J.D. Martinez ended the 2018 MLB season by mashing his 43rd home run of the year in the final game of the season. That is the most a player has ever hit in their first year with the Red Sox. Martinez finished the year with a .330 batting average, 43 homers, and an absurd 130 runs batted in. He provided the spark the Red Sox lacked last year, and have been looking to replace, since David Ortiz retired in 2016. Martinez was one of the best players in the sport; as he will likely finish in the top 3 in MVP voting, despite playing 93 games as the designated hitter. While Mookie Betts should, and likely will win the MVP, let’s do a deeper dive comparing three amazing years to Martinez’s epic first year in a Red Sox uniform.
It is going to be eye opening analyzing how Martinez’s year stacks up against three other Boston baseball legends. The other seasons Martinez’s will be compared to are Ted Williams in 1941, Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and David Ortiz in 2007. Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice, Nomar Garciaparra, and Wade Boggs could also have been used, but Ted, Yaz, and Ortiz get the nod since they are the three best players in franchise history.
Here are the ground rules for how these players will be judged. Context will be very important when breaking down these seasons. The era in which these years happened matters. For example, Ortiz might have inflated numbers because he was playing, and possibly participating in, the “Steroid Era”. Runs were scored at a much higher rate than when Yaz was playing the 1960’s. That fact will matter when debating how great the year was.
Also, postseason play will matter to a degree. That will not come into play for Martinez because, obviously, he has not played in the postseason yet this year. It will also not be a factor for Williams whose Red Sox roster failed to make the postseason in his season. However, Yaz, and Ortiz’s postseason numbers could help them rank higher. Think of good postseason play as extra credit; might bump them up a spot but it will not automatically make them one and two on the list. Defense and base running will not be a factor. The player’s season will be described chronological order of occurrence; with Williams being first Martinez being last. At the end, the order of four through one will be accompanied by a reasoning for the ranking.
The best player in Red Sox history is batting leadoff. Pretty much any of Ted’s seasons could have been used for this exercise, but you cannot go wrong with looking at his jaw-dropping 1941 campaign. In 143 games, he drove in 120 runs while hitting 37 round trippers. He also managed to rake 185 hits in just 456 at bats, (more on why that reads like a typo later). He scored 135 runs and ended up with 33 doubles. In a flat out absurd ratio, he struck out just 27 times while walking 147 times. Read that sentence again. It is a sentence that simply should not be real.
For perspective, Mike Trout struck out 124 times while taking 122 bases on balls in 2018. If that is not insane enough, that year saw Williams put up career highs in many key offensive categories. His on base percentage was an astounding .553. This man reached base more often than he got out! The only other player ever to have a higher OBP in a season was Barry Bonds. The craziness does not stop there. His slugging percentage was .735, good for 17th best all time in a single season.
However, 1941 will never be forgotten by Red Sox fans for a simple reason; that was the season Ted Williams became the last man to hit .400 in a season. Theodore Samuel Williams ended the 1941 season with an impossible.406 batting average. Nobody has come within five points of that magical number since. (Tony Gwynn ended the strike shortened 1994 season batting .394 in 110 games) The story does not just end there, as Ted added to his lore.
On the last day of the season, Ted was hitting .396, which would have been rounded up to .400. The Sox manager, Joe Cronin, wanted to sit Ted. Ted demanded he be in the lineup for the double header against the Philadelphia A’s. Ted finished the double header 6 for 8 and thus ending the season at an unmatchable .406.
Ted Williams in 1941 had one of the best individual years a Boston athlete has ever experienced, as well as one of the best in baseball history. He was definitely helped by the fact that no hard throwing relief pitchers, shifts, African American or Latino ball players, or advanced scouting were incorporated into MLB. However, he could have received help from commercial flights, better training and dieting, videos of pitcher tendencies, and the launch angle tactic, (which he sort of invented). He was ahead of his time in every way imaginable. There is no doubt Ted Williams would be a hall of fame player today. He might not hit .406, but .356 is not a crazy expectation, especially if we could ask Ted himself how he would fare in today’s game. Ted Williams, and in 1941 especially, showed the world he just might have accomplished his goal of becoming, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.”
The best all around player in Red Sox history had it all going on in 1967, “The Summer of Love.” All of New England started to become infatuated with Yaz in his seventh year in Boston. It had been a struggle for the fans to embrace Yaz after Ted Williams retired in 1960. Yaz had a career year that helped make him one of the most popular Boston athletes of all time.
He won the American League Triple Crown with a .326 average, 121 runs batted in, and 44 home runs. Nobody would repeat this feat in the sport until Miguel Cabrera in 2012. He also led the Junior Circuit in runs (112), hits (189), OBP (.418), slugging (.622), and total bases (360). Yaz also came up huge during the final two weeks, with three other teams battling Boston for the A.L. Pennant. He hit a “Ruthian” .523 with 16 RBI. Guess who tied the game with a bases loaded single in a must win game 162? He was the reason why 1967 season for Red Sox will forever be known as “The Impossible Dream”, as they clinched the Pennant on the last day of the season.
Although they would come up short to Bob Gibson, who had one of the best World Series performances ever, and the St Louis Cardinals in seven games, Yaz did his part in the Fall Classic. He, somehow, managed to come through even though he was the only slugger in the Sox lineup the Cardinals feared. He hit an astounding .400 with three homers and five RBI in the World Series. He also walked four times while striking out just one time in 25 at bats.
Yaz’s 1967 will forever be part of Boston sports lore. He might have contributed to keeping the Red Sox from moving, which as crazy as that sounds, was an actual possibility at the time. Yaz also performed in a pitching dominated era. So much so that the next season, 1968, Yaz was the only American League player to hit over .300. MLB had to lower the pitching mounds to make the league more hitter friendly. Yaz was not putting up these numbers in the pinball 2000’s, like the next guy coming up. He is also the first player on this list to play against African American and Latino players, all stars, and legends.
Immortal names such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson and many others were all in the sport when Yaz won the Triple Crown. The game was getting more competitive; better workout techniques, diets, expansion teams, and coast to coast ball clubs all improved the quality of the league. Were the relief pitchers as prominent? No, not until the next decade. Did he have to deal with lefty specialists, shifts, or advanced scouting? No, Yaz definitely had advantages with those admissions. Yaz’s season goes past all other numbers for one reason: importance.
Red Sox nation might not have developed if Yaz does not have this magical season. The team had been bottom dwellers for almost a decade. The Red Sox were not drawing well at all. The Dodgers, Giants, among others all moved west to greener pastures. Who is to say the Red Sox were not next? Maybe it is an exaggeration, maybe not. However, Yaz made the Sox the hot ticket again in Boston. He made fans excited about the ball club, and helped the Red Sox capture New England’s soul to the point where they still have a strong grip today. He came through in game situations when the team needed it; he came through with a great season when the organization needed it; and he came through with a historic season when the region needed it.
The most important Red Sox player in franchise history had his best season when he helped Boston capture their 2nd World Series win in 4 seasons. While most fans might think that 2006 was Ortiz’s best year, the numbers in 2007 are as good and even better in some categories. Ortiz finished 2007 with a .332 batting average, 35 homers, and 117 RBI. He also slugged .621 and led the American League with a .445 OBP, which made his OPS an unreal 1.066. He had a very solid strikeout to walk ratio as well, ending with 111 bases on balls compared to only 103 strikeouts. Where David Ortiz really sets this season apart from 2006, and others, was his postseason play.
That October, Ortiz started off the playoffs with a bang. He hit a cool .714, 5-for-7, in a three-game sweep of the Angels. His slugging and on-base percentage were pretty good at 1.571 and .846, respectively. His on base plus slugging was a “Ruthian,” “Williasmian” and “Bondsian” 2.418 in those 3 games. He did not stop there.
In the American League Champion Series against Cleveland, Ortiz hit .292 while driving in three runs in seven games. He also helped the team comeback from down three games to one in the series. That must have been no big deal after going through the ‘04 Comeback.
Ortiz capped off the best postseason of his illustrious career with a title and some hardware. He took home the World Series MVP after the Sox swept the Rockies right out of the Fall Classic. Ortiz drove in four runs while getting five hits in 15 at bats.
Ortiz in 2007 had the best combination of regular season and postseason success of his career. He also had to manage against higher velocities, rested starters, bullpen studs, constant media attention, advanced scouting, shifts, and more athleticism in the sport. He was also helped with charter planes, video breakdowns, pitcher tendencies, the designated hitter position, and the era in which he played.
The elephant in the room for the David Ortiz 2007 season is the cloud of steroids in the sport. While 2007 is considered towards the end of the official “steroid era”, performance enhancing drugs were not out of the sport by any means. Also, as much as Red Sox fans do not want to acknowledge, Ortiz has been linked to steroid use in the past. Ortiz has denied these accusations. Even if he never touched performance enhancing drugs, he benefited from playing in this “home run derby”, stretch where runs were easier to come by.
Ortiz excelled in the best time for offensive the game has seen in the modern era. His numbers would have been more impressive if he played in a pitching dominated stretch in baseball. Having said that, his high performance of play for 163 games combined show not only the best season of his career, but one of the best overall season’s a Boston athlete has enjoyed. From game 1 of the regular season to the last game of the final series, Ortiz drove the offense for a World Series winning Boston team.
4. J.D. Martinez. He could be bumped up to third on this list with a great postseason. It is still incredibly impressive that he is even in this conversation after breaking down these three historic seasons.
3. David Ortiz. Gets the edge over Martinez for how dominant and consistent he was for an entire month of intense postseason baseball. Ultimately, the era he performed in was a big factor of not ranking higher. The fact is he got to play in 3 postseason series, and the most offensive dominant era out of the 4. Ortiz could end up at #4, but Martinez needs at least two great postseason series to even consider that switch.
2. Carl Yastrzemski. It was a tough call between putting him one or two. Yaz almost got the first spot because of how well he performed down the stretch; his World Series play; and he played in the most pitching dominant time on this list. He needed to be great everyday for the Sox to capture the American League Pennant.
1. Ted Williams. As tremendous as Yaz’s season was, Williams’ year reads like a misprint or a fictitious tale. He was the best hitter who ever lived having the best offensive season any baseball fan has ever seen. He got a hit in 2 of every 5 at bats. He reached base better than 5 times for every 10 at bats. Those numbers have not been seen since, and will never be seen again.
Ted came through in the final 2 games; Yaz in the final two weeks, and Ortiz in the final month. It will be gripping theater watching J.D. try to stamp his incredible season into the history books with a World Series ring.