Great offense is hard to find, for every David Ortiz there is a Julio Lugo. For every Ted Williams there’s a Darren Lewis. Not to say Julio and Darren were lousy players (Darren played great defense in the outfield), but certainly not many remember them, right? Well here’s a list of ten batters that would make Darren and Julio seem like Ted Williams and David Ortiz. As I did with the pitchers, I do not include actual stars that didn’t pan out or guys that had long careers despite failing in Boston. These are the guys only the smartest of fans can remember, blink and you missed them.
Number 10: Andy Sheets
Nomar Garciaparra was the man in Boston from 1996 to 2004. He was their superstar shortstop and from 97-03 was one of the top players in the game. Unfortunately, he was so good the ownership wasn’t prepared for what would happen if he got hurt. In late April of 2000, he did. Even though he wouldn’t be out for too long he was still out. The Sox turned to 28 year old utility infielder Andy Sheets. Andy didn’t have the most reliable bat but backed up Alex Rodriguez in Seattle plus future Pawtucket Red Sox manager Gary Disarcina in Anaheim. He came to Boston looking to back up Nomar but instead he became a laughing stock. He was hitless in his first 16 at bats. He did have one moment of glory, replacing the injured Garciaparra, his first hit of the season brought in the go-ahead run on May 11, 2000 against the Baltimore Orioles which held up for a victory. After that, Nomar got healthy and proceeded to hit .372 for the season, no one in Boston has come close to that in the 13 years following. As for Sheets, he was finished in Boston but would play for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays the following two seasons before calling it quits. He may have had a lifetime batting average of .216 but he did get one moment of glory
Number 9: Calvin Pickering
What a name. The hefty Calvin had bounced around the majors and minors throughout the late 90’s but had one run in him. The 2001 Red Sox fell apart amidst crippling injuries to Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez. Noted pains in the ass Carl Everett and Manny Ramirez were acting up and manager Jimy Williams got the heave-ho. Interim manager Joe Kerrigan had the respect of no one, not even Tim Wakefield. With the season falling apart and injuries abound, the Sox played out the string following the terrorists attacks of September 11, 2001. One fella who stood out was the 6’5 Pickering. In 17 games, Pickering batted .280 with three home runs, seven runs batted in and 14 hits. Pickering and Ramirez saved the Red Sox from going under .500, finishing 82-79. There were talks that Pickering could compete with Brian Daubach for the first basemen’s job in 2002 but a season ending injury wiped that idea out. By the time 2003 rolled around the Sox had moved on, signing Jeremy Giambi, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar. Pickering made a valiant comeback in 2004 with the Kansas City Royals, playing in 35 games and hitting seven home runs. His career ended after just seven games the following season. Still, a three week period where he almost carried the Red Sox offense and coming back from serious injury three years later is admirable.
Number 8: Bryant Nelson
In 2002, the Red Sox were looking to regain respectability after the disaster the previous season. They played way over their heads for most of the season before crashing down to earth in September. They still managed to win 93 games but both the New York Yankees and the Oakland A’s won 103 games apiece. Along the way the Sox tried everything to spark their lineup from the rejuvenated Carlos Baerga to 43 year old Rickey Henderson to Tampa Bay folk hero Benny Agbayani. At one point 28 year old Bryant Nelson, a career minor leaguer got his shot. Nelson wasn’t hyped up to be anything special and he didn’t play like it either. Supposedly a speedster, Nelson stole only one base, walked just four times and had just nine hits in 39 at-bats. Unlike the previous two, Nelson didn’t assist in any game winning plays and he was gone shortly after. Only the most hardcore of Red Sox fans would have known he was there and when he was gone.
Number 7: Andy Abad
The term “career minor leaguer” is usually dignified for players that spend virtually their entire career in the minor leagues. They had talent to make it to Triple A but just didn’t have the talent to compete at the major league level. Any Abad personified that. The 2003 Red Sox sparked a re-birth in fan interest that’s still there today (3 World Series championships since then helps) and they had some colorful characters on the team. As it is with every team, injuries and ineffectiveness lead to replacements having to come up from the minors along the way. Abad was 31 years old by the time he got the call in 2003 and had just one, yes ONE, game of major league experience previously. Abad played in nine games but only had two hits in 17 at bats before going back to Pawtucket. He bounced around the minors before having a cup of coffee (term for short term appearance) with the Cincinnati Reds in 2006. Again, if you blinked, you missed him.
Number 6: Andy Dominique
The 2004 Red Sox broke an 86 year old phony curse and won the World Series for the first time since 1918. Along the way injuries paved the way for a few guys to make some guest appearances. One of them was 3rd string catcher Andy Dominique. With Jason Varitek and Doug Mirabelli patrolling the plate, they tried Dominique at first base. He played in seven games but had just two hits and committed an error. He was left off the post-season roster and signed with Toronto the following season. He played in just two games and that was it in the big leagues. When you get a shot in the big leagues and you fumble the ball, chances are you won’t get that many future chances.
Number 5: Shawn Wooten
The 2005 Red Sox was the end of the “idiots” so to speak. The group of guys we fell in love with in 2003 would be dissolved by the end of the 05 season. Along the way the Red Sox had some catching woes with the decline of Doug Mirabelli. For one game, they called up Shawn Wooten. Shawn was a backup catcher/DH/first basemen for the Anaheim Angels and Philadelphia Phillies before signing a minor league contract with the Red Sox. He got in just 1 game in 2005 and went hitless in his only at bat before getting sent back down to Triple A, never to resurface in the majors. Once again, if you weren’t watching the game he was in, chances are you didn’t even know he was there.
Number 4: Corky Miller
The 2006 Red Sox fell apart amidst injuries and an agonizing five game series loss to the New York Yankees in August. As with Shawn Wooten, Corky Miller got his one game of sunshine with the Red Sox. Miller had been a serviceable backup since 2000 but went hitless in his four at-bats before getting sent down to Triple A. Unlike most of the others, Miller hung around the majors for 4 more years after. In the end Miller played in 216 games in the majors but just one with the Red Sox. Another blink and you missed him.
Number 3: Joe Thurston
The bronze medal goes to Joe here. He had 55 games of major league experience before hooking on with the 2008 Red Sox. He played in nine games in 2008 and went hitless, although he was hit with a pitch once. After being sent back down to Triple A, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for the 2009 season. Out of nowhere he became an every day starter, playing third and second base in 124 games. He hit just .225 but going into the season he only had 64 games of major league experience and he nearly doubled it. He made one more vanity appearance for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins in 2011 but that was it. Sometimes, a few guys just need a chance to start to prove dependable. Joe just wasn’t going to get it in Boston with Mike Lowell, Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia around.
Number 2: Aaron Bates
The silver medal winner is Aaron Bates. Bates was one of the 2007 Lancaster Jethawks “Killer B’s”. There was Bates, Bubba Bell and Brad Correll. Along with Zach Daeges and Scott White, all five of them hit over 20 home runs and set offensive records for the California League . Two years later Bates got his chance for the 2009 Red Sox. Unfortunately, it was proven that Lancaster was just a hitters park as none of the guys that reached the majors showed any kind of power displayed in Lancaster. Bates was no exception as he did not homer in twelve plate appearances in five games. He never resurfaced.
Number 1: Niuman Romero
Gold medal goes to Romero (no relation to Ed). Unlike most of the others, Romero had a chance to be a hero for a day. He was purchased from the Cleveland Indians on May 1st and spent time with Pawtucket. A rash of injuries prompted the Sox to call up Romero on July 6th and he was thrust into a big situation right away. The Sox were in Tampa to play the Rays and Kevin Youkilis left with an injury, leaving Romero hitting behind David Ortiz. An Eric Patterson RBI triple brought the Sox within one run at 3-2 with two outs in the ninth. In stepped Romero who barely anyone knew he was on the roster, and now the game is in his hands. Unfortunately he made the final out and the Sox lost. He played in one more game during the season but that was it. Like Andy Sheets, he had a chance to be a hero for a day but he failed. Oh well, the 2010 season was doomed anyway.
I reserved this spot because of all the names that qualified, there were some that caught my eye for something interesting. So in this honorable mention, its an honor to mention some of the accomplishments these guys did.
Earl Snyder. He played in just 1 game in 2004 (a game I attended actually) and had just 1 hit. His best accomplishment was in Pawtucket where he hit 36 home runs that year. He may not have had an impact in the big leagues but 36 home runs for a team that went 78-66 goes a long way.
Ed Sprague Jr. Since this is just an honorable mention, I’ll forgoe the “no stars” rule. Sprague was the starting 3 rd basemen for the 1993 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays and had some great years for the team. By 2000, he was all washed up but that didn’t stop Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette from sacrificing future major leaguers Dennis Tankersley and David Eckstein (2002 Anaheim Angels won the world series with him starting) to get him on June 30th. They wanted him because John Valentin blew his knee out and Wilton Veras proved ineffective. Sprague was even worse than Veras as he hit just .216 before being released in August. He did have one moment of glory. A home run in mid July caused my 50 year old father to throw himself on the ground in mock fainting because Ed actually did something good.
Craig Grebeck. One of the biggest cases of career evaporation ever. Craig had a solid career as a backup infielder with the Chicago White Sox and Toronto Blue Jays before being signed as a backup shortstop to Nomar Garciaparra before the 2001 season. He had just come off a 2000 season where he batted .295 in 66 games. The problem was Nomar was hurt in spring training so Grebeck would be the opening day starter. He then proceeded to get just TWO hits in 41 at bats in 23 games before manager Jimy Williams pulled the plug. The silver lining was he didn’t commit an error although his batting average stood at .049 by the end of the season. Better than Bluto Blutarsky’s 0.0 but still terrible. You can make the case he was 36 and past his prime but to go from serviceable to completely useless at bat is astonishing.