The Red Sox will retire Wade Boggs' number 26 a full 16 years after his retirement, and 10 years after his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
No one can deny that, while wearing a Red Sox uniform, Boggs did everything he had to to earn the honor of having his number retired. 11 years, over 2000 hits, six Silver Slugger awards, and eight trips to the All-Star Game. The reason why it hadn't happened, and the reason why some will say it shouldn't now, is what came after. In 1993, Boggs signed with the Yankees, and in many minds, that should be the end of his story.
Meanwhile, not one month ago, the Red Sox gave David Price the number 24. He inherited it from Takashi Saito, who got it from Manny Ramirez. Before Ramirez there was Mike Stanley, before Stanley there was Shane Mack, and before Shane Mack there was Kevin Mitchell.
If Brock Holt is not going to be allowed to wear number 26, however (he will be taking up Mike Napoli's #12, for the record), David Price should not be allowed to wear number 24. If you want to move past Boggs' move to New York--an easier thing to do in these days since 2004--and hang up 26, that's fine. But for it to go up before Dwight Evans' 24? That's just not right.
I'll be the first to admit that Evans was not at Boggs' level, particularly when considering only the years spent in Boston. There's a lot more to their respective careers than one number can say, but to sum things up as neatly as possible, Boggs' 70.7 fWAR in 11 years with Boston eclipses the 65 Evans earned over his 19 years. Boggs was a generational hitter, Evans a reliable presence in the outfield whose claim relies heavily on longevity. The Red Sox were always happy to have him, but pretending he's Boggs' equal is an exercise in denial.
It's that sort of argument that has seen Boggs into the Hall of Fame while Dewey remains out in the cold. Nobody denies that Boggs is deserving, while the argument over Evans seems to resurface every year when talking about snubs. And so long as Evans is denied that honor, the Red Sox seem unwilling to budge on hanging up number 24. You could say it all comes down to their criteria, which demands ten years of service in Boston and, yes, election to the Hall of Fame. But that also used to include retirement with the Red Sox until it locked Carlton Fisk out. Oh, and Johhny Pesky isn't in the hall of fame, but...
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Well, but nothing. Johnny Pesky isn't in the Hall of Fame. His number six is up there because of how much he's meant to the organization, and that's fine. But it also applies to Dwight Evans who, frankly, has a much better case for retirement when it comes to his career on the field. Bending the rules for Pesky didn't lead to a slippery slope. Bending the rules for a guy who spent nearly two decades here won't either.
The Red Sox exist as a team, an organization, and a business to serve their fans. Nobody wants to talk about things like the "buying power" of fanbases being the reason owners like John Henry are willing to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into keeping the team running, but at the end of the day it's the truth. Every part of the Red Sox exist because and for the fans. Players should have their numbers retired not so much because of their on-field performances, but because of what those on-field performances and everything surrounding them meant to the fans. Can you imagine if, 20 years from now, we're talking about someone putting on the number 34 because the voters decided there was no room for a designated hitter in Cooperstown? Of course you can't, because David Ortiz has meant everything to this team for 13 years.
With Wade Boggs? It's a mixed bag. Some will never forgive him for leaving Boston for New York. Others think this honor is long overdue. For Dewey, though, how much opposition is there, really? His most vocal opponents will say they don't think he's quite there. His most vocal supporters consider it a disgrace not that the guy who headed to the Bronx is in, but that he's in while yet another player takes a turn with Dewey's number.
The Sox might have an out somewhere down the line if Manny Ramirez makes the Hall of Fame. They'd have to bend their ten-year rule, but I suppose they could say that between Manny and Dewey, 24 should be up there. But I don't want that. Dewey shouldn't be up there because of Manny, but because of Dewey. Instead of going halfway, the Red Sox should just do the right thing and give Dewey the recognition he deserves. If it's too late to do that before they give Boggs the honor, they can at least make it clear that the reason 24 is being retired is for the nearly two decades he gave his all to the Red Sox, to Boston, and to the fans. That's the sort of thing that should earn a retired number more than any number of batting titles or All-Star appearances.