Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review one of the 30 current MLB franchises every other week to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, we’ll tackle the Boston Red Sox, whose long history provides many great options. If you missed any of our prior installments, check them out here.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. Two WAR calculations were used, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WARs between two players were similar, we considered other factors such as stats and awards to break the tie.
- Only statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player were used. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Boston Red Sox were formed as the Boston Americans in 1901. The Americans won the franchise’s first World Series in 1903 over the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1908, they changed their name to the Red Sox and continued to be successful, winning four more championships through 1918. After the 1919 season, the Red Sox sold one of their best players – a pitcher who also had a knack for hitting home runs named Babe Ruth – to the Yankees for $100,000. They would not win another World Series until 2004, leading many to dub the drought “The Curse of the Bambino.”
After the curse was finally broken, the Red Sox became a dominant force again, winning three more championships in 2007, 2013, and 2018. In total, the franchise can boast nine world championships, ranking them third on the all-time list. In addition, they have made 25 playoff appearances, won 14 pennants, and have a .519 career-winning percentage.
Catcher: Carlton Fisk
The choice of catcher was not difficult as Fisk is one of the greatest of all time. “Pudge” spent about half of his long career with the Red Sox before signing with the White Sox as a free agent in 1981. His first full season in Boston came in 1972 and may have been his greatest year. Fisk won rookie-of-the-year that season along with a gold glove and was named to the AL all-star team. His 7.3 WAR that season (Baseball-Reference) is the 36th highest single-season WAR in franchise history (tied with Mookie Betts‘ 2019).
Fisk played in six more all-star games as a Red Sox and made it to one World Series with the team. That came in 1975, and his HR in the 12th inning of Game Six is one of the most memorable in World Series history. The dinger kept the Sox alive, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to break the curse as they lost Game Seven. Fisk joined the Hall-of-Fame in 2000, elected by 80% of the voters.
First Base: Carl Yastrzemski
Carl Yastrzemski primarily played left field, but he did log a fair amount of time at first base. As there’s another pretty good player locked in left field, we slotted him here because he needed to be in the lineup. Only one other player has a higher WAR with the Red Sox than Yaz, and he also happened to play left field.
Yastrzemski broke in with the Red Sox in 1961 and stayed with them until he retired after 23 seasons in 1983. He played in a total of 3,308 games for Boston, 800 more than anyone else. But it wasn’t just longevity that made Yaz a Red Sox icon; he was great too. In his 23 seasons, Yaz made 18 all-star game appearances, which is an incredible testament to his durability and consistency. Other awards included seven gold gloves and three batting titles, but his crowning glory came in 1967. That year, Yastrzemski not only won the MVP but the coveted triple crown when he hit .326 with 44 HRs and 121 RBI. This feat was not accomplished again until Miguel Cabrera pulled it off in 2012.
Yaz went to two World Series with the Sox – in his magical 1967 season and again in 1975. He produced in both of them despite the Red Sox losses, hitting .352 with three HRs and nine RBI in the 14 games. The BBWAA voted Yaz into the Hall of Fame in 1989. It was his first year of eligibility, and he garnered 95% of the vote.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
Picking between Dustin Pedroia and Bobby Doerr for second base was not an easy task. Their WARs are almost identical on Baseball-Reference, though Doerr’s is a fair bit higher on Fangraphs. Pedroia, however, has a higher WAR7 and WAR/162, more post-season success, and an MVP which put him over the top. Doerr belongs in this lineup, but unfortunately, there isn’t space for him.
“Pedey” made his MLB debut in August 2006 but only had 98 plate appearances that season and struggled. Even so, he made the team in 2007 and put together a fantastic campaign, batting .317/.380/.442 en route to winning rookie-of-the-year. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series that season and Pedroia cemented himself as one of their foundation players.
Pedey followed up his tremendous rookie season with an even better one in 2008. That year, he led the league in runs, hits, and doubles and was decorated with his first of four gold gloves, a silver slugger, and the AL MVP. In addition, Pedroia made his first of four all-star appearances. The Red Sox won the World Series again in 2013, making Pedroia a two-time champion.
Injuries began to slow Pedey down starting in 2015, though he was generally still productive when he played. His left knee, in particular, gave him problems and forced him into retirement at the relatively young age of 35 in 2019. Pedroia won’t be eligible for the Hall of Fame until 2025 but should garner serious consideration given his impact.
Shortstop: Nomar Garciaparra
Rico Petrocelli also got some consideration at shortstop, but in the end, Nomar’s offensive numbers were too dominant to pass up. Garciaparra debuted in late 1996 and was the Red Sox starting shortstop the following season. He led the league in at-bats, hits, and triples as a rookie, taking Boston by storm. “Nomah” also slugged 30 HRs, drove in 98, batted .306, and took home the silver slugger and rookie-of-the-year awards. In addition, he made his first of five all-star appearances as a member of the Red Sox.
Garciaparra was a great hitter, winning batting titles in 1999 and 2000 after hitting .357 and .372, respectively. A wrist injury in 2001 slowed him down, but he remained lethal at the plate. His relationship with the Red Sox, however, began to sour. A contract dispute and a failed attempt by Boston to trade for superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez spiraled into an untenable situation, and Nomar was traded to the Cubs on July 31, 2004. A few months later, the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino.
Garciaparra played another five seasons after 2004 but never achieved the heights he had with the Red Sox. He’s a polarizing figure with many fans, but no one can argue how incredible he was over his first seven seasons.
Third Base: Wade Boggs
There was little doubt who should be the Red Sox all-time third baseman as Boggs’ WAR was light years ahead of everyone else. Boggs’ lifetime batting average of .338 with the Red Sox is second only to the great Ted Williams. The “Chicken Man” made the team as a utility infielder in 1982 and, after a slow start, ended up hitting .349 that season. The following spring, he was given the starting third base job and rewarded the Sox with his first of five batting titles. Boggs’ plate discipline was the stuff of legend as he also led the league in OBP six times and rarely struck out.
In 1985, Boggs attended his first all-star game, where he would become a regular. In total, he made twelve appearances, eight of them with Boston. He also took home six Silver Sluggers as a member of the Sox.
After the 1992 season, Boggs left the Red Sox as a free agent and signed with the hated New York Yankees. Needless to say, this didn’t sit well with the Boston faithful, but he enjoyed several more good years and a World Championship in New York. Boggs played his last game in August 1999 and joined the group in Cooperstown in 2005 after 92% of the BBWAA voted him in on his first attempt.
Left Field: Ted Williams
The best player to ever play for the Red Sox must be Ted Williams, who is on the short list of the greatest players of all time. Many consider him the greatest hitter ever, and his credentials make a great case. His offensive accomplishments are incredible and would’ve been even higher had he not lost three years serving as a Marine in World War II and most of two more during the Korean War.
Over his 19-year career, Williams led the league in runs and batting average six times, HRs and RBI four times, walks eight times, and OBP an astounding twelve times. He has the highest OBP in MLB history at .482. You can add to this two MVPs, nineteen all-star games, and two triple crowns. “The Kid” was also the last player to hit over .400 in a season. He pulled off this feat in 1941 when he finished the year with a .406 average.
As great as Williams was, his teams generally were not. He only made it to the post-season once, when the Sox lost to the Cardinals in the 1946 World Series. Williams retired after the 1960 season and joined the Hall of Fame in 1966. Stunningly, he only received 93.4% of the vote.
Center Field: Tris Speaker
Tris Speaker is the oldest member of the lineup and the only one to play for the Boston Americans. His career with the Americans lasted all of seven games in September 1907. After the season, the team became the Red Sox. That Speaker played much of his career in the so-called “Dead Ball” era of the early 20th century makes his offensive accomplishments all the more impressive. He was only with the club through 1915 as he was traded to the Cleveland Indians in April 1916 following a contract dispute. Yet, despite his relatively short tenure with the team, he made a huge impact.
In Speaker’s seven full seasons with the Red Sox, he led the league in hits, OBP and HRs once and doubles twice. He took home the MVP award in 1912 and played on two World Champion Red Sox teams in 1912 and 1915. In addition to his prowess at the plate, Speaker was considered one of his day’s finest defensive center fielders. Evidence of this can be seen by his leading the league in putouts five times and assists four times while in Boston.
“The Grey Eagle” ranks behind only Willie Mays and Ty Cobb in WAR as a center fielder, thus cementing him as one of the all-time greats. Speaker retired in 1928 and was among the second group of players elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937.
Right Field: Dwight Evans
Dwight Evans was the clear choice for right field as his lifetime WAR among Red Sox right fielders is nearly double the next closest competitors. Harry Hooper had a nice career for the team, and perhaps if Mookie Betts had stayed with the club, he would have ultimately surpassed Evans. But “Dewey” gets the nod due to his long and accomplished run with the team. Only Carl Yastrzemski played in more games for the Sox than Evans, who was a fixture in right field throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Dewey was a September call-up in 1972 and the regular right fielder for most of the 1973 season. He didn’t fare well on offense that year, but his excellent defense contributed to significant playing time. Evans won eight gold gloves over the course of his career, and he developed into a force on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Evans’ power improved as he aged. In the strike-shortened 1981 season, he led the league in HRs with 22 and regularly slugged between 20 and 30 HRs for most of his career. He also possessed an excellent eye, leading the league in BB three times and OBP once. Dewey made it to three all-star games in his career and played in two World Series, where he thrived. Over the 14 combined games in 1975 and 1986, Evans hit .300 with three HRs and 14 RBI.
Evans played his final season with the Orioles in 1991 and was released before the 1992 season. Though not a Hall of Famer, Dewey was definitely a Red Sox icon.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
Jim Rice deserved to be in the lineup, but much like Bobby Doerr, he got squeezed out. That’s because he played left-field, where Ted Williams reigns supreme, and DH, where “Big Papi” rules the roost. David Ortiz began his MLB career with the Minnesota Twins, where he showed promise but never accomplished much. Eventually, the Twins released him in December 2002, and he signed with the Red Sox at the age of 27. Nobody could have imagined what an impactful signing that would turn out to be.
Ortiz’s career took off with the Red Sox. He made ten all-star teams in his 14 seasons with the club, won seven silver sluggers, and led the league in HRs once and RBI thrice. It’s Big Papi’s post-season accolades, however, that made him the stuff of legend in Beantown. Ortiz played on three World Champions, including the legendary 2004 team, and won the World Series MVP in 2013. Throughout those three series, Papi hit .455/.576/.795 with three HRs and 14 RBI in 14 games. His biggest hit, however, may have come in the 2004 ALCS. Papi’s HR in the bottom of the 12th of Game 4 kept the Red Sox season alive. When they completed the improbable comeback over the following three games, Ortiz was named MVP of the ALCS.
Big Papi was elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year in his first year of eligibility with 78% of the vote. His induction will come next month.
Right-Handed Starter: Roger Clemens
There were three excellent choices for the Red Sox’s all-time right-handed starting pitcher. The first was the infamous Cy Young, who spent several years in Boston and had a lifetime 2.00 ERA with the team. The second was Pedro Martinez, who was only with the Sox for seven seasons but won two Cy Young awards during his tenure. The third choice, and the one we went with, is the controversial Roger Clemens.
Clemens began his career in May 1984, less than one year after being drafted by the Red Sox after his impressive college career at the University of Texas. “The Rocket” slid into the rotation and stayed there through the 1996 season, amassing 2,776 innings with the team, which is second in Red Sox history. Clemens started dominating in his third season when he led the league with 24 wins and a 2.48 ERA on the way to his first Cy Young award. He followed up this campaign with his second Cy Young in 1987, when he again led the league in wins and threw 18 complete games, including seven shutouts.
The Rocket was a continual force for Boston, making five all-star teams with the club and winning a third Cy Young in 1991. Towards the end of his tenure with the team, Clemens started to show signs of regression, and the Red Sox let him walk as a free agent to the Toronto Blue Jays in December 1996. However, his career was far from finished, as he ended up playing another 11 seasons, winning four more Cy Young awards. After he retired in 2007, Clemens became mired in controversy when his former trainer alleged he used steroids. These accusations, more than anything else, have kept Clemens out of the Hall of Fame to this day.
Love him or hate him, Clemens was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, albeit one who may have cheated. His WAR with the Sox was far higher than Cy Young and Pedro Martinez, so he gets our vote here, though we understand why some may disagree.
Left-Handed Starter: Lefty Grove
Robert “Lefty” Grove started his Hall of Fame career with the Philadelphia Athletics, and his accolades with the A’s exceed those he achieved later with the Red Sox. However, he was still really good with Boston and has the highest WAR by a lefty in their history. Despite winning 24 games with Philadelphia the prior season, Grove was traded to the Sox in 1934 in a cost-cutting move. He was greeted as a savior in Boston but struggled with a sore arm and had his worst season that year, throwing only 109 innings with a 6.50 ERA.
Lefty redeemed himself with Red Sox fans, however, winning the ERA title in four of the next five seasons. He also went to five straight all-star games from 1935 to 1939. It wasn’t enough to vault Boston to a pennant, but they did improve over his tenure. Grove started to show his age over his last two seasons in 1940 and 1941 and retired in December 1941 – just before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Grove’s career was a relatively short one as he didn’t join MLB until he was 25. Had he played longer, he may get mentioned more often as one of the all-time greats. In 1947, Grove was elected to the Hall of Fame by 76% of the writers in his first year of eligibility.
Reliever: Jonathan Papelbon
Bob Stanley was the other great Red Sox reliever considered for our lineup. Stanley’s tenure in Boston far surpassed that of Papelbon, but he simply wasn’t as dominant a hurler. Papelbon’s Fangraphs WAR is higher than Stanley’s despite throwing 746 fewer innings. He may have only been in Boston for seven seasons, but they were dominant ones.
Papelbon got his first taste of the Show as a starter in 2005. The following season he converted to the bullpen and was amazing. He had a 0.92 ERA that year, a 0.78 WHIP, and 35 saves. Papelbon was also an all-star that season and finished second in rookie-of-the-year voting. His dominance continued for three more seasons in which he was an all-star every year and saved between 37 and 41 games. In 2010 his ERA spiked, though he still saved 37 games. He rebounded the next season, but the Red Sox let him walk in free agency to Philadelphia in the offseason.
Papelbon won one World Championship with the Red Sox in 2007. That year, Boston swept the Colorado Rockies, and Papelbon saved three of the four games without giving up a run. His 219 saves are the most in Red Sox history by a wide margin. Stanley is second with 132. Papelbon holds the MLB record for the fastest player to 200 saves, which he accomplished in his 359th appearance. His career with the Red Sox was short and very sweet.
The Red Sox All-Franchise starting lineup is up there with the best of all time, particularly on the offensive end. Up next in two weeks is another franchise that went many years without a championship: The Chicago Cubs.
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)