Mike Greenwell had a fine career and one where he was a home grown All Star with multiple trips to the post season.
The biggest stain on his legacy was he was NOT an MVP Hall of Famer, which seems harsh, but he was filling big shoes who filled big shoes who filled big shoes.
The Red Sox drafted “The Gator” out of North Fort Myers High School from Florida, thus the nickname. He was a left handed hitter with line drive power who seemed to be perfectly fitted to Fenway.
By 1984, the 20 year old was putting up good numbers at Single A Winston-Salem and made Red Sox fans think they had their next All Star brewing in their system. By the time he was in AAA Pawtucket in 1986, he was one of the best hitting prospects in baseball hitting for a high average, a terrific OPS (not that anyone knew that then) and power.
He so impressed the brass that he got a recall to the majors and was included on the post season roster. In fact he became manager John McNamara’s go to pinch hitter in the World Series over veterans like Don Baylor or Tony Armas.
The expectations for Greenwell were super high in 1987. While the team disappointed in their defense of the AL Pennant, Greenwell delivered, batting .328 his rookie year, hitting 19 homers, driving in 89 . His OPS was .956 and was leading the new batch of Red Sox along with Ellis Burks, Todd Benzinger, Sam Horn, John Marzano and Jody Reed.
Where he played was the question. He split his time between left field (giving legend Jim Rice time to DH or rest) or right field (giving legend Dwight Evans a chance at first base.) Either way, he was supplanting a legend.
In 1988, manager John McNamara made Mike Greenwell the starting left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Jim Rice would be the Designated Hitter.
You remember in 1988, this was the equivalent baseball wise of seeing the correct smoke flow out of the chimney and realizing you were chosen to be the Pope.
Save for World War II and Korea, when Ted Williams was in the service, left field at Fenway Park was reserved for an MVP, a legend and one destined for Cooperstown.
Ted Williams had it from 1939 to 1960 with the exception of the Military Service mentioned above. Carl Yastrzemski took it right over in 1961 and showed he was worthy of it in 1967 with the Impossible Dream. Yaz moved to first base to give way to Jim Rice in 1975, who slugged, mashed and hit his way to an MVP. (At the time, we did not realize it would take him 15 tries to get into Cooperstown, but he is there.)
So now Rice, struggling at the end of his career, was giving way to Greenwell. He had a solid rookie year. How would he handle the great new responsibility.
Out of the gate, it looked like the torch had been passed to the next legend.
He made the All Star Team, betting .325, posting an OPS of .946, homering 22 times and driving in 119. He was, at the time, considered to be the offensive force of the club. He batted .404 in June with an eye popping 1.216 OPS.
And when Joe Morgan took over for John McNamara, the team took off. He had an OPS of .948 in July and .944 in August at the peak of Morgan’s Magic as Boston rose from the dead to win the AL East.
Greenwell finished second to Jose Canseco for the AL MVP in 1988. Boston fans were satisfied. The superstar lineage in left had been transferred.
Jim Rice played his final season in 1989 and Dwight Evans played his last with Boston in 1990, so the remnants of the great legendary outfields of the 1970s and 1980s would give way to Greenwell.
He would have another All Star season in 1989 where he put up good if not spectacular numbers. In 1990, he had decent power numbers and a good average and a solid OPS and was a contributor to the Red Sox contending year.
As the Red Sox scrambled for the 1990 AL East title, he went 4 for 5 on September 1, homering and driving in 5 as the Red Sox demolished the Yankees 15-1 On the final day of the season, Greenwell sparked a second inning rally with a double and scored. The Red Sox would clinch the AL East that day.
Greenwell contributed to that Division Title but was not the superstar.
Throughout the 1990s, Greenwell would have solid years but not MVP ones. He would contribute to contenders, like when he hit 15 homers and batted .297 for the 1995 AL East champs, but not be the superstar.
He would have flashes of brilliance, like when he drove in 10 runs in a single game in 1996, but never be the driver.
It is unbelievably unfair to blame him for that. He was a home grown Red Sox All Star who played over a decade only for Boston, was part of multiple playoff teams and was a consistent productive player.
The fact that he fell out of favor because he wasn’t Yaz, Ted or Jim is the result of being spoiled rotten.
Greenwell publicly complained when Canseco revealed he used PEDs in 1988, saying the MVP should have been his that season. Not sure that is how it works. (Statistically, Wade Boggs was the best player on the 1988 Red Sox, but we didn’t know that then.)
I was never a Greenwell hater but I DID hope he would take the place in the Mount Rushmore of left fielders.
He didn’t. He just was a terrific player who gave a decade of solid hitting to my favorite team. That should be enough.
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