If you’ve been reading the site all week, you know it’s been underrated player week at SB Nation. We spent the last few days looking at the most under appreciated players from the four most recent World Series clubs, as well as some of our own personal under appreciated players. Many of those players skewed towards the more recent, though, so I thought I’d use the weekend to look at the entire history of the team. On Saturday and Sunday I’ll go decade by decade looking for the most underrated player for each ten-year stretch. Now, I am not a baseball historian and don’t know exactly how these players were rated in their times, so know that these are not scientific answers. My only rule is that they cannot be in the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Other than that, it’s based entirely on feel. Also, a decade is defined by the year ending in zero to the year ending in nine. For example, the 1900s are 1900-1909. Today’s we’re going to look at the 1900s through the 1950s.
George Winter, RHP
Winter was part of the earliest Red Sox teams, joining the Americans back in 1901 when the franchise was first getting off the ground in the old American League. The small righty wasn’t looked at as much of a threat due to his size, but he got the most of it and excelled to the surprise of many. Nicknamed Sassafrass because of what today we’d call grit, Winter was a major part of the early clubs for the franchise, pitching over 200 innings in four of his seven seasons in Boston and finishing with an ERA+ over 100 in four seasons as well. He was never quite the ace of the staff, but Winter was an important member of their rotation and was part of the first championship in franchise history back in 1903, although he didn’t play because the Red Sox rotation already had guys like Cy Young, Bill Dinneen and Long Tom Hughes. Instead, he took tickets. When he did play, however, he was often good, and sometimes very good.
Ernie Shore, RHP
Chances are, if you know about Ernie Shore it’s due to one specific game back in 1917. This particular game was started by Babe Ruth, but he only lasted one batter. After a leadoff walk, Ruth apparently flipped out on the umpire and was ejected, leading to Shore coming in to pitch. The runner on first immediately tried to steal second and was thrown out. After that, Shore retired the next 26 batters he faced, coming about as close as one can come to a perfect game without actually getting it. In the history books, it’s a combined no-hitter with Ruth, but that’s not a fair retelling. Shore was more than just that one moment, though. Once referred to as “the thinnest pitcher in captivity” by the New York Times, he was a two-time champion with the Red Sox. Over four seasons with the club he had a combined ERA+ of 128 including a spectacular 1915 season with a 170 ERA+. Shore was the last surviving members of the 1915 and 1916 championship squads.
Ike Boone, RF
Boone might be the most interesting player to me on this entire list. I don’t know that I had ever even heard this name before researching this piece. Of course, the 1920s were a dark decade for the Red Sox as they were consistently one of the worst teams in the league. Boone wasn’t with the team all that long, and is most known in baseball history for his work in the minor leagues. Before that, though, he was a hell of a hitter, putting up OPS+’s of 132 and 125 in his two seasons as a starter with the Red Sox. Unfortunately for him, this was before the DH and his defense was pretty terrible in the outfield. That lack of defense combined with the fact that the Red Sox were barely staying afloat financially led to Boone being sold to the Missions of the Pacific Coast League. Boone would get back to the majors for stretches, but ultimately he made a name for himself as one of the best minor-league hitters of all-time, eventually getting inducted into the Halls of Fame for both the PCL and the International League.
Earl Webb, RF
Webb doesn’t have the same kind of cool stories as the other guys before him on this list, and he wasn’t really with the Red Sox for all that long of a time, spending just two seasons with the club in 1930 and 1931. He was outstanding in those seasons, though, with OPS+’s of 133 and 149. In fact, that 1931 season may be one that people have heard of, and the reason this is not an unknown name to everyone. Webb hit 67 doubles in that season, a record that still stands to this day despite them playing only 154 games at that time, though some did speculate he just stopped at second a few times when he could have had a triple. It is also reported that he hit a 550-foot home run that season, but I’ll let you judge the validity of that on your own. He was traded to the Tigers in 1932, and the Red Sox would get back Dale Alexander, who came out of nowhere to lead the league in hitting that season.
Bob Johnson, LF
Johnson is not really an underrated player in the history of the entire game, and was widely recognized as a fantastic player in his day. He qualifies here, though, because most of those great seasons did not come in Boston. Johnson spent most of his career in Philadelphia, making six All-Star teams with the Athletics and he is on the Philadelphia wall of baseball, which honors top players from the past. He finished his career in Boston, though, with the first of his two seasons in Boston being an all-time great one. The outfielder finished the 1944 season hitting .324/.431/.528 for a 174 OPS+. He led the league in OBP, finished three points back in batting average and one point back in slugging. He also hit for the cycle that year. He came back in ‘45 and put up a 125 OPS+, and Johnson made the All-Star team in both seasons. With many players coming back from the war, however, he decided to hang it up after that 1945 campaign.
Tom Brewer, RHP
This was probably the hardest determination of any decade on this list, including the ones I’ll discuss tomorrow. The 1950s didn’t really have any names that stood out beyond the obvious, though Brewer certainly qualifies. Unlike many others mentioned above, Brewer actually spent a substantial amount of time with the club, pitching in Boston from 1954 through 1961, with his career being delayed a few years due to his service in the Korean War. Upon returning, he was never really dominant — though he was referred to in the Sporting News as the “best looking BoSox rookie” — but he was often quite good. Brewer was a consistent winner and finished his eight years in Boston with a 104 ERA+ and an average of 189 innings per season. We talk about depth and role players being important for long baseball seasons, and Brewer fit that mold as a solid, consistent back-end starter.