Red Sox's Top 5 shortstops: Browne's take

April 20th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Ian Browne’s ranking of the top 5 shortstops in Red Sox history. Next week: Left field.

1) Nomar Garciaparra, 1996-04
Key fact: His .372 average in 2000 is fourth best in club history, and tops for right-handed hitters.

Though Garciaparra didn’t wind up having the Hall of Fame career he was once on pace for, his greatness from 1997-2003 vaults him to the top spot in Red Sox history at shortstop, even if Xander Bogaerts might one day pass him. Garciaparra’s impact was immediate, as he won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in ’97 on the strength of 209 hits, 44 doubles, 11 triples, 30 homers and 22 stolen bases. Early in his career, Garciaparra was also electrifying in the field, often displaying his athleticism with leaping catches of line drives.

“He was a pleasure to watch,” said Red Sox NESN analyst Jerry Remy. “He was so unique. I thought he was a very good defensive player. Some people criticized him for some of his defense, but I thought he was very good. Offensively he was a stud.”

Garciaparra was at his peak from 1999-2000 when he won back-to-back AL batting titles. What made Garciaparra such a tough out -- other than his fast hands and brilliant hand-eye coordination -- is that he could rip pitches that were well out of the strike zone. He went up there hacking and always seemed to hit the ball on the barrel. The Red Sox made the controversial decision to trade Garciaparra at the Trade Deadline in '04 at a time when he was injury prone and seeming to lose some of his love for playing in Boston. Garciaparra understandably became disenchanted with the club in December '03 when the Red Sox tried to acquire Alex Rodriguez to take his place.

“Unfortunately he never seemed comfortable in this setting and it’s too bad. I don’t think he got to enjoy the experience of being here as much as he should have, because people loved him,” said Remy. “They adored him. He’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen play that position for the Red Sox. I can’t think of anybody else off-hand who was better.”

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2) Joe Cronin, 1936-45
Key fact: Was player-manager for the Red Sox for 10 seasons and stayed on as manager for two years after he stopped playing.

Perhaps lost in the shadow of teammates like Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx, Cronin was a force in the middle of the batting order for the Red Sox in the late 1930s and early ‘40s. In ’38, he ripped 51 doubles and had an OPS+ of 135. While Williams hit .406 in ’41, Cronin was also excellent that season, producing a .914 OPS.

In four consecutive seasons (1938-41), Cronin ranked in the AL Top 10 in offensive WAR. Cronin had over 100 RBIs in three of his seasons with the Red Sox and was also a force in his years with the Washington Senators. He was an All-Star five times for Boston and was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in '56. The Red Sox retired his No. 4 in '84.

On June 17, 1943, Cronin became the first player to hit pinch-hit homers in both games of a doubleheader.

3) Xander Bogaerts, 2013-present
Key fact: His offensive WAR of 25.5 from 2015-19 ranks first among MLB shortstops

The popular shortstop with the sweet swing has a contract with the Red Sox through 2025. This means he will have a strong chance to eventually vault to the top spot among Boston shortstops.

“I’d put him right at the top of the totem pole. I’d have to put Nomar first, probably, but Bogaerts will pass him,” said Remy.

Just 27 years old, Bogaerts has already won two World Series rings. David Ortiz, Wade Boggs and Manny Ramirez are the only Sox players to accumulate more Silver Slugger Awards than the three Bogaerts already has in his possession.

He hits for average and power and can smash the ball to all fields with a fluid swing. As a bigger-bodied shortstop, Bogaerts finds a way to get the job done. Most excitingly, it’s possible we’ve yet to see the best of Bogaerts, though 2019 (.309/.384/.555, 52 doubles, 33 homers and 117 RBIs) was pretty special.

“Bogaerts is very special,” said Remy. “He can do everything. I love his style of hitting. He’s not a launch and lift guy. He basically tries to hit line drives. He now has the ability to play with the whole ballpark line to line with his offense which makes him, to me, an outstanding hitter. To top it all, he’s just a tremendous person.”

4) Johnny Pesky, 1942-52
Key fact: First Major League player to have over 200 hits in his first three Major League seasons.

Pesky was a hitting machine and an efficient table-setter for some great Red Sox teams that included Williams and Bobby Doerr. In his rookie year of 1942, he had 205 hits and finished third in the AL MVP Award voting. Pesky likely would have ranked higher on this list had he not missed three consecutive seasons (’43-45) due to World War II.

He certainly didn’t miss a beat upon his return to the baseball field, ripping 208 hits and 43 doubles for the 1946 team that won 104 games in the regular season. The shortstop got on base at a .401 clip in his time with the Sox and hit .313.

After his playing career was over, Pesky worked in countless roles for the Red Sox and is regarded as perhaps the most enthusiastic ambassador in team history. The Red Sox retired his No. 6 in 2008. One of the indelible images from Boston winning it all in '04 was the joy the players took in celebrating the accomplishment with Pesky, who was in tears. Boggs and Jim Rice both gave Pesky credit in their Hall of Fame speeches because of how much work he put in with them as an instructor.

5) Rico Petrocelli, 1965-76
Key fact: Belted 40 homers in 1969 -- still a team record for a shortstop

The right-handed hitter spent his entire career in Boston, playing on the beloved Impossible Dream team of 1967 and the thrilling ’75 AL pennant winners. Petrocelli’s finest season was ’69, when he had a .992 OPS and an OPS+ of 168.

Count Petrocelli among those who benefited greatly from the Green Monster. His career OPS was .843 at home compared to a pedestrian .667 on the road. He hit 134 homers at home and 76 on the road.

“He was another perfect Fenway Park hitter, because he was a dead pull hitter,” said Remy. “He was able to take advantage of left field at Fenway. He was a tough guy. He was very involved in the brawls they had with the Yankees. I remember one time he went after [Joe] Pepitone at Yankee Stadium. But he is a great guy, one of the best guys I’ve ever met.”

Honorable mentions
It was agonizingly tough keeping Vern Stephens out of the top five. Though he played just five years for the Sox (1948-52), Stephens was an utter force, topping 135 RBIs in three straight seasons. He ripped 39 homers in ’49, just one shy of Pesky’s team record for a shortstop. He had an .856 OPS with Boston. … John Valentin was an offensive-minded shortstop from '92-96 before moving to other infield positions in ’97 to make room for Garciaparra. Valentin played 10 of his 11 seasons for the Sox and had a sturdy .821 OPS. … Rick Burleson is one of the most fiery players in the history of the Red Sox. He was the starting shortstop for the ’75 squad that lost to the Big Red Machine in a classic World Series. Burleson had a rocket arm and was with the club from '74-80, making the All-Star team three times.