Friday, February 7, 2014

Rocket, Pedro, and Nomar Join Red Sox Hall of Fame

From L to R: Clemens, Garciaparra and Martinez (CBS)
On Wednesday the Red Sox inducted three of their most well-known players from the last 30 years into their Hall of Fame: Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra. Longtime radioman Joe Castiglione was also voted in by the 16-man panel comprised of team historians, executives, media members, and booster club reps.

All of them are no-brainers. Clemens and Martinez are easily the greatest pitchers in Red Sox history and deserve plaques in Cooperstown, and Garciaparra is probably the best shortstop the team has ever had (though Joe Cronin, Vern Stephens, Rico Petrocelli and John Valentin were great as well). Castiglione has been the voice of the team since 1983, which coincidentally was the same year that Clemens became a member of the Red Sox organization when they drafted him out of college.

Interestingly enough, Rocket and Nomar were teammates briefly in 1996 before Clemens was allowed to leave via free agency. Martinez, who replaced Clemens as the ace of Boston's staff, was traded to the Red Sox 11 months after Clemens signed with Toronto. The trio came within an eyelash of playing together. As it were, Martinez and Garciaparra were the team's dominant players and personalities in 1999 and 2000, after Clemens and Mo Vaughn left but before Manny Ramirez, and later Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Curt Schilling, David Ortiz, et. al. arrived.

Though all were immensely popular during their playing days, none of them finished their careers with the Red Sox. Clemens and Martinez signed elsewhere as free agents, and Garciaparra was famously traded away three months before the Red Sox ended their 86-year championship drought.

Even so, they left Red Sox fans with plenty of fond memories from their dazzling performances. Clemens and Martinez's starts were electrifying--they had the ability to throw a perfect game on any given day and were absolutely fearless on the mound. Garciaparra's drawn-out at-bats were the stuff of legend, watching him tap his cleats and toy with his batting gloves before lashing a line drive off the big green wall in left. On defense he was acrobatic and could go into the hole with the best of them.

I was too young to remember Clemens but old enough to recall plenty of Pedro and Nomar. They'll always hold a special place in my heart. Here are some of their accomplishments:

Roger Clemens (1984-1996)
Clemens burst onto the scene as a 21 year-old rookie in 1984, just 11 months after Boston drafted him in the first round. By 1986 he was a star: the All-Star Game MVP and American League MVP as well as a unanimous choice for the AL Cy Young award (Fun fact: Rocket was the only starting pitcher to be named MVP between Vida Blue in 1971 and Justin Verlander in 2011). He was named Cy Young the following year, and won again in 1991, sandwiched between a second place finish the year before (to Bob Welch) and a third place finish the year after. Clemens would win the award four more times after leaving Boston to finish with a record seven for his career.

Clemens won four ERA titles with Boston, including three in a row from 1990-1992, and led the league in strikeouts three times. He twice fanned 20 batters in a single game, still the record for most whiffs in a 9-inning game (though later equaled by Kerry Wood) in 1986 and 1996.  Clemens is the franchise leader in strikeouts and pitching WAR, while his 192 wins and 38 shutouts in a Red Sox uniform are tied with Cy Young for the most ever. Nobody has worn his #21 since he left the team.

Nomar Garciaparra (1996-2004)
A personal favorite of mine, Garciaparra became an instant sensation in Boston, where he was celebrated as a member of the Holy Trinity of shortstops in the late '90s (better than Derek Jeter and on par with Alex Rodriguez). He was AL Rookie of the Year (unanimously) in 1997, MVP runner-up to Juan Gonzalez in 1998, and the league batting champion in 1999 and 2000, becoming the first righthanded hitter to win back-to-back batting crowns since Joe DiMaggio. Like Dustin Pedroia, his line drive swing was built for the Green Monster, which he routinely cleared when he wasn't peppering it with doubles.

Unfortunately, he suffered a wrist injury in 2001 and was never really the same after that:

1996-2000: .333/.382/.573, 140 OPS+, 27.8 bWAR, one HR per 20.8 AB
2001-2009: .297/.345/.480, 111 OPS+, 16.4 bWAR, one HR per 28.4 AB

Garciaparra was still great in 2002 and 2003, but age, nagging injuries, contract squabbles, shaky defense and a sour attitude contributed to a down 2004 in which Theo Epstein dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in a trade that brought Gold Glovers Doug Mientkiewicz and Orlando Cabrera to Boston. Garciaparra returned to the team in 2010, signing a one-day contract so he could retire with the Red Sox.

Pedro Martinez (1998-2004)
The Sandy Koufax of modern times, Martinez reached his zenith in Boston. He was the reigning National League Cy Young winner when he joined the Red Sox prior to the 1998 season, then went out and added two more trophies to his mantle in 1999 and 2000, when he was otherworldly. In his final season with the Red Sox, he teamed with Curt Schilling to form a lethal 1-2 punch at the top of Boston's rotation that helped the team win 98 regular season games and the World Series.

During his time in Boston, Pedro made four All-Star teams and won four ERA crowns, three strikeout titles, and two Cy Young awards (also finishing second twice, third once and fourth once). He went 117-37 (.760 winning percentage, best in Red Sox history) with a 2.52 ERA, 190 ERA+ and 0.98 WHIP. Considering the context--pitching half his games at Fenway Park during the height of the Steroid Era--and it's easy to see why many regard his Boston years as the most dominant stretch a pitcher has ever had. His #45 has not been assigned since he left to sign with the Mets. He's now a special assistant to GM Ben Cherington.

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