Red Sox 25-year All-Entertaining Team: Position Players
C — Jarrod Saltalamacchia
There's something satisfying about watching a guy overcome his demons and reach his ceiling, albeit briefly. Saltalamacchia hit just .158 after arriving from the Rangers at the 2010 trade deadline for basically nothing. He suffered from Mackey Sasser disease, struggling to lob the ball back to the pitcher.
Over the next three seasons, though, he transformed himself into a serviceable everyday catcher, culminating in 2013, when he hit .273 with an .804 OPS. He also played a central role in the response to the Marathon bombings, helping conceive of the 617 Boston Strong jersey the Red Sox hung in their dugout in Cleveland that sparked a rallying cry.
1B — Kevin Millar
Mention Millar's name, and you probably immediately think of "The Idiots" or "Cowboy Up" or his admonition to the Yankees before Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS to, "Don't let us win tonight." Me? All I see are mammoth foul homers. The best part of watching Millar on a nightly basis was not only his ability to turn on anything — "I can pull 105," he once told me without bragging — but where it landed.
Millar must be baseball's all-time leader in home runs yanked over the left field roof boxes, a product of the hook in his swing. We talk about tape-measure shots landing on Lansdowne Street, but Millar peppered Brookline Ave., which must've made for some confused pedestrians.
2B — Dustin Pedroia
The Laser Show was worth the price of admission before the team even took the field. His non-stop bleep talk of anyone and everyone — reporters wearing ugly jackets, Terry Francona at the cribbage board, teammates insufficiently awed by "the strongest 160-pound player in the league" — is legendary. He once told Heisman Trophy winner Brady Quinn, a chiseled Adonis, that he'd rip a ping pong ball off his throat during offseason workouts in Arizona, drawing a confused stare.
Once the game started, Pedroia defined the concept of will, blasting fastballs at his eyes over the Monster and playing second base with reckless abandon. If only injuries hadn't inevitably interceded, we'd be enjoying the sunset of his career.
3B — Adrian Beltre
Rafael Devers is on his way to claiming this spot, but for now it belongs to Beltre, who only spent one season in Boston before signing with the Rangers in 2011 and cementing his status as a Hall of Famer. Beltre's quirks made him as memorable as his talent. He dropped to one knee on homers while hacking at virtually everything, he perfected the art of the stiff-legged barehand and howitzer on dribblers in front of third, and for the love of God, do not touch his head.
Beltre's ability to toggle between ferocious intensity and disarming smile made him a perfect fit for Boston, but the Red Sox bet big on the homegrown Kevin Youkilis and acquired All-Star Adrian Gonzalez, making Beltre expendable, which turned out to be a huge mistake.
SS — Nomar Garciaparra
Early Garciaparra, the one who looked like a surefire Hall of Famer and worthy foil to contemporaries Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, was a sight to behold. Line drives everywhere. Graceful pirouettes at short. A whipping throwing motion that resembled ballet. Early Nomar, the one who hit .357 and then .372, was Wade Boggs without the walks, the toughest out in the league, someone who never popped up while ripping rockets all over the park. Every at-bat that didn't end with Garciaparra on base was a surprise.
It's a shame his Red Sox career ended as it did in 2004, with Garciaparra unceremoniously shipped out because GM Theo Epstein realized he needed better defense at shortstop. That was late Nomar, undone by injuries. The early version was a monster, and the best pure hitter in baseball.
LF — Manny Ramirez
It's a good thing Ramirez was a superstar, because he never could've gotten away with half the mercurial (expletive) he pulled on a daily basis. As the story goes, he'd leave game checks on his $20 million contract in his shoe until a teammate forced him to sign up for direct deposit. A player once relayed the story of Ramirez buying a happy 29th birthday cake for teammate Carl Everett (next on this list) in 2001, not realizing it was actually Everett's 30th birthday, and the combustible center fielder, perceiving himself to be the butt of a joke, slammed it in the trash with a string of expletives while a crestfallen Ramirez wondered what he had done wrong.
On the field, teammate Alan Embree described Ramirez's follow-through as "throwing the cape," and more often than not, Manny carried the team like Superman. His titanic homer off K-Rod in 2007, both arms thrust over his head, is an iconic moment.
CF — Carl Everett
Yeah, yeah, crazy Carl didn't believe in dinosaurs and head-butted an umpire and hated Dan Shaughnessy, but I'm not sure there's ever been another player quite like him in Boston. Whereas most hitters wear out the back of the batter's box, Everett planted himself right at the front and on top of the plate.
He felt it gave him a chance to catch a curveball before the break, but it effectively made him a kamikaze pilot, especially when he tried to dig out the parts of the box that most hitters ignore so he could squeeze even closer to the pitcher. It certainly helped him the night he broke up Mike Mussina's perfect game with two outs in the ninth on a pitch off the outside corner at his eyes. He was a powder keg with real demons, but the element of danger made him compelling, and he gave us some enduring catch phrases like, "Bye, bye, bye."
RF — Shane Victorino
Mookie Betts is obviously the better player, but there's just something about the Flyin' Hawaiian. Truth be told, I might be basing this placement on the best celebration I've ever witnessed live, Victorino pounding his chest as he rounded the bases after launching the grand slam vs. the Tigers that sent the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series.
Victorino played at 110 mph and didn't seem happy unless he left the field with a bruise — be it from hitting a wall as a Gold Glove right fielder or while getting drilled with a league-high 18 pitches. His style of play was the definition of infectious, and for one glorious season, it all came perfectly together.
DH — David Ortiz
The idea of dropping what you're doing to watch an at-bat now sounds quaint, but it applied to Big Papi. Every one of Ortiz's at-bats built to a crescendo, from the slam of the donut to spitting on his hands to clapping and stepping in like a bad M-Fer. Ortiz's legendary flair for the dramatic speaks for itself, but the night that will always stand out in my memory is Aug. 24, 2012.
The Red Sox were well on their way to waving the white flag under Bobby V., but first they welcomed back Ortiz, who hadn't played in a month because of a bad Achilles. He then acted like he had never left, going 2 for 4 with a pair of RBIs in a 4-3 victory over Royals. Unfortunately he came up lame on a double and sat out the rest of the season. Still, the game reinforced the notion that the franchise legend could do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted with a bat.
Bench — Gabe Kapler
When Kapler arrived in Boston in June of 2003, he was a former top prospect who had flamed out with the Tigers and Rangers. He arrived in the middle of a surreal series vs. the Marlins, who were white-hot angry after dropping the opener 25-8 on the strength of Boston's record 14-run first. Kapler debuted the next night and went 4-for-5, but Mike Lowell blasted a three-run homer in the ninth off Brandon Lyon to give the eventual champs a 10-9 win. Kapler homered twice more the next night to become an immediate fan favorite.
His true entertainment value revealed itself in the moments when the uber-intense Kapler would plant himself in the turf while uncorking a throw from right or go careening around the bases like a demolition derby car. If Youkilis was the Greek God of Walks, the chiseled Kapler was simply a Greek God, but he was no pretty boy. He played like a Dirt Dog but lived with a New Age sensibility and erudition that made him stand out in a sea of mindless machismo.
Bench — Michael Chavis
Here's hoping Chavis can take the next step and beat the book on him, because there's something old-fashioned about watching his at-bats, in a Dave Kingman kind of way — if he gets a hold of one, he will not be cheated. Chavis's swing path was engineered to launch a hanging anything to the moon, and the ease with which he blasts the ball over 400 feet is a sight to behold. Hopefully he learns either to lay off or hit a high fastball, and then we can see more of it.
Bench — Kevin Youkilis
Youk was such a contradiction. He simultaneously felt like someone who'd probably make a good neighbor in an I'm-just-a-regular-guy way, but he also had rabbit ears and played clubhouse lawyer and often let his intensity get the best of him, alienating teammates with assaults on the bat rack in his early days.
He held his grievances closely — ask him about hitting .400 in college and going undrafted the same year that Colorado selected Heisman Trophy nominee Michael Vick, who hadn't played baseball since high school — but he also transformed himself from a bad-bodied walk machine into a legit All-Star, Gold Glover, and middle-of-the-order threat. How's this for a sneaky dominant four-year run from 2007-10: .303-.400-.530-.931.
Bench — Jonny Gomes
Was he a self-promoter? Meh, I suppose. Did he have a habit of inserting himself into White House photo ops? Most definitely. Did I enjoy the hell out of covering and watching him? Without question.
Gomes set the tone for the 2013 Red Sox by scoring from second on an infield single on Opening Day against the Yankees, and he never stopped. The phrase "student of the game" gets tossed around quite a bit, but it truly applied to Gomes, who knew everything about every player in MLB. He watched Baseball Tonight religiously and just breathed the game. He also had a flair for the dramatic, whether it was winning two games with walkoff homers or launching the go-ahead three-run shot in Game 4 of the World Series after David Ortiz had rallied the troops in the dugout.