(This is part of a series on retired numbers, with somewhat of a focus on Retired Number Bandits — players who wore a number that was later retired at any point after the person for whom it was retired first wore it. See the introduction for more information and explanation on Bandits.)
The Boston Red Sox have eight official and three unofficial retired numbers. They have rules in place as to who qualifies for a retired number — must be in the Hall of Fame and must have played at least ten seasons for the Red Sox — but the rules are not set in stone and they have made two very understandable exceptions.
|#||Retired For||HoF?||Years w/ Team||Last Issued||Officially Retired||# of Bandits|
|1||Bobby Doerr||Yes||1937-44, 1946-51||1984||1988||17|
|6||Johnny Pesky||No||1942, 1946-52, 1963-64, 1980||2000||2008||15|
Bobby Doerr, 1
Doerr suffered by comparison to his teammate Williams, but very few players in baseball history would not fail that comparison. Still, Doerr was an excellent player who missed a year in his prime and had his career cut short by injury. He hit .288/.362/.461 over the course of his 14-year career (spent entirely with the Red Sox), and he had 2,042 hits despite playing his final game at the age of 33.
Since Doerr’s retirement in 1951, his number 1 has been worn by Fred Hatfield, George Kell, Grady Hatton, Billy Consolo, Herb Plews, Jim Mahoney, Don Buddin, Eddie Bressoud, Joe Foy, Joe Azcue, Billy Conigliaro, Luis Alvarado, Phil Gagliano, Bernie Carbo, Jim Dwyer, and Chico Walker, none of which are names I just made up. It was also worn by Ben Steiner in 1945 when Doerr was out of baseball due to World War II. Walker last wore the number in 1984.
Doerr was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, and the Red Sox retired his number in 1988.
Joe Cronin, 4
Cronin spent more than half of his Hall of Fame career with the Red Sox, retiring as a player in 1945 and last managing the team in 1947. Although he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1956, the Red Sox did not retire his number until 1984. The Sox had not officially retired any numbers before then, and Cronin’s 4 and Williams’ 9 were retired together.
In the nearly four decades between when Cronin took off his uniform and when the Red Sox hung it on the wall, it was worn by Sam Mele, Ken Keltner, Lou Boudreau, Lou Clinton, Jackie Jensen, Roman Mejias, Bill Schlesinger, Jim Gosger, Don Demeter, Norm Siebern, Billy Conigliaro, Tom Satriano, Ben Oglivie, Tommy Harper, Butch Hobson, and Carney Lansford.
Johnny Pesky, 6
Pesky is one of the exceptions to the rules, as he is not in the Hall of Fame and he only played eight seasons with the Red Sox before being traded to the Tigers in 1952. The right-field foul pole in Fenway Park is named Pesky’s Pole in honor of the slap-hitting infielder, as it is the shortest home run distance in baseball and rumored to be the only spot where Pesky could hit it out.
Between his departure in 1952 and the retirement of his number in 2008, his number 6 was worn by Johnny Lipon (one of the players acquired from the Tigers in the Pesky trade), Harry Agganis, Mickey Vernon, Vic Wertz, Lou Clinton, Lee Thomas, Rico Petrocelli, Bill Buckner, Rick Cerone, Tony Pena, Damon Berryhill, Chris Donnels, and Gary Gaetti. It was also worn by Roy Partee and Skeeter Newsome while Pesky was in World War II.
Yaz played his entire 23-year career in Boston, the middle link in a Hall of Fame chain that saw Williams, Yastrzemski, and Rice man left field almost nonstop from 1939-89. Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown in 1967 with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs, and 121 RBIs. It was the only time he ever led the league in homers or RBIs, and it made him the American League MVP that year.
Yaz retired in 1983 with 3,419 career hits, 452 home runs, 1,844 RBIs, and 1,816 runs scored. He also walked 1,845 times, and his total of 5,304 times on base is fifth in baseball history behind Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb, and Rickey Henderson.
Yastrzemski was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1989, and the Red Sox retired his number that year. No one has worn it since he retired in 1983.
Ted Williams, 9
Williams may have been the best hitter in baseball history. On the “Black-Ink Test” devised by Bill James and listed on Baseball-Reference, Williams scores a 122, the fourth-highest number of all time. Williams was very good for a very long time, playing until he was 41 years old. He did not reach 3,000 hits, partly because he walked so often (2,021 times in his career) and partly because he missed the entirety of his 24-, 25-, and 26-year-old seasons in World War II and the majority of his 33- and 34-year-old seasons in the Korean War.
In the two years before and the two years after World War II, Williams averaged 182 hits, 36 home runs, 124 RBIs, and 152 walks. Add three years of those averages to his career totals, and his career totals jump up to 3,200 hits, 629 home runs, 2,211 RBIs, and 2,477 walks. Run the same sort of simulations for the time he missed in 1952-53, and his hypothetical totals are 3,360 hits, 673 home runs, 2,372 RBIs, and 2,683 walks.
Williams won two MVP Awards, two Triple Crowns (finishing second in the MVP voting in both of those seasons), and his career line of .344/.482/.634 is good for a 190 OPS+, meaning he was nearly twice as good as the average hitter over the course of his entire career. In the years just before and just after his time in World War II, his OPS+ was 217.
Williams retired in 1960, and the Red Sox immediately put his number 9 on ice. They did not officially retire it until 1984, but no one has worn it since him.
Jim Rice, 14
Rice was an outstanding hitter in his prime, winning the 1978 AL MVP Award with 213 hits, 46 home runs, 139 RBIs, 15 triples, and a batting line of .315/.370/.600. His peak was relatively short — he had only one great season after the age of 30, and he was done after 16 seasons at the age of 36. The BBWAA made him wait for induction to the Hall of Fame, not electing him until his 15th and final year of eligibility in 2009.
Like Williams and Yastrzemski before him, Rice spent his entire career in front of the Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park. He was nowhere near as good as his two predecessors, but he is a Hall of Famer and a Boston legend. The Sox took his number 14 out of circulation upon his retirement in 1989, and they retired it upon his election to the Hall in 2009.
Wade Boggs, 26
Boggs had his number 12 retired by Tampa Bay, but the Red Sox have never retired his number 26. The team recently announced that it will finally retire Boggs’ number this coming May. [Update: Boggs’ number was retired on May 26, 2016.]
Boggs spent the final seven seasons of his career on other American League East teams, including the 1996 World Series champion New York Yankees. He has said that he was told that only players who ended their careers with the Red Sox would have their numbers retired, although Pesky, Martinez, and Fisk would have been disqualified by that rule. Whatever the reason, the Red Sox are rectifying the situation.
Thirteen players have worn 26 for the Red Sox since Boggs: Wes Chamberlain, Alejandro Pena, Lee Tinsley, Aaron Sele, Chris Snopek, Orlando Merced, Rob Stanifer, Sean Berry, Lou Merloni, Freddy Sanchez, Ramiro Mendoza, Scott Podsednik, and Brock Holt.
Carlton Fisk, 27
Fisk spent 11 seasons as Boston’s catcher before leaving for the White Sox via free agency after the 1980 season, making seven All-Star teams and hitting one of the most famous postseason home runs in baseball history in 1975.
There was some acrimony when Fisk left Boston, and the Red Sox didn’t decide to retire his number 27 until he was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2000 (with a Red Sox hat on his plaque). In the interim, Fisk’s number was worn by Mike Brown, Pat Dodson, Greg Harris, Stan Royer, Mark Whiten, Dave Hollins, Butch Henry, and Kip Gross.
Pedro Martinez, 45
Martinez is the other exception to the rules, having only spent seven years in Boston. But from 1999-2003, at the height of the offensive boom fueled by steroids and who knows what else, he went 81-21 with a 2.10 ERA, good for a 228 ERA+, meaning he was more than twice as good as the average pitcher. All told, it was one of the most dominant five-year stretches any pitcher ever had. (For comparison, Sandy Koufax got into the Hall of Fame based almost entirely on his 1962-66 seasons; his ERA+ for those five seasons was 167.)
Pedro’s number 45 was retired when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2015. It has not been worn since he left the Red Sox for the Mets after the 2004 season.
Unofficial: Roger Clemens, 21
When Clemens left the Red Sox for the Blue Jays after the 1996 season, he was a surefire Hall of Famer who had spent 13 years in Boston, winning three Cy Young Awards and an MVP and going 192-111 with a 3.06 ERA and 2,590 strikeouts. Accordingly, they did not issue his number to anyone else, saving it for the day it would eventually be retired when he went into the Hall of Fame with a Red Sox hat on his plaque.
That has not materialized, and no one knows when or if it ever will. Thanks to the Mitchell Report and its aftermath, Clemens has been shut out of the Hall of Fame, never getting more than 45.2 percent of the vote in his four years on the ballot so far. Thus far, the Red Sox have kept his number on ice; only time will tell if it is ever reissued or retired.
Unofficial: Jason Varitek, 33, and Tim Wakefield, 49
Both Varitek and Wakefield retired after the 2011 season, and both are proper Red Sox legends for the parts they played in ending the team’s 86-year championship drought. Neither has any chance at making the Hall of Fame, though, so their numbers will never be anything other than unofficially retired unless they get the Johnny Pesky treatment.
Honorable Mention: Harry Hooper
Hooper meets the requirements, spending 12 of his 17 Hall of Fame seasons with the Red Sox and winning four World Series in Boston. But Hooper’s Red Sox career ended in 1920, 11 years before the team started wearing numbers on their uniforms.
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