The 1996 Boston Red Sox had a star-studded roster
In their quest to collect as many superstars as possible, the Los Angeles Dodgers have assembled a roster highlighted by four former MVP award winners. We haven’t seen another team carry that many former MVPs on their Opening Day roster since the Boston Red Sox did it over a quarter of a century ago.
The Dodgers actually had four former MVPs last year, including Albert Pujols, who they signed in the middle of May after he was unceremoniously cut by the Los Angeles Angels. He joined a roster that already included 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and 2014 NL MVP Clayton Kershaw. Pujols appeared in 85 games for the Dodgers as a part-time player but he’s now a shell of the three-time MVP who last captured the award in 2009.
Los Angeles splurged on a $162 million deal to lure 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman away from the Atlanta Braves. Freeman replaces Pujols on the roster, giving the Dodgers another superstar who is still in his prime.
The 2022 Dodgers will be the fifth team to have four MVPs appear for them in a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Last year’s Dodgers are one of those teams but in order to find one that had that many former MVPs to begin the season, we need to go all the way back to the1996 Red Sox.
While the Dodgers enter this year among the favorites to win the World Series, the ’96 Red Sox weren’t in the same elite class. They had several big names on their roster but most of them were closer to the Pujols side of their career trajectory. Three of the four superstars from the ’96 Red Sox earned their hardware back in the 80’s.
1986 AL MVP Roger Clemens is the most notable name from that team. The ’96 season was the Rocket’s last in Boston. He went 10-13 with a 3.63 ERA. Clemens led the league in strikeouts but the Red Sox were still convinced that he was declining toward the “twilight” of his career.
We all know what happened next. A shocking resurgence leading to consecutive Cy Young seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays was eventually tainted by Clemens’ connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens added four Cy Young awards to his trophy case after leaving Boston but he didn’t appear to be on that elite level at the end of his Red Sox tenure.
Speaking of players with tarnished legacies, 1988 AL MVP Jose Canseco was a member of that ’96 Red Sox lineup. Canseco hit .289 with a .989 OPS and 28 home runs that season. Solid production, but far from the steroid-fueled numbers he was putting up as one half of the Bash Brothers during his early years with the Oakland A’s.
1989 NL MVP Kevin Mitchell began the season in Boston but was limited by hamstring injuries that kept him off the field and sapped his power. Mitchell produced a disappointing .413 slugging percentage and hit only two home runs with four doubles in 27 games.
The power outage was surprising from a player who led the NL with 47 homers during his MVP campaign. Mitchell blasted 30 home runs and set a career-high with a 1.110 OPS during the strike-shortened 1994 season, his last before he arrived in Boston (Mitchell went to Japan during the strike and missed the ’95 MLB season).
The Red Sox traded Mitchell at the deadline to the Cincinnati Reds, where he finished the season strong by hitting .325/.447/.579 in 37 games. Perhaps the Red Sox should have been more patient since he clearly had something left in the tank, although he was approaching empty. Mitchell finished his career with brief stints over the next two seasons in Cleveland and Oakland as a part-time player with dismal results at the plate.
The only former MVP from that ’96 Red Sox who was still at his peak was Mo Vaughn. The Hit Dog had captured the AL MVP the previous year and followed with an even better season, setting career-highs with a .326 average, 1.003 OPS, 44 home runs and 143 RBI. Vaughn made his second consecutive All-Star team and finished fifth on the AL MVP ballot.
Boston opened that season with four former MVPs but the quartet played in only five games together, losing all five of them. The Red Sox went 85-77, finishing third in the AL East.
Mitchell was shipped away at the deadline while Clemens and Canseco both left after the season. Vaughn stuck around for two more years before signing a lucrative free-agent deal with the Angels after the 1998 season.
The collection of star power on the ’96 Red Sox wasn’t the beginning of a dynasty. It might be for this year’s Dodgers. Freeman and Betts are still in their prime. Bellinger has been hampered by injuries over the last two years but he’s young enough to bounce back if he stays healthy. Kershaw is passed his peak with lingering health issues of his own but he isn’t far removed from being a Cy Young candidate. They are surrounded by a deep supporting cast that brings plenty of talent even if they don’t have trophies celebrating their individual accomplishments.
Los Angeles opens the season with an accomplishment that hasn’t been achieved since 1996 but this loaded Dodgers roster isn’t anything like that Red Sox team, which was better on paper than they were on the field.