The Boston Red Sox announced this afternoon that they are retiring Wade Boggs’ number 26 in a ceremony at Fenway Park on May 26, 2016.
It’s kind of crazy that this is only happening now. Boggs’ decade in Boston saw him post some of the best numbers any hitter has posted in baseball history. While there he collected 2,098 hits and posted a line of .338/.428/.462. Which, we should remember, came in a low-offense era, meaning that his .890 OPS worked out to a 142 OPS+. The term “pure hitter” has almost lost meaning — it usually means “hitter who doesn’t hit a lot of homers” — but it’s hard to argue against the idea that Boggs was the the best one of ’em in baseball while he wore 26 in Boston. It’s where his Hall of Fame case was built, even if he didn’t finish his career there.
Why the Sox didn’t retire his number before this is open for debate. There were rumors that, when he played in Tampa Bay, the Devil Rays included a “wear a Tampa Bay cap on your Hall of Fame plaque” provision in his contract. Boggs denied it, but the Hall of Fame felt it necessary to change its rules afterward to take away the choice on the matter from the players. He’s wearing a Boston “B” on his plaque in Cooperstown. Also didn’t help that Boggs rode that horse in the Yankees World Series celebration in 1996. It’s been a good while since the Red Sox, as an organization, have seemed terribly provincial about rivalry matters, but maybe the Yankees associations hurt his number-retirement cause in Boston. It’s worth noting, of course, that no one has wore Roger Clemens’ 21 in Boston since he left despite his Yankees (and steroids) associations, so maybe that’s not it.
But now Boggs is getting his due. Brock Holt, the current wearer of 26, will switch numbers. And all of the guys who wore 26 since Boggs left town can make a joke to their families and coworkers about how their number is being retired next year. Holt, Scott Podsednik, Ramiro Mendoza, Freddy Sanchez, Lou Merloni, Sean Berry, Rob Stanifer, Orlando Merced, Chris Snopek, Aaron Sele, Alejandro Pena, Lee Tinsley, and Wes Chamberlain: you can have that one for free.
But congratulations are really in order for Mr. Boggs.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that Freddy Sanchez filed his retirement papers today. In other news, Freddy Sanchez didn’t do this, like, three or four years ago. Who knew?
Sanchez dislocated his shoulder in mid-2011. It was an injury from which he never returned. Sadly that wasn’t the only injury he suffered during his ten-year big league career and it was those injuries which kept us from seeing Sanchez at his best more than we did. He won a batting title in 2006, hitting .344 and leading the league with 53 doubles but his body wasn’t at 100% enough to replicate or to even really come close to that level of production very often. He finished his career with a line of .297/.335/.413 in 904 games. He was a three-time All-Star.
Short career or not, Sanchez will always have a place in the heart of Pirates fans as he was one of the few bright lights in Pittsburgh during some very dark times for the franchise.
One day we’ll talk about Cuban baseball without reference to Cold War cliches. Today is not that day, but we’ll let that go right now. In the meantime, this article from The Economist — “The Cuban Baseball Crisis” — is most excellent and worth your time on this slow news day.
Part of it is stuff you’ve read before if you’re interested in the topic: the state of Cuban baseball as relations between the United States and Cuba thaw. There is, as there has always been, great interest in American baseball in Cuba and there has been an increasing flow of Cuban players to the United States, possibly imperiling baseball in Cuba, even as it creates opportunity and spikes interest in baseball overall.
But there are two things here which make this article well worth your time beyond its deft handling of those familiar topics. First, a neat little detour into Cuban baseball history with some nuggets that I’ve never heard before, such as the role of Cuban baseball in the Spanish-American War. Fun times.
The second: Major League Baseball’s peculiar and somewhat contradictory stance on Cuban baseball players coming to the United States. On the one hand, U.S. baseball has been at the vanguard of introducing capitalism back into Cuba and the promise of U.S. riches has driven this whole dynamic on the baseball side. And, in a larger sense, baseball has and will likely continue to play a huge ambassadorial role as overall relations thaw between the countries. Baseball, quite literally, will be a standard-bearer for the United States’ re-engagement with Cuba.
On the other hand, baseball has a keen interest in making sure there isn’t unfettered free agency of Cuban baseball players, just as as it has sought to limit the agency of amateur players in the U.S. and looks for ways to do so in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. An international draft? Bonus pools? Anything Major League Baseball can do to keep those salaries and bonuses down it will do, because despite being at the vanguard of capitalism in some respects, baseball is VERY keen on socialism of a sort and restricted markets when it suits team ownership.