I’ve been wanting to do a project like this for a very long time. In fact, I made my first draft of this list about four years ago when I was at Baseball Prospectus Boston. Over that time a lot has changed in the way I think about the individuals who will, and sometimes just as notably, will not make up this roster. The Red Sox have one of the richest traditions in all of sports spanning from 1901 to the present and making cuts on my all-time roster has been extremely difficult, especially with the hitters.
My goal with this project is to put together a functional 26-man roster designed to win the most baseball games. This means that position matters. I will strive to build a functional bench, bullpen, and, of course, defense does matter. Here are a few rules I made for myself regarding position and inclusion on this list:
- The players on my list have to have played at least part of three seasons with the team. Apologies to Adrián Beltré, but you have to have bought property here in order to make my team.
- The player had to play the majority of their games at a position in order to qualify or have exceeded 600 games at the position. In the case of pre-1950’s pitchers where relief/starter roles were not quite as defined as today I have given leeway.
- Per the rule above, in order for a starter to make my list as a reliever they had to have made a substantial amount of relief appearances.
- I do factor in the era in which players played, the run environment, whether or not the game was integrated when they played, and their reputation as a teammate.
- I value postseason performance, but I don’t ding players that didn’t play in the postseason.
- Lastly, peak performance is more important to me than longevity. I’d rather the guy that lit the world on fire for six years than the guy who was above average for twelve.
I will be rolling this series out twice a week until I cover every player on my roster. I am sure there will be many disagreements, so let me know in the comments below as always.
As I said one of the hardest parts of this process was cutting players from the roster who just didn’t fit. I had to cut a lot of amazing players. Interestingly enough there ended up being an additional 14 players who barely missed the cut. Taken together these players form my All-Time Red Sox 40 man roster. Half of those players are listed below — the rest will come tomorrow — along with career honors, numbers with Red Sox, signature Red Sox season, and a short write up.
Jim Rice, LF/DH, 1974-1989
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, His number 14 was retired by the team on July 28th 2009, 1978 AL MVP, 8x All-Star, 2x Silver Slugger
Red Sox Numbers: .298/.352/.502, 382 HR, 1249 R, 1451 RBI, 58 SB, 128 wRC+, 50.8 fWAR
Signature Season: 1978 .315/.370/.600, 46 HR, 121 R, 139 RBI, 7 SB, 162 wRC+, 7.7 fWAR
The omission of Jim Rice on this roster says far more about the team’s rich history of left fielders and designated hitters than it does about Rice. Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski also played his position and they did so at a higher level. David Ortiz also exists making Rice’s inclusion at DH impossible. So why didn’t he get a bench spot? It came down to a lack of versatility. As good as his bat was his, defense wasn’t special and he has limited use in that role. I remain convinced that if he hadn’t broken his hand in 1975 that he would’ve helped the Red Sox beat the Reds in the World Series. Oh, and his 1978 season is still the all-time Red Sox record with 406 total bases.
Joe Cronin, SS, 1935-1945
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, His number 4 was retired by the team on May 29th 1984, 7x All-Star
Red Sox Numbers: .300/.394/.484, 119 HR, 645 R, 737 RBI, 31 SB, 122 wRC+, 30.1 fWAR
Signature Season: 1938 .325/.428/.536, 17 HR, 98 R, 94 RBI, 7 SB, 134 wRC+, 6.7 fWAR
Cronin was one of the signature acquisitions made by owner Tom Yawkey after he purchased the team in 1933. The star shortstop had already made two All-Star teams with the Washington Senators before he arrived in Boston and expectations were sky high. After two mediocre years in 1935 and 1936, the second due to injury, he rebounded in spectacular fashion in 1937 and 1938 posting two excellent years. Those years started a string of five incredible years with the club. During his playing days he served as player/manager and after he finished in 1945 he served as general manager, among other titles, with the Red Sox.
Dwight Evans, RF, 1972-1990
Honors: 3x All-Star, 2x Silver Slugger. 8x Gold Glove
Red Sox Numbers: .272/.369/.473, 379 HR, 1435 R, 1346 RBI, 76 SB, 129 wRC+, 64.3 fWAR
Signature Season: 1982 .325/.428/.536, 32 HR, 122 R, 98 RBI, 3 SB, 152 wRC+, 6.5 fWAR
I easily could’ve chosen Evan’s strike-shortened 1981 or his impressive 1987 as his best season and that’s just the point. He was as consistent as players get. Dewey, as he is affectionately known in Boston, played the best right field in Red Sox history (up until recently) and produced at the plate every year. Evans’s remarkable consistency was a product of his durability and his toughness often playing through ailments. Though he earned MVP votes in five of his seasons he never was considered among the top players in the game. Dewey was underrated and his consistent greatness puts him among the top three defensive outfielders in Red Sox history.
Mo Vaughn, 1B, 1991-1998
Honors: 1995 AL MVP, 3x All-Star, Silver Slugger
Red Sox Numbers: .304/.394/.542, 230 HR, 628 R, 752 RBI, 28 SB, 136 wRC+, 27.6 fWAR
Signature Season: 1998 .337/.402/.591, 40 HR, 107 R, 115 RBI, 0 SB, 151 wRC+, 6.3 fWAR
For a lot of people my age or just a little older (I’m 33) the “Hit Dog” was their favorite player. For a kid, watching Vaughn was as good as it gets. He was a hulking slugger who could hit for power and average, he was involved in lots of plays as the first baseman, and he did so with an affable smile. Vaughn was great while he was with the team and choosing between his MVP year of 1995, his counting stats year of 1996, and his overall exceptional 1998 was difficult. 1998 was Vaughn’s final year with the team and the Red Sox made the postseason losing to the Cleveland Indians. Over those four games the soon to be Angel hit .412/.444/.882 with two home runs and seven RBI. They didn’t win, but the “Hit Dog” was not the reason they lost.
Vern Stephens, SS/3B, 1948-1952
Honors: 8x All-Star
Red Sox Numbers: .283/.364/.492, 122 HR, 449 R, 562 RBI, 7 SB, 116 wRC+, 21.5 fWAR
Signature Season: 1949 .290/.391/.539, 39 HR, 113 R, 159 RBI, 2 SB, 134 wRC+, 7.5 fWAR
Most Red Sox fans, myself included, had never even heard of Vern Stephens let alone know that he led the league in RBIs three times from the shortstop position. Stephens bumped the legendary Johnny Pesky off his position when he arrived to the team in 1948. The Red Sox wanted him badly and they paid dearly to get him sending eight players and $385,000 to the Browns for his rights. Stephens probably wouldn’t be a shortstop today with a cannon arm and limited range, as he was likely more suited to his final position of third base. His 1949, 1950, and 1948 seasons are the first, second, and third best RBI seasons in Red Sox history for a shortstop. His name needs to be known by more fans.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B/1B, 2004-2012
Honors: 2x World Series Champ, 3x All-Star, Gold Glove
Red Sox Numbers: .287/.388/.487, 133 HR, 594 R, 564 RBI, 26 SB, 130 wRC+, 28.9 fWAR
Signature Season: 2009 .305/.413/.548, 27 HR, 99 R, 94 RBI, 7 SB, 147 wRC+, 5.9 fWAR
Youkilis was awesome. This man played with grit, preternatural plate discipline, and surprising athleticism for his entire career with the Red Sox. I chose his 2009 season to highlight because it perfectly summed up “The Greek God of Walks” as a player. During that season he posted a 13.1% walk rate, was hit by 16 pitches, played 78 games at first base, 63 at third base, and two in left field. He was everywhere, he was everything. Unlike players like Wade Boggs and Evans, who were under appreciated in their time, Youkilis played in the age of Moneyball and people knew what a unique player he was.
Jackie Jensen, RF, 1954-1961
Honors: 1x World Series Champ, 1958 AL MVP, 3x All-Star, Gold Glove
Red Sox Numbers: .282/.374/.478, 170 HR, 597 R, 733 RBI, 95 SB, 123 wRC+, 26.6 fWAR
Signature Season: 1958 .286/.396/.535, 35 HR, 83 R, 122 RBI, 9 SB, 150 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR
One day I was at a Red Sox game walking around past the vendors in the depths of Fenway Park when I came across a wall celebrating former MVP winners. I read Jackie Jensen’s name and thought to myself, “Who the hell is this guy and why haven’t I heard of him?” When I looked him up I was shocked to learn that he was not only a star on the diamond but his career as a two-way football player at Cal had earned him All-American status in 1948. He was a freak athlete in the same vein as Mike Trout (relative to era) and without a doubt the most unknown MVP in Red Sox history. Jensen battled anxiety his whole career contributing to his first retirement at just 32 years old in 1959. He played just one more season in 1961 before calling it quits.