Thursday, April 11, 2013

Should the Red Sox retire Wade Boggs’ Number 26?

Yesterday, a story broke that Wade Boggs is waiting for/expecting the Red Sox to retire his #26 on the right field facade in Fenway Park.  There have been many great players through the years in Boston, but only seven have had their numbers retired (eight if you include Jackie Robinson, whose number 42 was retired by every major league team in 1997).  Here are the seven, with a little something about each one:

#1 Bobby Doerr - played 14 seasons, all with the Red Sox from 1937-1951 with two years off for World War II.  Hit .409 in the 1946 World Series to lead all Red Sox hitters,  Career .288 average, named The Sporting News AL Player of the Year in 1944

#4 Joe Cronin - With the Red Sox for 24 seasons as a player/manager, manager, and general manager, career .301 average in 20 MLB seasons, leads all Red Sox managers with 1,071 wins, played in six all-star games and managed/coached in six more, first modern-day player to become a league president

#6 Johnny Pesky - With the Red Sox for 21 seasons as a player, coach, and manager, career .307 average, known as “Mr. Red Sox”

#8 Carl Yastrzemski - Named to Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 with 95 percent of the vote (the 7th highest in history at that time), Won AL Triple Crown in 1967, Most lifetime games in the AL with 3,308, AL MVP in 1967, Only AL player with 400 home runs and 3,000 hits, Tied MLB record with 1.000 fielding percentage in 1977, .285 career batting average

#9 Ted Williams - AL MVP in 1946/1949, Won AL Triple Crown in 1942/1947, Led AL in batting six times, home runs four times, total bases five times, walks eight times, and slugging percentage nine times, voted Greatest Red Sox Player of All Time by fans, holds MLB record for most successive times reaching base safely (16) in 1957, .344 career batting average

#14 Jim Rice - Won AL Silver Slugger in 1984 and 1985, was named to eight All-Star teams, led AL in home runs in 1977, 1978, and 1983.

#27 Carlton Fisk - 11-year career with the Red Sox, first unanimous winner of AL Rookie of the Year Award, seven-time All-Star, all-time Red Sox leader in games caught with 990, waved his home run fair to beat the Reds in game 6 of the 1975 World Series

Looking at that list of seven players, a couple of things jump out at me.  First, they are all hitters.  Not a single pitcher in the history of the Red Sox deserved to have their uniform retired?  Will Pedro Martinez become the first pitcher to have his number retired once he gets elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame?  Second, these players all seem to have either outstanding statistics (Yaz, Teddy Ballgame, Cronin, Rice) or seem to be exceedingly likable Red Sox connected to memorable moments in their history (Pesky, Fisk, Doerr).  Third, no Babe Ruth.  Apparently, if you violate the “likable” or “tied to Red Sox memorable moment” category, it doesn’t matter how great your stats are.

This led me to do a little research into the criteria used for consideration of having your number retired at Fenway Park.  According to the Red Sox website, there are only two:
  1. Must be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
  2. Must have played for the Red Sox for at least 10 years
There goes the Pedro Martinez number retirement.  Pedro only played for the Sox for seven seasons (and the Babe Ruth question as well, having only played for the Sox for six seasons, as well as Cy Young and Smoky Joe Wood).  And if Pedro doesn’t get his number retired, I don’t know which pitcher ever will (side note: while Boggs‘ #26 has been issued several times over the years, recently to Scott Podsednik and Brock Holt, Roger Clemens‘ #21 has never been re-issued since The Rocket left in 1996.  Makes you wonder if the Red Sox are holding out for Clemens to be elected to the Hall of Fame to retire his number.  If so, they’re going to be waiting a long time as this year’s HOF vote seems to indicate that he won’t get in in this lifetime).   Also, I seem to remember during a tour of Fenway Park a couple of years ago that there was another piece of criteria...that the player must have finished their career as a Boston Red Sox.  Apparently, that requirement was dropped so they could retire Fisk’s number.  This memory of mine is confirmed by Wade Boggs, who claims the team told him he had to retire as a member of the Red Sox to have his number retired.  

(Side rant: why are 10 seasons with the Red Sox and once upon a time retiring as a Red Sox criteria for this honor at all?  I suppose it lends some form of objectivity to the selection of numbers, instead of subjective criteria like, “was he a memorable/lovable Red Sox?” or “was he one of the best Red Sox players ever?”, or “did pitchers/hitters crap their pants a little when they had to face him?”.  If it were me, there would be a committee of Red Sox experts (including Deacon Art) who vote on these things.  Because making 10 years with the team and retiring with the team weights longevity over production or memorability...and which is more important? Being great, being beloved, being connected to Red Sox lore, or sticking around a long time?)

Which brings this post back to Boggs.  Where does he fit in?  Should his number 26 be retired?  First, full disclosure: Boggs played for the Red Sox from 1982-1992.  I was born in 1984.  I have only the faintest memories of watching Boggs play for the Sox, and so all I really have to go on are his stats and some stories I’ve read that make him out to be a petulant a-hole.  Nevertheless, let’s dive into some reasons for and against retiring #26:

Reasons the Red Sox should retire #26:
His statistics are eye-popping.  Especially now that OBP is valued even more than when he was playing.  Check out the following stats (with the Red Sox, not career stats) with place in Red Sox history in parentheses:
  • .338 batting average (second)
  • .428 OBP (third)
  • 2,098 hits (fifth)
  • 1,067 runs scored (sixth)
  • 1,625 games played (seventh)
  • .890 OPS (ninth)
  • 71.4 WAR (third)
  • During his peak from 1983-1988, he hit .356/.448/.489 (.448 OBP!!! The MLB leader in 2012 was Joe Mauer with a .416 mark. Boggs had a .415 OBP for his entire career even with .348 and .377 marks his last two years with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays)
  • 3,010 career hits
  • more career extra-base hits (757) than strikeouts (745)
  • How about the argument that Boggs left the Red Sox and played for the hated Yankees for five seasons?  According to Boggs, he had an agreement with Mrs. Yawkey in 1991 to sign a 7 year, $35 million contract which would have made him a career Red Sox player, but she slipped in her bathtub and died before the contract could be signed.
  • Look at the above criteria again.  Boggs was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.  He chose to wear a Red Sox hat into the Hall.  He played for the Red Sox for eleven seasons.  In other words, he meets the criteria.
  • If you were starting a baseball team and had the seven retirees plus Boggs to choose from, Boggs would probably go third, right?
Reasons why the Red Sox should not retire #26:
  • Wade Boggs is a prick
  • Wade Boggs seems to have always held a grudge against the Red Sox organization
  • Boggs isn’t really seen as one of the best players of his generation like Williams, Yaz, and Rice were (this might not be true, again, I was four when Boggs’ prime ended).  He seems to be remembered as a guy who hit a ton of singles, drew a ton of walks, never struck out, and was pretty average at everything else.  With today’s sabermetrics, he would have been better-appreciated.  In the mid to late 80’s?  I don’t know.  I was four.
  • Once again, Wade Boggs is a prick
The argument boils down to whether or not the Red Sox really mean it when they say they only have two criteria to have your number retired, or whether there is really an un-written third criterion: be a likable, fan-favorite player connected to Red Sox lore (like Fisk and Pesky).  

If you want my opinion, here it is: having your number retired for the Red Sox should come down to one question: “would the telling of the history of the Boston Red Sox be incomplete without mentioning this player?” You have to mention Yaz and Teddy Ballgame and Fisk and Pesky and Rice.  You have to mention Joe Cronin.  Bobby Doerr?  I don’t know.  Pedro? Absolutely.  Babe Ruth?  Of course.  Roger Clemens? Yup.  David Ortiz?  Yessir.  Wade Boggs?  Meh.  Not really.  And I guess that’s why his number is being issued to Brock Holt for spring training instead of hanging from the right field facade.

Do you think Wade Boggs’ number should be retired?  Do you think any of the other players I mentioned should have their numbers retired?  Do you think there are players I didn’t mention that should have their numbers retired?  Let’s discuss in the comments section below:


  1. I'm interested in Barry's response here, but for those of us who were born '76-'80 the response to Boggs isn't Meh. He wasn't as loved as Rice or Dewey ... but he was better (at least in my formative years), and the best part of growing up with Boggs is that he was always better than Mattingly. Bring him back and retire the number.

    1. For people who remember the late 70's (not us Cory) Rice, Evans and Lynn are probably considered better than Boggs, but people of our generation certainly remember that Boggs was better than Rice and Evans from the mid 80's to 90. He was always considered better than Mattingly unless you lived in New York. Boggs was also thought to be the guy with the best chance to hit .400 since Williams hit .406. Because he was so selective at the plate like Williams was.

    2. I will say this, if you had posed this question in 1992 I think we all would have said yes ... but then Boggs spent the next four years souring feelings and cementing his dick status. Unlike Clemens though, most of my hard feelings have been forgotten and I now just remember him as the best Red Sox player of my youth. By the by, his number should probably be retired just for the fact that he supposedly drank more than 60 beers after a game and during a flight from Seattle. I much do you think Boggs wishes he was 20 years younger so he wouldn't have been that only asshole having chicken and beer in the clubhouse.

    3. Boggs has done some legendary stuff! MargoAdams anyone?

    4. yes.....Wade Boggs was great and deserves it. AND 7, 200 hit seasons seals it for me...

  2. I am still on the fence about Boggs number being retired, so much so I am not going answer yet. Bur here are two or three comments on some items in Brandon's post,

    Among the reasons Babe Ruth's number has never been retired by the Red Sox is because he NEVER wore a number for the Red Sox. Numbers were not used on uniforms until the Yankees began the idea, I believe around 1927. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig wore # 3 and 4 because they batted third and fourth in the batting order. Besides Ruth is way too connected to the Yankees to be honored as a retired " number" for Boston, I believe.

    The finishing your career with Boston clause still stands. The loophole for Fisk ( as it will be for Pedro, and yes Pedro's 45 will be retired upon his HOF enshrinement) is that the Sox hired him as a special assistant to someone, and then retired 27.

    Boggs actually had a clause in his contract when he signed with Tampa Bay at the end of his career that paid him a bonus ( I forget how much) if he would go into the HOF in a Devil Rays cap, and he agreed. This is when the HOF board, said enough is really enough, and they stopped the practice of letting the player choose his cap on the HOF plaque. Now the Hall itself chooses the cap, this would be a reason NOT to retire Boggs' number in Boston.

    One reason the Red Sox have not retired any pitchers numbers is other than a very, very select few there are not even any candidates. Ruth ( discussed above) Cy Young and Joe Wood ( also technically no numbers to retire, and other reasons each. ) Clemens would have been a near lock even with leaving for Toronto and the Yanks if not for the steroids era. And of course Pedro. ( Maybe Mel Parnell, but had a short career and no HOF). And one possible candidate if he ever makes the HOF is Luis Tiant.

    I am in favor of being stringent with retiring numbers as opposed to the Yankees and in another sport the Celtics.

    I will have to ponder Boggs a bit longer.

    1. Wow, that's fascinating about Ruth, Young, and Wood not wearing numbers, I didn't realize that.

      I agree that Pedro should be the first pitcher whose number is retired. I see how they can have a loophole by hiring him as an assistant to the GM, but how are they going to get around the criterion of playing for the Red Sox for 10 years? He only played in Boston for seven years.

      What about Curt Schilling? He only pitched for the Red Sox for four years, but he was 6-1 in the postseason with the Sox and helped us win two World Series. He will surely be in the Hall of Fame some day. I suppose the lack of Red Sox longevity will prevent it, but he certainly has as big of a place in Red Sox lore as all but about five or six other pitchers.

    2. Well, if Boggs' main issue is that he is a prick, then Schilling certainly has the same issue times ten!

  3. Boy this is a fascinating question and there are so many angles to it that it is hard to cover them all. Clemens and Boggs are the two Red Sox players from that era who have a chance to have their numbers retired. Neither of them finished their careers with Boston and because each of them has some controversy surrounding their post playing days (Clemens-PED's and HOF possibility; Boggs-being a prick) I don't see either of them getting hired within the Sox organization to close that loophole.

    Pedro Martinez is back with the organization, but someone will have to agree to create a loophole with the 10 years of service requirement to get him in (I believe this will happen) and he will have his number retired. Things might really get interesting once this generation of Boston greats reach the HOF (or not) besides Pedro, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Big Papi deserve consideration. Pedro and Manny will certainly be in the HOF. Schilling and Big Papi likely will not be (Schilling has a better chance but he certainly won't be wearing a Boston cap if he does go in. I heard him discussing this the other day on ESPN radio and he said if he ever does get in he'd probably have to wear a Phillies hat). So this debate is only going to grow.

    I'll get back on topic and consider Wade Boggs, and here's why I think both he and the Rocket get their numbers retired eventually. The Red Sox and Yankees rivalry is undergoing a paradigm shift and five years from now the fact that Clemens and Boggs won Championships with the Yankees will not be as painful for Red Sox fans. If the Red Sox have bigger rivalries with the Orioles, Blue Jays or Rays for the next five years than a lot will be forgiven for Clemens and Boggs. Same goes for Clemens and other PED users who will eventually get into the hall of fame. I know tht the idea of the Red Sox and Yankees not being main rivals may be hard for some fans to believe (especially Brandon's age and younger), but I remember times in the late 80's when the Orioles were the main rivals and the early 90's when the Jays were the main rival. So it is possible.

    One other thing on Boggs is that he actually was considered one of the best players of his generation in the late 80's. He and Don Mattingly were considered the two best hitters in baseball and Boggs was usually given the upper hand over Mattingly everywhere except New York. It was a different game back then and sluggers were not as revered as they would be in the 90's and 2000's. Guys who hit for high average were considered the best players back then not necessarily the guys who hit the most HR's (which usually was in the 30's or even high 20's). Legend always had it that Boggs had the ability to hit 30 HR's and often put on a power show in batting practice, but he chose to hit for a high average and take walks when he didn't get something good to hit (hence the high BA and OBP).

    One, one more thing, I'm calling bull shit on the story told by Boggs about he and Jean Yawkey having a 7 year 35 million dollar contract. For all of his hitting talent he was always a slimy prick in the mold of Pete Rose. I never tend to believe a word that comes out of Boggs' mouth because all he tries to do is make himself look good when he talks. This type of attitude is probably the only thing holding back the retiring of his number.

  4. How bout Buchholz and a no hit bid! Go Red Sox! Im checking in from Disney world and I'm happy to see the sox beat tb two in a row. Lets sweep on patriots day!

  5. Boggs didn't leave. Boggs was DUMPED! The Sox were sure they had the Next Big Thing! They liked him so much that he was higher on their radar than another infielder...that guy got traded to Houston, some dude named Bagwell. The Next Big Thing was none other than Scott Cooper!

    Whoops. =(

  6. I'd rather see Jimmy Foxx (3) and Lefty Grove (10) or even Tony C (25) get theirs retired before Boggs.

    No to Wade. He wanted to go into the Hall as a Devil Ray. Also no just for riding that Yankee police horse ...

    Also, never to Rocket. Possibly the best Red Sox pitcher of all time, but it's complicated. ... Unofficially retire it like they've done -- fine. But don't go all the way.

    Nomar was a lock to get his No. 5 up there. He was my Sox generation's Williams or Yaz. Heart and soul. But then he turned down a fair contract. He wanted something closer to A-Rod money. Bad move.

    I like the tough requirements.

  7. Interesting photo:

    Apparently the Red Sox have hung a Wade Boggs banner in the retired numbers row on Van Ness St. It probably means nothing...right?