June 1 – Happy Birthday Derek Lowe

loweThe Seattle Mariners traded catcher Jason Varitek and today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant to Boston for closer Heathcliff Slocumb at the 1997 trading deadline. It turned out to be one of the greatest deals in Red Sox franchise history. Varitek became the captain and anchor of those great Red Sox teams that won two World Championships during the first decade of the new century. All Derek Lowe did for Boston was first become the team’s ace closer for a couple of years including a 42 save season in 2000 and then convert to the Red Sox starting rotation and become a 20-game winner in 2002. He also pitched brilliantly during the 2004 postseason culminating in Boston’s first World Series victory since 1918. And then surprisingly, Boston let him walk away as a free agent.

Lowe was born in Dearborn, Michigan in 1973 and after graduating from high school there, he became the eighth-round choice of the Mariners in the 1991 MLB amateur draft. It took him right about six seasons of minor league ball to earn his first start in the Majors in 1997. When Boston acquired him that same season, they sent Lowe right to the bullpen and with the exception of 10 starts during the 1998 season, he was used strictly as a reliever and then closer until the very end of the 2001 season, when he made three consecutive starts. That turned out to be a preview of what was to come for the big 6’6″ right-hander.

His career in Beantown ended right after Lowe pitched great during the 2004 postseason, winning all three of his decisions. The Dodgers outbid everyone, including Boston for his services. He left the Red Sox with a career record of 70-55 with 85 career saves. His big league career ended in 2013. His lifetime record was 176-157.

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May 31 – Happy Birthday Jake Peavy

peavyJake Peavy is one of fourteen pitchers on the all-time Boston Red Sox roster to have won a Cy Young Award during his big league career. Only three of those hurlers, Jim Lonborg, Roger Clemens (3) and Pedro Martinez (2) achieved that honor while wearing a Red Sox uniform. Peavy won his in 2007, when he went 19-6 for the San Diego Padres. The hard-throwing right-hander had been a 15th round draft choice of the Padres in 1999 and made his big league debut with that team in 2002.

He had a shot to win his twentieth game of that ’07 season when he squared off against the Rockies in a one-game playoff to determine who would win that year’s NL Wild Card postseason slot. Peavy failed to do so but he was rewarded for his great regular season performance with a huge 4-year $52 million contract extension that December.

The Padres then declined into a non-contending team over the next two seasons and by 2009, it became pretty clear that the front-office of a re-building San Diego ball club wanted to dump Peavy’s contract. It took them a bit too long to get a deal done because Peavy didn’t want to leave and then strained a tendon in his ankle, dramatically lowering his market appeal.

At the ’09 trading deadline, this native of Mobile, Alabama was dealt to the White Sox for prospects, while he was still recovering from his ankle injury. When he was ready to pitch for his new team, he looked like the Jake Peavy of old, going 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA and it looked as if Chicago had struck gold.

That perception quickly changed when Peavy lost four of his first seven decisions in 2010 and saw his ERA climb over six. He righted himself however, winning four of his next five starts but then detached a muscle in his back during an early July start against the Angels and his season was over. During the five whole or partial seasons he pitched in the Windy City, Peavy made just 84 starts, went 36-29 and had an ERA of 4.00. He did make the 2012 All Star team and win a Gold Glove that same year but 3 dozen wins for $50 million does not compute.

That’s why Peavy landed in Boston at the trading deadline of the 2013 season. The Red Sox needed a starter and old Jake won them 4 of his 5 decisions down the team’s division-winning stretch. He was a bust in Boston’s victorious postseason and thus far in 2014, he has not pitched well either, but few of the team’s pitchers have. Still, its pretty clear that this legally blind devout Christian is at a crossroads in Beantown. How well he pitches during his next two or three starts will determine his fate.

Here are all of the fourteen current and former Red Sox pitchers who have won Cy Young Awards during their big league careers along with the years in which they won it:

Jake Peavy (2007)
Bartolo Colon (2005)
Roger Clemens (2004, ’01, 1998, ’97, ’91, ’87, ’86)
Greg Gagne (2003)
Pedro Martinez (2000, 1999, ’97)
John Smoltz (1996)
David Cone (1994)
Dennis Eckersley (1992)
Bret Saberhagen (1985, ’89)
Frank Viola (1988)
Sparky Lyle (1977)
Tom Seaver (1975, ’73, ’69)
Ferguson Jenkins (1971)
Jim Lonborg (1967)

May 30 – Happy Birthday Manny Ramirez

I’m not a fan of Manny Ramirez. I will always firmly believe that his unquestionable use of PEDS had a dramatic impact on his numbers, especially during his peak seasons in Boston. The extortion and bullying techniques he used to escape his Red Sox contract and force his trade to the Dodgers was both classless and overtly greedy. But regardless of how you feel about this guy, there were some absolutely priceless Manny-being-Manny moments during his crazy career and every time I see them replayed, I absolutely miss seeing this guy play Major League Baseball. Enjoy!

May 29 – Happy Birthday John Kennedy

kennedyToday’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant is a throwback to the days when big league shortstops couldn’t hit and weren’t expected to hit. I could never figure out why guys who played this position got a free pass offensively for so long. I guess it was Cal Ripken who changed the perception of what an All Star shortstop should be able to do and guys like A-Rod, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter then came along and made sure that the days of good glove, lousy hitting shortstops were a thing of the past.

John Kennedy was one of those dinosaurs. In fact, the only reason fans like me paid any attention to him when he made his big league debut with the Senators in 1962 was that he had the same name as another guy who had also started a new job in our Nation’s Capital the year before. In fact the infielder and President John Kennedy also shared the same birthday.

After getting traded to the Dodgers and Yankees and then sold to the Seattle Pilots, the Red Sox became Kennedy’s fifth and final big league team in 1970. He turned out to be a very reliable utility infielder for manager Eddie Kasko’s Boston ball clubs of the early seventies and actually became a better hitter once he got to Beantown, averaging .243 during his five seasons as a Red Sox as compared to only .225 during his full 12-year big league career. The Fenway faithful appreciated the way “Super Sub” hustled every second he was on the field and apparently so did the Boston front office. When Kennedy retired as a player, he was given a job by the organization as a minor league manager.

May 28 – Happy Birthday Bill Barrett

BillBarrettBill Barrett was the starting right fielder on the very bad Red Sox team that finished last in the 1929 American League standings with a 58-96 record. Born across the Charles River in Cambridge, it took “Whispering Bill” eight years after his big league debut with the A’s to make his way back home and play for Boston. He spent most of those eight years with the White Sox, where he established reputations for being one of baseball’s most versatile players and loudest and most annoying bench jockeys (which is how his sarcastic nickname emanated) During his time in the Windy City, he played all nine positions on the field and probably wasn’t too happy in any of them because, based on my research, it also appears as if he was also a chronic complainer. In fact, this guy was upset because first his team and then the Commissioner’s office refused to permit him to start a career as a professional boxer while he was in the big leagues.

During his one season as a starter in Beantown, Barrett played in 111 games and averaged a very soft .270, scoring 57 runs and driving in just 35. He was traded to the Senators early on in the 1930 season for outfielder Earl Webb, which turned out to be a great deal for the Red Sox because Barrett played just six games for Washington and then his big league career ended. Webb had two great seasons as Boston’s regular right fielder and still holds the franchise record for most doubles in a season, with 67.

When his playing days were over, Barrett returned to Cambridge, where he died in 1951 at the age of 50.

May 27 – Happy Birthday Jeff Bagwell

Minor League BagwellIt certainly rivals the Babe Ruth trade to the Yankees as one of the worst in Red Sox franchise history, especially in hindsight. But when Boston GM Lou Gorman decided to send Red Sox prospect Jeff Bagwell to the Astros for veteran middle reliever Larry Andersen, you need to remember that Bagwell had yet to play in a big league game and the Red Sox were entering the stretch run of a close division race with a bullpen that was giving up runs by the bushel. Andersen in fact pitched very well for Boston the last month of that season and helped them capture that Eastern Division crown. But he was 37 years-old at the time and when he got roughed up by the A’s in that year’s ALCS, the Red Sox let him go.

You know what Bagwell did after he got to Houston. The only question left unanswered at this point is will the all-time Astro home run leader (449) make it to Cooperstown. The saddest aspect of the trade from the viewpoint of Red Sox fans is that Bagwell was a hometown boy, born in Boston who grew up rooting for the team and idolizing Carl Yastrzemski. He had just one plus years of minor league ball under his belt at the time of the deal but he was definitely proving he had the right stuff to play regularly in the Majors. If he had spent the fifteen seasons of his big league career playing his home games in Fenway, there’s no way of knowing how many more homers he would have hit or how many more postseasons his bat would have helped the Red Sox reach. What could have been? We will never know.

May 26 – Happy Birthday Rob Murphy

murphyRob Murphy was one of baseball’s better left-handed middle relievers in the late 1980’s. After brilliant high school and collegiate baseball careers, this native of Miami, Florida was the first round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in the secondary phase of the 1981 amateur draft. During his rookie season with the Reds in 1986, he appeared in 34 games, won all six of his decisions and his 0.72 ERA that year remains a National League record for pitchers throwing a minimum of 50 innings in a season. In 1987, he appeared in a career high 87 games and struck out 99 batters in 100 innings of work. The following year he led the NL in appearances with 76.

Then two weeks before Christmas in 1988, the Reds and Red Sox made a deal in which they exchanged first basemen and relief pitchers. Boston got Murphy and Nick Esasky and sent the switch-hitting Todd Benzinger and right-hander Jeff Sellers to Cincinnati. At the time, Esasky was entering the final year of his contract, but even so, on paper this deal looked like it leaned heavily in Boston’s favor and in 1989, that’s exactly how it played out.

Esasky had a career year for Boston with career highs in homers with 30 and RBIs with 108. Murphy meanwhile  led the Red Sox bullpen in appearances with 74, pitching in front of closer Lee Smith. Though he lost seven of twelve decisions that year, he did pick up a career high nine saves and posted an impressive ERA of just 2.74.

Murphy then faltered in 1990. Though he picked up another 7 saves, his ERA ballooned to well over six and he lost all six of his decisions. He followed that up with a bad outing in the only postseason performance of his career in that years ALCS versus Oakland. One week before the ’91 season was scheduled to open, Boston GM sent Murphy to Seattle for a starting pitcher named Mike Gardiner.

Murphy continued pitching in the big leagues till 1995 and then got into the thoroughbred horse breeding business.