Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Red Sox Team of the Decade: 1970-1979

The Red Sox were a very good team throughout most of the 1970's and were in contention several years.  They appeared in the World Series in 1975 against the Cincinnati Reds, though they lost in a thrilling seven game series.  They famously lost a one-game playoff to the Yankees in 1978 after looking like a championship team for most of the season.  The Red Sox of the 1970's did have one of their most iconic looks in their history with the red caps in the late 1970's.  And they of course had a number of terrific players.

It is very likely that Fisk is not just the best Red Sox catcher of the decade, he is the best Red Sox catcher of all time.  Fisk exploded onto the scene, winning the Rookie of the Year unanimously in 1972 and also picking up his only career Gold Glove.  He was an All Star six times in the 1970's and had one of the most iconic World Series moments of all time in Game 6 of the 1975 Series.  Fisk had some terrific seasons during the 1970's, including hitting .315/.402/.521 with 26 home runs and 102 RBIs in 1977.  Fisk is a Hall of Famer and wears a Red Sox cap on his plaque, due mostly to his work during the 1970's.  There really is no other choice at catcher than Fisk.

We go from one of the easiest selections to one of the hardest.  I had a lot of difficulty deciding between George Scott and Cecil Cooper at first base.  Cooper had the better individual season in 1975, but it was in just 106 games, but Scott had significantly more power and played in more games at first than Cooper.  Scott had been with the Red Sox since 1966 and was traded after the 1971 season.  He won a Gold Glove in 1971 and hit .263/.317/.441 with 24 home runs.  He was traded back to the Red Sox after the 1976 season, oddly for Cecil Cooper.  He had his final great season in 1977, hitting .269/.337/.500 with 33 home runs and 95 RBIs in his return, but age slowed him down afterwards.  Cooper went on to have a terrific career with the Brewers.

Second base was rough for the Red Sox in the 1970's.  Only one player turned in an All Star season, and that was Jerry Remy who played just one full season with the Red Sox in the 1970's.  Denny Doyle had the best offensive season in 1975, but it was in just 89 games, as he was an in-season acquisition.  So we end up with Doug Griffin, who played the most games at second for the Red Sox during the decade and who was mostly valuable due to his impressive defense.  Griffin won a Gold Glove in 1972 and was fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1971.  He was not much of a hitter, hitting .245/.299/.299 with just seven home runs during his career.  Remy and Doyle had better individual seasons as hitters, but Griffin was terrific with the glove.

One of the more underrated players of the 1970's was Rick Burleson.  The Rooster was a terrific defensive shortstop, who unfortunately was overshadowed by Mark Belanger.  He did manage to win his only Gold Glove in 1979.  He was also a decent contact hitter who did the little things to help win ball games.  Burleson was an All Star in three consecutive seasons from 1977 through 1979.  He finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year vote in 1974.  He had his best season for the Red Sox in 1976 when he hit .291/.365/.383 with seven home runs, 42 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases.  He also played his fairly typical great defense.  Burleson was named the Red Sox Team MVP in consecutive years in 1979 and 1980.  Burleson's career was unfortunately shortened by significant injuries after being traded to the Angels prior to 1981.    

After several seasons as the Red Sox starting shortstop, Petrocelli was moved to third base for the 1971 season to accommodate the acquisition of future Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.  He had his last great season in 1971 when he hit .251/.354/.461 with 28 home runs and 89 RBIs as the Red Sox third-baseman.  He had a few more decent seasons with the Red Sox from 1973 through 1975, hitting around 15 home runs and generally being a league-average hitter.  Petrocelli did have an impressive performance in the 1975 World Series, hitting .308.  He played great defense at third base, with a .970 career fielding percentage at third.  Butch Hobson comes in as the runner-up, mostly due to the strength of his 1977 season when he hit 30 home runs and drove in 112.  

One of the many young stars during the 1975 season for the Red Sox, Evans actually went on to have one of the best careers among Fisk, Lynn, Rice, and Burleson.  That he is not a Hall of Famer yet is a mistake.  Evans did not fully develop into a star right away, though he was named an All Star in 1978.  He showed off some power, hitting more than 20 home runs in 1978 and 1979, but he was mostly just a good hitter during the 1970's.  He was a great defensive player though, winning three Gold Gloves and showing off a rocket for an arm.  He made a terrific catch during the 1975 World Series.  Evans spent the vast majority of the decade as the Red Sox right-fielder, but the best was yet to come from him. 

The first player to win the MVP and the Rookie of the Year Awards in the same season, Lynn had one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time.  He was a terrific five-tool player.  He led the league in doubles (47), runs (103), slugging (.566), and OPS (.967).  He hit .331/.401/.566 with 21 home runs, 105 RBIs, and ten stolen bases and also won the Gold Glove.  Lynn was an All Star every season he played for the Red Sox and actually had his best season in 1979 when he won the batting title by hitting .333/.423/.637 with 39 home runs and 122 RBIs.  He led the league in average, OBP, and slugging, yet finished just fourth in the MVP vote.  Lynn also won four Gold Gloves with the Red Sox.  Unfortunately, he was traded to the Angels after the 1980 season and was just very good for several seasons, instead of great.  Lynn was one of the most dynamic players on the team in the 1970's.  Reggie Smith had a few good seasons in the early part of the decade too.

I could have complicated the first base position even more than it already was.  Yaz played a lot of first base during the 1970's and was actually the primary first-baseman from 1973 to 1976.  But he also still played a lot of left field, winning Gold Gloves in 1971 and 1977.  He had his last terrific power season in 1970 when he hit .329/.452/.592 with 40 home runs and 102 RBIs and led the league in runs, OBP, and slugging.  He was still a very good hitter after 1970, though age started to take its toll on the legendary player.  He was still an All Star every season in the 1970's, but he was not the Yaz of 1967.  He was still a very good, even great player.

The designated hitter position was created in 1973 and Boston had the first winner of the Designated Hitter of the Year Award.  But Jim Rice was the first huge Red Sox star that spent a significant amount of time at DH.  He played a lot at the position in the early years as Yaz was still a better defensive player than Rice for a few years.  But Rice's bat was far more powerful, so he needed to be in the lineup somehow.  Rice was the runner-up to Lynn for the Rookie of the Year in 1975 when he hit .309/.350/.491 with 22 home runs and 102 RBIs.  He was an offensive force from 1977 through 1979 and won the MVP with a terrific 1978 season when he hit .315/.370/.600 and led the league in most offensive categories.  While Rice played a lot of left field, he played the most games at DH of any Red Sox player in the 1970's.

Another of the big stars of the team during the 1975 season, Luis Tiant was captivating to watch as he had a truly unique windup and threw a number of different pitches from a number of different arm angles.  Formerly a power pitcher for the Indians, Tiant was forced to reinvent himself as a crafty, finesse pitcher after suffering a serious arm injury.  Boston picked him up off the scrap heap, and after a rough 1971 season, he led the league in ERA in 1972 with a 1.91 mark.  He won 20 games three out of four seasons from 1973 through 1976 and was the big pitching star for Boston in 1975.  Tiant is another member of this team that should be re-examined for the Hall of Fame.

Although Eckersley only spent two seasons with the Red Sox in the 1970's, they were quite possibly his best seasons as a starting pitcher.  He was acquired from the Indians in a lopsided deal prior to the 1978 season and he was the big winner for Boston that season.  He had his only 20 win season that year, going 20-8 with a 2.99 ERA and struck out 162 batters.  He had another great season in 1979, going 17-10 with an identical 2.99 ERA and struck out 150 batters.  Somehow he did not make the All Star team in either season, though he did receive some Cy Young votes both years.  Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame, though this is mostly due to his exceptional work as a closer.  He was just not good enough for long enough as a starting pitcher.

Wise led the Red Sox in wins in the 1975 season.  Not Tiant.  Not Lee.  Rick Wise.  He was originally acquired in a somewhat regrettable trade with the Cardinals in which Boston sent athletic outfielder Reggie Smith to St. Louis, but that is largely made up for when Wise was later traded for Eckersley.  Wise was known for being involved in poor deals as he was also once traded for Steve Carlton.  He was not great in his time with the Red Sox, but he did have a very good 1975 season when he was 19-12 with a 3.95 ERA and struck out 141 batters.  He never won as many games with the Red Sox again, but he was at least a decent starting pitcher for two more seasons.  He is mainly here for his 1975 season.

Siebert was the Red Sox ace during the early years in the 1970's, though he was not really among the elite pitchers in the league.  He was acquired in the trade that sent popular outfielder Ken Harrelson to the Indians.  That trade did work out well for Boston over time as Siebert had some nice seasons.  In 1970, he was 15-8 with a 3.44 ERA and 142 strikeouts.  He was an All Star in 1971 when he went 16-10 with a 2.91 ERA and 131 strikeouts.  He had a surprisingly good season with the bat that year as he hit a shocking six home runs and batted .266.  He had never hit more than two before.  The next year though he was just 12-12 with a 3.80 ERA and was traded early in the 1973 season.

After a few years in the bullpen, Bill "Spaceman" Lee was moved to the rotation in 1973.  He was decent out of the bullpen, including a very good 1971 season in which he was 9-2 with a 2.74 ERA.  But the outspoken southpaw really came into his own when he was given a chance to be a regular starting pitcher.  He won 17 games three seasons in a row from 1973 through 1975.  He had his lone All Star season in 1973 when he was 17-11 with a 2.75 ERA and struck out 120.  Lee was famous for being a great quote and having some wild ideas.  He was unconventional to say the least, but he was also a fiery competitor and a talented pitcher.  He had some injury problems in the late 1970's and did not get along with Boston manager Don Zimmer, which led to his eventual trade to the Expos.  Gary Peters and Mike Torrez were considered for the team as starting pitchers.

Moret spent just over half of his 116 games pitched for the Red Sox as a starter.  He had a couple of exceptional seasons which he split as a starter and reliever.  After a few seasons of appearing in just a handful of games, Moret made it to the big leagues to stay in 1973.  That season, he was 13-2 with a 3.17 ERA and struck out 90 in 156.1 innings.  After a decent season in 1974, Moret put together a 14-3 record in 1975.  He had an ERA of 3.60 and struck out 80 that season, but off-the-field problems led Boston to trade him to the Braves.  Unfortunately, Moret was never again the pitcher that he was in Boston.

"The Steamer" emerged as a great relief pitcher in 1978, his second season in the Majors.  He was decent in 1977, while pitching primarily out of the bullpen.  In 1978 though, he was a workhorse, appearing in 52 games, all but three of which were out of the bullpen, and throwing 141.2 innings.  He was 15-2 with a 2.60 ERA and picked up ten saves.  In 1979, Stanley started 30 out of 40 games and was 16-12 with 3.99 ERA and appeared in his first All Star game.  Stanley would pitch several more seasons with the Red Sox, with varying degrees of success.

The first major free agent that the Red Sox signed was Bill Campbell.  He was coming off of a season in which he was 17-5 with a 3.01 ERA and 20 saves, all as a relief pitcher, and teams were beginning to gravitate toward having a designated relief ace, which would eventually move toward the one-inning closer.  Campbell was great in his first season with the Red Sox in 1977, putting up similar numbers to Cy Young Award winning reliever Sparky Lyle.  He was 13-9 with a 2.96 ERA, a league-leading 31 saves, and 114 strikeouts versus 60 walks in 140 innings.  Unfortunately, the huge workload took its toll on Campbell and he was never quite as good.  But his 1977 season was the best season of the decade by any Red Sox relief pitcher by a wide margin.  Bobby Bolin and Dick Drago were also considered for the team.   

1 comment:

  1. Team of my youth. Thanks for the trip down memory lane