Tagged: hall of fame

May 22 – Happy Birthday Al Simmons

simmonsThere are 38 men currently in the Hall of Fame, who at one point in their careers, played or managed for the Boston Red Sox. Only fourteen of those men established a significant portion of their Hall of Fame credentials while wearing the Red Sox uniform. The rest spent relatively small pieces of their baseball lives with Boston, usually at the very beginning or end of their distinguished careers.

Al Simmons is one of the latter group of Red Sox Hall of Famers. By the time he played any of his home team’s games at Fenway Park, it was 1943, he was already 41 years old, most of baseball’s best players were serving their country in WWII and Simmons was desperately chasing his career goal of achieving 3,000 base hits. (he ended up 73 short.)  He got into just 40 games that year, hit just .205 and then took his bat to Philadephia the following season, ending his career where it all began two decades earlier, as a member of the A’s

In my humble opinion, Al Simmons was one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. A native of Milwaukee, he joined Connie Mack’s Athletics in 1924 and drove in 1,157 runs for that team during the first nine years of his career and averaged close to .350 doing it. He had outstanding power, was a great baserunner and had a rifle of an arm that helped make him one of the game’s all-time great defensive left-fielders.

He was famous for his open batting stance, in which the toes of his left-foot pointed at third base. To this day, little league coaches warn young hitters to avoid this technique by shouting “You’re stepping in the bucket, move that front foot closer to the plate!” That’s how Simmons got his nickname of “Bucketfoot Al.” He was not exactly a friendly guy on or off the field. I’ve read that he was cocky, very tough on young teammates and drank way too much. But for a dozen seasons in the twenties and thirties, he was as good as any baseball player in the game and he helped Connie Mack’s A’s beat out the mighty Yankees and play in three straight World Series. In fact, when Mack was asked who his most valuable player was, the man who managed such legends as Home Run Baker, Eddie Plank, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, and Mickey Cochrane responded wistfully, “If I could only have nine players named Al Simmons.” Bucketfoot Al died in 1956 at the age of 54.

May 14 – Happy Birthday Tony Perez

perezAfter 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.

May 7 – Happy Birthday Dick Williams

WilliamsDickDick Williams began his playing career as an outfielder in the Brooklyn Dodger organization. An injury to his shoulder while still in the minors sapped the strength in his throwing arm and forced Williams to become an infielder. The Brooklyn Dodger infield of the early fifties was loaded with All Stars so Williams sat the bench but instead of wasting his time there, he learned how managers made decisions and he learned how to become one of baseball’s great bench jockeys.

His big league career as a utility infielder would last for 13 seasons, the final two of which were spent with the Red Sox in 1963 and ’64. It was during this stay in Boston that the Red Sox business manager and soon-to-be GM, Dick O’Connell took notice of William’s unbelievable intensity and baseball smarts and helped him secure a player/coach position in the organization’s farm system. A year later, he was given the manager’s job with Boston’s triple A affiliate in Toronto and he led that team to two consecutive International League pennants. By then, O’Connell had taken over as Boston’s general manager and he promoted Williams to take over as manager of the parent club for the 1967 season.

It had been a long time since the Fenway faithful had seen winning Red Sox baseball. After the core four of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky had dissolved, the Boston front office had made a lengthy series of unsuccessful player personnel decisions. It also seemed as if the top qualification for being hired as the team’s manager had been that you had to be a drinking buddy of Tom Yawkey, the team’s filthy rich owner. That all changed when O’Connell and Williams came on the scene. Williams was able to make astute use of a rich vein of young talent emerging from the team’s farm system and his strict “do it my way or else” style of managing was the perfect tonic for a team that had grown lazy and uninspired during the earlier rein of Yawkey yes-men.

Williams stressed fundamentals, technique and an aggressive style of play. If you didn’t perform you didn’t play. If you didn’t behave, you were disciplined. He pulled all the strings perfectly during his first unforgettable “Impossible Dream” season as Boston skipper in 1967 and came within a few innings of winning a World Championship. He wasn’t able to repeat that miracle, but when Yawkey fired him during the last month of the ’69 season, he had converted a team with a “loser” reputation into one that no team in the American League looked forward to playing.

Williams was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008 and passed away in 2011, at the age of 82. Here’s the capsule description of his managerial career that appears at the Hall of Fame’s Web  site: “Dick Williams embodied a hard-nosed style that brought success to previously underachieving teams. A big league player for 13 seasons, Williams would skipper the Boston Red Sox, Oakland A’s, California Angels, Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners during a 21-year career. Only the second manager, along with Bill McKechnie, to win pennants with three different clubs, he won World Series titles with the A’s in 1972 and 1973, an American League pennant with the Red Sox in 1967 and a National League flag with the Padres in 1984. Williams ended his career with 1,571 wins and 1,451 losses.”

April 7 – Happy Birthday Bobby Doerr

doerrThe west coast was very kind to the great Red Sox teams of the 1940’s. The region produced a legendary Boston version of a “Core Four” with Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio and today’s Birthday Celebrant all coming east as young men and making Fenway their summer workplace.

If you research Doerr’s life and career, the most common description you encounter is not Hall-of-Famer, great hitter or outstanding second baseman, though he was certainly all of those. Nope, to those that played with him and against him and to the hundreds of young players he mentored as a long-time hitting and fielding instructor, Bobby Doerr is a true gentleman and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

That doesn’t mean Doerr wasn’t tough or afraid to lead. In the late David Halberstam’s book “Teammates,” which focuses on the strong bond of friendship between these four great Red Sox legends, the other three Boston stars all insisted that Doerr was the glue that held those great pre- and post- WWII Boston teams together. And Doerr was the only Red Sox willing to tell Williams to cool it, whenever the Splendid Splinter got into one of his patented surly moods.

Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Doerr was a teenage sensation with the Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League. He joined the Red Sox in 1937, at the age of 19. By September of that first season, he had taken over as Boston’s staring second baseman from a very good player named Eric McNair. Doerr remained at that position for 14 of the next 15 big league seasons with the only interruption being the one year (1945) he spent in military service during the war.

A right-handed hitter, he could be counted on like clockwork to smack close to 20 homers and drive in between 95-to-110 runs. His career average was .288 and he made nine All Star teams. During his only postseason appearance in the 1946 World Series, Doerr led all Red Sox regulars with a .409 batting average. His glove work was near flawless and if there were Gold Gloves awarded back then, he’d own at least a dozen. But it all ended abruptly.

While bending over to field a slow-hit grounder during the second half of the 1951 season, Doerr felt like he pulled something in his back. He kept playing but weeks later, the pain had gotten so bad he couldn’t get out of bed. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was causing the pain and told him the only hope was a complicated operation that might actually end up making his back worse. Just 33-years-old at the time, Doerr retired instead. You’ll still find his name among the top ten all-time franchise leaders in just about every offensive and defensive category.

He settled in Oregon with his wife and son and tried ranching. He gave that up to become a roving instructor and scout for the Red Sox. He missed the Halberstam-chronicled road-trip with DiMaggio and Pesky to visit a dying Williams because he didn’t want to leave his wife, who had multiple sclerosis and had suffered two strokes. Today he turns 96-years of age. His wife passed away in 2003 and Doerr remains in Oregon, still the perfect gentleman and still one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

March 29 – Happy Birthday Cy Young

1909e90cyyoungIts a holiday in Red Sox Nation. 147 years ago today, Denton True Young was born on a farm in Gilmore, Ohio. By the time he threw his first big league pitch, he had been given the nickname “Cyclone” because of the speed of his fastball. He started his big league career in 1890 with the old Cleveland Spiders of the original National League. When he left the senior circuit in 1901 to join the just-formed Boston franchise in the brand new American League, he had become the winningest pitcher in NL history and his nickname had been shortened to just “Cy.”

He then proceeded to lead the new league in wins during its first three years, with 33-10, 32-11 and 28-9 season records respectively. When he ended his big league career in 1911, he had set Boston’s franchise record for wins with 192 and his 511 combined big league career victory total is a mark that will never be broken. He won at least 30 games in a season five times and was a 20-game winner fifteen times.

Is it any wonder that the award that goes to the best pitcher in each big league is named after this guy. He threw over 7,356 innings during his 22-season big league career and tossed 76 shutouts. He started the first World Series game ever played. He was among the first group of players to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. His lifetime ERA as a Red Sox was 2.00. He remains the career leader in all-time wins by a Red Sox with 192, tied with Roger Clemens. He and Clemens are also tied in most career shutouts as a Red Sox with 38 each. Cy Young was a baseball God. He died in 1955, at the age of 88.