Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Top Ten First Basemen in Sox History

by Larry Shiman, FN Board Member
In the Sox gloried history, they haven’t had too many high caliber first basemen. Many of them were only around for a year or two – even some of the famous ones. At least four good ones played more at another position played more at another position (Yaz, Dewey Evans, Pete Runnels, and Billy Goodman). It doesn’t leave a whole lot. A few notes about some others who didn’t make it:

Dale Alexander was the Bosox first batting champion, in 1932. He still didn’t come close to making the list. He was acquired in a trade from Detroit early in the season, and ended up playing 101 games for the Sox. He hit .372 while in Boston, and .367 overall, which is great, but he ended up with less than 400 at bats. On Memorial Day the next year, Alexander injured his leg. The trainer screwed up in trying to treat him, to the point that they actually discussed amputating the leg, and he was never the same.
Walt Dropo had a terrific rookie season in 1950, led the league in RBIs and total bases. And that was pretty much it. He struggled so much in 1951 that he was sent to the minors in June. By the following June, he was traded to the Tigers.
Bill Buckner… well I wouldn’t give so much blame for the ’86 series, but he wasn’t here very long, and he just wasn’t that good. He hit a bunch of singles and doubles for a couple of years, but he didn’t get on base much, was slow, and the defense was never that good. He drove in a boatload of runs, but pretty much anyone could have driven in runs with Wade Boggs and Dewey Evans on base every time he came to the plate.
With that said…
10. Dick Stuart was recently praised by the editor of this site. And he was pretty good. He had lots and lots of power, hitting 75 homeruns in just two years with the team. His power plus his entertainment value get him on my list, but it’s worth keeping in mind he only played here for two years, didn’t get on base much, was pretty slow, and that defense was really bad. The Sox couldn’t have thought too highly of him, given he was traded to the Phillies for Dennis Bennett. But oh, those dingers.
9. Kevin Millar (2003 to 2005). He’s remembered more for what he said in the clubhouse than what he did on the field, but Millar was no slouch, especially in the first two years (2003 and 2004). Good power, solid average, defense wasn’t too bad. You can make an argument that Stuart should be ranked higher than Millar, but I give Millar bonuses for the extra year and the little matter of the ring on the finger.
8. Dick Gernert (1952 to 1959). Gernert was never great, but he hung around a long time, and gave the Sox decent production throughout the 50’s. Good power, good on base percentage. His counting statistics were hurt by the fact that he usually got up 300 to 400 times a season. Manager Lou Boudreau didn’t like him because he thought Gernert took too many pitches and walked too much. Times have changed…
7. Brian Daubach (1999 to 2002). A personal favorite, as a result of playing a key role in one of the most memorable regular season games I’ve ever been to, August 16, 1999.  Trailing 4 to 0 early in the game, and 5 to 3 in the ninth against a good Oakland team, the Sox loaded the bases for Daubach. He hit a pitch down the right field line for what I was sure was a game winning grand slam, but was slightly foul. He hit the next pitch high off the wall for a game winning three run double… After Mo Vaughn left after the ’98 season, first base was feared to be a position of real weakness, but Daubach gave the Sox solid production for a few years, helping them remain competitive when the roster was basically Pedro, Nomar, and pray.
6. Dick Hoblitzell (1914 – 1917). The regular first baseman during some of the early championship teams. He was well respected, played well during the regular season, and played well during the World Series. Batted in the middle of the order.
5. Jake Stahl (1908 – 1912). Another regular first baseman during an early championship season, and clearly better than Hoblitzell. Stahl struck out a lot, but was otherwise a terrific hitter, leading the league in homers in 1910. Stahl actually retired after doing this, due to financial reasons, but was enticed back to baseball in 1912, not just to play but to manage. The Sox had their best winning percentage ever under Stahl, and won championship #2.
4. George Scott (1966 – 1978). Boomer was one of the first African American stars in Beantown, and an important part of the impossible dream. At his best, he was a good hitter and a great fielder, with multiple gold gloves.  Scott was constantly part of controversies in his early years, sometimes benched, and experienced an absolutely miserable 1968, but was also part of some great highlights and hitting displays in those years. He was traded as part of a pretty terrible deal after the ’71 season, but came back a few years later for a bit of an encore.
3. Kevin Youkilis (2006 – 2012). The Greek God of more than just walks. Subject of one of the great quotes in Sox history (Terry Francona: “I’ve seen him in the shower, and I wouldn’t call him the Greek God of anything.”)
2. Mo Vaughn (1991 – 1998). So much fun to watch at the plate. His numbers look absolutely eye-popping today, although it’s worth remembering the times in which he played (not that I’m accusing him of anything)… I was rooting for him after he left Boston, but I wasn’t really surprised he declined pretty quickly. The heart and soul of the team for a few years.
1. Jimmie Foxx (1936 – 1941). He wasn’t quite the same player after joining the Sox, but he was still pretty great. Overall, one of the top three or four ever to play the position… The Tom Hanks character in “A League of Their Own” was based on Foxx… If Foxx took care of himself the way many players do today, he might have hit more homeruns than Babe Ruth. Then again, if he was born a few decades later, he also might have ended up in the NFL the way he was built.