Though I located four members of the Red Sox all-time roster who were born on June 5th, none of them spent much time playing for Boston. So I selected the only one of the four who made it to the Hall of Fame as today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant.
“Happy Jack” Chebro appeared in 392 games during his 11-season career in the big leagues that began with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1899. He appeared in just one game for the Red Sox in 1909, a starting assignment against another of his former teams, the New York Yankees in the last game of Boston’s regular season. He took the loss.
When I first started following baseball in 1960, New York Yankees dominated the record book. Babe Ruth’s single season and career home run records, Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played, Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak and Jack Chesbro’s most wins in a season marks were all considered unbreakable. One year later, Maris hit 61 but that was OK by me because he was a Yankee. Then Aaron grabbed the Babe’s other record, Ripken replaced the Iron Horse, and a juiced up McGuire eclipsed Maris. That leaves just DiMaggio’s 56 games and Chesbro’s 41 victories still Pinstripe property.
I do believe that the Clipper’s hitting streak will fall some day in the not too distant future but Happy Jack’s victory mark will withstand the test of time. The ironic thing about Chesbro’s 41-win season in 1904 was that he too used juice to help him set the mark. But his juice came out of his mouth instead of a syringe and was applied to a baseball instead of being injected into his butt. Jack had one of baseball’s best spitballs and in 1904 he used it to near perfection. Just like steroids’ impact on the the human body however, foreign substances applied to a baseball can have disastrous side effects. One of the spitters Chesbro threw during the 1904 season finale against the Red Sox fluttered so much it got past the New York catcher and the winning run scored, costing the Highlanders the pennant.
Chesbro pitched seven seasons for New York with a cumulative record of 128-93. His total big league career lasted 11 years and his lifetime record was 198-132. That 40-victory season got him elected to the Hall of Fame by the old-timers committee in 1946.
The 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.
Jake 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)
What’s a penny worth? Well back in December 2008, Theo Epstein thought the amount was $5,000,000. That’s what the former Red Sox GM agreed to pay veteran right-hander Brad Penny for a one-year deal to be part of Boston’s 2009 starting rotation.
The Blackwell, Oklahoma native had split the first ten seasons of his big league career pitching for the Marlins and Dodgers. He first grabbed national attention with Florida in 2003, when he went 14-10 during the regular season and beat the Yankees twice in that year’s Fall Classic. Later in Los Angeles, he had been a two-time all star and led the league in wins in 2006.
Penny had an off-year during his last season in L.A, compounded by a stay on the DL. The Dodgers had paid him more than $9 million in 2008, but concerns about the health of his pitching arm drove down hs price on the free agent market. In addition to the $5 million Epstein guaranteed him, his deal with Boston included over $3 million more in incentive bonuses.
Talk about a lucky penny, though his ERA hovered near six by the end of his second month as a Red Sox, Penny’s record at that time was 5-1. That good fortune however abandoned him pretty quickly. By the end of August his ERA hadn’t moved and he had lost seven of his last nine decisions. His coup-de-grace in Beantown was an eight-run, four-inning hammering the Yankees pasted on him in late August of that season. After that disastrous start, the Boston front-office announced that Tim Wakefield would be taken out of the bullpen to replace Penny in the team’s rotation. Penny responded by asking for his release and when Epstein complied, the pitcher signed with the Giants where he won 4 of his 5 decisions with an ERA of just 2.59, which I guess proves that you get more value for a penny in San Francisco than you do in Boston.
Today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday Celebrant was the first native Canadian to ever start a World Series game. Reggie Cleveland was born on this date in 1948, in a little town in the central Canadian province of Saskatchewan. He was involved in all sorts of sports as a kid but baseball was his passion and he was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals out of High School in 1965. He made his big league debut with the Cards four years later in the team’s next-to-last regular season game. Facing the Phillies that day, Cleveland got shelled and took the loss. He next got called up to St. Louis in mid-August the following year and again lost his one and only start of the season. He also lost three other decisions among the fifteen games he pitched out of the Cardinal bullpen in 1970 but he was getting great coaching and learning how to get big league hitters out.
By 1971, the right-hander was ready to become a part of St. Louis’s starting rotation and in 34 starts he went 11-11 with a 4.01 ERA, not great but also not bad for a first full year effort in the big leagues. He then put together back-to-back 14-win seasons while lowering his ERA to 3.01 by 1973 and it looked as if he was on the threshold of becoming a big winner for the Cards.
That’s why more than a few people were surprised when that December, St. Louis sent Cleveland, reliever Diego Segui and third baseman Dick Hughes to the Red Sox for pitchers Lynn McGlothen, John Cumberland and Mike Garman. Boston GM, Dick O’Connell told the press that Cleveland was the key to the transaction for the Red Sox. He too felt his new pitcher was ready to move up to the next level and he wanted Cleveland to make that move in a Boston uniform.
He would never become an elite big league starter but for the next four seasons, Cleveland was a valuable swing-man for the Red Sox pitching corps. During that time he appeared in 149 games for Boston, starting in 88 of them. He was a double digit winner in each of those years but with the exception of 1976, he pitched with an ERA in the low-to-mid four’s. His best season as a Red Sox record wise was 1975, the year the team lost to the Reds in the World Series. Cleveland was 13-9 and he made three appearances in that Fall Classic, including his historic start in Game 5, in which he took the loss.
By 1978, Boston was ready to let some of their younger pitchers develop at the big league level, making Cleveland expendable. He was traded to the Rangers during the first month of the ’78 regular season. He pitched in the big’s for three more years, retiring with a 105-106 career record (46-41 as a Red Sox.)
After their historic 2004 postseason, the Red Sox were facing the daunting task of defending their newly acquired World Championship without the pitching talents of either Pedro Martinez or Derek Lowe, who had both departed via free agency that winter. Compounding Boston’s challenge was the fact that after the Red Sox had embarrassed them by coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win the ’04 ALCS, the arch-rival Yankees had went out and got Randy Johnson from the Diamondbacks, to strengthen their own rotation.
The Red Sox front office set their sights on former Yankee David Wells, who had spent the ’04 season going 12-8 for the Padres in his hometown of San Diego. Theo Epstein signed the big southpaw to a two year deal and the eccentric Wells, who had been fined when he wore Ruth’s hat during a Yankee game earlier in his career asked for and received the Bambino’s uniform number “3” when he got to Boston. It proved not to be Boomer’s lucky number.
Not only did he lose to Johnson and the Yankees on Opening Day, he went on to lose four of his first six Red Sox decisions and with his ERA approaching seven, Wells was hearing boos from the Fenway faithful. Sports pundits publicly wondered if his best days were behind him. Not yet. He switched his uniform number to “16” and went 13-3 for the remainder of the season, helping Boston capture the wildcard race and return to the postseason.
He underwent knee surgery during the offseason and as he recovered, got homesick and asked the Boston front office to trade him back to a west coast team. He opened ’06 on the DL and by late August with the Red Sox all but eliminated from fall-ball contention, he got his wish and was traded back to the Padres. He hung on for one more season and then retired with an impressive 239-157 record for his 21-season career.
Josh Beckett was such a good pitcher in high school that plenty of scouts and agents thought he might skip his senior year (in high school mind you, not college) and declare himself eligible for the MLB draft as a junior! He did end up staying and playing his senior year and then in 1999, this right-handed native of Spring, Texas was selected as the second overall pick in the draft by the Florida Marlins.
Beckett then breezed through the minors in two seasons with a 17-4 record and made his debut with the Marlins in September of 2001, splitting his first four decisions, while striking out 24 batters in 24 innings and fashioning a very impressive ERA of 1.50. There was then nothing special about his first two complete regular seasons, during which he battled chronic finger blisters. It was his performance during the 2003 postseason that first caught the attention of the national sports media. He pitched very effectively in his six starts that fall and when he threw a masterful shutout against the mighty Yankees in the sixth and final game of the ’03 Fall Classic on just three day’s rest, he won both a ring and the World Series MVP award.
Two seasons later, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein let the Marlins know he was interested in obtaining Beckett. Florida proved to be tough negotiators, or at least it seemed so at the time. In addition to getting some of the jewels on Boston’s prospect list, namely Hanley Ramirez and Annibel Sanchez, Florida also forced Epstein to take third baseman Mike Lowell, who was coming off a bad year at the plate and still had two years left on his sizable contract.
Though Beckett went 16-11 during his first year in Boston, his ERA was a sky high 5.01 and the Red Sox failed to make the postseason while Ramirez was winning the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year honors for Florida. It looked as if the Marlins had gotten the best of the big trade. That perception didn’t last long however.
In 2007, Beckett had a breakout 20-7 season as did Lowell, who averaged .324 and drove in 120 runs as the two former National League teammates led their new team to the postseason. They then continued their great play in the playoffs and World Series. Beckett went 4-0 in fall ball and Lowell hit .400 against the Rockies to win the World Series MVP.
Boston and Beckett then spent the next four seasons trying to get back to baseball’s Big Dance without success. The pitcher had spurts of excellence during that time but he also had some physical problems and was never again as dominant as he had been during Boston’s ’07 World Championship year.
Boston’s late season collapse in 2011 proved to be Beckett’s undoing in Beantown. When the Red Sox ownership fired manager Terry Francona, the press reported that departing skipper had lost control of the team. Specifically they reported that Beckett and the rest of Boston’s starting rotation would leave the dugout together during games they weren’t pitching and retreat to the clubhouse to play cards and eat chicken.
It was that lack of discipline and focus that caused John Henry and company to hire Bobby Valentine. The new skipper appeared to bring out the worst in Beckett, who was 5-11 when the Red Sox front office made the famous $400 million house-cleaning deal with the Dodgers in late August of 2012, that sent Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford,and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for James Loney, Ivan DeJesus and three other prospects.
The only member of the Red Sox all-time roster to celebrate a birthday on this date is this eighth round Boston draft choice from 1982. A native of Compton, California, Jeff Sellers was a right-handed pitcher with a good fastball. who grabbed the attention of the parent club when he put together a 14-7 season for New Britain in 1985 that included 15 complete games and 5 shutouts. That performance earned him a late-season call-up to Fenway that year and when he won both his decisions during that call-up, Red Sox fans thought maybe, just maybe the then 21-year-older had a bright future in Beantown. He did not.
He started out the ’86 season back in the minors and then got called up again that June. He went 3-6 during his two months in the rotation and was sent back down. After Boston clinched the AL East that year he was given one more start against the Yankees in the regular season finale and got shelled.
Boston then kept him on the big league roster for most of the ’87 season, during which he went 7-8 in 22 starts. A sore arm and a tendency to give up too many walks prevented him from ever becoming a consistent winner. Ironically, his best performance as a Red Sox came in his final one. He went 1-7 in 1998 and that seventh loss occurred at Cleveland’s Jacobs Field. On that October day, Sellers pitched a no-hitter for seven and a third innings and then Cleveland first baseman Luis Medina broke it up with a home run. That turned out to be the only run of the game. After that season, Sellers was dealt to the Reds with Todd Benzinger in the trade that brought Nick Esasky and Rob Murphy to Boston. Sellers hurt his arm again before he ever got the opportunity to throw a regular season pitch for the Reds and never again appeared in a big league game. He has a son named Justin who played as a utility infielder for the Dodgers.
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.
When my children were growing up in the 80’s, they attended an elementary school that was located next to a nature preserve that was called Sassafrass. A group of parents from the school got together in an effort to construct a new playground and I was asked to serve as the person responsible for getting citizen volunteers to help build the park. We decided we would name the new playground Sassafrass and I came up with the slogan, “Let’s Get Sassy!” which we plastered on billboards and lawn signs and bumper stickers all over town. Amazingly, until this week, when I started my research for today’s Beantown Baseball Birthday blog post with Bill Nowlin’s excellent book entitled “New Century, New Team; The 1901 Boston Americans, I never knew what sassafras was. The word would always have a special place in my heart because it gave me the inspiration and the opportunity to use “sassy” in that slogan, which proved so popular that we got hundreds of volunteers to build that playground. But it wasn’t until I read Nowlin’s profile of George Winter, a pitcher on the very first Boston Red Sox (then known as the Americans) team in history, that I learned what a “sassafras” actually was.
George Winter’s nickname was Sassafrass. Why? Sassafrass is a tree, whose extract is used as the flavoring for root beer. Back at the turn of the 20th century, root beer was one of America’s most popular beverages. So as Nowlin points out, the nickname “Sassafrass” describes a player from that era who added “flavor” or “life” to the game of baseball. That would be Mr. Winter.
Born in Pennsylvania, Winter played collegiate baseball at Gettysburg College, where future Hall of Fame pitcher, Eddie Planck was his teammate. Whese two guys would taking turns pitching, the school’s team gained national attention and soon enough, Connie Mack had summoned the dynamic duo to Philadelphia to try-out for his his new American League franchise. Mack signed Plank but he told the just 5’8″ – 155 pound Winter, he was too small to be a big league pitcher so he signed with the Boston Red Sox instead.
Over the next eight years, the diminutive right-hander proved Mack wrong. He actually out pitched Plank in their rookie year of 1901 by going 16-12 with a 2.80 ERA. He had winning seasons during his first four seasons for a Boston team that was loaded with great starting pitching. So loaded that when they went to their first World Series in 1903, Winter actually was assigned the task of selling tickets, while the three pitchers in front of him in that year’s rotation, Cy Young, Bill Dineen and Tom Hughes got all the starts in Boston’s seven-game victory over the Pirates.
That deep starting pitching depth and bouts with typhoid fever in 1902 and severe stomach problems in 1906 probably helped prevent Winter from putting together an even better record during his years in Boston. Another reason was the uncanny lack of run support the guy seemed to receive when he was on the mound. In 1905 he had a superb ERA of just 2.07 but finished the year just 12-15.
Even when he started out 4-14 during his final year with the Red Sox in 1908 and was put on waivers, his ERA was still just 3.05. He was then claimed by the Tigers and in six starts with his new club his ERA was a microscopic 1.60. His won-lost record, however, was 1-5.
Fortunately, Tiger manager Hughie Jennings paid more attention to the low ERA and put the pitcher on Detroit’s World Series roster that year, giving Winter his first and only opportunity to participate in postseason play. Which brings me back to his nickname. When you were as physically small as Winter was, you had to make up for it by doing all the little things well. Winter was both an outstanding fielding pitcher and he also happened to be one of the fastest runners in the league. It was that speed that got him his World Series debut in Game 1 of that 1908 Series when he was used as a pinch runner in Game 1. He also pitched a scoreless inning of relief in Game 4, which turned out to be his final appearance as a big leaguer. He later became the varsity baseball coach at the University of Vermont. He passed away in 1951 at the age of 73. And by the way, in his head-to-head big league match ups with his old Gettysburg pitching mate Eddie Plank, this “sassy” little right-hander was 6-3. Take that Connie Mack!