This past Friday, I asked you all to come up with a list of players you felt should have their number retired by the Red Sox. Nobody answered the call. So instead I’m going to take it upon myself to name a handful of players who are deserving.
A couple of notes: I’m a “big Hall” type when it comes to Hall of Fame voting, and that sort of extends to this exercise as well. That’s not to say that I think everybody should have their number retired, because that’s actually arguably an even higher honor than making it to the Hall of Fame. There are limited jersey numbers, assuming you stick to no more than double digits, but they can theoretically keep adding people to the Hall of Fame. Of course, they could just start using triple digits for jersey numbers, but let’s ignore that little wrinkle for now.
There are 43 people who have played for the Red Sox, managed for the Red Sox, or done something while affiliated with the Red Sox and made it into the Hall of Fame. There are 10 Red Sox who have had their number retired, not including Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 is retired by every team in baseball.
For the longest time, the Red Sox had a rule that said players had to be in the Hall of Fame (David Ortiz would be disqualified for the time being, and Johnny Pesky would be too) and end their career in Boston (Pedro Martinez, Wade Boggs, and Carlton Fisk would be disqualified). Ultimately, this criteria is no longer formal, but the honor is not to be taken lightly.
So who do I think should get this honor? We’ll be going in numerical order.
15 - Dustin Pedroia
David Ortiz was the face of an era of Red Sox baseball that lasted from 2003 to 2016. Dustin Pedroia, like with Manny Ramirez before him, played second fiddle in terms of being the face of the team. It hasn’t helped that Pedroia hasn’t been healthy since Ortiz’s retirement. He’s only played in 114 games over the last three seasons.
Despite not being the face of the team, there’s a strong argument that he was the heart. Tales of Pedroia’s grit, determination, and hustle have permeated themselves into existence time and time again. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t the guy because he didn’t need to be the face. He only needed to be the heart.
He took a very team-friendly discount to stick with the club, signing an eight-year, $110 million contract in 2013. He did this in the midst of an All-Star season (his fourth) in which he would also end up finishing seventh in the MVP voting, and of course playing a big role en route to a World Series championship.
Pedroia was known for putting the team first for the entirety of his career to that point. And his contract, while paying him well, was well below market rate for a player of his caliber. Robinson Cano (arguably a comparable player at the time) signed for 10 years and 240 million following the 2013 season.There’s been griping about how Pedroia’s contract is a burden on the team finances because he isn’t playing right now. Cano is roughly a league average hitter right now, and still has four (counting this one) years left on his contract. Pedroia will be off the books following 2021.
Dustin Pedroia is probably not making the Hall of Fame. He has a shot, but it’s going to be telling to see how Ian Kinsler does first (since he is now retired) since both of them were fairly similar in their style of play. By Hall of Fame metrics, he’s below average in every standard.But Pedroia means more to the city of Boston than he would mean to the Hall of Fame. His 15 has become synonymous with him. He should be the last to wear 15.
21 - Roger Clemens
Bryan Joiner already wrote an argument for Clemens here, so I won’t get too deep into this conversation like I did with Pedroia.
My argument for Clemens is he is arguably the best pitcher in Red Sox history not named Pedro Martínez, and there’s an argument that he was actually even better than Pedro. This chart of pitchers in Red Sox history backs this statement up.
Yes, that is a 20 fWAR difference between 1st (Clemens) and 2nd (Cy Young). Yes, that is a 20 fWAR difference between 2nd (Young) and 4th (Lefty Grove). Third was Pedro Martínez (whose number has, of course, already been retired).
I’m not here to debate Pedro vs. Clemens, because for me Pedro would win every time. He wasn’t here as long as Clemens, but his seasons were always magical, and he had what are probably the two best pitching seasons in baseball history, especially when you consider the era and his size.
Clemens can stand independently of Pedro. He may not have been the best, but he was here for thirteen years, and pitched 2776 innings in that time. Had he played 1997 in Boston instead of Toronto, he would have hit 3000. Clemens left Boston despite Dan Duquette offering “by far the most money ever offered to a player in the history of the Red Sox franchise”, largely because of a comment that was allegedly misquoted. Only Clemens will ever know his true reasons, but it is a shame he left, and his post-Red Sox numbers seem to prove it.
After leaving the Red Sox, he pitched 2140.2 more innings, won 162 more games, struck out 2082 more batters, and pitched to a 3.21 ERA. He also won four more Cy Young awards, made six more all-star teams, and received MVP votes five times.
While his character is fair to question, it’s worth noting that the Red Sox have not issued Clemens’s number 21 since he left. It seems likely they are just waiting for him to make the Hall of Fame, so they don’t have to be the ones to act first.
24 - Dwight Evans and Manny Ramirez
It’s strange to have multiple players listed, but these are two players who I believe to be Hall of Famers and they used the same number. Both players have meant a lot to the Boston Red Sox. Both players have a case. I’m not going to make the differentiation between which of the two deserves it more, because I think both deserve the honor plenty enough.
Dwight Evans played nearly his entire career with Boston. For fans who watched in the 1970’s and 1980’s, there were few better than Dewey. From the time period of 1970-1989, Evans ranked 9th among position players in fWAR, behind only Mike Schmidt, Joe Morgan, George Brett, Bobby Grich, Rickey Henderson, Gary Carter, Johnny Bench, and Graig Nettles. He also finished ahead of several Hall of Famers over this time span. To do all of it with one team was special. Only Schmidt, Brett, and Bench could say the same over this time frame. Schmidt’s 20 is retired by Philadelphia, Brett’s 5 is retired by Kansas City, and Bench’s 5 is retired by Cincinnati. Even Robin Yount and Wade Boggs, who were below Evans on the 1970-89 leaderboard (Boggs’s career only started in 1982, so he had significantly less time) had their respective numbers retired, and shared the same honor of doing it all with one team.
However, there also needs to be something said for just how good Manny Ramirez was in Boston. He wasn’t in Boston nearly as long (2001-2008), but his impact was felt all the same. Over his Red Sox tenure, Manny Ramirez ranked 3rd in wRC+, behind only Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. Manny Ramirez wasn’t just known for his incredible bat, though, and it’s because of those moments that I think we can excuse his short tenure. His friendship with David Ortiz is well documented. If you watched baseball from 2001-2008, you would be excused for thinking it was the David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez show, because for a while, it kind of was. The third best position player on the team in that time frame was Jason Varitek, who is just in a totally different tier of ballplayer.
Manny was a larger than life personality. There are dozens of clips of him doing something crazy. You don’t even need to look up the videos, because the images are burned into your head, most likely. Manny diving for a throw, turning it into a cutoff play. Manny high fiving a fan, and throwing out a runner. Over-running second base when he knew he was clearly out at second base. Calling off Edgar Renteria on what was an easy pop up for the shortstop, then missing the ball entirely, with it comically bouncing off his shin. Just a taste of the many things Manny Ramirez did that endeared him to an entire generation of Red Sox fans.
Since leaving Boston, he ran into a few issues, namely the dreaded PED bust that hit so many talented players. But if we can forgive Clemens, I think we can also forgive Ramirez.
Again, I wish to reiterate, I’m not here to make the distinction of one player being better than the other when it comes to Dwight Evans and Manny Ramirez. I just believe both deserve to be honored for what I felt were Hall of Fame careers, and they both happened to share the same number. This wouldn’t be totally unprecedented, either. 31 was retired by the Cubs for both Greg Maddux and Ferguson Jenkins; 8 was retired by the Yankees for both Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra; and 34 was retired by the Athletics for both Rollie Fingers and Dave Stewart (who is being honored this year).
FUTURE CONSIDERATIONS - #2 Xander Bogaerts, #41 Chris Sale, #50 Mookie Betts
I’ve listed these three numbers here, because while they aren’t ready to be considered yet (considering all of them are still active, and only one of them is older than 30), they could be on a trajectory to have their numbers considered for retirement one day. We won’t spend a lot of time, since we can’t really project the future, but these three best represent the closest things to possible Hall of Famers that have played for the Red Sox for a significant amount of time (and would thus, be worthy of jersey retirement).
Bogaerts has work to do, but last season was a true coming out party as a top-three shortstop in all of baseball. Since 2013, he’s the second ranked shortstop by fWAR (behind only Francisco Lindor), with particular improvement in his bat over the last two seasons. As he ages and slows defensively, it’s fair to wonder how his bat will change. If Bogaerts keeps up his progression, though, he should still be able to play at this near elite level through his prime (he is presently only 27 years old).
Sale is more likely to have his number retired by the White Sox than Boston, but he is under contract guaranteed through 2024, if he doesn’t opt out (which he may not) following the 2022 season. Presuming he comes back healthy in 2021 and plays through to the end of the 2024 season, he will have played seven years in Boston (as opposed to six in Chicago). Last year was a steep road-block for Sale, but the two years prior saw him in Cy Young consideration at the very top of the discussion. If healthy, and close to what he was the first two years in Boston, he’ll have a case for both the Hall and potential jersey retirement.
Betts is the one I grappled with the most on this list. Not because I think he doesn’t deserve it, but because it’s hard to tell what his future holds, and what his lasting legacy with the Red Sox organization will end up being. While unlikely, there’s also the chance he returns to Boston as a free agent after the 2020 season, if there is a season. If there isn’t, no chance, due to luxury tax questions. Based just on the numbers, I think he has a case, as he put up 37.2 fWAR in 6 short seasons. If he comes back, the chances are significantly higher, obviously. File this one as a long shot, to come back to later. If nothing else, I think it will be a long time before anyone wears 50 again.