Opening Day is tomorrow — well, today if you’re a fan of about 12 teams — and before the season begins, there has to be a formal look at the 25 men who have made the roster for the Boston Red Sox.
But since I’m obsessed with uniform numbers, I also wanted to track who would be wearing what, and document a little bit of history — and in some cases, the lack thereof — that goes along with each number.
The Red Sox began wearing numbers on the backs of their jerseys in 1931, and it wasn’t long before certain numbers — Bobby Doerr’s 1, Ted Williams’ 9 — became iconic. Other numbers became less so, but still earned a certain reputation. 2 typically belongs to infielders, 7 to outfielders, 51 to relief pitchers, and so on. Some numbers have quite a legacy of talent behind them, and some, well, not many players have worn 59.
So, momentarily, we’ll look at every number in use by the 25 players on the roster, the best player to wear that number, and some other characters to don the number, each memorable in their own way. It’s just a way to connect the present with the past, and another excuse for me to our over the Red Sox.
And, as always, please take the word “best” with a grain of salt. Sometimes, the best will really be the best. But sometimes, it will just be a reflection of my glorious bias. It should be clear which is which.
Before we begin, I’d like to take a moment to thank the good people at Red Sox Diehard. I used their uniform number list in an effort to augment my memory and ensure I didn’t accidentally leave anyone out.
2 — Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Best: Jerry Remy
His life as announcer and all things Red Sox aside, he was a solid second baseman and leadoff hitter in the late ’70s whose career limped to a finish in the early ’80s. And, typically, utility infielders wear this number, and Remy was an All-Star type player, so Remy it is.
Notable: Doug Griffin, Luis Rivera,
7 — J.D. Drew, RF
Best: Dom DiMaggio
There is a decent-sized crowd who feel that DiMaggio, the Red Sox’ center fielder when they last won 100 games in 1946, should be in the Hall of Fame. DiMaggio was a professional, patient hitter who was an excellent defender in Fenway Park’s spacious center field and like many of his peers, lost three years of his career to World War II.
Notable: Reggie Smith, Rick Burleson, Nick Esasky, Trot Nixon
10 — Marco Scutaro, SS
Best: Lefty Grove
Grove was one of several Philadelphia A’s (along with Jimmy Foxx) to be bought by Tom Yawkey in the 1930s. A Hall of Famer, Grove won exactly 300 games (105 in Boston), struck out 2,266 batters and, along with Smokey Joe Wood, is the owner of one of the greater baseball names in history.
Notable: Bob Montgomery, Rich Gedman, Coco Crisp
11 — Clay Buchholz, RHP
Best: Tim Naehring
Here’s the finest example of my looking past better players — an eight-time All-Star third baseman, a Hall of Fame shortstop, a batting champion and the best defensive first baseman in team history — to pick one of my favorite players ever. Naehring’s career ended early due to an ugly elbow injury, but when he was healthy, he was a vacuum at third base who should’ve made the All-Star team in 1995 and ’96. I will never stop complaining about that.
Notable: Frank Malzone, Luis Aparicio, Dave Stapleton, Bill Mueller
12 — Jed Lowrie, SS-3B
Best: Ellis Burks
Burks is another one of those “Hall of Very Good” types, with 352 home runs and exactly 2,000 games played on his resume. With the Sox, Burks was an All-Star center fielder (he won a Gold Glove in 1990) and was Mike Greenwell’s running buddy in the great Red Sox outfield of 1987-91(ish).
Notable: Pumpsie Green, John Kennedy, Todd Walker, Mark Bellhorn
15 — Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Already a rookie of the year, MVP and World Series champion, Pedroia is an icon in Boston, could probably be identified as the heart and soul of the current squad, and is easily the most popular Red Sock at the moment. He’s just a baseball player, through and through.
Notable: George Scott, Mike Sullivan, Kevin Millar
18 — Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP
Best: Johnny Damon
For four years, Damon was one of the better center fielders in baseball, played hard, played hurt, hit well and was the leadoff hitter on the team that broke through for a World Series championship in 2004.
Notable: Frank Sullivan, Carlos Quintana, Reggie Jefferson
19 — Josh Beckett, RHP
Best: Fred Lynn
Lynn burst onto the scene, winning MVP and Rookie of the Year in 1975 (finishing ahead of Jim Rice in both), had an even better year in 1979 and then … well, he was traded to California. And what seemed like a sure-fire Hall of Fame career became just a great career. If he had been able to play more of his career in Fenway Park, who knows…
Notable: Bobby Ojeda, Brian Rose, Gabe Kapler
20 — Kevin Youkilis, 3B
I expected more competition from the 20 spot, but Youkilis has already earned his place. A rookie in 2004 and a key contributor in 2007, Youkilis is an elite player in the American League, a record-setting defensive first baseman, and now he’s switching back to his natural spot at third base for 2011.
Notable: Lee Stange, Tony Armas, Darren Lewis
23 — Mike Cameron, OF
Best: Tom Brunansky
I suppose Oil Can or Morehead or even Daubach could have had this spot, but … Tom Brunansky. Did he make the catch? Yes he did.
Notable: Dave Morehead, Oil Can Boyd, Brian Daubach and obviously Luis Tiant, who should actually have this spot.
28 — Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Best: Sparky Lyle
Lyle could have won his Cy Young award in Boston and not New York, had he refrained from taking his pants off and sitting on Tom Yawkey’s birthday cake. Alas, it will all be moot, as Gonzalez is just two good months away from likely being the best to ever wear this number in Boston.
Notable: Steve Crawford, Doug Mirabelli
31 — Jon Lester, LHP
Lester has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the past three seasons, is one of the premier left-handed pitchers in the American League, and he’s still young. He’ll start on Opening Day tomorrow for the first time. He’s tough. He’s nasty. And barring injury (he’s already beaten back cancer), he could go down as an all-time great.
Notable: Ferguson Jenkins, Calvin Schiraldi, Dave Roberts
32 — Matt Albers, RHP
Best: Derek Lowe
A lot of coaches wore this number, and Lowe is pretty clearly the best player to have donned 32. Lowe was an All-Star closer and, two years later, started an All-Star Game, threw a no-hitter, and famously was the winning pitcher in all three clinching games the Red Sox won in the 2004 playoffs.
Notable: Mike Stanton, Bobby Kielty
33 — Jason Varitek, C
No contest here. Varitek is entering his 15th season in Boston, has served as captain officially since 2005 (and unofficially since 2002 or so), and is Boston’s best catcher since Carlton Fisk.
Notable: Dave Ferriss, Jose Canseco, Steve Avery
34 — David Ortiz, DH-1B
Another traditional coach’s number, Ortiz has made it his own as the most iconic Sock since Carl Yastrzemski. Expect to see this on Fenway’s right field facade in the future.
Notable: Scott Cooper, Rich Garces
35 — Dan Wheeler, RHP
Best: Rickey Henderson
There have not been a lot of players to wear 35. It was tempting to give this slot to Johnny Pesky, who wore the number as a coach and manager, but instead I’ll give it to the best player who happened to wear this number, even if 94 percent of his greatness came before he played for Boston in 2002.
Notable: Billy Klaus, Russ Gibson, Matt Stairs
39 — Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
Best: Mike Greenwell
The Gator carried the left field legacy from Jim Rice to Troy O’Leary, hit .303 for his career, and for a time was my favorite player on the Red Sox. Also, he wasn’t a middle reliever or a mediocre catcher, unlike most 39s in Red Sox history.
Notable: Gary Allenson, Bryce Florie, Kyle Snyder
41 — John Lackey, RHP
Best: Victor Martinez
Martinez was a solid hitter, filled in the middle of the order, was an instant team leader, and I was sad (but understanding) when he left to sign with Detroit this winter.
Notable: Tom Seaver, Jeff Reardon
Bonus: Jim Corsi
Jim Corsi wore 41 in a late-ninties stint with Boston. But that’s not what I care about.
When I was 14 years old, I made my first trip to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were playing the A’s. Mark McGwire was signing autographs along the third base line, and had a decent crowd around him. I had a baseball and a pen, and wanted to see if I could get it signed by an actual Major Leaguer (I quickly got over this need).
Jim Corsi was on the A’s at the time, and was alone further down the left field line. I seemed to be the only kid who recognized him; I knew who he was. I had his baseball card. I even knew this was his second stint with the A’s.
I called out, “Mr. Corsi!” He looked at me for a second, laughed, and walked away.
Now, I’m an adult and I’m over it, but I want everyone to know that I still think Jim Corsi is an asshole.
49 — Tim Wakefield, RHP
The easiest decision on the entire roster. Wakefield is entering his 17th season in Boston, is third on their all-time wins list with 179, second in games pitched (557), first in innings pitched (2,851.3) and second in strikeouts (1,953). This is another number that probably shouldn’t be worn again, unless they ever sign another knuckleballer.
Notable: Al Nipper, Paul Quantrill
51 — Daniel Bard, RHP
Not much competition. Assuming Bard is a reasonable facsimile of his 2010 self, this spot is already his.
Notable: Willie McGee, Heathcliff Slocomb, Julian Tavarez
52 — Bobby Jenks, RHP
Best: Mike Boddicker
The Red Sox acquired Boddicker for young Brady Anderson and Curt Schilling in 1988, and he helped stabilize their rotation until leaving for Kansas City in 1991.
Notable: Vaughn Eschelman, Wade Miller
54 — Darnell McDonald, OF
I could’ve gone with Joe Hudson here, a middle reliever for three years in the ’90s, but McDonald’s 2010 was probably better than any other player’s best year in this number. Certainly, it was much more memorable.
Notable: Hudson, Morgan Burkhart
58 — Jonathan Papelbon, RHP
It’s Papelbon, and a bunch of September callups. I’ll give it to the guy who already owns the franchise record for saves.
Notable: Jeff McNeely
59 – Dennys Reyes, LHP
Best: Dusty Brown
More minor league types in this number slot, so I’ll give Dusty Brown the honor, since he’s a cool dude. This was actually one of three numbers he wore with the Red Sox — he also wore nos. 50 and 68.
Notable: Abe Alvarez, Blaine Neal
Happily, in one more day, I’ll have actual games to worry about, and won’t have time to stress out about uniform numbers. If you haven’t already, raise your glass to Opening Day.