O.K., Red Sox fans, the free-agent signings of Carl Crawford and John Lackey continue to cause MAJOR nausea among Boston fans and render many sleepless nights. But they ALL haven't been bad; here's a look at a few of the BETTER free-agent signings in the team's history:
1) Manny Ramirez: Eyebrows were raised in the winter of 2000 when the Sox threw $160 million at Manny; Carl Everett--who hit 34 HR's the previous season--was on his way out the door and power was needed. Let's just say Manny didn't disappoint--blasting 41 homers his first year in Beantown, driving in 125, and hitting .306. He led the AL in batting the following year at .349 and OBP (.450), too. Simply put, he was probably the most feared hitter in the league during his years in Boston. He led the AL in homers and slugging % in 2004; Ramirez hit .412 in the World Series that year--leading the team to its first title since 1918 (he'd be part of another in '07). Total #'s during his almost-8-year stint in Boston: 274 HR's, 868 RBI's, .588 slugging %, and a .312 batting average. Sure, fans had to put up with "Manny being Manny" at times (and there was also evidence that he "quit" on his team toward the end), but when he WANTED to play, his presence was simply SCARY--and he was an All-Star EVERY season. Steroid bum? Yes--but the name of the game these days is PRODUCTION--not morality.
2)David Ortiz: Yes, you can call Manny and "Big Papi" 1 and 1A in this column; their overall impacts have been SO similar. Signed in the winter of 2003, Ortiz had hit just 58 career HR's at the time (in Minnesota) and wasn't considered a "full-time" player. First year in Boston? 31 HR's, 101 RBI's--while earning approximately $1.2 million. He'd make his first of 8 All-Star appearances in '04--a year when his #'s were simply outrageous: 41/139/.301 while hitting .400 in the postseason. Ortiz led the league in various categories from '05-'07; he drove in a ridiculous, combined total of 285 runs in '05 and '06. Career #'s as a member of the Sox going into last weekend's series with NY: 342 HR's, 1,084 RBI's, .290 batting average, .572 slugging %. ANOTHER steroid bum? Heck, yeah--but perhaps I'll address that in a future column. He continues to produce good #'s today while supposedly being "clean." Bottom line? Without Ramirez and Ortiz, Sox fans are still longing for just a SNIFF of a World Series championship.
3)Tim Wakefield: Yes--Tim Wakefield, folks; he was in a Sox uniform for so long that many just took him for granted. Basically thrown in a scrap pile by Pittsburgh after the 1993 season, Wakefield was signed in '95 and was extremely impressive during his very first season in Boston: 16 wins, 8 losses, 2.95 ERA; he allowed just 163 hits in 195 IP and finished THIRD in the AL Cy Young voting. Pretty good for a castoff, huh? Tim would put together 11 double-figure win seasons in Boston during his 17 years--including a pair of 17-win seasons ('98 and '07). He was used in a variety of situations over the years (picking up 22 saves along the way); he never complained. He was the epitome of CLASS--both on and off the field; fans were united in their happiness FOR Wakefield during the team's two championship runs. Overall #'s in Boston: Over 3,000 IP, 186 wins, close to 600 games pitched. Interesting note: With the fluttering knuckleball he possessed, he threw only 125 wild pitches in 17 years in Beantown; yes, when the 'knuckler' was working, it MOVED. He was an innings-eater, a "bulldog", a great teammate, and a BARGAIN, too: he averaged earnings of about $3 million a season for his entire career in Boston. I think of "Wake" and I think of one word: INTEGRITY.
4) Johnny Damon: The "Caveman" was signed in December 2001--4 years, about $30 million. The "brass" in Boston figured they could use a scrappy, speedy guy who could score in front of Manny. Johnny didn't disappoint during his first year in Boston--scoring 118 times and leading the league in triples. Damon was truly the catalyst of the '04 championship squad, hitting .304 and driving in a career-high 94 runs from the LEADOFF position--one of the few players in history to drive in more than 90 while batting first. Bottom line? Damon gave the team PERSONALITY during his four years with the Sox; the "Idiots"--guys who just had a lotta fun playing a child's game--were a direct reflection of the free-spirited Damon and his "unkempt" appearance. He averaged 183 hits per season while in Boston and stole 98 bases; who can forget his two HR's in Game 7 of the '04 ALCS? The reason why Damon is considered a BUM instead of an 'idiot' at this juncture? THIS: He was quoted as saying there was "no way I could play with the Yankees" back in 2005 when his contract was terminating. Yes, money talks, folks--especially when the Yankees come calling with checkbook in hand.
5--tie) Bill Mueller/Jeff Reardon: Both men weren't in Boston long, but definitely made some noise. With little fanfare, Mueller was signed to a 3-year deal in January 2003. His first year in Boston? He won the AL batting title with a .326 mark. He was an integral part of the '04 championship team, too--playing both second and third base and hitting .321 in the postseason. He finished his career in Boston by hitting .295 in 2005 while appearing in 150 games; yes--solid signing, solid player. Like Mueller, Reardon spent close to three seasons in Beantown; he signed in the winter of '89. He saved 88 games during his tenure with the Sox ('90-'92), including 40 in 1991--a year in which he was an AL All-Star. In 150 games with the Sox, he NEVER threw a wild pitch. And while in a Sox uniform, he broke Rollie Fingers' all-time saves record in 1992--notching #342. Reardon's presence in Boston gave the team continued respectability in the bullpen following the trade of well-known reliever Lee Smith.
Have faith, Sox fans; some free-agent signings DO work out............