Back when the Red Sox could hit: We rarely do sports reports around here. Recent reports about the Red Sox have led to today's rare exception.
We were triggered in part by Dave Sheinin's recent report in the Washington Post. Sheinin described the Sox as "this summer's top contender to join the list of the greatest teams in history."
Sheinin, please! Sure, the Red Sox are winning some games. But we prefer to recall the days when the Red Sox could actually hit!
Those days were before our time. But if you want to learn the basic history, let's start with the greatest slugging shortstop whose name you've never heard.
Over a three-season stretch, this slugging shortstop amassed 440 RBIs [sic] for the heavy-hitting Sox. Even so, you've never heard of Junior Stephens! His three-year stretch charts like this:
RBIs by Vern "Junior" StephensDid we mention the fact that Stephens was the Red Sox shortstop? Those numbers are hard to believe, but he played among so many hitters his statistics have been forgotten.
(In 1949 and 1950, Stephens led the American League in RBIs. But in each year, he was actually tied for the league lead by one of his Red Sox teammates!)
When were the Red Sox able to hit? We'll refer you to the 1950 squad, "one of only six MLB teams to score more than 1,000 runs in a season in the modern era (post-1900)."
The Red Sox could hit that year! Little-remembered Billy Goodman won the American League batting title. But there was no shortage of hitters:
Batting averages, 1950 Red SoxHow did Goodman get enough at-bats to win the batting title? Therein lies a tragic tale, a tale involving Ted Williams.
Billy Goodman, Utility: .354
Dom DiMaggio, CF: .328
Al Zarilla, RF: .325
Walt Dropo, IB: .322
Ted Williams, LF: .317
Johnny Pesky, 3B: .312
Birdie Tebbetts, C: .310
Vern Stephens, SS: .295
Bobby Doerr, 2B: .294
Williams had 159 RBIs in 1949, matching his teammate Stephens. Midway through 1950, he was on a pace to top that!
He'd missed seven early-season games with some sort of injury. But at the time of the All-Star game, with the Red Sox 154-game season exactly half over, his power numbers looked like this:
Williams at the all-star break, 1950:"Ballgame" had amassed 82 RBIs in his first 70 games! If he'd merely matched that output in the remaining 77 names, he would have ended the season with 50 HR and 164 RBIs. If he'd been able to play in every remaining game, the projections would have bumped up from there.
Games played: 70 (out of 77)
Home runs: 25
Alas! Ballgame broke his arm in the All-Star game. He didn't return until mid-September. Amazingly, the Red Sox managed to score over 1000 runs with one of baseball's greatest all-time hitters restricted to 89 games.
As for Stephens, his career was compromised at its start by World War II, at its end by injuries incurred in 1951. (Playing for the Browns, he led the league in RBIs in 1944, one of MLB's asterisked "war years.") As a shortstop, he knocked in roughly ten million runs and nobody knows his name.
At any rate, the Boston Red Sox could really hit in those days! Every genuine Red Sox fan expects that kind of offensive performance, top to bottom in the lineup, pretty much every year.
Washington Nationals, please: A week or so back, the Washington Nationals beat the Mets, 25-4. We actually follow the Nationals now. But really—Washington Nationals, please!
Who will forget those back-to-back games in June 1950 when the St. Louis Browns were foolish enough to show up at Fenway Park? Little mercy was extended:
June 6, 1950: Red Sox 20, Browns 4Those were midweek afternoon games. Baseball was different then. Total attendance for the two games: 11,764.
June 7, 1950: Red Sox 29, Browns 4
On June 26, the Red Sox got untracked again, beating the A's in Philadelphia, 22-14. They'd gone for 20 three times in three weeks! Sadly, they never broke 20 again after Williams got hurt.
In those days, the Red Sox could hit. In 1948 and 1949, they lost the pennant on the last day of the season. In 1950, the Yankees beat them by four games. Did we mention the fact that Teddy Ballgame was hurt?
These events were before our time. But in that era, unlike today, the Red Sox could actually hit!