True believers wearing Red Sox caps have dominated the lawn outside the Hall with regularity to watch great players with those same hats on their Hall of Fame plaques enshrined.
In the many years I have been a follower of the Red Sox, through the good times and the bad, they have almost always had a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting in their lineup. From Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr to Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice, and Wade Boggs, down through Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz, that has been the case. About the only time they didn't have a Hall of Famer on the roster was the early 90s, but that's when they had Roger Clemens, whom everyone knew was good enough to be in Cooperstown. Then he left Boston for greener pastures and the morass of steroid suspicions.
True believers wearing Red Sox caps have dominated the lawn outside the Hall with regularity to watch great players with those same hats on their Hall of Fame plaques enshrined. Before David Ortiz in 2022, there was Pedro Martinez in 2015, Jim Rice in 2009, Wade Boggs in 2005, Carlton Fisk in 2000, and so it has gone down through the years. But it might be a long, long time before another player wearing a Red Sox cap becomes a Hall of Famer. A look at the team's roster reveals no one else who is in danger of gaining admission to the museum on Main Street in Cooperstown without paying the fee.
For purposes of this discussion, we are not including players such as Dennis Eckersley, Luis Aparicio, and Tom Seaver, who played for the Red Sox but earned their Cooperstown stripes with other teams.
Mookie Betts is thought by many to be headed toward Cooperstown, but when (and if) he gets there, it will almost certainly be as a Dodger, to whom he is contractually bound for more than a decade to come. Rafael Devers, who still has most of his career ahead of him, might well be spending it elsewhere if the Red Sox don't loosen their purse strings. Xander Bogaerts is an all-star, but is he a Hall of Famer? We'll see. Chris Sale has been an excellent pitcher, but he has never won more than 17 games in a season, and has a career total of only 114 victories. Those are not Hall of Fame numbers.
Projecting who will or won't be in the Hall of Fame before careers are over is a dangerous business. The truth is that your guess is as good as mine. After the first several years of his time in the big leagues, Nomar Garciaparra seemed like a can't-miss candidate; he was the first right-handed batter in the American League since Joe DiMaggio to win back-to-back batting titles and he was a wonderful fielder, but he was done in by injuries. Roger Clemens and Alex Rogriguez both looked like sure things, but both got hung up in steroids controversies. On the other side of the ledger, Phil Niekro, the knuckle-balling wizard, had a won-lost record on the day he turned 30 years old of just 54 and 40. Nobody was thinking of him in terms of Cooperstown. By the time he was through, he had won 318 times, 121 after the age of 40. He was enshrined in the Hall in 1997.
Everyone thinks of Mookie Betts as a future Hall of Famer, but is he? When he first arrived in Los Angeles to play for the Dodgers, he had won the American League batting title by hitting .346 for the Red Sox, but since moving to the National League his average has shrunk by more than 70 points, to just .271. He has not hit .300 since 2018; as of this writing he's at .269 for the year. He is still a wonderful outfielder with a strong, accurate throwing arm and he is a game-changer on the base paths. His power numbers are better than ever; he currently has 23 home runs as compared to 22 for his former teammate, Raffy Devers. However, Devers is hitting more than 50 points higher, at .324. Betts currently leads the National League in runs scored but is not among the leaders in RBI. He is one heckuva player who anyone would want on his team, but is he the player the Dodgers thought he was when they signed him to that $365 million, 13-year deal a few years ago? Not quite.
Meanwhile, what of Devers? So far, he's only getting better. His defense has improved every year, and he has made himself into an asset on that side of the ball. His hitting has become more and more consistent each year and he has become one of baseball's most elite hitters. Devers becomes a free agent after the 2023 season and his asking price is sure to be in the Mookie Betts range. The Red Sox traded Betts rather than meet his demands and since then the market has gone even higher; Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals is said to be looking for a $500 million dollar deal for his services. Crazy as that seems, he might get it. It kind of makes you wish you had learned to hit a curveball when you were a kid, doesn't it?
So, what will the Red Sox look like in the years ahead? They might be pretty good. They might have a roster of players who have flown under the radar and are not big stars. They might sell off those who are becoming big stars and get real value for them before they get too expensive. They might become -- dare we say it -- the Tampa Bay Rays of the north. They might be over achievers, just like the Rays are. And they might draw only about 15,000 a night, just like the Rays do.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.