After spending the first 16 years of his Hall of Fame big league career as a National League third and first baseman, mostly for the Reds, Tony Perez signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in November of 1979 and spent the next three years playing first base and DH-ing for Boston. His first season in Beantown was his best, belting 25 home runs and driving in 105 for a Red Sox team that finished fifth in a very tough AL East Division.
By then, however, Perez was already 38-years-old and his offensive numbers faded pretty dramatically during the strike-shortened 1981 season. The following year, he lost his starting job at first base to Dave Stapleton and got just 196 at bats. Boston released him that November, but instead of retiring, he hung on for four more seasons back in the NL. When he finally retired as a player after the ’86 season, he had 379 career home runs, 2,732 hits and 1,652 RBIs to go along with a .279 lifetime batting average.
Born in Camaguey, Cuba in 1942, he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2000. He appeared in four World Series with the great Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s and one more with the Phillies in 1983, winning two rings in the process.
During spring training before Boston’s 1967 Impossible Dream season, Red Sox manager Dick Williams had three receivers in camp competing for the team’s two catcher’s slots. Bob Tillman had replaced Jim Pagliaroni as Boston’s starting receiver in 1962. He held onto that job until 1966, when then 24-year-old Mike Ryan got the nod. Joining Tillman and Ryan at the Red Sox Winter Haven, Florida facility that spring was a 27-year-old, ten year veteran of Boston’s farm system by the name of Russ Gibson.
A native of Falls River, Massachusetts, Gibson had been signed by the Red Sox way back in 1957, but he’d never done anything special enough during his lengthy stay in the minors to warrant even a late-season, cup-of-coffee call-up to the parent club. Then in 1965, he was assigned to Boston’s triple A International League team in Toronto, which was being managed by Dick Williams. It was his solid play for Williams over the next two seasons combined with the skipper’s promotion to Red Sox field boss that finally got Gibson a real shot at getting to Boston. He was ready for that challenge.
He had a great spring training that year and not only made the roster, in his big league debut, in Boston’s third game of the season, Gibson caught fellow rookie Bill Rohr’s complete game one-hitter over the Yankees. He also got off to a fast start at the plate, averaging better than .300 during most of the first month of the season and taking over as Williams de-facto starting catcher. He then went hitless in three straight games and the impatient Williams didn’t hesitate switching to Ryan. That’s when Gibson injured his hand, landing him back in the minors for rehab. When he got back to Boston, his hitting woes continued and the only reason he ended up making the the team’s postseason roster was that his .203 batting average that year was four points higher than Ryan’s, fifteen points higher than Tillman’s and over fifty points higher than the .145 average veteran Elston Howard managed after coming to the Red Sox from the Yankees that August. He struck out in both of his at bats against the Cardinals in the 1967 Fall Classic and then shared the starting catcher’s job with Elston Howard in 1968 and with Tom Satriano and Gerry Moses in ’69.
His best year was that ’69 season, his final year with Boston, when he hit a career high .251 in 307 plate appearances. Boston sold him to the Giants just as the 1970 season began and he spent three years as a back-up for San Francisco. He later went to work for the Massachusetts Lottery Department and coached some baseball at the junior college level. Gibson died in 2008 at the age of 69.
Whoever first came up with the phrase, “a change of scenery will do you some good,” may have been thinking of this guy when they did. Hall of Fame right-hander Charles Herbert “Red” Ruffing started his Major League career as a member of the the Red Sox in 1924. In the slightly more than five seasons he spent in a Boston uniform, Ruffing’s won-lost record was an atrocious 39-96. This slow start was most likely attributable to the combination of a pretty putrid era of Red Sox offense and the fact that Ruffing was originally an outfielder, who only began pitching after a mining accident cost him four toes. In any event, Boston readily accepted the New York Yankee’s offer of $50,000 and a reserve outfielder named Cedric Durst in exchange for Ruffing, during the second month of the 1930 season.
Old Red then proceeded to go 15-5 in his debut season in Pinstripes. During the next 14 years, he won 231 games, lost just 124, and enjoyed four 20-victory seasons. He also compiled a 7-2 record in seven World Series and was the ace on six world championship Yankee teams. Since he was also originally a good-hitting outfielder, Ruffing became one of the best hitting pitchers in MLB history, compiling a .269 lifetime batting average. Ruffing was inducted into Cooperstown in 1967.
So what happened to Cedric Durst? He got into 102 games for the Red Sox in 1930, batted .240 and then never played in another Major League game. Ruffing shares his May 3rd birthday with this catcher, who became his Yankee teammate in 1941 and this long-ago Yankee pitcher.
My wife and I just returned home to upstate New York from a road trip to Pittsburgh, where we spent the Easter weekend with our youngest daughter. We have to drive I-79 to get to the Steel City and about 40 miles north of the Pirates hometown, you pass by a city called Mercer. Back in the 1950’s Mercer High School had a basketball team and one of its best players was a 6’2″ forward by the name of Gary Peters.
As good as he was on the hard court, Peters was even better on the baseball diamond. His Dad was one of the area’s best semi-pro players and he had taught his son well. The younger Peters had evolved into a hard-hitting first baseman, but because his high school did not field a baseball team, his playing time was limited to American Legion and sandlot play. Thankfully, one of his coaches had connections to the White Sox organization and Peters was given a tryout by that club. He did well enough to get signed to a contract that permitted him to attend a local college on a basketball scholarship and play baseball when the college year ended.
Since his first minor league team was pretty well-stocked with first baseman, Peters, a southpaw who had done some pitching in his American Legion days was given a shot on the mound. He had one pitch at the time, a very impressive fastball and in the lower minors he was able to get outs with it consistently. That changed as he advanced up the ladder of Chicago’s farm system forcing him to develop more pitches. His slider came easy and his two-pitch repertoire enabled him to continue to win at both the double and triple A levels but was still not enough to get anything but brief late-season, cup-of-coffee trials with the parent club. It took him six years to master his curve and it was that third pitch that finally earned him a permanent spot on the White Sox’ roster and when he did, he was more than ready.
He went 19-8 during his rookie season, led the League with a 2.33 ERA and in the process, captured the 1963 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He was even better the following season, when he went 20-8 and earned the first of two All Star selections. A nagging groin injury resulted in a sub par season in 1965 but he won his second ERA title in ’66 and made his second All Star team the following season. Then he suffered what was later diagnosed as a rotator cuff injury, ruining his ’68 season. After a 10-15 season in ’69, Chicgao gave up on him and traded him to the Red Sox for next-to-nothing. It turned out to be a steal for Boston GM Dick O’Connell.
Ignoring the “southpaw’s can’t win in Fenway” suspicion, Peters went 16-11 during his first year in Beantown and 14-11 in his second. His was 12-8 during those two seasons pitching at Fenway and 20-14 during his career. He was also one of the best hitting pitchers in all of baseball at the time and during the 1971 season, he averaged .271 for the Red Sox, prompting Boston manager, Eddie Kasko to use Peters as one of his primary pinch-hitters off the bench.
The Boston front office had done an admirable job assembling a talented veteran rotation of double digit winners during the early seventies. In addition to Peters, it included the home-grown Jim Lonborg, along with Ray Culp and Sonny Seibert. But O’Connell decided to go with younger arms in ’72, bringing up both John Curtis and Lynn McGlothen from the minors and pushing Peters out of the mix. He retired the following year. His 15-season career record was 124-103.
One cannot blame any citizen of Red Sox nation for wanting to obliterate any trace of Boston’s nightmare 2012 season from their memory banks. That of course is impossible because the one-year-reign of Bobby Valentine as Boston’s skipper produced as many negative and bizarre headlines as it did entries on the right side of the team’s won-lost record. If there were any bright spots, however, the performance of today’s Beantown Birthday Celebrant would be considered one of them.
Mike Aviles was born in New York City in 1981 and evolved into the seventh-round draft choice of the Kansas City Royals 22 years later. It took him five seasons of minor league ball to make the Royals’ big league roster but when he did in 2008, he was more than ready. He won the starting shortstop’s job that year and in 102 games he averaged .325 with 10 home runs, 51 RBIs and finished fourth in the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year voting.
He was then invited to play for Puerto Rico in the 2009 World Baseball Championship. While doing so he injured his arm and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, pretty much wiping out his sophomore season with the Royals. He did bounce back the following year, hitting .305, but when he got off to a slow start in 2011, he was traded to Boston for a couple of prospects. He then became one of the few Sox players who performed well during the final months of that Sox-plosion season, hitting .317 as the team’s primary utility infielder. Valentine then selected Aviles to replace Marco Scutaro as the team’s starting shortstop in 2012 and he set career high’s in home runs (13) and RBIs (60).
Though he was no longer on the roster when Boston turned it all around and won the World Series a year later, Aviles did make a huge contribution to that championship. He was the guy Boston traded to Toronto during the 2013 postseason for Blue Jays’ manager John Farrell. Toronto then turned right around and traded him to Cleveland where Aviles helped former Boston manager Tino Francona get the Indians back to the playoffs in 2013.
Aviles is the nephew of one-time big league infielder Ramon Aviles.
If I was going to make a movie about the life of a baseball player, one of the the players I’d strongly consider would be today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant. Moe Berg was undoubtedly one of the most intelligent men to ever play Major League Baseball, The son of Russian Jews, Berg graduated from Princeton and Columbia Law School. He began his big league career with Brooklyn in 1923, as a middle infielder. He hit just .198 in his rookie season and he didn’t play in another big league game until 1926, with the Chicago White Sox. It was during the 1927 season that Moe volunteered to catch after both of Chicago’s regular receivers were injured. That switch of positions turned out to be a great career move that would keep Berg in the big leagues as a back-up catcher for the next dozen seasons. He moved around a lot, going from the Windy City to Cleveland and then to Washington and back to Cleveland. In 1935, he signed on with the Red Sox and spent the last five seasons of his big league career as Boston’s back up catcher. He only got in 148 games during those five seasons and averaged .262. His one Beantown specialty was becoming the preferred catcher of the great Lefty Grove. So why would I seriously consider making a movie about a guy who usually got fewer than 100 at bats in any of his fifteen big league seasons?
After Moe Berg quit playing, he coached for Boston for a couple of years and then became a spy. He could speak 12 languages and when World War II broke out, Berg joined the US Office of Special Services as an espionage agent. He was sent on several secret missions in Europe. When the war ended, Berg struggled to find a career that challenged him. He went broke on a bad business investment and spent the rest of his life traveling around the country living off friends and relatives.
When the Red Sox got closer Lee Smith in a December 1987 traded with the Cubs, I thought Boston’s bullpen struggles had been rectified and during the 1988 regular season, it sure looked like I was right. Lee was a beast for Boston that year, saving 29 games and finishing the season with a 2.80 ERA. But then Smith and the Red Sox fell apart in the postseason. In Game 2 of the ALCS, Smith was the loser against the A’s when he gave up three singles in the bottom of the ninth inning. Then, with Boston down three games to none, a desperate Joe Morgan brought in Smith in the ninth inning of Game 4 to to try and keep the A’s lead at one run. The big right-hander again surrendered three singles and allowed Oakland to score two huge insurance runs as the Red Sox were swept from postseason in four straight games.
The Jamestown, LA native then pitched well for the Red Sox in 1989, when he went 6-1 with 25 saves but his ERA went way up and the Red Sox missed the playoffs that year. Even though Smith had saved 54 games over the previous two seasons, the Red Sox had been expecting much more so it wasn’t a huge surprise when Boston announced they had traded him to the Cardinals for outfielder Tom Brunansky in early May of the 1990 regular season. Smith went on to enjoy three straight All Star seasons in St Louis, once again establishing himself as baseball’s dominant closer. Meanwhile, Brunansky gave Boston three OK seasons but it was the Cardinals who made out like bandits in the deal.
Smith would go on to save a record 478 big league games during his 18-season big league career which ended in 1997. That record has of course since been broken by both Trevor Hoffman and most recently, Mariano Rivera.