Throughout my life, I’ve seen a parade of players come through the Red Sox organization that I expected great things from. Some were home grown, others were acquired via trades or free agency. Many of these players lived up to or even exceeded those lofty expectations.

But for every Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Dustin Pedroia, and J.D. Martinez, there are a hundred guys who began that long ascent to stardom, only to flame out due to injury, poor work ethic, lack of mental toughness, organizational mismanagement, or simply being undeserving of the lofty standards that I had set for them. I may be a huge Red Sox fan, but I’m no professional scout.

Particularly in my youth, the bar that I would set in my mind for a new player was based on nothing more than limited exposure to his play, word of mouth, and gut feeling. Thus, I probably had no business expecting someone I knew so little about to just stroll into Boston and become an impact player in short order. Needless to say, this half-assed system of player evaluation has led to a whole lot of disappointment in my day, especially my younger days.

In fact, I could fill out a whole team made entirely of players that I had earmarked for success in Boston upon their arrival, but who ultimately could not quite break free from the shackless of mediocrity.

Here is the starting lineup for my All Not-Quite Team. 

1. Bob Zupcic, CF

Zupcic emerged as an early bright spot at the start of the abysmal Butch Hobson era. A rookie who could play all three outfield positions, Zupcic’s average soared as high as .342 in mid-July of his rookie year of 1992. His brief highlight reel was built entirely on the suffering of the Detroit Tigers, including a walk-off grand slam and robbing a home run from Mickey Tettleton, he of the goofiest batting stance of my childhood. Pitchers figured Zupcic out in the second half of ’92, precipitating a free fall from which he never recovered. He was out of the Major Leagues by the end of ’94.


2. Tim Naehring, SS
From the moment he debuted in 1990, Naehring struck me as the kind of guy you can build a team around. From his grit and balls style to his willingness to play all over the infield, I had huge hopes for him by the time he became the everyday third baseman in 1995. Back problems stunted his early development in The Show, but he seemed to finally put it all together when he hit .307 on the 1995 playoff team and followed it up with a career year in ’96, hitting .288 with 17 HR and 65 RBI. On pace to become a bona fide star in ’97, his season was tragically cut short by a shoulder injury he suffered diving for a ball. Like that of Dustin Pedroia, Naehring’s career is a cautionary tale that leads the Manny Machados of the world to elect not to be “Johnny Hustle” between the lines.

3. Carl Everett, DH

Though he will always be a hero for breaking up Mike Mussina’s Fenway Park perfect game bid and dubbing Dan Shaughnessy the “Curly-Haired Boyfriend,” Carl Everett did not live up to his potential in Boston. Despite an outstanding first year with the Red Sox in 2000 (.300 BA, 34 HR, 108 RBI), Everett’s umpire bumping, crotch grabbing, and media sparring caused more trouble than he was worth. After a bum shoulder and general surliness led to a disappointing and uncomfortable 2001, Dan Duquette traded him to the Rangers for blah reliever Darren Oliver.


4. Nick Esasky, 1B
Esasky differs from his teammates in this lineup because his entire tenure in Boston, all one year of it, was incredible. I’d never heard of the man before 1989, when he and lefty Rob Murphy were traded to the Red Sox in exchange for the forgettable Todd Benzinger and Jeff Sellers. He exploded onto the scene, cranking 30 bombs and 108 RBI, and Sox fans were outraged when he was lost in free agency to Atlanta. As soon as he got paid, however, his career came to an abrupt end after nine games with the Braves due to vertigo, of all things, caused by an ear infection. Just as he reached the cusp of greatness, his career was over at age 30.

5. Phil Plantier, LF

Plantier was in the same Paw Sox class as Naehring, and by 1992 my brother and I were convinced that both players would be huge pieces of the team that would help Clemens, Boggs, Greenwell, and Burks get the ring that Evans and Rice never could. All it took was 53 games in 1991 (.331 BA, 11 HR, 35 RBI in 175 AB) to sell me on Plantier as a no-doubt superstar. However, Plantier nosedived in 1992 (.246 BA, 7 HR, 30 RBI in 349 AB), and GM Lou Gorman sold low on him after the season. While he managed 30 HRs and 100 RBI in San Diego in 1993, he regressed again in ’94, after which he never regained the pop that had blown me away in his rookie season.

6. Shea Hillenbrand, 3B

Coming out of nowhere to really impress me in 2001, Hillenbrand excelled enough to become the AL’s starting third baseman in the 2002 All-Star Game. While I admired his aggressiveness, intensity, and knack for big hits, Hillenbrand’s frequent whiffs, poor defense, and crappy attitude became the impetus for his departure from Boston. After Theo Epstein acquired surehanded contact hitter Bill Mueller (the eventual batting champion) to play third base in 2003, Hillenbrand demanded a trade during a radio interview, calling Epstein a homosexual slur in the process. He also shot his way out of Toronto a couple years later, with manager John Gibbons even challenging him to a fight in front of the entire team. Shea backed down from the challenge, and was out of baseball a couple years later.

7. Blake Swihart, C

Once the most promising prospects in the Red Sox minor league system, the Red Sox jerked Swihart around until he had nothing left to give. He was said to have tons of offensive potential as a catcher, a position where any offensive production is considered a huge plus. Color me flabbergasted that the duo of Dave Dombrowski and John Farrell couldn’t figure out how to properly put his skills to use. Though he came up through the minors as a catcher, the Red Sox brass experimented with him in left field, where he gruesomely injured his ankle chasing after a ball in Fenway Park’s treacherous left field corner. The injury ended his 2016 and cost him virtually all of 2017. With Christian Vazquez cemented as the starting catcher following his recovery, Swihart was futilely auditioned at six different positions in 2018 and 2019. His development trounced and his value drained, he was traded to Arizona for pennies in 2019, where his career fizzled out with a sad whimper.

8. Wes Chamberlain, RF

Okay, this one is totally my fault. I watched Chamberlain perform well in the 1993 NLCS against the Braves, my second favorite team, and made up my mind that he was a really good player based on a miniscule sample size. When the Red Sox traded for him in early 1994, I felt like they pulled off a major score. I thought Chamberlain would form a nice righthanded power tandem with aging legend Andrew Dawson to support a so-so offense led by MVP candidate Mo Vaughn. Looking up Chamberlain’s numbers now, I understand that I had no business whatsoever expecting any kind of serious production from him. He notched 42 hits and 38 strikeouts in 51 games in ’94, all of which were largely unimpressive, yet right in line with his career averages. He squeezed 19 games out of the 1995 season before calling it quits. 

9. Jose Offerman, 2B

Over two decades before Chaim Bloom replaced Mookie Betts with Alex Verdugo, Dan Duquette replaced Mo Vaughn with Jose Offerman. Banking off his career year in 1998, when he hit .315 with a .403 OBP and 13 triples, Offerman made a killing with a 4-year, $26 million contract from Boston. While I never saw much in Offerman during his days in Los Angeles and Kansas City, a young and naïve me figured that Duquette would never think of replacing Vaughn with anything less than a can’t-miss player who could take up a good deal of the slack. So I bit the bullet and talked myself into being excited for the Jose Offerman era. He was an All-Star in his first year in Boston, but quickly Plantier’d himself into oblivion, his OBP spiraling (.391, .354, .342, .320) in each year of what is still considered one of the worst contracts in team history. Offerman’s greatest notoriety came in his post-MLB days, where he bashed opposing players with a bat in one minor league game and punched an umpire in another.

Aaron Sele, P

After a great rookie season in 1993 (7-2, 2.94 ERA), Sele never regained that ace-like form once MLB hitters had half a season of film on him to study. The guy I had pegged as the perfect number two to follow Roger Clemens in a playoff series left Boston a year after the Rocket did, posting a 5.38 ERA in his final year with the Red Sox. He rebounded with some exceptional teams in Texas and Seattle, winning at least 15 games in each of the next four seasons and becoming a two-time All Star. He retired in 2007, rounding out an excellent 15-year big league career with a record of 148-112 with a 4.61 ERA. Had Duquette not cut bait too soon, the Red Sox just may have had a deep enough rotation to give the Yankees an honest run for their money in the 1999 ALCS.

Anyone notice a pattern with the timeline here? 

If you feel that the Chaim Bloom era has been an unmitigated disaster, count your blessings that you’re either too young or your memory is too dull to remember the days before John Henry came along. Fenway Sports Group saved us from a rudderless ship that never spent enough to buy in, yet never committed enough to a full-scale rebuild. Waffling in the middle is the worst case scenario in many ways, and waffling is the one area where the 1990s Red Sox excelled. 

By Luke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.