Who are the best shortstops in Red Sox history? Ranking the Top 5
Shortstop is a surprisingly deep position in Red Sox history. From the power of Vern Stephens to the slickness of Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to the emergence of MVP candidate Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox have started some impressive shortstops over the years who won't make this list.
The only Gold Glove in the group belongs to Rick Burleson, in 1979, but the Rooster is another casualty of a strong class. There's only one Hall of Famer in the bunch, but three other near-misses, as well as one of the most recognizable stars of the 1990s.
Bogaerts was easily the toughest omission, but there's a better than even chance that when his current six-year contract expires, he'll be No. 1 on this list, so be sure to check back with us in a few years.
5. John Valentin
If they re-conducted the 1995 MVP voting today, Valentin, and not teammate Mo Vaughn, might've been the winner. You want a quietly great season, check out Valentin's 8.3-WAR gem. Johnny Val hit .298 with 27 homers, 102 RBIs, and a .931 OPS, while turning more double plays than anyone in the AL except Cal Ripken. His aforementioned WAR led all position players and nearly doubled Vaughn's, but he still only finished ninth in the MVP voting.
While Valentin never reached those heights again, he still typified the pre-2004 Red Sox, with his mixture of cockiness, abrasiveness, and talent. He didn't take kindly to being replaced by a certain player higher on this list, but that's part of why we loved him. He moved to second and third base in 1997 and still led the league in doubles (47), for instance, and it's a shame he couldn't have held on for a couple of more years to join the celebration in 2004.
4. Johnny Pesky
A generation of fans came to know him as a kindly presence at spring training, where he'd sit on a bat handle and sign autographs all day. But Pesky wasn't just an ambassador; he was a player.
He's one of only seven men to compile an on-base percentage of at least .400 (.401) in a Red Sox uniform, and like many other stars of the day, there's no telling what kind of career numbers he might've posted if he hadn't missed his ages 24-26 seasons to serve during World War II.
As it is, he opened with three straight 200-hit seasons, and he topped 100 runs in each of his first six campaigns. His name lives on for the pole that bears his name in right field — despite hitting only 17 home runs, he made one of them count by wrapping it around the 302 sign.
3. Rico Petrocelli
Red Sox fans of a certain age can't hear Petrocelli's name without conjuring Ned Martin's voice. When the final out of the 1967 Impossible Dream season was looped towards shortstop, Petrocelli's catch unleased "pandemonium on the field" and sent the Red Sox to their first World Series in 21 years.
A gifted slugger and two-time All-Star with a right-handed stroke tailor-made for the left field wall, Petrocelli spent his entire 13-year career in Boston, blasting 210 homers, including a high of 40 in 1969. That started a three-year run of power that also saw Petrocelli record his lone 100-RBI season, in 1970. He selflessly shifted to third base in 1972 to make room for Aparicio and promptly set an AL record with 77 consecutive errorless games.
He remained a fixture until 1976, and was especially good in the 1975 World Series, hitting .308 in a seven-game loss to the Reds.
2. Joe Cronin
The lone Hall of Famer on this list — Aparicio reached Cooperstown for his exploits in Chicago, not his final three seasons in Boston — Cronin made five All-Star teams during 11 seasons as Red Sox player-manager, staying in the latter job for two additional years after his playing days and winning over 1,000 games. Acquired in 1934 from the Senators for the unheard-of sum of $250,000 — this was the Great Depression, after all — Cronin put his mark on the franchise for the next 50 years as a player, manager, and executive.
He joined teammate Ted Williams in 1984 as the club's first players to have their numbers retired. His No. 4 still hangs on the right field facade, a testament to his lifetime .301 average and 2,285 hits. He drove in at least 100 runs three times and also led the league in doubles in 1938 with 51.
1. Nomar Garciaparra
Of all the great what-ifs in Red Sox history, Garciaparra might be No. 1. He arrived with a bang in 1997, winning the Rookie of the Year Award for an otherwise dismal team and captivating Red Sox fans like no newcomer since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice more than two decades earlier. Before 2001 wrist surgery altered his career trajectory, Garciaparra appeared shot out of a cannon towards Cooperstown. Fans loved his name, his OCD routine in the box, and the rockets he hit all over the field.
It's possible no Red Sox hitter made more consistent hard contact, ever, than Garciaparra in 1999 and 2000, when he won consecutive batting titles with averages of .357 and .372, respectively. He made five All-Star teams and finished as high as second in the MVP voting before being shipped out at the 2004 deadline and missing a celebration 86 years in the making. He may not have been built to last, but he burned brightest.