Legacy Lives, Number May Not

World champion BoSox may not have any numbers retired

The 2004 and 2007 Boston Red Sox teams won the World Series, but it's possible that none of the players' numbers will be retired.

It takes more than simply wearing the classic uniform and winning a pair of championships for the Boston Red Sox to retire a number. Not even 500 career home runs, 3,000 hits or a bloody sock will do it either.
According the team's official Web site, the requirements to retire numbers include election to the Baseball Hall of Fame and at least 10 years as a member of the Boston Red Sox. 

In the past, players also had to retire as a member of the team. That rule was withdrawn in 2000, when the Red Sox retired Carlton Fisk's #27 in 2000. (Fisk retired with the Chicago White Sox).

Now consider this: Boston went 86 years between World Series Championships: 1918-2004. 

Many Sox fans during the span did not live to see the 2004 championship. For those of us who did, it's something we will tell our children about. It's something many of us could swear happened only yesterday, even though we're now two years removed from our most recent victory lap. I'm sure I'm not the only one who saved the next day's issue of my local newspaper, which read something along the lines of, "Champs At Last," or "Cursed To First," or simply "Finally!" in 3-inch block letters.
When we look back on those championship teams that brought so much indescribable bliss to so many beleagured fans, there are certain names that will stand out: Big Papi, Manny, 'Tek, Schilling, Foulke, Beckett and Papelbon, to name several.
These names and many more are synoymous with two of the greatest Red Sox teams ever to set foot in historic Fenway Park. We remember. But will the Red Sox themselves remember? It is possible, even likely, that the organization will not bestow its greatest honor upon any individual from either team -- a retired number.
Consider what it took to win those two championships. Curt Schilling's grisly ankle injury. Keith Foulke essentially sacrificing his career to get the Sox across the finish line in '04. Two consecutive ALCS games were won against the Yankees off the bat of David Ortiz while Boston stared into the face of elimination. Millar's crucial walk in the 9th inning of Game 4. Dave Roberts' stolen base heard 'round the world. Bill Mueller's miracle seeing-eye single off of baseball's all-time greatest closer.

Should all of these guys have their numbers retired? Certainly not.

However, several of these players stand a good chance of one day making the Hall of Fame, prominent. Among them, Schilling and Manny Ramirez -- two players that, without them, the Red Sox could easily be on 92 years and counting right now.

Neither Schilling nor Manny played 10 seasons in Boston. Schilling played for the Sox for four seasons before his career was derailed by age and injuries. He was forced to retire before the 2009 season. Manny was traded in 2008, mid-way through his 8th season with the club and left under highly publicized strained relations with the team and fans.

Then there's Jason Varitek, who captained both championship teams. 'Tek has played 12 seasons for Boston, but is undoubtedly a longshot to make the Hall of Fame. Still, he has played for the Red Sox his entire career, will very likely retire as a member of the team and is the franchise's all-time leader in games caught.

To date, the Red Sox have retired just eight numbers:

  • 1: Bobby Doerr
  • 4: Joe Cronin
  • 6: Johnny Pesky*
  • 8: Carl Yastrzemski
  • 9: Ted Williams
  • 14: Jim Rice
  • 27: Fisk
  • 42: Jackie Robinson. 

*Johnny Pesky's #6 was retired in 2008 and like Fisk, had the criteria for number retirement partially waived for him: he is not in the Hall of Fame.

So the precedent has been set. The critera appears to be more a set of "guidelines" rather than hard and fast rules. However, for anyone from the '04 or '07 championship teams to have their number enshrined alongside the likes of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemzski, they might have to receive considerably more flexibility.

The shadow of steroids allegations has recently fallen on Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz.  Although Ortiz remains in the good graces of most Red Sox fans, it's unlikely that he will make it to 10 years with the team, or be elected to the Hall of Fame, which has historically shunned designated hitters.

So, while it would take something less than a miracle for a member of the 2004 or 2007 Red Sox to have their number retired (keep in mind that many players are still too young to make any kind of determination), there are by no means any mortal locks out there. 

When all is said and done, it might be that the sole reminder we Sox fans have of the teams that brought us such elation will be our memories and some old newspapers.

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