Which Active Red Sox Player Has the Best Chance at Cooperstown?

Cooperstown, New York remains as baseball’s hallowed grounds. It is there whereCooperstown past legends are forever remembered within the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This year, the Boston Red Sox are off to a historic start. Their roster is filled with many talented players. But which of those players has the best chance at going to Cooperstown and joining these hallowed few?

 

 

Craig Kimbrel

Earlier this month, Kimbrel became the youngest closer ever to reach 300 saves. He was also the NL leader in saves from 2011-2014 before joining the Red Sox in 2016. Throughout his entire career as a closer, he has recorded at least 30 saves in each season. In 2011, he was the NL Rookie of the Year and is a six-time all-star, including last season in which he had a 1.43 ERA and a 0.68 WHIP. The only active closers with more saves are Huston Street, Fernando Rodney, and Francisco Rodriguez, all of which are significantly older than Kimbrel. When all is said and done, I believe Craig Kimbrel will join Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Dennis Eckersley as the best to ever close.

Mookie Betts

Of any player on the Red Sox in the last decade, Betts has the highest ceiling. The combination of his power, speed, and defensive prowess have put him in the upper echelon of players in today’s game as well as team history. This season he is currently tied for first in home runs, second in average, second in doubles, first in slugging, and first in OPS league-wide. At age 25, Betts likely still has at least ten years of highly-productive seasons left. At the end of his career, Betts will have a good shot at making it to the Hall.

Chris Sale

Few left-handed pitchers have been as dominant in their early careers as Chris Sale.  Among active pitchers, he trails only Clayton Kershaw in career ERA, opponent average, and WHIP. That being said, Kershaw has 29 more career starts than Sale and is slightly older. His win-loss record is 95-59, which is lower than his contemporaries, however he was a part of some poor Chicago White Sox teams. While not even 30, I believe Sale still has the ability for 3-5 more dominant years and 7-9 more strong seasons. To make his way to Cooperstown, he’ll need to avoid serious injury and stay on competitive teams.

Dustin Pedroia

Of any Red Sox, Pedroia is the most intriguing to talk about in terms of Hall of Fame prospects. There is no question that he has remained the heart and soul of this franchise throughout his career, no matter the circumstance. However, he has begun to show signs of physical wearing down via frequent injuries, especially in the second half of his career. That being said, he has never batted lower than .278 in a season and has never committed more than six errors in a season. He is a 4-time Gold Glove winner, 4-time All-Star, a 2008 MVP, and the only Red Sox player other than Kimbrel to win Rookie of the Year. He will forever be remembered as the catalyst for the team in this era.

Cooperstown Breakdown

So who has the best chance of these four? The easy answer is that it depends. I think the best way of looking at Hall of Fame prospects is three-pronged. The first is did they win during their careers; was their impact big enough to yield pennants and championships. Between the four, only Pedroia has a World Series ring. However, all four have been a part of winning teams, even though they’re all in different parts of their careers.

The second, and most obvious, is their career numbers and stats. Frankly, I would not have written this article if it weren’t apparent that these guys had the accolades to be in the conversation.

That leads me to the last and most intriguing factor: their era and its comparables. In other words, what was the climate of baseball at their respective position in terms of character, performance, and competition? For Sale, he’s had Kershaw and Madison Baumgarner, as well as Justin Verlander. For Kimbrel, he entered the league as Rivera and Hoffman were leaving. Betts will always have the Mike Trout and Bryce Harper comparison on his back. Pedroia’s main counterpart throughout his career was Ian Kinsler, but Kinsler never really won anything. His other main comparison was always Robbie Cano, but Cano’s latest PED scandal will likely dampen his reputation a bit.

Given all these variables, I believe that Kimbrel has the best chance because there are few closers in his era to compare him to besides Aroldis Chapman, who has character problems of his own. If Betts and Sale can continue dominating and avoid the pitfalls of free agency, they could make it there too. Should Pedroia finish strong like I expect, he’ll always have my support too.

Show me your thoughts!

I ran a Twitter with a similar question last week, and this is what I gathered. Feel free to tweet with your thoughts or leave comments below. 

The Big 50: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Red Sox

Have you ever been at Fenway Park watching a game, and begin to wonder about the Red Sox’s team history? It’s not difficult to do. Signs, monuments, and vintage artifacts are seen throughout Fenway. Those relics of the past and present can (and do) catch people’s interest. With so many Red Sox history books out there though, which would you pick? Evan Drellich’s The Big 50: The Men and Moments that the Boston Red Sox, is a great book that gives brief but excellent details about the fifty biggest moments in Red Sox history.

With a forward written by former Red Sox player Kevin Youkilis, Drellich divides the book into fifty sections. EachThe Big 50 section spends about five or six pages detailing a famous event or player from the Boston Red Sox. What makes The Big 50 such a great book is that Drellich doesn’t just talk about Ted Williams, David Ortiz, and Manny Ramirez. Drellich discusses major events in the nation’s history, and how those events affected the Red Sox. For example, there’s an entire chapter about Ortiz’s famous words: “This is our F’ing city,” that details Ortiz’s message to Boston in the wake of the marathon bombing in 2013. Drellich also mentions Bucky “F–kin” Dent’s home run (still a sore subject in Beantown). While I think Drellich should have ranked Ted Williams #1 instead of #3, I still think his short bio of “The Splendid Splinter” is amazing.

The Big 50 is a Great Companion Book for Any Fan Going to Fenway

The book magnificently balances older history with more recent events in Red Sox history. Drellich spends time discussing Tony C, and 1986. He mentions more modern era players like Dustin Pedroia and Curt Schilling, too. I particularly like how Drellich includes quotes from interviews with players like Jim Rice, Jim Lonborg, and Theo Epstein. This book is one of the more thorough and detailed books about the Red Sox to come out in recent years. That’s not to discount other books about the team. But if fans are looking for something concise about Red Sox history without wanting to read a 500+ page book, the The Big 50 is perfect.

The Big 50 is an excellent book that no Red Sox fan should go without. It’s small enough to fit in a bag and take with you to Fenway Park. So whether you’re a die-hard fan like me, or just a casual fan, you’ll appreciate this book!

Book Review of Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox

Rumors about Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey’s racism have persisted for years. Yawkey, who owned the Red Sox from 1933 until his death in 1976, owned the last team to integrate in 1959. Critics point out how the team declined to sign Jackie Robinson following a tryout at Fenway in 1945. Journalists and historians tell different stories about the tryout itself. Author Bill Nowlin explores these stories, along with all the other aspects of Yawkey’s life, in his biography Tom Yawkey: Patriarch of the Boston Red Sox.

During an August 2017 interview, Nowlin told me that “…in all my research I never foundTom Yawkey any hard evidence – no ‘smoking gun’ – to indicate that Tom Yawkey himself was personally racist.” In fact, Nowlin mentions that sportswriter Clif Keane may have fabricated the story about the racial epithet altogether. Nowlin, however, does not completely exonerate Yawkey. “…on 24 hours’ notice [Yawkey] could have ensured the Red Sox had an African American ballplayer. The facts show that the team was institutionally racist up until at least 1959.”

Dick Johnson of the Sports Museum of New England, who is quoted throughout the book, concurs. “It was stupidity and bad management…It was only years afterward when Neil Mahoney and Dick O’Connell and Ed Kenney and the really good, intelligent, colorblind (for the most part) staffers they had were allowed to have a say and to have a little bit of control over things [that things changed].”

These themes, as well as other aspects of Yawkey’s life, are meticulously detailed in Nowlin’s biography of a complex man.

Nowlin’s Biography Gives Tom Yawkey His Day In Court

While Nowlin goes into great detail about how Yawkey is remember today, he doesn’t make it the focal point. Nowlin gives his readers a complete and thorough narrative about who Yawkey was as an owner and a person. Norlin describes a man who went to great lengths to take care of others, including members of the opposing team. This vivid description gives readers all the information they need to make their own judgement call about the man.

The tremendous attention to detail throughout the entire book makes it difficult to second guess Nowlin’s scholarship. Nowlin relies on previous research that he painstakingly cites, while providing a fresh and insightful story of his own. The accounts and perspectives he was able to extract through personal interviews are the highlight of the biography. Readers will also appreciate Nowlin’s exploration of what happened to the Red Sox in the years following Yawkey’s death. His detailed account of the post-Yawkey years suggest that the impact he had on the team, and the City of Boston, was so great that it’s impossible to end the book with his death.

There are only a handful of other writers who rival Nowlin’s contributions to the history of the Red Sox. His biography of Tom Yawkey solidifies that accolade, while providing baseball fans and scholars alike with a first-rate biography of a misunderstood man.

Book Review of Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond

Davey Johnson: My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond tells the story of Davey Johnson, a baseball player-turned-manager who, among other accolades, guided the 1986 New York Mets to a World Series Championship. Johnson co-authored the book with author Erik Sherman and discusses his early days with the Baltimore Orioles, his playing stints in Japan, and his return to the United States where he finished his career with the Chicago Cubs in 1978.

There are many avenues in the book to explore, but Johnson’s interest in sabermetricsdavey johnson will certainly catch readers’ attention. With a strong interest in math and computers, Johnson used computers to calculate different possible lineups for the Orioles. Johnson once processed punch cards with each possible lineup through 27 out 162 times using data from the 1968 season. He used the results to argue that he should bat second in the lineup. This anecdote is one of many about Johnson’s fascination with numbers. His love for numbers served him well in baseball, as well as a successful real estate investor.

Readers will be surprised to find out that Johnson played many significant roles throughout his baseball career. He saw Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. Johnson also saw Sadaharu Oh also surpass Ruth when he played for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. He also played a major role in urging the Washington Nationals’ to draft Bryce Harper, who Johnson recognized as a future superstar. All in all, Johnson would finish his playing days with four-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner before becoming a big league manager.

Davey Johnson’s Book is a Classic Example of Grace and Agility

Some baseball players write autobiographies in order to settle a score, or tell their side of the story about a controversial issue. Davey Johnson’s autobiography isn’t quite one of those books. While Johnson’s book isn’t void of these topics, he easily could have been more critical than he was about certain people such as George Foster, who once called Johnson a racist, or about Dwight Gooden’s struggles with drug addiction. Johnson instead focuses on his teammates’ and players’ contributions to the game while holding them accountable for their mistakes. While he doesn’t mince words, the book makes it clear that Johnson cared deeply for everyone he worked with, regardless of how they felt about him. Johnson prides himself on the fact that he treated all of his players equally while holding himself responsible as a manager for their well-being.

Davey Johnson is a Real Family Man

While Johnson certainly admits to being cocky at times throughout his career, co-author Erik Sherman articulately and eloquently captures Johnson’s devotion to his family. The book goes into detail about Johnson’s daughter, Andrea, who had been a nationally ranked amateur surfer in the late 1980s who died of complications from Schizophrenia in 2005. In 2011, Johnson also lost Jake, a stepson, who had been visually and hearing impaired throughout most of his life. In the pages detailing these hardships, readers don’t see an overly-confident and cocky ballplayer. They see a man who stopped at nothing to do everything he could for all of his children. Anyone who reads between the lines will clearly see the man has a heart of gold.

Johnson’s book is one of the better and more insightful baseball autobiographies covering the Modern Baseball Era. Johnson’s book sets itself apart from other autobiographies by giving his side of the story without sounding vindictive. He doesn’t just gloss over the major events in his baseball career either. Johnson pays attention to specific detail and gives praise to others where praise is due. After reading My Wild Ride in Baseball and Beyond, sabermetricians, baseball historians, and general fans of the game of baseball will have gained a new and insightful perspective of the game that Davey Johnson clearly loves so much.

Will the Real Ty Cobb Please Stand Up?

Many baseball fans don’t know who the real Ty Cobb was. They’re familiar with the stats he posted season after season and how they reflected the intensity with which he played. 4,189 hits, 897 stolen bases, and a lifetime batting average of .366 are only a few of the numbers Cobb posted during his career. Unfortunately, Cobb’s reputation has suffered from outright lies. Al Stump, who ghostwrote an autobiography with Cobb, later wrote a deeply flawed biography about The Georgia Peach. Initially a New York Times Notable book, Stump’s biography fabricated much of the book’s stories to increase sales. Many of those stories, regrettably, remain true in the mind of many baseball fans.

Fortunately for Cobb’s memory, Charles Leerhsen’s 2015 biography Ty Cobb: A Terriblereal ty cobb Beauty discredits most of the false stories about Cobb while stressing other facts about the Hall of Famer that include his endorsement of integration, the $15.8 million in college scholarships to Georgians that came from his estate after his death, and his deep and sincere appreciation for his fans. Leerhsen’s book debunks most of the slanderous stories about Cobb with amazing detail. But despite Leerhsen’s fresh take on Cobb, many still have their doubts about who the real Ty Cobb was.

Last year I wrote an article arguing that Ken Burns Owes Ty Cobb’s Family a Redo. Leerhsen’s biography, which won the 2016 Casey Award, persuaded me to challenge the purported stories about Cobb in Burns’ documentary. Despite his best intentions, I argued that Ken Burns should revise his take on Cobb. There were, however, a few issues with my article. I made the assumption that Burns and his research staff relied heavily on Stump’s biography of Cobb. That was inaccurate. I also assumed that most of the inaccuracies in Burns’ documentary were primarily in the Third Inning episode. The Sixth Inning episode also made questionable claims about Cobb. Many of the stories baseball fans have heard about Ty Cobb are not true, including the story that Cobb once assaulted a black man who tried to shake his hand.

The Real Ty Cobb Could Be Brutal, But He Wasn’t Alone

Although Cobb wasn’t the man Stump’s portrayed, he was violent at times. During a game against the New York Highlanders in 1912, Cobb assaulted a fan named Claude Lucker, a disabled man who had lost all but two fingers in a printing press accident. Lucker allegedly called Cobb a “half-nigger” and insulted his mother. In his rookie year, Cobb’s mother accidentally shot and killed his father after she mistook him for a prowler. The shock of his father’s death stayed with Cobb for the rest of his life. After enough heckling, Cobb charged into the stands where he violently assaulted Lucker. It’s easy to criticize anyone who beats up a man with no hands. It’s also easy to understand why Cobb assaulted Lucker for what he said. Many historians and critics alike, however, see this incident as the sum of Cobb’s character. Opposing viewpoints centered around this incident make it difficult to know who the real Ty Cobb was. Some see it as an attack by a lunatic on a defenseless man. Others see it as a man defending his honor.

In response to the beating, American League President Ban Johnson suspended Cobb. Cobb’s disregard for Lucker’s disability is the primary source many of his critics have wielded in their contempt for him. But Cobb’s defenders point out that Lucker was also a well-known heckler among Highlander fans who targeted Cobb. Did Lucker assume Cobb wouldn’t retaliate because of his disability? While nothing can excuse hitting a man who has physical disabilities, the words with which he accosted Cobb would likely have made anyone retaliate violently. Additionally, many of Cobb’s critics omit the fact that other Hall of Fame players, including Babe Ruth and Cy Young, also assaulted fans at one time or another.

Many Still Find The Real Ty Cobb Objectionable

“I’m convinced that an attempt to whitewash Cobb’s playing years by ascribing charitable works to him in his retirement years doesn’t quite do it,” John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian told me in a January 2018 phone interview. “Ballplayers who were on his team with him, his opponents, they said he didn’t have a friend in baseball.” Thorn, who said he hasn’t read Leerhsen’s biography, made it clear “not to presume that I have a horse in this race.” Thorn’s opinions on Cobb are based on the primary sources, specifically the baseball classic The Glory Of Their Times by Lawrence Ritter. Ritter’s book is a collection of vignettes told by veteran players like Harry Hooper and Sam Crawford and is regarded as one of the finest books ever written about the game.

Former public editor of the New York Times and baseball writer Daniel Okrent is one whose views of Cobb have changed after reading Leerhsen’s book. “Leerhsen…rattled the support for the arguments that Cobb was the truly horrible person that many people, including me, have assumed for many, many years,” Okrent told me in a January 2018 phone interview. “His research was phenomenal, and his revelation of Al Stump’s unreliability was wonderful. Particularly, the number of stories about Cobb’s behavior … A lot of people believe what they believe about Cobb because Stump’s portrayal makes it seem so possible. Leerhsen really demolishes Stump, in that book.”

Cobb Remains Complex

“I think there’s a difference between the version of Cobb that we have created, over the years, and the version that should exist,” Okrent added. This dichotomy makes it difficult to know who the real Ty Cobb was. Cobb’s behavior during his playing days will always be a source of debate. But baseball fans and scholars alike should examine multiple sources on Cobb, especially Leerhsen’s book, if they want a strong idea of his overall character.

Other scholars like Thorn remain unmoved.

“My position on Cobb is largely unchanged. I do not think that Ken Burns or anyone else who’s ever written about Cobb…has anything to retrench.”

People who share Thorn’s views will likely continue to see Cobb as an unstable individual. For others, while Cobb’s endorsement of integration signals the idea that he did not share the same views on race as many of his contemporaries did, they might argue that “a zebra doesn’t change its stripes,” and still may have harbored prejudiced views regardless of his comments. But that’s only true if Cobb was as bigoted as Stump claimed.

While I’d like to see Burns revise his episodes about Cobb based on Leerhsen’s scholarship, it’ll likely never happen. Burns’ Baseball is still an amazing series that I could never grow tired of watching. In fact, it’s the primary reason why I became a baseball fan. But Burns’ documentary isn’t a reliable source about Cobb. Baseball fans have the right to hold any opinion they want about any particular player. But if they balance Burns’ documentary with Leerhsen’s sound scholarship, as well as other biographies written by scholars like Charles Alexander, they’ll be in a better position to construct a solid and composed opinion of Cobb.

Cobb Will Remain A Highly Debatable Subject

In my opinion it’s wrong to assume Cobb wasn’t a good person. In a time when many were denouncing integration, Cobb was praising black ballplayers like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. He left millions of dollars to charity in his will. He answered all his fan mail. Do these good deeds vanquish any of Cobb’s wrongdoings? Of course not. No one is perfect. But if we can’t recognize the good in people, especially when much of what’s been written about them is later discredited, we’re sending a message to the youth of America that we should only judge people by their transgressions and disregard the good they contributed to society.

Okrent is right in saying there’s a difference between the Cobb we have created and the version that should exist. But Thorn’s opinions carry just as much weight. Recognizing the good deeds that anyone performs later in life does not excuse any questionable acts they committed.

The Real Ty Cobb Was A Good Man

The real Ty Cobb wasn’t a saint, but he wasn’t a monster either. Thanks to Leerhsen’s biography, baseball fans can now see Cobb in a more honest light. Cobb was a legendary baseball player who played with ferocity. With that fierceness, however, also lay a genuine effort to be a good man.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget His Mistakes

Calls to tear down Confederate monuments are making headlines throughout the United States. Violence in Charlottesville has brought attention to our nation’s history that leave many divided. Personally, I think most of them should come down and be placed in museums. Racists erected them to intimidate African Americans, and they represent nothing but treason and oppression. Calls to rename other parks and streets that bare the names of ambiguous persons of history echo those same demands. One of those demands includes renaming Yawkey Way. While I think Confederate monuments should come down, I think they should keep Yawkey Way the way it is.

Yawkey Way was named after Tom Yawkey, the owner of the Boston Red Sox from 1933keep yawkey way to 1976. Many remember Yawkey as a racist. During his reign, the Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate when Pumpsie Green took the field in 1959. Before then, the Red Sox had chances to sign players like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Sam Jethroe, all Rookies of the Year. Additionally, he employed Mike “Pinky” Higgins, a manager who made no effort to keep his distain for African Americans a secret. Higgins is the primary reason why the Red Sox didn’t integrate for years. Yawkey not only kept Higgins around, but he even promoted him through the years. Unlike owners like Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck, Yawkey chose to play along with the rest of the owners in baseball and drag their feet before integrating their teams. That will always be a part of his reputation and deservedly so.

Keep Yawkey Way So We Don’t Forget, and Repeat, The Past

Going back to my introduction, Confederate monuments need to come down because they represent a time in our nation’s history when traitors tried to tear this country apart. For many years after the war ended, its sympathizers tried to retain the honor of the south by erecting monuments, partly so they could continue terrorizing and intimidating African Americans who they’d oppressed for years. Many of these Confederate monuments were built specifically and deliberately to push back against integration and Civil Rights. That’s why they now need to come down. In fact, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces, discouraged monuments. He thought they “keep open the sores of war” (Boy was he right).

Was Yawkey Way given its name for the same reasons? Of course not. Yawkey Way was named to honor Tom Yawkey, not to intimidate African Americans from coming to Fenway Park.

Keep Yawkey Way To Hold Yawkey’s Legacy Responsible

Yawkey Way bares the name of an owner responsible for modernizing Fenway Park. He played an important role in the history of the Red Sox and in baseball. Many ballplayers, black and white, remember him as being a very generous and approachable man. Deep down, he probably didn’t harbor racist sentiments as intense as Higgins’. However, he’s still responsible for that racist legacy. He could have done what Rickey and Veeck did and integrate the Red Sox before any other team. But he didn’t.

So instead of letting Yawkey and the Red Sox off the hook, the team needs to keep Yawkey Way. Of course, the current ownership doesn’t hold the same views Yawkey did, but they chose to buy the team and its dark legacy comes with that. They don’t get to “erase” that. It would also enable people to forget about the terrible mistakes Tom Yawkey made. Instead of erasing that history, the Red Sox should use this opportunity not only to remember a dark past, but take efforts to ensure they don’t go down similar paths.

Keep Yawkey Way To Ensure We Don’t Forget

There is no easy solution here. People will remain angry no matter what’s done. But let’s keep things in perspective here. This publication, which also bears the Yawkey name, looks to a future that includes equality and opportunity for everyone. To rename the street would jeopardize those efforts to craft a better future. Personally, I write for Yawkey Way Report because I want to help create a future with more equal opportunities so that everyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc. have a chance to thrive, whether it’s in baseball or in other aspects of life. Renaming Yawkey Way would indirectly disrupt those efforts because those involved would have to start from scratch to associate itself with a new title. That takes time, and frankly, I don’t see how that’s a better approach. That’s like tearing down an entire house just because the kitchen is unstable.

So instead of looking at Yawkey Way as a symbol of racism, look to it as a symbol of change. Tom Yawkey, while he could have done much more, tried to change his views for the better. Does that excuse his behavior? No. But renaming a street isn’t a zero sum solution and it never will be. We need to take the good with the bad. We can remember Tom Yawkey as an innovative owner while also holding his legacy responsible for its reprehensible actions. To change the name of Yawkey Way would be to erase and rewrite a history that, despite its darkness, is important to remember so we do not repeat it.