Welcome to another edition of Fenway Frauds: This time we are examining the 2002 roster of the Boston Red Sox. This team finished with 93 victories and still ended up 10.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East Division—and 6 games behind the Anaheim Angels for the AL wild-card spot. That must have just added more frustration to the mix for the most insecure city on the East Coast.
Remember, too, that in addition to suspect case studies below, this roster also featured Brian Daubach and Manny Ramírez, two players we’ve already profiled here in this miniseries. Continuing to fall short only pained the organization even more than it was already experiencing, leading to dubious decision-making processes in a desperate attempt to catch the Evil Empire.
Exhibit A: Derek Lowe
At age 29 in 2002, this pitcher always had been a reliever (mostly), and somehow, the Red Sox converted him into a starter who tossed almost 100 more innings in a season than he ever had before—and did it successfully, to the point Lowe posted a near-best seasonal ERA. We have seen this happen before, but what makes this situation stand out is Lowe was terrible in a prior attempt to start.
Back in 1997 when he was with the Seattle Mariners, he made 9 starts at age 24 and posted a 6.96 ERA. One season later, now with Boston, Lowe made 10 starts and posted a 4.02 ERA. But even then, the Red Sox didn’t fully convert him to a starter until 2002. He made 3 starts in 1999, 2000, and 2001 combined, even making the AL All-Star team in 2000 as a closer who led the league with 42 saves.
The reason teams don’t often do this is that it is rare the change works. But somehow this did, converting an All-Star closer into a starter who posted a 2.58 ERA in 219 2/3 IP when Lowe had never thrown more than 123 innings in a season before. In fact, he threw just 183 IP combined in 2000 and 2001, so this was a big leap for his arm. Lowe would have needed huge strength/stamina help here.
But he made the AL All-Star team again, this time as a starter. Remember, usually it works the other way: converting a crap starter into a good reliever, as Boston already did with Lowe. For the rest of his career, Lowe never came close to this kind of performance again. We have to ask how close his locker was to Manny’s in the Red Sox clubhouse. His career ERA as a starter was 4.19 overall, by the way. Hmmm.
Exhibit B: Tim Wakefield
Remember that PEDs aren’t just about steroids, as that is just a convenient, catch-all term for PEDs for the masses. Most PEDs have nothing to do with steroids, in truth. We also know Wakefield was a knuckleballer, and why would a guy like that need to use PEDs? Stamina, in a word. During the 2002 season at age 35, Wakefield posted the lowest full-season ERA (2.81) of his long career. How?
Good question: His first MLB action came in 1992, when he tossed just 92 IP for the Pittsburgh Pirates to the tune of a 2.15 ERA. But then he regressed in 1993 (posting a 5.61 ERA) and was released by the Pirates before the start of the 1995 season, when Boston picked him up. He had a good season for the Red Sox (16-8, 2.95 ERA) before regressing again in 1996 (5.14 ERA). He was all over the place.
Which makes this 2002 so puzzling: His ERA and WHIP (1.053) stand out like sore thumbs amid the stretch of mediocrity that Wakefield posted in his Boston career from 1996 to 2011. Seriously: What was going on here? This is a guy with a career 4.41 ERA in MLB and a career 4.43 ERA with the Red Sox. Something was going on with Wakefield during the 2002 season, and we can only guess what it was.
Exhibit C: Alan Embree
A 16-year MLB career with 10 different teams produced a 4.59 ERA in this case. But in 2002, at age 32, Embree had his best season ever, posting a 2.18 ERA splitting time between the San Diego Padres and the Red Sox. Of course, he was managed in San Diego by Bruce Bochy, the enabler of Ken Caminiti and many other PED suspects during his long managerial career.
And guess which team Embree pitched for before he went to the Padres? The San Francisco Giants from 1999-2001, the very first seasons we know Barry Bonds was juicing in The House That Steroids Built. So, Embree goes from San Francisco to San Diego to Boston—that’s like riding the PED Express, really. Forget six degrees of separation: Embree was in the middle of the whole MLB movement to cheat.
In his first 36 appearances of 2002 with the Padres, he put up a 1.26 ERA, and then San Diego traded him to Boston for chump change, and in 32 appearances with the Red Sox, Embree managed a 2.97 ERA in an extreme hitters’ park. Even that 2.97 mark is odd, considering his career number. What’s interesting is that Embree was never this good again: His overall Boston ERA was 4.69 ERA, for example.
In 2001 at age 31, Embree managed a 7.33 ERA splitting time with the Giants and the Chicago White Sox. He knew his career was on the line, and he might have decided to sign with the Padres in an attempt to get some Caminiti magic injected into his career. It worked, that’s for sure, as he ended up pitching for another 8 MLB seasons and collecting at least $18M more in salary after making this fateful decision.
Conclusion: Contextual psychology for those who choose to cheat
We have two things to remind everyone of here: First, not everyone who uses gets caught, and second, not everyone who uses continues to use. These are basic facts for all illegal or recreational use of controlled substances. Both circumstances apply to the players on today’s list, for sure, as we have little doubt guys like Wakefield or Embree used for more than a short period of time.
But Lowe must have been doing something to help him return to starting, this time effectively after pretty much sucking at it earlier in his MLB career. And Embree’s career pathway through known PED environments is too coincidental to ignore—as is the payoff he gained if he only chose to use for this one season. That reward was well worth the risk in a time period when there was no PED testing going on.