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Which numbers should Red Sox retire?

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  April 12, 2013 11:08 AM

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I'm not sure the Red Sox have ever had a player -- at least one of high profile and exceptional accomplishment -- who is as downright absurd as Wade Boggs.

I mean, you don't even have to go into much detail to make the point. Key words -- Margo, Delta Force, 64 beers, willing invisible, police horse, Hair Club for Men -- should more than suffice. And Stan Grossfeld's feature on him in Wednesday's did nothing to change the perception.

At age 54, he's as charmingly, exasperatingly Wade-centric as ever. Stay gold, chicken man.

He is, however, dead-on correct about one thing: His number 26 should be retired by the Red Sox.

He fits the criteria -- 10 years with the club, Hall of Fame induction -- and besides, the Red Sox' current ownership has been willing to selectively open a loophole there when presented with the right reasons. (See No. 6, Johnny Pesky, whose name appeared on 0.4 percent of the ballots in 1960.)

But whether it's for his goofy quirks, or his later allegiance with the Yankees, or that he tried to go into the Hall of Fame as a (Devil) Ray, something has led to Boggs, a five-time batting champion in Boston, becoming the least appreciated true great in franchise lore.

Boggs was ahead of his time in that he simply did not give away outs -- sure, he was obsessed with his batting average, but he'd take a walk before swinging at a bad pitch every single time. He reached base more than 300 times in six of his first seven full seasons in Boston -- 300 times! -- and yet he was actually criticized for taking walks.

I really need to go back and see what Bill James wrote about him in his Abstracts. I suspect his perception deviated from the loudest narrative of the time, that Boggs was selfish. Well, of course he was selfish. Baseball is intrinsically selfish. That selfishness made him extremely valuable to his team -- he finished first in the American League in offensive bWAR each year from 1986-88, and was second three other seasons in Boston.

His numbers are easier to appreciate now than they were then. And his number should be retired as an appreciation of what he did then.

And while we're at it, I say these numbers should join Bobby Doerr's No. 1, Joe Cronin's (or is it Butch Hobson's?) No. 4, Pesky's No. 6, Yaz's No. 8, Ted's No. 9, Jim Rice's No. 14 (about to be unveiled in the 2009 photo above), Pudge's No. 27, and Jackie Robinson's No. 42:

Roger Clemens's No. 21: Surely neither was self-aware enough to recognize it back when they were teammates bickering over official scorers' decisions, but Clemens and Boggs are a lot alike. They're among the best ever to play their sport, have egos that exceed their extraordinary abilities, and are so clumsy in expressing why everyone else should appreciate them as much as they do that it's inevitably counter-productive to their cause when they speak. But you know ... for all of the baggage, Clemens was pretty damn great. Sure, he's a stunted, arrested, dopey-jock dolt. But he was great.

evansdwightfinn411.JPGDwight Evans's No. 24: I don't want to get into the circular he's-there-so-he-ought-to-be-there-too debate, but you know, Evans was a superior all-around player to his former teammate Rice, and there a few players in Red Sox history who are more universally appreciated by the fans. Plus, if 24 goes up there, the eternal Manny Ramirez apologists among us (hi there!) can also pretend it's for him.

Tony Conigliaro's No. 25: An appropriate homage to a local kid who due to some brutal twists of fate was turned into a lingering avatar of what-might-have-been rather than an icon of the sport. He was the Bryce Harper of his day, but with a better haircut.

David Ortiz's No. 34: Because for all he's done to change the fortunes of the franchise, he deserves more than a plaque, a truck, and a two-year golden parachute.

Pedro Martinez's No. 45: Arguably the finest starting pitcher of all-time, with a career adjusted OPS ERA of 154, second only to a certain RobotHuman closer for the Yankees. Indisputably the most charismatic, electric and fun, at least of my lifetime. He's a lock, and when it happens, that's a party I don't want to miss.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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