Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sox Lose Another Legend

Malzone passed away yesterday. He was 85 (Boston Herald)
It's been a rough week for Red Sox legends. On Sunday, Dave Henderson died. Yesterday, Frank Malzone joined him in the great big diamond in the sky.

Whereas Henderson was remembered mostly for one swing, Malzone never had a career-defining moment. He was just a steady third base man for the better part of the decade, one of the best Red Sox during their dark days of the late '50s and early '60s. A slick-fielding, solid-hitting third baseman, Malzone was a Mike Lowell-type destined to be overshadowed by superstar teammates Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski.

Despite not doing much to distinguish himself off the field, Malzone did plenty to earn recognition in between the lines. After spending seven seasons in the minors and two years in the military during the Korean War, Malzone debuted with a flourish in 1957, batting .292 with 15 homers and a career high 103 RBI. The first time All-Star and finished second to Tony Kubek in the Rookie of the Year race--an award Malzone deserved to win--but placed seventh in the MVP vote.

Malzone also won his first Gold Glove--the first ever awarded to an American League third baseman. He won the next two as well before Brooks Robinson came along and won 16 straight from 1960-1975 (Who knows how many Malzone might have won had Robinson played in the National League?). Only six men--Robinson, Buddy Bell, Gary Gaetti, Robin Ventura, Eric Chavez, and Adrian Beltre--won more while manning the hot corner for an AL team.

Malzone was more than just a terrific gloveman, however; he was also a pretty decent hitter (thanks to Fenway Park, where he batted .298/.339/.442 for his career). Most years he was good for a .280-ish average, 15 or so homers, and around 80 RBI. You could also count on him to be in the lineup everyday; from 1957-1964, no American Leaguer played more games. It was that kind of solid production and consistency that made him a six-time All-Star during this span, though it helped that the top third basemen at the time (Eddie Mathews, Ken Boyer, Ron Santo) played in the National League.

After dropping off sharply in 1965, the 35 year-old Malzone was released on the last day of November (he didn't remain a free agent for long, however, as the California Angels signed him the same day). After an even worse season with the Angels in 1966, Malzone hung up his spikes for good.

In 1995, 30 years after his last game with the Red Sox, Malzone was one of 14 players inducted into the franchise's inaugural Hall of Fame class, along with former teammates Williams, Yastrzemski, and Tony Conigliaro. Maybe someday the Sox will retire his 11, which he wore from 1956 to 1965. Clay Buchholz is currently wearing it, but should he leave after next season Boston would do well to add it to their line of numbers along Fenway's right field roof.

1 comment:

  1. I'm from LA but always appreciated Malzone and the Sox as a kid. Sorry to see him (and Henderson) go. Speaking of Hendu, his HR against Donnie Moore was close up there with Gibson's certainly in Los Angeles baseball lore. What a heart breaker... and of course Henderson actually got (ridiculously) tagged with some "responsibility" for Moore's tragic end.