As storied as the Green Monster itself that towers above left field at Fenway Park is a long line of Red Sox left-fielders that have upheld a tradition of excellence nearly unbroken in 70 years.
In 1939 Ted Williams redefined what it meant to play left field for Boston. Through 19 seasons, The Kid was was an All-Star 17 times, ending his career .with a 344 average, 521 home runs and 1,839 RBI. Williams, the last man to hit .400 (.406 in 1941), became the greatest pure hitter of all time. Even more amazing, Williams amassed these totals while missing three full seasons to WWII (1943-1945) and two more when he was recalled into the Marines during the Korean war. He won baseball’s Triple Crown in 1942 and 1947, missing a third Triple Crown by a single base hit in 1949. That’s one tough act to follow.
Boston managed to do just that by bringing in Carl Yastrzemski in 1961. Playing in the shadow of Williams, Yaz finished a 13-year career with a .285 career average, 3,149 career hits, 452 career home runs, 1,844 career RBI and a Triple Crown.
What was also becoming apparent in the Williams and Yastrzemski years was that a brand of outfield play raised to an art form was emerging. Williams and Yaz became master Monster craftsmen, becoming especially adept at fielding caroms off the wall to throw runners out at second base or hold a batter to a wall ball single.
The Monster in their day was made of tin and concrete. The wall composition, rivets and Fenway Park’s manual scoreboard, made playing left field in Boston one of the most demanding and, at times, infuriating places in all of baseball. Williams and Yastrzemski mastered the demon. In 1976 the wall was wrapped mostly in plastic, just in time for another Boston masher, Jim Rice, to take up the left field mantle.
Rice was a bona fide terror at the plate. Over 16 seasons, Rice had a career batting average of .298, with 382 home runs, and 1,451 RBI. He too mastered the Monster in the field and continued a tradition of power-hitting, crafty, strong-throwing left fielders.
After the golden age of Williams/Yastrzemski/Rice it appeared that a star left fielder might be difficult to find. Enter Mike Greenwell. From 1985-1996 Greenwell was the forgotten great Red Sox left fielder. During that time, “Gator” compiled a career .303 average, smacked 130 home runs, and had 726 RBI.
After Troy O’Leary had some decent seasons with the Sox from 1995-2001, possibly the greatest right handed hitter in MLB history, Manny Ramirez, took over from 2001-2008. Ramirez will never be accused of master fielding status but he did completely terrorize MLB pitching, along with bash brother David Ortiz. During the Ramirez reign, Boston bagged two championships in 2004 and 2007. Manny’s best power season with Boston was 2005: 45 home runs and 144 RBI.
Since Ramirez left, a string of good to marginal – not great – left fielders have patrolled Fenway’s cozy left field confines, yet even a single season guy like Jason Bay had a moment in left field that he hasn’t repeated since he left Boston for New York. Now Boston is again the hunt for their next great one. Is there one in the organization?
Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston’s 22-year old number three prospect, an athletic natural who appears primed to take over center field whether Jacoby Ellsbury leaves or stays, may be a candidate under the right circumstances. He’s smart and could quickly learn the vagaries of the Monster. Still, his speed and range make him more well-suited to center field.
Some think that if Ellsbury were to stay in Boston he could move to left field at a more dignified and appropriate time in his career – the 2014 season – than the insulting 2010 debacle that brought a far past his prime and, as it turned out, injury prone Mike Cameron to Boston.
Cameron comes to Boston, Ellsbury moves to left field and six games into his season is mowed down in a collision with teammate Adrian Beltre. Ells fractures multiple ribs and is lost for the season. Such is the turn of the screw of fate. If Ellsbury walks after 2013, mark that date in April 2010 on your calendar as day the beginning of Ellsbury’s end started.
Bryce Brentz has a plus arm and some real deal pop in his bat. If he can get his strike outs under control, he could be a nice fit. After a stellar college career at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro Brentz was drafted as a supplemental first-round selection as the 36th player chosen in the 2010 Draft. After having played only two full seasons and parts of another in the Red Sox organization, Brentz has become the No. 4 prospect on the club’s MLB.com prospect rankings.
Boston’s number one prospect, Xander Bogaerts, is a shortstop who may physically outgrow the position. He has all the tools. Signed in 2010, Bogaerts debuted in the Dominican Summer League that same year, posting a .314/.396/.423 line in 63 games. In 2011 he went to Low-A Greenville in where he hit .260/.324/.509 with 16 dingers. In 2012 he was promoted to High-A Salem and hit .288/.366/.488 in 77 games (16 doubles and 12 home runs). That is impressive progress. Although the scouting report says he’ll ultimately end up at third base, which should be a good trick to pull off if Middlebrooks comes back strong in 2013, he’ll either break in at shortstop or, some think, an outfield position. A muscular 6’3″ 180, Bogaerts could make the leap to left field if Ellsbury leaves and Bradley takes over in center field.
Boston has been blessed by a generation of standouts in left field. With any luck, they might just have another star in their midst.
All the stars
that fill the sky
They burn out
before our eyes
- All The Stars, eastmountainsouth