The outfield green of Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, is not friendly to those unacquainted with its terrain. A relic from the days where fans wore bowler hats and games were played under “God’s light.” Fenway’s dimensions and unique structural features now lend a different meaning to “home-field advantage.”
The Green Monster in Left provides plenty of odd angles to learn, and leaves plenty of doubt for visiting fielders as a ball caroms off the 37-foot-2-inch-high behemoth.
Centerfield’s triangle is the younger brother of the famous one located in Bermuda. While straightaway center measures 390-feet, the shortest in the MLB, the deepest point of the triangle hits 420 feet. For those keeping tabs at home, that’s equal to the deepest park in the MLB, Comerica Park in Detriot.
And then there’s Right field. Where the shortest foul line in baseball lives and the short wall provides plenty of facetime with the Fenway faithful. Although the wall stands dwarfed by its Left-field counterpart, it still provides just as much terror when balls are hit towards Pesky’s Pole.
No two ways about it. This outfield has played host to some of the greatest to ever take the diamond.
Williams, Yastrzemski, and Ramirez, to name a few, all left their mark on the green pasture beyond the Fenway infield. However, it is rare that all three sections of the outfield are guarded by three elite defenders and ballplayers. In fact, this writer can only think of two such occasions, and one of those factions was recently split up.
The Mookie Betts trade to the Dodgers prior to the 2020 season began the demolition of what could have become the greatest outfield in Red Sox history. And ahead of the 2021 season, Chaim Bloom finished the job. The Red Sox then sent Andrew Benintendi to the Royals and let Jackie Bradley Jr. leave for Milwaukee in free agency.
Let the Boys Play
The “Win, Dance, Repeat” Outfield came to fruition during their 2018 World Series run that was filled with promise and prowess. Mookie Betts had a cannon of an arm, the sweetest of swings, and an MVP the prior season. Bett’s 2018 WAR tied Ted Williams and his 1946 season at 10.9, the second-greatest season in Red Sox history. The first? That would be Yaz’s 1967 campaign where he posted a 12.5 WAR and won the Triple Crown.
Andrew Benintendi felt like a relic from the Red Sox teams of old. Coming into the league hot and re-establishing the legend of Fenway’s Left field. Filling out the trio was Jackie Bradley, Jr., who dazzled with his bat during his hit long hit-streak, and amazed with his glove in the field.
This Red Sox outfield was supposed to be the future, and two seasons after securing Boston a World Series ring, they were gone.
Not since the outfield of the 1970s with Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans have the Red Sox had so much talent patrolling the green pastures of Fenway’s outfield. Those three men solidified a team that struggled to remain dominant during the decade. And when they finally broke through in the 1975 season, en route to a World Series appearance, it was the Red Sox outfield that led the way.
Seriously. During the 1975 season, although we all remember Carlton Fisk‘s home run in Game 6 of the World Series, the Red Sox outfield buoyed the Red Sox offense. With the team WAR topping out at 31.9 for the year, Lynn/Evans/Rice accounted for 15.5 of that total. Three players responsible for just under half your entire roster’s WAR? Not too bad.
Even better is having that same statistic and winning a World Series ring.
The 2018 Red Sox, they finished the season with a 28.2 WAR from their batters. Of that 28.2, Betts/Benintendi/Bradley Jr. amassed 17.3 by themselves. That’s over 60% of the entire team’s WAR. It’s easy to see the similarities between these two iconic Red Sox outfields. And according to Boston.com, Lynn agreed with the comparison.
“Lynn said they remind him of “us,’’ a reference to the sensational outfield of Lynn, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans in the mid and late ’70s. It’s a high compliment, and one Evans, who won eight Gold Gloves in right field in 19 seasons (1972-90) with the Red Sox, is happy to second. “I have great appreciation for them,’’ said Evans, a special instructor in spring training. “Beyond their obvious ability, they’re very smart, and they’re always trying to get better. I love them individually and as a group. They’re the best in the game.’’
And yet, the Red Sox front office broke up the band.
There are two kinds of heartbreak in baseball’s offseason. There’s the one that comes from watching your team do nothing to better themselves. And there’s the kind that comes from watching a player who feels distinctively connected to your team walk away. The Red sox outfield from the 2018 World Series is a combination of both. That’s why it hurts to look back on what was once a reality for the Fenway Faithful.
Instead of being able to watch what could have been the all-time greatest outfield in Fenway history for years, Sox fans will have to piece together what could have been. The deals given to Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and David Price exercising of his contract option after the World Series didn’t pan out as the front office thought. It felt like the Red Sox could do anything in the future.
But once Dave Dombrowski left town, the Red Sox had to deal with a tough payroll ledger.
The outfield was primed to be broken up by a team that needed to build a future. They chose to start over rather than capitalize on the one that lay ahead of them.
The Boston Red Sox have made some dreadful roster decisions over the last 100+ years. Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Bagwell to the Astros. The Sox have made moves that seemed well-intentioned but fell flat. And now, Jackie Bradley, Jr. heads to Milwaukee, Mookie Betts suits up in Dodger blue and Andrew Benintendi joins the Royals kingdom. Red Sox fans are being asked to turn away from a bright future and face the current reality.
In the end, the Sox traded the tangible potential of one team for the potential of one that feels years away. That’s something Bostonians are not used to. And while that might feel like a “small market mindset,” it’s nothing abnormal for the rest of the league.
The Red Sox traded greatness for the promise of greatness. Sox fans were given something to believe in, only to have it exchanged for hope down the road. It doesn’t feel fair, because it’s not. But if there’s one thing you can say about Red Sox teams who faced unfair outcomes, it’s that they still live in our hearts. Whether it’s the 2018 outfield trio or the 1975 band of brothers.
The outfield green of Fenway Park, which has played host to hundreds of ballplayers, is not friendly to those unacquainted with its terrain.
But those who have been able to tame the wild beast, become a part of its historical landscape. Williamsburg and Pesky’s Pole might be physical pieces of that history, but others belong to the ethereal tapestry. So, while Fenway’s dimensions and unique structural features lend a “home-field advantage” to Fenway’s longtime residents, once in a while a group of men remind us of something important. Perhaps Home Field Advantage might not be judged by crowd noise, or distance, or angular design. Sometimes Home Field Advantage comes from the unique players and their skill sets that amplified the magic that can be the game of baseball.
So here’s to you, Benny, Mookie, and Jackie. Thank you for everything.
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