before coming to the Red Sox.  Unfortunately, he was 43 years old when he came to the Red Sox as a free agent.  He was not expected to be a starting outfielder, instead he was a fourth outfielder and someone who could steal bases off the bench.  Injuries to other players thrust him into playing quite a bit more.  Henderson played in 72 games and hit .223/.369/.352, so even though he was not the same threat with the bat, he still knew how to get on base.  He also hit five home runs and drove in 16 runs while scoring 40 runs.  He stole eight bases on the season.  Henderson would play just one more season with the Dodgers.  He has yet to formally retire, so there is still a chance for him to play again.

I am writing this post on Trading Deadline Day, an appropriate day to be doing so as there are two players on this list who the Red Sox acquired at the Trading Deadline.  Floyd was the first of these in 2002.  He actually played for three teams that season, starting the season off with the Marlins, the team he appeared in his first and only All Star Game the year before.  He was traded to the Expos early in July, then, just a few weeks later, traded to the Red Sox for Seung Song and Sun-Woo Kim.  Floyd played left field and designated hitter primarily while with the Red Sox, splitting the positions with Manny Ramirez.  Floyd was terrific down the stretch, hitting .316/.374/.561 with seven home runs, 21 doubles, and 18 RBIs, while also stealing four bases.  All of this in just 47 games.  Despite his success, the Red Sox did not seriously attempt to re-sign him after the season, allowing him to depart to the Mets as a free agent.  Boston apparently wanted someone a little cheaper with higher on-base percentages.  Ultimately, David Ortiz took the spot occupied by Floyd, which worked out pretty well for Boston. 

Podsednik was also involved in a Trading Deadline swap, but he was not acquired by the Red Sox at the Trading Deadline, he was traded away.  Temporarily.  Podsednik finished second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote in 2003 while with the Brewers and led the league in steals the next season.  Later, he was traded to the White Sox and was a big part of the 2005 World Championship team.  By the time 2012 rolled around, he was hanging on by a thread.  He did not play in the Majors at all in 2011 and signed with Boston as a free agent in May.  It was the right year to do so as Boston had a lot of injuries to outfielders.  Podsednik was able to step in and produce reasonably well.  Then, he was traded with Matt Albers to the Diamondbacks for Craig Breslow.  He was released a couple days later and snatched back up by the Red Sox.  For the year, he played in 63 games and hit .302/.322/.352 and stole eight bases.  It was reasonable production and for a team suffering the injuries the Red Sox did that year, it was certainly helpful.  He has not played in the Majors since.

Through his career, Sizemore typically played in center field, particularly with the Indians for whom he developed into one of the best players in the league.  But during his brief stay with the Red Sox, he appeared in more games in left field.  Sizemore had been a three-time All Star, won a couple of Gold Gloves, and a Silver Slugger and was a 30/30 man one year.  Unfortunately, injuries completely derailed his career and he missed two full seasons in 2012 and 2013.  He was attempting a comeback in 2014 when he was signed by the Red Sox.  He started on Opening Day and started off well, but it did not last.  After 52 games, he was hitting just .216/.288/.324 with just two home runs and stole five bases.  He was given his release in June with the emergence of Mookie Betts and hooked on with the Phillies.  He played slightly better for Philadelphia, but was still not good.  The next year, he split the season between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay, but he was never able to regain his form from the Indians.

Like Floyd, Yoenis Cespedes was a Trading Deadline acquisition by the Red Sox.  Unlike Floyd, he was not brought in to help the team challenge for a postseason berth.  Boston was way out of it and was dealing away talent.  They sent ace Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the Athletics and took back Cespedes as a way of preparing for the next year.  Cespedes was just 28 and was an All Star that very season, so there was hope that he could become a middle-of-the-order power threat for a Red Sox team that would contend the next season.  But Cespedes did not really take to Fenway Park and he was a disappointment the rest of the season.  His .269/.296/.423 line was not far out of line, but he hit just five home runs in 51 games.  Those were not the numbers the Red Sox were looking for out of a power hitter.  Coupled with some concerns about his work ethic, the Red Sox soured on Cespedes fairly quickly.  After the season, he was traded to the Tigers along with Alex Wilson for Rick Porcello.  A trade that did not look good in 2015, but much better in 2016 when Porcello was winning the Cy Young Award and Cespedes had been traded to the Mets.

Left field is historically Boston's best position.  From 1939 through 1987, there were three players that played the majority of the games at the position (Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice), and all three became Hall of Famers.  So, there was not a lot of room for players to come in during that time.  This was a pretty difficult position to pick between as all of the players had flaws.  There were not a ton of truly good seasons to pick between.  Tommy Dowd led the team in stolen bases, but did not hit well.  Tex Vache was terrible in the field and spent a large amount of time as a pinch hitter.  Buster Mills was decent, but had no power.  And so we come down to Cliff Floyd, who only played the last two months of the season with Boston, but was everything the team was looking for, with a decent batting average, power, and even a little speed.  He played a lot of DH, but he gets the nod for the left field spot here.

No comments:

Post a Comment