When the Red Sox gave number 24 to David Price, a pang of sadness engulfed me. I came of age as baseball fan in the mid-2000s, and Manny Ramirez was my hero. Though often obscured by flowing dreadlocks, he wore 24, and it therefore held special significance to me, just as it did to older fans who idolized Dwight Evans. Together, those two gave twenty-seven years of excellent service wearing that number, and I yearned to one day see it rightfully removed from circulation.
However, the Red Sox are notoriously careful about whose number they retire. Management has a strong preference for Hall of Fame players who spend at least a decade in Boston and also end their career in the city. Accordingly, only eight Red Socks, plus Jackie Robinson, have had their number retired: Bobby Doerr, Joe Cronin, Johnny Pesky, Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Carlton Fisk and Pedro Martinez.
In May, Wade Boggs will join that elite group at long last, perhaps ushering in a new era for number retirement at Fenway Park. Previously, the Red Sox shied away from honoring Boggs, who infamously enjoyed success with the rival Yankees, but with Gordon Edes hired as a new team historian, perhaps The Olde Towne Team will finally relax its criteria for enshrinement.
Though many will hate the concept, there is now big money to be made from retirement ceremonies, with memorabilia sales and attendance soaring around such events. The Yankees have demonstrated that repeatedly in recent years, and Red Sox ownership may look on enviously and seek to boost their brand by honoring former heroes.
So, who deserves consideration, should the Sox expand their stable of retired numbers? Well, the 24 of Evans and Ramirez would be a terrific place to start. They combined to play 3,588 games, launch 653 home runs and collect 3,605 hits for the Red Sox, in addition to representing the team at 11 All-Star Games. Both were beloved by the fanbase, and both deserve fair recognition for tremendous careers. Just as the Yankees retired number 8 in honor of Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey, the Red Sox should hang the 24 of Dewey and Manny, thus giving two generations a chance to say thanks.
Similarly, David Ortiz should definitely have his number 34 retired. Aside from a plethora of accolades, awards and accomplishments, Papi was just a huge part, physically and spiritually, of bringing three World Series championships to a city that could barely dream of just one. Ortiz is the most important Red Sox player since Ted Williams, and he should be honored as part of his final season.
Spreading the net wider, Roger Clemens has a fairly good case for enshrinement, albeit one buried beneath steroid allegations and Yankee defection; Luis Tiant thrilled the masses and pitched remarkably well in Boston; and Fred Lynn is consistently overlooked when discussing the great players in Red Sox history. All three should be seriously considered.
Then, of course, we have those sweetheart players who charmed Beantown and captured the zeitgeist of Red Sox Nation at various times. Tony Conigliaro was a hometown kid done good; Nomar Garciaparra was deified in the late-90s as one of the game’s defining superstars; while Tim Wakefield was the living embodiment of the hope and perseverance that defines Boston baseball. Again, you could make a good argument for each of those guys.
Finally, I would like to propose a few names that may surprise people, and which may test the Red Sox’ rigorous criteria too much to ever gain serious acceptance. However, the 2004 World Series title may not have been secured without the leadership of Terry Francona, the intricate preparedness of Jason Varitek, or the warrior instinct of Curt Schilling. Those three made bold and courageous contributions to Red Sox history, which simply wouldn’t be the same without them. Therefore, they should at least be in the conversation.
Ultimately, the Red Sox may not honor any of the people mentioned above. But the retiring of a number should delve beyond simple longevity and skill, and instead focus on those select few legends who altered the course of team history and changed the texture of team success. If we play by those rules, more people will receive their long overdue moment of acknowledgement, which is what this should really be about.