Who are the best center fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5
The Red Sox have employed all manner of center fielders throughout their history. Whereas left field has generally been home to run producers and right to all-around threats, the men in the middle have covered a wide range of styles. There are straight speedsters like Jacoby Ellsbury, defensive dynamos like Jackie Bradley Jr., fun-loving eccentric types like Johnny Damon, underappreciated standouts like Ellis Burks, and even plodding sluggers like Tony Armas.
Only in recent years have the Red Sox consistently prioritized defense in the role, from Coco Crisp to Ellsbury to Bradley. But that doesn't mean they haven't featured some talented players there, including a turn-of-century Hall of Famer, the younger brother of baseball royalty, and the one who fans over 50 still lament got away.
To the list!
5. Jacoby Ellsbury
What a strange career. The day the Red Sox selected Ellsbury in 2005, noted wiseguy Kevin Millar shouted, "Hey, Johnny, they just drafted your replacement!" It turns out he was right.
Ellsbury arrived only two years later and hit .353 in 33 games, forcing his way onto the playoff roster and batting .438 in the World Series. He led the league in steals during his official 2008 rookie campaign, but struggled to reach base. When a collision with teammate Adrian Beltre limited him to 18 games in 2010, Ellsbury looked like a potential bust. Then came 2011 and one of the great individual seasons in franchise history. Ellsbury recorded Boston's first 30-30 campaign and finished second in the MVP voting.
He played a key role in the World Series two years later before signing a megabucks contract with the Yankees without much of a fight from Red Sox fans, who never fully warmed to a player who felt like his own corporation.
4. Reggie Smith
He arrived during the magical 1967 season amidst considerable fanfare and for the next seven years delivered All-Star production that never seemed to be quite good enough for impatient Red Sox fans expecting Willie Mays. A switch hitter with one of the strongest arms in the game, Smith made a pair of All-Star teams and won a Gold Glove in Boston, earning MVP votes four times.
He did so despite encountering persistent racism that remains a stain on the franchise's legacy. The Red Sox were the last team to integrate, and that failure not only haunted the organization, it impacted Smith's quality of life, too. He spoke honestly about his experiences and was traded to the Cardinals after the 1973 season.
He went on to make five more All-Star teams and reach three World Series, winning it all with the Dodgers in 1981 before retiring a year later after a 17-year career.
3. Dom DiMaggio
"The Little Professor" may not have reached the heights of older brother Joltin' Joe, but he was a great player in his own right and a perennial All-Star. Standing just 5-9 and sporting a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles, DiMaggio wasn't a strapping heartthrob like the Yankee Clipper, but he could play.
He spent his 11-year career with the Red Sox — missing three prime seasons to World War II — and hit .298 while making seven All-Star teams. He finished ninth in the MVP voting during the 1946 run to the World Series, and he was one of the primary table-setters for lifelong friend Ted Williams. His 34-game hitting streak in 1949 remains a franchise record, and how's this for a what-if: DiMaggio blew out a hamstring in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series and thus wasn't playing half an inning later when Enos Slaughter made his mad dash home on a single to center.
2. Fred Lynn
Red Sox fans remain outraged that Lynn was ever allowed to leave, controversially traded to his hometown Angels in 1981 after a contract dispute. The sweet-swinging four-time Gold Glover was made for Fenway Park, but what could've been a 15-year run was cut short after seven seasons.
Drafted out of USC, where he played football with future NFL Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, Lynn arrived with a bang in 1975. He won both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, plus a Gold Glove, while teaming with fellow Gold Dust Twin Jim Rice to lead the Red Sox to the World Series. He made six All-Star teams in Boston and probably should've been AL MVP in 1979, when he won his only batting title while posting monster .333-39-122-1.059 numbers.
He made three more All-Star teams with the Angels and remained in the big leagues until 1990, but he never again approached his Boston heights.
1. Tris Speaker
There's only one Hall of Famer on this list and it's the Grey Eagle. Renowned for playing a shallow center field that allowed him to turn line-drive singles into outs during the Dead Ball Era, Speaker remains baseball's all-time record holder not only for doubles (792), but outfield double plays (143), too.
He joined the Red Sox in 1907 as a teenager and within two years became a .300 hitter and defensive wizard. His .337 average with the Red Sox ranks third in franchise history, including a high of .383 in 1912 when he was named AL MVP, and his overall mark of .345 is sixth all-time, percentage points ahead of Ted Williams.
He could've played his entire career in Boston, but a contract dispute after winning the World Series in 1915 ended with Speaker being traded to Cleveland, where he recorded nearly 2,000 hits over the next 11 seasons.