As the MLB playoffs continue with two very dishonest franchises vying it out in the American League Championship Series, it’s time to balance out our exploration of the sport’s cheating-est teams: We’ve neglected analyzing the Boston Red Sox for far too long, considering their long past with PED use and more-recent sign stealing.
So this is our first entry in the Fenway Frauds series, starting with the pre-BALCO/pre-Mitchell Report era which occurred before the team won its first World Series in 86 seasons (2004). We know the Sox were open to PEDs, thanks to previously shared intel, but how far back does the fraudulent behavior go? We say 1998, and we will explain why: The Yankees, primarily.
The Red Sox couldn’t stand both losing Roger Clemens to free agency (and his choice to use PEDs, too, for extended success elsewhere) after the 1996 season and watching the Yankees win another World Series the same October. With Ken Caminiti and his relatively open use of PEDs netting him an NL MVP Award in 1996; the 1997 season and Mark McGwire hitting huge home runs; and a losing season in 1997 which saw Boston finish 20 games out of first place, the organization turned to the Dark Side.
While our The House That Steroids Built series is running backward, we will be going forward with this one. Enjoy!
Exhibit A: Mike Stanley
This is an interesting case study, as Stanley spent parts of five seasons with the Red Sox, playing in 459 total games for the franchise. His career OPS was .827, but his Boston years (1996-2000, the final five seasons of his career that ended when he was 37 years old, i.e. past his prime entirely) produced an .864 OPS. So Stanley got better than ever with the Red Sox at the time when he should have been in decline.
We will note here that Fenway Park is a hitter’s park, so some bump in offensive stats (and conversely, some decline in pitching stats) would be expected, but that’s quite the anomaly when we consider the fact his statistical prime would have been over by the time he joined the Boston organization, and so a decline was in order. Stanley was a good hitter elsewhere (.882 OPS with the Yankees, for example, during his prime from 1992 to 1995 (and part of 1997 after a trade between the two teams).
Stanley did, in fact, decline a little bit going from New York to Boston, and with the bump from Fenway’s dimensions, it’s possible that his time with the Red Sox just reflected a slower decline than statistically expected. However, we are skeptical due to the steep decline in players with Stanley’s tool set: the three outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run). He was primarily a designated hitter and not much of a fielder, so even his profile would seem to be an anomaly, but considering where he was playing … jury’s out for now.
Exhibit B: Jim Leyritz
It’s ironic these first two guys also played for the Yankees before coming to Boston. Leyritz only played 52 games with Boston in 1998 before the club shipped him off to San Diego, but he produced a .904 OPS with the Red Sox at age 34, in contrast to his career .777 OPS mark. Already, that just smells funny, even if it is a small sample size.
In fact, it was one of only two part-time seasons that Leyritz posted an OPS that high; the other time was in 1993 over 95 games with the Yankees (.935) when he was 29 years old. After leaving Boston, Leyritz posted an .803 OPS with the Padres over 62 games, and in 1999, he struggled to put together a .749 OPS with both the Padres and the Yankees over 81 games combined.
By 2000, Leyritz was scuffling to the tune of a .575 OPS in 65 games with the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. That was the final season of his career, at age 36. This is that steep decline we spoke of for three-outcome guys: Leyritz went straight downhill after leaving Fenway Park midway through the 1998 season. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but considering that right before playing for the Red Sox, he could only muster a .772 OPS over 121 games in 1997 for the Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers, it’s fishy.
Exhibit C: Midre Cummings
This is random outlier, as Cummings’ career never amounted to much: He only played 460 MLB games over 11 seasons, posting a .703 OPS in the process. However, in 67 games with Boston during the 1998 season, Cummings managed to produce at an .856 clip—by far the best effort of his mediocre career. At age 26, it’s entirely possible this was his “peak” overall.
Yet his next-best, “full-season” effort in those 11 partial MLB seasons was .741 in 1997 with both the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburgh Pirates, combined over 115 games. And the year after he was in Boston, Cummings played for the Minnesota Twins and produced just a .652 OPS. So whatever “growth” he attained in Boston disappeared overnight at age 27, when he should have been betting better.
Needless to say, Cummings was out of the majors by 2002 although he had cups of coffee with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2004 at age 32 and with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005 at age 33. He was never a good player—save for the one season he played in Boston with the Red Sox. This fits the pattern we’ve shown in the San Francisco Giants version of this series, for sure.
Exhibit D: Tom Gordon
Flash spent 8 seasons with Kansas City (1988-1995) as a sometime starter and sometime reliever, to the tune of a 4.02 ERA and a 1.415 WHIP. He then joined the Red Sox from 1996 to 1999, posting a 4.45 ERA and a 1.405 WHIP. That’s the Fenway Bump for pitchers, of course, with some growth reflected in the WHIP. However, looking at Gordon’s 1998 season is a case study all on its own.
Truth be told, the Boston organization switched Gordon from a starter to a closer halfway through the 1997 season, and that was a game changer for Flash. He never started another MLB game from 1998 on to the end of his career at age 41 in 2009. But even looking at his age-30 season in 1998, it looks kind of weird: 2.72 ERA, a 1.008 WHIP, and a career-low 0.2 HR/9 rate—even in Fenway Park.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Gordon was hurt in 1999 and never pitched for the Red Sox again. One serious sign of PED use is often injury after use begins, given the additional and unnatural strains put on a body’s infrastructure. In this case, Gordon hurt his elbow and needed surgery, not that uncommon among pitchers, of course. He did appear in a career-high 69 games in 1998, too, which could have added to the strain. But he still managed a career season at age 30 despite making all those appearances.
Conclusion: One step up, two steps back
The irony is that the Red Sox improved from 78 wins in 1997 to 92 wins in 1998—and still finished even farther out of first place thanks to the Yankees’ 1998 dominance (114 wins, a record at the time). This just had to make the Red Sox stew even more so, coining the “Evil Empire” mentality that the Boston organization began to manifest in its psyche about the New York organization.
These players represent the probable—although not conclusive, yet—start of a cheating pattern in Boston that was full blown by 2004, but big storms always announce themselves with a single raindrop or four, so that’s why we will continue to track the Fenway Frauds from this season going forward: to establish the patterns that any good critical thinker would recognize.