Red Sox Memories: Greatest outfields in franchise history
By Rick McNair
Now to fast forward to players who I have seen and are among my favorites. This is the 1954-1958 grouping that has the aforementioned Williams who needs no statistical introduction and Jim Piersall and Jackie Jensen. Offensively this group had one weak link (Piersall) and defensively one weak link (Williams). Depending upon how one wishes to define weak.
Measured against their contemporaries the Red Sox averaged 15.2 fWAR in that five-year span and in 1956 had a 19.0 fWAR that was best in the American League. That 1956 season received a nice bounce as Piersall had a career-best .293, led the AL in doubles (40), games played (155), and was an All-Star. Piersall – a right-hand hitter – also had another career-best with 87 RBI.
Jensen was a personal favorite of mine and was a five-tool player. He bagged an MVP in 1958 and three times led the AL in RBI. Speed? Jensen led the AL in triples (11) in 1956 and steals (22) in 1954. Jensen – like Piersall – also won a Gold Glove Award. The former football running back had only one flaw – a deathly fear of flying. A fear that forced Jensen to sit out a season and retire early.
Defensively, Piersall was unmatched. Casey Stengel was once asked about the ten greatest catches he ever saw and he said all were by Piersall. Arm, ability to go back on a ball or come in, cover the gaps – especially with Williams in left field – and you had it all for a defensive component.
Examining the rudimentary metrics of the time frame a surprise pops up – in 1955 and 1956 the Red Sox had the highest Total Zone in the American League. Within that is Piersall who as no surprise carries the load defensively. In the five year span, they had the highest TZ in the AL. But Williams is no donkey wandering around and in 1955 had a +7 TZ – one point better than Jensen. Piersall had the top TZ in the AL among centerfielders in four of the seasons.
Now a mention about the defensive Williams. When Teddy Ballgame first surfaced in Boston and for several years defense was an afterthought. A distinct liability with unattentive and indifferent play, but the Williams I saw was different. I was now old enough to understand the basics of outfield paly and saw Williams in many games. Yes – he could play The Wall, but he rarely missed a cutoff man and knew where and when to throw. Williams’ arm was not a noodle, but it was not Roberto Clemente.
The Red Sox teams of this era were rather forgettable and rarely made any inroads into being a legitimate impact on the league. In 1954 the Indians won 111 games and the Red Sox a mere 69 games. The next four seasons they were bystanders as the New York Yankees won four straight pennants.