Xander Bogaerts has joined two elite shortstops in Boston Red Sox history. A look back at Rico Petrocelli and Vern Stephens.
Xander Bogaerts has now entered the Red Sox history books thanks to a 30 home run season that will undoubtedly expand in the dinger category. This can be read in a recent BSI article by Sean Penney detailing this milestone achievement by Bogaerts. But what about two others on the 30 home run list?
Rico Petrocelli has the team record at 40 that he hammered out in 1969. Petrocelli was an All-Star that season and hit a career-high of .297. Rico was a compact pull hitter who was made for Fenway Park, but in 1969 the right-handed-hitting Petro hit 18 of those home runs on the road.
My memories of Petrocelli are centered on the dramatic pennant-winning last game victory against the Twins in 1967. A last out pop up with Petrocelli waving everyone off as he made the catch. Then we waited around until the Tigers lost and Boston went on to face the Cardinals.
Petrocelli was part of the young core of players on that 1967 team and was at 26-years-old an established veteran who had made an All-Star team that dramatic season. In 1969, Petrocelli was the top-ranked American League shortstop with a 9.6 fWAR. That was no fluke as Petrocelli was consistently among the top-ranked at his position and that also means defense.
In 1970, Petrocelli had his only 100 RBI season (103) and slammed 29 home runs, just missing back-to-back 30+ seasons. Petrocelli also ranked third in the AL in Total Zone (TZ) pre-advanced metrics and then was shuffled to third base for the remainder of his career. Why?
In the offseason, the Red Sox made a deal for another shortstop, but not just any shortstop. The Red Sox brought in future Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio who became an All-Star (again) in 1971 and 1972. Aparicio’s best days were behind him and defensively finished -8 in TZ and was gone into retirement after 1973.
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Petrocelli slowly deteriorated the next few seasons via injuries but was part of the 1975 team that lost to the Reds in the World Series. In spring training of 1977, Rico was released and retired with 210 home runs – all with the Red Sox. Petrocelli is now in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
In 1949, Ted Williams had a 9.9 fWAR and right behind was shortstop Vern Stephens with a 7.7 fWAR. I saw Stephens play, but he was back with the St. Louis Browns in 1953 when that happened. In that 1949 season, Stephens led the AL with 159 RBI and again in 1950 with 144 RBI. In 1949, Stephens hit 39 home runs and another 30 in 1950. Another right-handed hitter made for Fenway Park.
The Red Sox traded with the woeful Browns to bring Stephens to Boston. Stephens was certainly noted as one of the premier hitting shortstops in all of baseball and had led the AL with 24 home runs in 1945. Sifting through the defensive statistics, Stephens could best be classified as average and, like Rico, moved to third base and then back to the Browns after the 1952 season.
Stephens holds a record for most RBI (159) in a single season by a shortstop. Stephens was also an eight-time All-Star and three times led the league in RBI. In 2007, Stephens joined Petrocelli in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
Sources: SABR and “Summer of ‘49.”