Five mixed results Red Sox retirement stories
Boston Red Sox history is loaded with superlative events, and this site has had a proliferation of slide slows depicting them. I go back far enough in Red Sox history to have experienced a watershed that separates two personal eras. The first was the early 1950s to 1966, when the franchise went from slow decline until 1967 kicked in, and we have never looked back.
Five player retirement stories and five observations on their careers or when they should have possibly exited the baseball stage rather than continue. Both cover the two eras I mentioned.
The 1959 season for Ted Williams was a career disaster. Teddy Ballgame was coming off back-to-back batting titles and was almost the only reason to go to Fenway Park. Williams had never hit under .300, but that changed in 1959 when he hit just .254. At 40-years-old the pitchers had finally caught up, and injuries and baseball age were apparent. The smart move would be to retire and avoid further embarrassment and erosion of his legacy. I was disappointed that ego drove Williams to return.
Williams’ 1960 season was a thing of hitting beauty despite age and continuing health issues. In 390 plate appearances, Williams slammed 29 home runs, hit .316, a .451 OBP, and a 1.096 OPS+. A home run in his last at-bat and a slide into retirement.
I did not see Williams’ last game, but I did see Carl Yastrzemski‘s first game. A single in five at-bats, and Yaz threw out a runner. The rest of his rookie season was no indication of the star Yaz would become. Fast forward to 1980.
Yastrzemski’s last four seasons were padding his career statistics, and all four resembled his rookie season regarding production. Yaz’s batting eye was still there with more walks than whiffs, but the swing no longer had the bite present as in the middle of his career. He was consigned to split duty between DH and first base since his outfield skills had eroded. I found those last four years reminiscent of Williams of 1959.
Red Sox fans may read about Jackie Jensen, but Jensen was a talented five-tool player. A gifted outfielder, power-hitting righty, and a speedster on the bases when necessary. Jensen was the American League MVP in 1958 and followed that up in 1959 with 28 home runs and a league-best 112 RBI. Then he retired at just 32-years-old.
Jensen was afraid of flying, and baseball became air-dominant in transportation. Jensen could not do it. He returned for the 1961 season after a year off, and the rust showed. Jensen played 137 games, but the power evaporated with just 13 home runs, and the RBI machine stalled with a meager 66. Even defensively, Jensen seemed two steps behind. Jensen (thankfully) retired for good.
Dwight Evans played 20 MLB seasons, and it should have been 19. Evans was a rare player who statistically had the first and second half of his long career quite similar. Evans’ last season with the Red Sox (1990) clearly showed baseball age catching up as his home run and RBI totals shrank. He wanted one more season, but it would not be with the Red Sox.
Evans became a roster casualty and signed with Baltimore as a now free agent. Evans had slipped defensively and was utilized more at first base and DH than the outfield. Evans hit for average (.270) with the O’s, but his power numbers were down, and he became a liability in the outfield. Granted that the Red Sox were coming off a first-place finish, but Evans could have been allowed to fail locally.
David Ortiz was already legend material before the start of the 2012 season. Ortiz was coming off a 2011 season in which he showed no signs of slowing down despite being baseball age-36.
The 2012 season became an injury-infested one, with Papi playing only 90 games. The primary culprit was an Achilles injury, and by mid-July, Ortiz was on the shelf. Ortiz returned for one game in August, and that was it. Ortiz was pitiful to watch as the injury was notable. For disclosure, I have had three Achilles surgeries and one reconstruction. This would not end well for Ortiz.
I expected nothing from Ortiz, but the Red Sox and Ortiz had a level of faith I did not, and the future HOF slugger signed a two-year, $26 MM deal avoiding free agency. Nothing turned out to be a .309 batting average, 30 home runs, and 103 RBI. The season ended with another title, and Ortiz put together three more outstanding seasons.