Will Adam Duvall provide the Red Sox with that needed power bat?
The Boston Red Sox have signed another presumed power bat by inking Adam Duvall to a one-year deal. The only good news from this signing is that Duvall and his accompanying -0.1 WAR is he’ll will probably not achieve the performance bonuses attached to the contract (which could bring it from $7 million to $10 million).
Duvall is a whiff machine and by no means makes up for it with walks. Over the last two seasons, he’s struck out 275 times and walked just 56 times.
There is a bright side: Duvall is an excellent defender that provides pop. Duvall has logged reps at first base in his career, so he can split with Triston Casas if the Sox really wanted to do that. You could see Duvall grab some ABs as a DH with Alex Cora’s tendency to mix and match.
Like myself, Duvall’s best days are in the rearview mirror. The 30+ home run season that benefited the Reds and later the Braves are gone. At 34 years old, Duvall’s career is on a downward slope as baseball age and injuries take their eventual toll. Duvall represents the Red Sox’s search for that ultimate terror at Fenway Park — a right-handed slugger. That segues into today’s Red Sox history lesson and bitter disappointments.
The year was 1958, a great one for me and following the Red Sox. Ted Williams was going to nail another batting title, Jackie Jensen would be the American League MVP, Jim Piersall was sailing around in center field, and the Red Sox eventually stumbled to third place a zillion games behind the Yankees.
For about 30+ games, I sat with the scouts behind home plate. An usher knew me and would sit me in an empty seat among the tobacco-chewing, whiskey-sipping, gregarious scouts. One scout worked for the White Sox, and I remember him saying, “That guy will be with you next year.” The guy was towering (6’7″) first baseman Ron Jackson. Jackson, a pinch-hitter, promptly slammed a bullet to left for a double.
The scout pointed to the owner’s box and said: “Yawkey is always looking for Jimmie Foxx or even Vern Stephens.” He’ll overpay for a guy with a rubber bat ” That offseason, Boston traded lefty Frank Baumann for Jackson. In 1959 Baumann won the ERA title, and Jackson tanked.
In 1956 the hype was all about another towering righty slugger, Norm Zauchin, a first baseman by trade. Zauchin was coming off a 27-home-run season with a bundle of RBI and whiffs. Did Boston suspect something? In the offseason, they picked up former batting champion Mickey Vernon who ultimately made the All-Star team for the Red Sox. Zauchin? He hit nothing and was soon gone.
The final member of the triumvirate of righty power-hitting hopefuls from the mid-1950s was Dick Gernert. Gernert killed it at Fenway with 66 of his career 103 home runs at the lyrical little bandbox. Gernert never put together that monster season, and the Sox dumped him in 1959. I admired Gernert since he had a good eye for the strike zone (career 12.5 BB%), but changing speeds always threw his timing off. Classic profile for a power hitter.
Sports have a physical prejudice which we witness today. Does a kid even get consideration tossing in the low-90s? Zauchin and Jackson were tall for their era in baseball, and with it came prejudice over height for an offensive player. An enlarged strike zone allows a crafty hurler to spit them out like gristle on a cheap steak. Frank Howard did much to mitigate that perception, but it persists today even with Aaron Judge demolishing baseballs.
Of the three players I mentioned, Gernert would undoubtedly be the most conditioned for success in 21st-century MLB. He was a muscular player for his day with good plate coverage and a glove that would not get the stink eye from pitchers. If Duvall can put together some Gernert-like numbers from his better years, the Red Sox will have a plus in this signing, and I can have a large helping of crow — medium well, please.