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Red Sox's Top 5 third basemen: Browne's take

@IanMBrowne
April 13, 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

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 third basemen in Red Sox history. Next week: Shortstop.

Red Sox All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B

1. Wade Boggs, 1982-92
Key fact: All five of his batting titles were with Red Sox

There is no contest here. Boggs is far and away the best third baseman in the long and distinguished history of the Red Sox and one of their top players ever. A certifiable hitting machine with Boston for over a decade, Boggs would have been even more valued in today’s game due to being elite at the art of getting on base. The left-handed hitter led the American League in on-base six times while with the Red Sox (1983, ’85-89). In his 11 seasons with the Sox, Boggs had an eye-popping OBP of .428 and topped out at .476 in ’88.

The only two position players in Red Sox history to compile a higher bWAR than the 71.9 by Boggs? Hall of Fame outfielders Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Boggs was an artist at the plate, capable of fouling off two-strike pitches at will. Once he got the one he wanted, he often found a patch of grass or a piece of the Green Monster. Perhaps no left-handed hitter in history was more suited for Fenway Park than Boggs. In 823 home games for Boston, he slashed .369/.465/.525 with 281 doubles. Boggs played 1,625 games for the Sox, producing a line of .338/.428/.462.

Amazingly, Boggs toiled away in the Red Sox farm system for six years before finally getting the call in 1982, when he made quite a splash as a rookie by hitting .349. He didn’t get into the starting lineup that season until June, when starting third baseman Carney Lansford broke his left ankle. Once Boggs got his opportunity, he never stopped hitting. He also turned an early-career weakness (his defense) into a strength, taking hundreds of ground balls daily from instructor Johnny Pesky.

Jerry Remy spent the final three years of his playing career as a teammate of Boggs and his first five years as a broadcaster admiring him from the booth.

“I’ve never seen another hitter like him in my playing time,” said Remy. "I guess the only guy I could compare him to would be Rod Carew.

“The story about Boggs is when he came to the big leagues, we kept saying, as players, 'They’re going to find a way to get this guy out because when you get to the big leagues, most guys have weaknesses.' It never happened. He could foul balls off with the best of them on two strikes just to keep the at-bat alive. He would do it on purpose. How do you do that?”

2. Jimmy Collins, 1901-07
Key fact: Elected into the Hall of Fame in 1945

According to various baseball history books, Collins helped revolutionize the position of third base. Before Collins played the position, it was more similar to a first baseman who would stand close to the bag and not be expected to showcase much range. But Collins brought athleticism to the hot corner and took pressure off the shortstop.

He was a player-manager when the Boston Americans (as the Red Sox were called back then) won their first World Series championship in 1903. Playing in the dead-ball era, Collins managed to have some life in his bat, hitting .296 over his seven seasons with Boston.

Many considered Collins to be the best third baseman from the first half of the 20th century.

“They say I was the greatest third baseman, and I would like to believe it,” Collins said in a bio that is published on the Baseball Hall of Fame’s website. “But I don’t know. There were many great third basemen in my day.”

3. Frank Malzone, 1955-65
Key fact: All-Star in six of 11 seasons with Red Sox

During a time when the Red Sox weren’t very good, Malzone was an annual bright spot, particularly on defense, winning three Gold Glove Awards. In fact, to this day, Malzone is still the only third baseman to win a Gold Glove in a Boston uniform.

In 1957, Malzone had a career-high 103 RBIs and finished seventh in the AL MVP race. That same season, Malzone became the first player to lead AL third basemen in games, putouts, assists, double plays and fielding percentage.

Malzone was a teammate of Williams for four full seasons at the end of the Splendid Splinter’s legendary career. And he shared a dugout with Yastrzemski for the first five seasons of Yaz’s career.

The right-handed hitter belted double-digit homers for eight consecutive seasons. He had 30 doubles or more in four straight seasons. Malzone went on to become a renowned instructor for the Red Sox for many years, and he has a field named after him at the team’s Spring Training complex.

“Frank's locker was right next to mine in Winter Haven," said former Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans. "We would always talk about baseball. If I had a day off or needed extra work, Frank would always hit me ground balls down that right-field line so I could get my arm in a certain position.”

4. Larry Gardner, 1908-17
Key fact: fWAR of 30.7 is second to Boggs among Boston third basemen

As challenging as it was for the Red Sox to find a worthy successor to Collins at third, Gardner wound up being just that. The Vermont native was a cornerstone player on offense and defense for the championship teams of 1912, ’15 and ’16. The best season Gardner had in Boston was ’12, when he slashed .315/.383./449 with a career-best OPS+ of 134.

Though Gardner hit just 16 homers in his decade of playing for the Red Sox, he had two round-trippers in the '16 World Series. The pivotal hit in that Fall Classic against over the Brooklyn Robins came in Game 4, a three-run inside-the-parker against Rube Marquard that helped the Red Sox overturn a 2-0 deficit with one swing.

“That one blow, delivered deep into the barren lands of center field, broke Marquard’s heart, shattered Brooklyn’s wavering defense, and practically closed out the series,” legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote.

5. Mike Lowell, 2006-10
Key fact: MVP of 2007 World Series

Perceived as the “throw-in” with Josh Beckett in a 2005 trade between the Red Sox and Marlins, Lowell became a reliable run-producer and fan favorite in Boston. Lowell had a blue-collar style and frequently played through injuries.

Lowell was a tremendous defender at third base before an injury to his right hip slowed him permanently in 2008. His pull-happy swing fit in perfectly at Fenway, where Lowell could easily loft balls off and over the Monster.

In 612 games for the Sox, Lowell slashed .290/.346/.468 with 80 home runs. Lowell was at his best during the Red Sox's run to the 2007 World Series championship, reaching career-highs in batting average (.324), hits (191) and RBIs (120).

Honorable mentions
Bill Mueller was the AL batting champion in 2003 and hit grand slams from both sides of the plate in one game that season. Mueller was also clutch against Mariano Rivera in the magical ’04 season. … Rafael Devers didn’t crack the Top 5 list this time, but he’s all but sure to at some point. His 2019 season was one of the most productive ever by a Boston hitter. … Adrián Beltré will likely be enshrined in the Hall of Fame one day, and he graced the Red Sox with his presence for one excellent season in 2010. … Carney Lansford is another Sox third baseman who won a batting title, doing so in the strike-shortened ’81 season.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.