Friday, July 26, 2013

Forgotten Stars Pt. 4: Rico Petrocelli

When a team that has as long a history as the Red Sox it is natural to have players who have been largely forgotten.  These are some players who simply do not get mentioned anymore or are largely forgotten.
For a few decades the A.L. single-season home run record for shortstops was held by Rico Petrocelli.  This was well before the days of Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Alex Rodriguez.  For a long time, shortstops just did not hit that many home runs.  Yet Petrocelli hit 40 in 1969.  What is even more odd is that Petrocelli never hit more than 29 home runs in any other season.

Rico Petrocelli arrived in Boston in the mid 1960's, a time when the team's fortunes were down quite a bit.  Petrocelli was a slick-fielding shortstop with some pop, but not a consistent hitter.  He hit .232/.309/.412 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 103 games his first full season.  He played in more games and his power numbers increased the following season.  

Petrocelli would be one of the central players on the 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox.  The shortstop was named a starter on the All Star team as he hit .259/.330/.420 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs.  He was also an exceptional defensive player that year.  In the World Series, Petrocelli hit two home runs.

1968 was a bit of a down year as he dealt with some injuries, but in 1969, his numbers exploded.  He hit .297/.403/.589 with 40 home runs and 97 RBIs, having one of the best offensive seasons for a shortstop to that point.  WAR did not exist at that time, but his 10.0 was tops in the league retroactively.  He also walked 98 times, versus 61 strikeouts.  He was an All Star for the second time in his career.

Unfortunately he would never hit quite that well again.  1970 saw him hit .261/.334/.473 with 29 home runs and 103 RBIs.  In 1971, Petrocelli moved to third base due to the acquisition of future Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio.  Petrocelli continued to play very well on defense.  1971 was also his last big offensive season as he hit .251/.354/.461 with 28 home runs and 89 RBIs.  He would never again hit more than 15 home runs.

Petrocelli played through the 1976 season and was the regular third baseman through 1975.  He made another World Series appearance in '75 and hit .308 with four RBIs.  

Petrocelli had a nice career but largely falls into the good-but-not-great category.  He played 13 seasons and had career numbers of .251/.332/.420 with 210 home runs and 773 RBIs.  But for three seasons, Petrocelli had some of the biggest offensive seasons of any shortstop to that point in history.  He was the rare player who had a lot of power, yet played very well on defense.  It was exceptionally rare for a middle infielder.    

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