What he did: A reader sent me an MLB.com article about Derek Jeter over the weekend that contained an interesting bit about the value of good shortstops. The passage read:
Teams don’t regularly appear in postseason series if their middle infield is suspect; the Dodgers of 1974, ’77, ’78 and ’81, notwithstanding. Those who question the Hall of Fame credentials of Pee Wee Reese and Phil Rizzuto ought to note which teams played into October year after year in the late ’40s into the mid ’50s and identify the shortstops. Ted Williams identified Rizzuto as the difference between the first-place Yankees and the runner-up Red Sox.
The line struck me because Dodger shortstop and Hall of Famer Reese actually got his start in the Red Sox system. He was on the Louisville Colonels in 1938 when Sox owner Tom Yawkey bought the team for $195,000, with Roger Kahn noting in The Boys of Summer that “five thousand was for the franchise. The rest went for the kid at short.” Reese led the American Association in triples and stolen bases in 1939, but Red Sox player-manager Joe Cronin reputedly ordered Reese’s sale so he could play five more years. The Dodgers snagged Reese for $35,000 and four forgotten players, and the Red Sox went through seven shortstops during Reese’s time in Brooklyn, one for each World Series he helped those Bums to. Meanwhile, Boston made the postseason just once in this stretch, 1946.
Thus, this week’s column is about if things had been different and Reese had stuck around Beantown. In fact, we’ll go a step further with the idea.
Era he might have thrived in: After 1918 and before 2004, baseball life was one long series of crushing blows for Boston and its fans, purgatory punctuated periodically by close calls. This week’s column looks at if Reese could have made a difference in some of the closest of calls: 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986. Try and name an elite shortstop from those teams. With a guy like Reese around to provide an upgrade, it seems unlikely the Red Sox would have gone 86 years without a world championship.
Why: Johnny Pesky, Rico Petrocelli, Rick Burleson, and some combination of Rey Quinones, Spike Owen, and Ed Romero. These are the men Reese would have unseated taking over short any of the years mentioned above. Of these players, Petrocelli might have been the only one not worth having Reese stand in for, seeing as Petrocelli was good enough in 1969 to hit 40 home runs and lead all shortstops in fielding percentage. Everyone else here is replaceable.
Burleson somehow finished 13th in MVP voting in 1975 hitting .252. Meanwhile, Quinones, Owen, and Romero hit about .220 collectively and suggest Bill Buckner may have gotten too much blame losing Boston a championship. As for Pesky, although he hit .335 in 1946, he was moved to third base a couple years later when the Sox traded for Vern Stephens. With Reese in town in ’46, the shift could have happened sooner and relieved Boston’s starting third baseman that year, Rip Russell who hit a motley .208 in limited duty. The stat converter on Baseball-Reference.com has Reese’s ’46 season with Brooklyn converting to a .294 batting average with 10 triples for the Red Sox. That may have helped Boston overcome St. Louis in the World Series.
Would Reese have the same legacy as a man who helped welcome Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn, refusing to join his fellow Southern teammates in signing a petition protesting Robinson’s presence? Maybe not. But perhaps Reese could have brought this same spirit of tolerance to Boston and helped an organization that would ultimately wait until 1959 to field a black player, the last big league team to integrate.
Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.
Others in this series: Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Bad News Rockies,Barry Bonds, Billy Beane, Billy Martin, Bob Caruthers, Bob Feller, Bob Watson,Bobby Veach, Carl Mays, Charles Victory Faust, Chris von der Ahe,Denny McLain, Dom DiMaggio, Eddie Lopat, Frank Howard, Fritz Maisel, Gavvy Cravath, George Case, George Weiss, Harmon Killebrew, Harry Walker, Home Run Baker, Honus Wagner, Hugh Casey, Ichiro Suzuki, Jack Clark, Jackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy Wynn, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Posnanski, Johnny Antonelli, Johnny Frederick, Josh Hamilton, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Lefty O’Doul, Major League (1989 film),Matty Alou, Michael Jordan, Monte Irvin, Nate Colbert, Paul Derringer, Pete Rose, Prince Fielder, Ralph Kiner, Rick Ankiel, Rickey Henderson,Roberto Clemente, Rogers Hornsby, Sam Crawford, Sam Thompson,Sandy Koufax, Satchel Paige, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, The Meusel Brothers, Ty Cobb, Vada Pinson, Wally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays