This weekend, the Sox will retire Johnny Pesky’s Number 6. To do so, the organization is changing its Number Retirement Rules, which require a player to be in the Hall of Fame to have his number retired. It’s a good decision.
Pesky was a key part of some great Red Sox teams in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But beyond that, he has been Mr. Red Sox for half a century. Through his devotion to the franchise, he has contributed to the enduring legacy of the Red Sox like few other players. And certainly deserves to have his number hanging near that of his buddies Williams and Doerr.
While changing the HOF requirement might be controversial, it’s a good decision. Many Sox players who were not (or are not going to be) deemed Hall-of-Fame-worthy have made far more significant contributions to the franchise than some Hall of Famers. And, as we’ve seen, who is and who is not deemed a Hall of Famer is all-too-often left up to the arbitrary whims of naive or ignorant national “sportswriters” who give too much focus to silly magic numbers and/or don’t pay attention or have an understanding of a particular player’s accomplishments and contributions during a given era. You know, the folks who said Wade Boggs was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, but Jim Rice (who led the AL in virtually every offensive category over 10 years) isn’t Hall worthy. But ask any knowledgeable baseball person if they were building a baseball team, which player would they take. (BTW, the answer: Jim Rice.) Or the folks who vote for Lee Smith for the Hall of Fame. But I digress . . .
In reporting the news about Pesky, the Boston Globe pondered who might be next to have their number retired, and listed the following as possible candidates:
Jim Rice (No. 14)
Roger Clemens (No. 21)
Luis Tiant (No. 23)
Dwight Evans (No. 24)
Tony Conigliaro (No. 25)
Wade Boggs (No. 26)
The way I see it is:
Jim Rice – YES. This is for obvious reasons that I have blogged about many times here. I won’t rehash it now.
Roger Clemens – NO. Roger Clemens is the anti-Pesky. Sure, he’s a great pitcher; one of the best ever. But retiring his number is about his overall contributions to and treatment of the Red Sox franchise. Whether you backed his decision to take the money and run to Toronto in 1996, you have to admit that there was a lot of bad blood between him and Red Sox Nation after he went to the Yankees. And that’s not just about him wearing the uniform. There were the classic battles in which he was Public Enemy Number One. There was him proclaiming from the rooftops at every chance that he wanted to retire a Yankee and wear the New York cap into Cooperstown, even getting angry at the notion the HOF might decide he wears a Sox cap in. There was him calling Sox fans whiners and losers. And in 2007, he lied to say it wasn’t about the money, it was about playing for a winner, when he shunned the Sox, took the money and went to a Yankee team going nowhere. That is what I mean by Clemens as the anti-Pesky. Finally, there is the fact he is one of the major faces of baseball’s steroid scandal. That is NOT bringing honor to the game of baseball. Heck, the Yankees are so embarrassed and ashamed of their association with Clemens they didn’t even have him to the final game at Yankee Stadium, where they brought out all the Yankee greats. If they don’t want him, why would we take him? Don’t you remember? We HATE this man. Let him rot in baseball limbo . . . or have Toronto retire his number.
Luis Tiant – NO. El Tiante was an excellent pitcher for some great Sox teams in the 1970s. But was he THAT good, or contributed enough to the Sox franchise? I love El Tiante, but the answer is no.
Dwight Evans – MAYBE, IF . . . Who didn’t love Dewey. But this is one situation in which I sometimes think Sox fans let their love of a player cloud their judgement. Dewey wasn’t HOF worthy. And, on his own, not number retirement worthy either. But, just as I can’t see retiring Dewey’s 24 without honoring Manny’s 24, I don’t think you can retire Manny’s 24 without retiring Dewey’s. Manny was a GREAT hitter who contributed a lot to Boston’s success, but also brought a less-than-honorable attitude and behavior. Great hitter? Definitely. Number retirement worthy? Begrudingly yes. The best solution is you retire Number 24 honoring both of them.
Tony Conigliaro – NO C’mon. Tony C had some great years, and he projected to be an all-time great hitter had injury not cut his career short. But who knows what would have happened. It’s a shame, but he is not retirement worthy . . . no matter what Steve Buckley says.
Wade Boggs – NO, NO WAY A great hitter who was renowned as a selfish player more interested in padding his stats than winning games, Boggs certainly reached his magic 3,000-hit number to punch his ticket to the Hall of Fame. But discerning baseball minds know Boggs was not a great baseball player.
Some other numbers I think should be retired eventually: Pedro’s Number 45. Sure, you might be bitter he went to the Mets. Of course, I still contend if Lucciano and Co. had ponied up another year on that contract, the Sox would have won another Series in 2005. Sure, there would have been lost years at the end of the contract, but would that have been so bad for a team that had just won its first championship in 86 years? Bottom line, when you consider how good he was and how offensively-scewed the era of the late-1990s and early-2000s was, Pedro Martinez with the Red Sox may have been the best pitcher . . . ever. Sure, scoff. Then go look at his numbers during those years. And in terms of contributions to the Sox, there was more electricity in Fenway for Pedro regular season games than other games, ever, for any player. David Ortiz’s Number 34. When I got my Red Sox Memories DVD, I noticed it had four numbers on the front — 9 (retired), 8 (retired), 27 (retired) and 34 (still playing). I took that as a sign of how people view David Ortiz’s accomplishments and contributions to the Red Sox, and, hopefully, as a sign of things to come. Regardless of what happens from here on out, regardless of whether this year is a sign of Ortiz’s ultimate downfall, his place in Red Sox history is sealed. I was at Fenway to see first-hand his heroics in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. We all remember the many, many heroics since 2003. How about the pep-talk he gave players prior to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when he talked about the long disappointment of Sox fans and wanting to make them smile. Or the pep-talk prior to Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS, when, down 3-1 to the Indians (racist franchise), he had a player meeting and told his teammates that wearing the Red Sox uniform meant they were bad motherf#@%kers. He and Manny made up the most potent 3-4 combination since Ruth-Gehrig. And he is perhaps the most beloved Red Sox player ever. End of debate.