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 finish up with the 1960s through the 2010s.
Félix Mantilla, UTIL
Continuing with our theme from yesterday, our first underrated player for the “modern era” is another guy who spent most of his career playing for a team other than the Red Sox. That appears to be the easiest way to make this extremely subjective list. Anyway, Mantilla started his career as a minor-league teammate of Hank Aaron on one of the first integrated professional teams, and both of them played together on the championship Braves team in 1957. He would spent six years with the Brewers as a middling utility player, and after a year with the Mets was traded to the Red Sox in a deal involving Pumpsie Green, and Mantilla enjoyed the best years of his career with Boston. Fenway just suited his swing, and he put up a 131 OPS+ with the Red Sox, making the All-Star team in 1965 and receiving MVP votes that year as well. He also did all of this while playing every position besides pitcher and catcher in his time here, making him the original Brock Holt in a way. There was something about Boston that just worked for him, as he never had an OPS+ above 94 while playing for another team, but his lowest OPS+ in three years with the Red Sox was 119. He’d probably be better remembered if he was still around a couple years later for the World Series club, but instead he’s just a really interesting super utility player before his time.
Sonny Siebert, RHP
Siebert is kind of exactly the type of player I imagined when I started doing my research for this piece, a player who spent a good chunk of time with Boston (five years in this case) and was always solid though rarely outstanding. The righty started his career with the Indians — and was actually also drafted by the St. Louis Hawks of the NBA — and spent six years with Cleveland before being traded to Boston. His claim to fame to that point was throwing a no-hitter in 1966, one that he told his wife he was going to throw. He was with the Red Sox from 1969 through part of 1973, and was just really solid in that time. Pitching both in the rotation and in relief, he pitched to a very solid 107 ERA+ over 820 innings. His signature year came in 1971, when he made the All-Star team and pitched to a 128 ERA+ over 235 1⁄3 innings. He’s still in the record books, too, as the last American League pitcher to hit two home runs in the same game. Like Mantilla, he was just a couple years away from being on a pennant-winning club, which certainly would have upped his profile all these years later.
Jody Reed, SS
This was a really hard call as the 80s were sort of a stars and scrubs kind of decade for the Red Sox. I’m not sure Reed is really all that underrated now, but he strikes me as the kind of player who could have been more appreciated in today’s game than in the past. He was an on-base machine in his early days for the Red Sox, combining contact skills and patience for three straight years with an OBP of at least .370 to start his career. Like the other two names before him here, Reed also just missed a World Series appearance, making his debut in 1987. Perhaps his most important contribution to the Red Sox, however, was after he left the team. Reed was taken by the Rockies in the expansion draft in 1992 and immediately traded to the Dodgers. He did not sign a long-term deal in L.A., though, which led to the Dodgers needing a middle infielder, which led them to trade Pedro Martínez to Montreal. If Reed stays in L.A., Pedro may as well and who knows what happens to Red Sox history at that point.
Tom Gordon, RHP
Now we’re getting into an era of baseball that I watched. This was another tough decision for me, because frankly the Red Sox weren’t very good for much of the 90s, and it seems like they had a lot of cult heroes who could have fit here but were too popular. Gordon arguably belongs in that category too — Stephen King put him in a book title, which seems like a big deal — but I feel like we’ve forgotten how good he was as a closer. It wasn’t as long as I thought it was, as he only really served in the role for a year plus a couple months, but he was dominant. I remember seeing him on the mound looking in for the sign with his hat pulled down almost over his eyes, and I thought he was the coolest and most intimidating pitcher ever. He was electric in that 1998 season, too, saving 46 games and pitching to a 2.72 ERA. Gordon also pitched all the way into 2009, which blew my mind.
J.D. Drew, RF
Look I wanted to pick someone else here. I really did. This is the most cliche answer possible, but sometimes cliches exist for a reason, ya know? We all know the story of J.D. Drew, the player who got a big contract and was good but not great — although he was pretty great on a couple of very good teams — and just gave off lackadaisical vibes. The reputation was mostly unfair, but it was what it was, and he was the first truly divisive player I remember feeling strongly about. I would imagine most people reading this site know that Drew was very good, but just in case you don’t he had two years with an OPS+ over 130, four seasons of above-average production, an OPS+ of 121 in his four years before he tanked in 2012, and had a huge grand slam in the 2007 AlCS en route to a championship. Drew deserves respect.
Junichi Tazawa, RHP
It’s kind of hard to talk about under appreciation for players that played so recently, and I imagine when we look back at this era in 20 years there will be someone we appreciate now that might be overlooked by that point. For now, though, I’m going with Tazawa. He was largely overshadowed by Koji Uehara in the late innings, but Tazawa was almost as good at controlling the strike zone as Uehara, which is an incredible feat. Tazawa regularly struck out over a batter per inning while keeping his walk rate low, and for a three-year stretch from 2012-2014, he pitched 175 1⁄3 innings with a 157 ERA+, 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings and 1.7 walks per nine. Setup men rarely get the love they deserve unless they are totally dominant a la Andrew Miller, but Tazawa was steady, durable and just plain really good.