While suffering through a 5-2 loss by the Bruins Saturday night, I decided to distract myself with baseball. With the way the Bruins have played lately, there’s been a lot of distracting myself with baseball.
This week, Boston.com has been asking readers for their favorite Red Sox by position since 1967. It’s written by the folks from Boston Dirt Dogs, so as you can imagine, it’s written pretty poorly. Still, it’s a solid idea, and I voted in a couple of their polls.
Sitting in a restaurant on Saturday afternoon, I noticed a framed picture of the 2004 Red Sox as they rushed the Busch Stadium field in St. Louis. It’s not a new thought, but it hit me that the 2004 team is likely going to be my favorite Red Sox squad for a very long time. I can’t fathom what a future team would have to do to vault to the front.
I’ve added up my 100 favorite Red Sox in the past, and my favorite-player lineup. But what about field sets and more specific favorites? How many ways can I stretch this?
Whatever. The Bruins are bombing, so I’m doing this.
Favorite Outfield: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Trot Nixon, 2002-2005
This was the 2004 outfield, obviously, but each player brought their own personality. Damon was the most well-rounded, hitting for power and average, reaching base consistently, stealing bases and scoring runs. He was hard-nosed, played hurt and played well for his four years in Boston. And despite his butter arm, he was solid in center field, using his quickness to track down plenty of deep fly balls in the triangle.
Besides being the hitting savant he was, Manny Ramirez was an adventure in the field. He had a great arm, was solid in reading balls off of the wall, but was otherwise comically bad in left field. His cutting off Damon’s throw before the ball could reach the shortstop was legendary.
But my favorite of the bunch was Nixon. He wasn’t as consistent a hitter as the other two, but he was better defensively. He’d wear one hat all season, his batting helmet looked like it was dipped in dog shit, he often sported bizarre facial hair, and he might’ve been insane. After Ryan Rupe of the Devil Rays had thrown at one too many Sox hitters in a 2002 game, Nixon responded by “accidentally” letting go of his bat mid-swing, sending the wood hurtling at the pitcher. Nixon was the last guy other teams wanted to see in a brawl; who knows what he’d do?
Besides being delightfully unpredictable, Nixon was a solid teammate. He was the lone ray of hope during the dreadful 2001 campaign, he was an emotional leader, he stood up to Roger Clemens with a pair of memorable at-bats in 2000, and he played the game hard, day after day.
Favorite infield: Mo Vaughn, John Valentin, Nomar Garciaparra and Tim Naehring, 1996-1997
This infield was only together in this configuration, with Vaughn at first, Valentin at second, Naehring at third and Garciaparra at short, for the last month of the 1996 season and the first half of 1997.
Nomar made his major-league debut on Aug. 31, 1996, coming in for Jeff Frye at second base. He never played second again, and the next day, he was in at shortstop, and Valentin was moved to the DH spot. He’d soon assume second base, and for a few glorious months, this was the greatest infield my teenaged self could have dreamed.
It all ended in Toronto on June 23, 1997. Naehring’s elbow exploded on a throw to first base, forcing Valentin over to third base, where he’d spend the rest of his career. Naehring never played again.
Favorite rotation: Pedro Martinez, Bret Saberhagen, Mark Portugal, Pat Rapp and Brian Rose, 1999
The Red Sox made the playoffs as a wild card in 1999, a year where starting pitchers 2 through 5 were basically nonfactors and Tim Wakefield was the strangest closer I’ll ever remember. But Pedro, oh Pedro! Martinez that season had a 2.07 ERA, posted a WHIP of .923, struck out 313 batters and threw five complete games, including a gem in New York in September that will stand as one of the more dominating performances I’ll ever see. That night, Martinez surrendered only one hit (a solo home run to Chili Davis), struck out 17, didn’t walk a batter, and silenced Yankee Stadium.
He was alone that season. He carried the team in 1999, and he was even better in 2000. The rest of the rotation is just a reminder of that.