Who are the best left fielders in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5
Sometimes settling on a Red Sox top five can be daunting. Cy Young or Roger Clemens? Nomar Garciaparra or Joe Cronin? Jon Lester or Lefty Grove? Other times it's so easy, it requires effectively no thought at all.
Left field is one of those positions.
Tracing the lineage of greatness at the most loaded position in franchise history requires almost no effort at all, because for 50 years, it was effectively the domain of three men, all of them Hall of Famers, including maybe the greatest hitter that ever lived. From 1939-89, left field was pretty much manned by Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice. Remember that order, because it's going to be important. They were followed shortly thereafter by Mike Greenwell and Manny Ramirez, though here the order is less important.
That's a powerhouse assemblage of talent at one of the most important run-producing spots in the lineup, and it's fitting that in a park fabled for its Green Monster, some of the franchise's brightest lights spent their careers in its shadow.
5. Mike Greenwell
We once believed the torch had been seamlessly passed from Rice to Greenwell, but alas the early promise of the latter's career did not quite take. Still, it's easy to forget not only how good Greenwell was in his prime — he finished second to Jose Canseco in what became a controversial 1988 MVP race — but that he spent 12 seasons in a Red Sox uniform before retiring in 1996 with a lifetime average of .303 and OPS of .831.
In between, Greenwell came to personify the good-but-not-quite good enough Red Sox of the late '80s and early '90s. After recording three at-bats in the 1986 World Series against the Mets as a surprising 23-year-old roster addition by manager John McNamara, Greenwell finished fourth in the 1987 Rookie of the Year voting and made back-to-back All-Star teams in '88 and '89. The '88 season was his best, featuring career-high .325-22-119 numbers that placed him second in the MVP race to Canseco, who later admitted in his memoirs that he used steroids that season.
4. Manny Ramirez
It says something about the first three names on this list that Ramirez only ranks fourth. Generally considered the best pure right-handed hitter of his generation, the 12-time All-Star and 2002 batting champ terrorized opposing pitchers for 19 seasons.
And while he rose to prominence in Cleveland, he earned lasting fame in Boston, where he blasted 274 homers, drove in nearly 900 runs, and earned a World Series MVP award in 2004. While the picture-perfect swing and prodigious power made him a fan favorite, his quirks and idiosyncrasies made him unforgettable. Flighty, forgetful and often seemingly the inhabitant of his own planet, Ramirez confounded Red Sox fans with behavior that came to be described as "Manny being Manny" — from diving to cut off a throw from center field, to misplacing six-figure game checks, to relieving himself in the left field wall (which is probably apocryphal).
He wasn't always reliable, but he was one of a kind.
3. Jim Rice
For children of the '70s and '80s, no one made at-bats appointment viewing more than Jim Ed. The right-handed slugger with a swing made for clearing the Green Monster held his bat menacingly upright and wasted little motion when he saw his pitch. The ball sounded different coming off his bat — like it had just been struck by a tree trunk.
After bursting onto the scene as one half of the Gold Dust Twins with Fred Lynn in 1975, Rice came into his own in 1978, leading the American League in 10 offensive categories en route to the MVP Award. His last great season came in 1986, when he made his eighth and final All-Star Game and finished third in the MVP voting while leading the Red Sox to the World Series.
He retired in 1989 and then spent an agonizing 20 years awaiting the call to Cooperstown, finally earning Hall of Fame enshrinement on his last try.
2. Carl Yastrzemski
It's hard to read Yastrzemski's name without hearing Jess Cain's 1967 jingle that was immortalized on the Impossible Dream LP: "Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski! The man they call Yaz! We love him!"
Initially given the seemingly impossible task of replacing Williams in left field, Yastrzemski surpassed him in at least one measure, playing a record 23 seasons in a Red Sox uniform. Along the way he won three batting titles, made 18 All-Star teams, and ensured his enduring fame with a magical '67 campaign, when he won the Triple Crown and led the Red Sox out of the cellar and into the World Series, where they took the mighty Cardinals to seven games. Yaz hit .400 with three homers in defeat. The stoic slugger wasn't a man of many words, but children across New England could imitate his upright stance, complete with pants tug and helmet tap.
And when he swung? As Cain once sang: "Wow! There it goes again!"
1. Ted Williams
A different list, comprising the greatest pure hitters of all-time, might end with Williams at No. 1, too. There's never been a hitter as talented, studious, or driven as the Splendid Splinter, whose eye was so legendary that umpires struggled to call borderline pitches against him, assuming that if he didn't swing, it wasn't a strike.
Williams hit .344 during a 19-year career that saw him lose nearly five full seasons to military service, including three during his age 24-26 prime seasons during World War II. He otherwise likely would've challenged Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs while also becoming the only player in history with 2,300 RBIs.
A six-time batting champ, 19-time All-Star, and the game's last .400 hitter, Williams was a slugger decades ahead of his time. He valued walks as much as hits, which allowed him to compile the game's highest lifetime on-base percentage, a mind-boggling .482 that could live forever.