BOSTON -- From 2015-17, an emotional jersey retirement ceremony turned into an annual event at Fenway Park.
First, it was the great Pedro Martinez having his No. 45 go to the right-field façade, just days after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
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The next year, five-time batting champion Wade Boggs fought back tears. On that May night in 2016, No. 26 being retired was a symbol of how Boggs patched up his relationship with his first organization.
The grand finale in that sudden surge of retired Red Sox numbers occurred in ’17 -- when the Red Sox did something they had never done before. That was when David Ortiz’s No. 34 was taken out of circulation just one season after he hung up his cleats.
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So, who will be next?
Three seasons after Ortiz became the 10th Sox player to have his number retired, there is great intrigue in trying to figure out who the 11th will be.
There are no clear-cut answers. But before we get to the four most logical candidates below, here is some history as a backdrop.
Ted Williams (No. 9), Carl Yastrzemski (No. 8), Carlton Fisk (No. 27), Bobby Doerr (No. 1), Jim Rice (No. 14), Joe Cronin (No. 4) and Johnny Pesky (No. 6) are the others hanging on that façade.
Under previous ownership, the Red Sox had a policy that a player had to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame and had to have ended his career in Boston to have the number retired. But the Sox worked their way around that loophole with Fisk, who signed a personal services contract with the club before his No. 27 joined the club's other legends.
The Hall of Fame has been a reasonable stepping stone for the most part, though there are two exceptions. The late Pesky isn’t in the Hall, and his number was retired as much for being a great ambassador/coach/instructor as for what he did on the field. Ortiz, obviously, isn’t even eligible for the Hall of Fame yet, but the Sox view him as arguably their most impactful player in modern times.
The Sox no longer have a formal criteria to determine whether a player is eligible to have his number retired. That said, owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner are committed to reserving that honor for a very select few. All future candidates will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Here are some cases that could compel a number to be retired at Fenway. We will list the candidates in alphabetical order.
Roger Clemens, No. 21
Résumé: The legend of the “Rocket” started in Boston on the night of April 29, 1986, when Clemens set a Major League record with 20 strikeouts against the Mariners. He tied that record 10 years later in his final win for the club. In ’86, Clemens earned the AL MVP Award and remains one of just 11 pitchers to win an MVP and Cy Young Award in the same season. It was also his first of three Cy Youngs that he won with Boston (and seven overall). He is tied with Cy Young for the franchise record in wins (192).
The skinny: In a way, No. 21 essentially is retired by the Red Sox. No player has worn it in Boston since Rocket fled the club as a free agent following the 1996 season. While Clemens and the Sox definitely didn’t have the best parting, the sides have patched things up over the years. In fact, Clemens went into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014. Over the past few years, Clemens has been expressive about the soft spot he has in his heart for Boston and has attended several club alumni events.
So what is the holdup? It seems as if the Red Sox are waiting for Clemens to get elected to the Hall of Fame before formally retiring his number. Clemens has been on the ballot since 2013 and topped out at 61% in 2020. A candidate needs 75% of the votes to gain entry. The obvious reason Clemens isn’t there yet are suspicions he used performance-enhancing drugs. According to the Mitchell Report that was released in '07, the alleged PED use by Clemens was after he left the Red Sox.
Clemens has two more years of eligibility on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. It will be interesting to see what the Red Sox do if he isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown by then.
Dwight Evans, No. 24
Résumé: The man known as Dewey played 19 years over three different decades for the Red Sox and stood out with his bat (379 homers, .842 OPS) and glove (franchise-record eight Gold Glove Awards). Evans only got to play in the World Series twice (1975 and ’86), but he performed well both times with his team losing in seven games to powerhouses (Big Red Machine, Mets).
The skinny: Perhaps the reason the Red Sox haven’t retired No. 24 for this longtime fan favorite just yet is because it’s hard to reconcile the mediocre first half of his career offensively with his dominant second half. In the 3,394 at-bats Evans took from 1972-80, he slashed .262/.344/.448 with 485 runs, 128 homers and 443 RBIs. In 5,332 at-bats from ’81-90, Evans slashed .279/.385/.489 with 950 runs, 251 homers and 903 RBIs.
If Evans had been evaluated on the numbers that people put the most stock in these days, he would have been considered an elite player during the entire decade of the ‘80s. This is why he has gained more Hall of Fame momentum lately. He received 50% of the votes on the Modern Era ballot last December. With another four votes, he would have been elected. Evans had a short-lived run on the BBWAA ballot, earning 10.4% of the votes or less from 1997-99.
The Red Sox waited for six years until Evans played his final game for the club before giving No. 24 to Kevin Mitchell in 1996. Shane Mack, Mike Stanley, Manny Ramirez, Takashi Saito and David Price have worn it in the ensuing years. Given the long ties Evans has had with the Sox -- he still works for the club, is a frequent presence at Fenway and lives in the Boston area -- it wouldn’t be surprising if No. 24 is eventually retired.
Dustin Pedroia, No. 15
Résumé: The fiery Pedroia is a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, a four-time All-Star and was the 2008 AL MVP Award winner. His 51.6 Wins Above Replacement are eighth most among active players, even though he's hardly played since '17 due to injuries. Pedroia was a key contributor of World Series championship teams in '07 and ’13.
The skinny: It once seemed a no-brainer that Pedroia’s No. 15 would be affixed permanently to the façade of right field at Fenway, serving as a reminder that he is one of the best all-around players in club history. But injuries have derailed him significantly. Only once in the past five seasons has Pedroia played more than 105 games. At this point, it’s unclear if he will ever play again.
Having spent his entire career with the Red Sox, the case can be made that Pedroia’s track record is already enough for No. 15 to be retired someday. At the very least, it’s highly unlikely that equipment manager Tommy McLaughlin will give No. 15 to anyone for a long time.
It could be a while on No. 15, as the Red Sox might first see how it goes when Pedroia is on the Hall of Fame ballot. While injuries could well prevent Pedroia from ever getting to Cooperstown, the guess here is that No. 15 will be enshrined one of these years.
Luis Tiant, No. 23
Résumé: El Tiante was a warrior for the Red Sox from 1971-78, using his whirling and contorted delivery to produce 122 wins, 113 complete games and 26 shutouts.
The skinny: The Hall of Fame hasn’t come calling yet for Tiant. Therefore, the Red Sox haven’t retired No. 23 in his honor. However, the club -- and many other Tiant supporters -- are baffled by his exclusion from the Hall.
For his career, Tiant went 229-172 with a 3.30 ERA and 2,416 strikeouts in 3,486 1/3 innings. Compare that with the late Catfish Hunter (224-166, 3.26 ERA, 2,012 strikeouts in 3,449 1/3 innings) and it’s perplexing that one of those players is in the Hall of Fame and the other isn’t. They pitched in the same era. Hunter had many more chances to shine in the postseason with dominant teams like the Athletics and Yankees, but Tiant came up huge for the Red Sox in the 1975 playoffs.
There is a path that the 79-year-old Tiant could wind up getting his number retired other than getting to the Hall of Fame. Call it the Pesky way. Aside from Pesky, it’s hard to find an ambassador who has served the Red Sox so enthusiastically for so long. If you want a challenge, try to find a Red Sox fan who has never A) interacted with Tiant; B) gotten his autograph or C) had a picture taken with him. Many people would have the answer on that one of D) All of the above.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.