By Sterling Pingree
Without much of a spring it is hard to believe it, but the dog days of summer are just about upon us. The Celtics did their best to lengthen the springtime to give Mother Nature a chance to catch up, but to no avail. The beckoning of these hot days spent playing golf and watching only baseball compel me to contemplate the bigger questions in this sporting life. One that I always find particularly intriguing is the idea of a sporting Mount Rushmore, which essentially is a rock and mineral visual of deciding who the top 4 people are to ever do “X”. Starting with the Boston Red Sox, over the next few weeks, I am going to determine once and for all who resides on my own personal Boston sports Mount Rushmore for each of the 4 major teams. My ultimate goal in the end is to figure out the four members of the all-time Boston Sports Pantheon.
I’ve solicited opinions on social media and had many great cases made for such names as Jackie Jensen, Jim Rice, Jason Varitek and even Roger Clemens. Poor cases were made for players such as Rich Garces, Jose Canseco and Jeff Frye. (I don’t remember Wade Boggs name being mentioned once, while someone had the audacity to mention Johnny Damon. Recency bias will do that.) I’ll begin with the two lead pipe locks.
Ted Williams is the George Washington of the Red Sox Mount Rushmore. His numbers are so unassailable that Red Sox fans as this point don’t even need to pass them down to the next generation, almost through osmosis the numbers .406 in 1941 and his career average of .344 are ingrained in Sox fans psyche. Any Red Sox fan over the age of 14 should have their argument ready that Ted Williams was “the best damn hitter that ever lived” and when someone brings up Ruth, you take them to task for not realizing that Williams missed 5 years due to his military service. Simple math then tells you with his production at that time you could add 200 home runs on to the 521 that he actually did hit. (Which would put him seven ahead of Ruth’s mark of 714.) Growing up, I had a Ted Williams GI Joe. How many other athletes had a GI Joe? The rule is, if they make a GI Joe of you, you make Sterling’s Mount Rushmore.
Carl Yastrzemski was the captain of the Red Sox and the conductor of the Impossible Dream. It’s often said that in this day and age of free agency, we won’t see players spend their entire careers with one team, which is true. If that is so, then what are the odds of us seeing a player spend his entire 23 year career with one team? Probably some where between zero and Bartolo Colon on the cover of the swimsuit issue. Yaz was such a staple for the team that he was the face of the franchise from the time Williams retired in 1960, all the way through to Wade Boggs’ introduction to Red Sox fans. In this, the 50 year anniversary of the Impossible Dream, we cannot forget about Yaz nor would we, he is of course the greatest living Red Sox player, period.
The first two selection on the Red Sox monument were easy, I mean come on, Teddy Ballgame and Yaz? If I didn’t include these two icons, I’m pretty sure I would no longer be welcome at Fenway Park. Nor should I be.
There is something about an elite pitcher, I mean a truly elite pitcher. The game takes on a different feel and flow when a truly great hurler is on the mound. Anticipation for Pedro Martinez’s starts in Boston took on the buzz of a major concert, think of it as if the Rolling Stones played the Waterfront, only it happened every 5 days. I remember where I was for all of the signature Pedro games. His Sunday Night Baseball duel in the Bronx with Roger Clemens in May of 2000 took place the night before my 8th grade class got on a bus for our trip to Washington DC. (Even with our 6am departure, I stayed up listening to the very last out, perhaps the most underrated great Pedro game.) I remember watching Pedro’s 1-hit 17 strike out performance in New York in my parents living room. His one hitter and brawl with Gerald Williams in Tampa took place before my first day of high school. And until Super Bowl LI, I’ve never been as impressed by an athletic performance as I was by Pedro coming on in relief in game 5 of the 1999 ALDS in Cleveland.
The final spot on my Red Sox Mount Rushmore was the hardest to choose. One confidant said “Pick Bobby Doerr and make him as good as you want, he retired in 1951. Who is going to argue?” The finalists for this spot were Jim Rice, David Ortiz and Carlton Fisk.
In the end, I went with David Ortiz. How could I not select the only Red Sox player in the modern era to win three World Series? Ortiz blossomed during that first run in 2004 before our very eyes that October and was the series MVP in 2013. In the 21st century, you could make a pretty strong argument that David Ortiz is the without a doubt the most important Red Sox player, and until the Tom Brady added two more Super Bowls, that he was also the most important Boston athlete since Larry Bird. Big Papi was the face of the franchise during its greatest run of prosperity in 100 years and that means something.
Williams, Yastrzemski, Martinez and Ortiz. Three left handed hitters and a skinny right handed pitcher. One flew planes in wars and was the last player to hit .400. One played more games than any other hall of famer. One was traded twice before finding immortality in Boston. One was signed to back up Jeremy Giambi and wound up as one of the most beloved figures in this region’s history. This is my Red Sox Mount Rushmore, I encourage you to come up with your own, but I feel confident enough to carve these into the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.