Publish Date: 03/24/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The Green Monster. Arguably the most well-known feature of a baseball park in existence. So much so that the Boston Red Sox have replicated it at their spring training complex at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida, and their Double-A affiliate in Portland, Maine built a likeness of the Green Monster when the Sea Dogs became a Red Sox affiliate in 2003. The mystique of the Green Monster isn’t just about the 37-foot wall in left field. It is the legacy of the players who have manned the position over the past 80 years: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell, Manny Ramirez. The newest member of this vaunted club appears to be young phenom Andrew Benintendi.
Let’s start where this legacy all began. The year is 1939, and the Boston Red Sox are coming off a year where, and tell me if you’ve heard this before, they finished second in the American League to the New York Yankees. The top name in the minor leagues that everyone has been raving about is a fresh-faced kid in San Diego by the name of Ted Williams. Had there been such a thing as a Rookie of the Year award in 1939, Ted Williams would have been the unanimous winner. The kid who became known as The Splendid Splinter would make an immediate splash on the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, hitting .327, leading the league with 344 total bases and drove in a major league high 145 runs while slamming 31 home runs. Williams would finish fourth in the voting for Most Valuable Player that year behind Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx and Bob Feller. The Kid had arrived.
We all know the story of what would become of Ted Williams, and what could have been. Williams would go on to hit 521 career home runs, hit .344 over his career and is still the all-time leader in on-base percentage at .482. Williams also missed six years of his prime, serving in the Air Force during both World War II and the Korean War. He would go on to win not one, but TWO Triple Crowns in 1942 and 1947, two MVP awards in 1946 and 1949, and was named to 19 All-Star Games. Williams would retire in 1960, leaving a Hall of Fame legacy that would be nearly impossible to fill.
Enter his replacement, Carl Yastrzemski. The man affectionately known as Yaz would make his debut in 1961 after the retirement of Ted Williams. He would bring a defensive presence to left field, something that Williams was notoriously known for not having. Yaz would win six Gold Glove awards, but don’t think that he didn’t bring the lumber when he was at the plate. Yaz broke out in 1963, leading the American League in batting, on-base percentage, hits, walks and doubles. Yastrzemski would become the second member of the Red Sox to win the Triple Crown in 1967, leading the team to the first of two World Series appearances in his career. While he would retire with the team in 1983, another young slugger would come up at the end of the 1974 season and announce his presence in left field, moving Yaz to first base as age started to take its’ toll.
Jim Rice would make his major league debut on August 19, 1974 and take over the full-time job in left field in his rookie season of 1975. Along with fellow rookie Fred Lynn and Yastrzemski, Rice would help lead the Red Sox to the American League title, falling to the Cincinnati Reds in a thrilling seven game World Series. Rice would finish 2nd in the Rookie of the Year voting to Lynn that year, and 3rd in the MVP race behind Lynn and Kansas City’s John Mayberry. Rice would become one of the most feared hitters in baseball for the next ten years, appearing in eight All-Star games, winning the MVP in 1978, becoming the first person in almost 20 years to attain 400 total bases (and would be the only person from 1960 to 1996 to reach the plateau) and very nearly winning the Triple Crown himself by leading the AL in home runs and RBI while finishing third in the AL in batting average. Rice would be the third straight Red Sox left fielder to win the MVP award with that 1978 title. As was the case with Yaz, eventually there would be another young player that would push Rice to a position change in 1987, this time to designated hitter.
Mike “Gator” Greenwell would have a couple of cup of coffee appearances in 1985 and 1986 before taking over the Green Monster in 1987. While injuries would rob Greenwell of much of the second half of his career, the first half of his career showed what he was capable of. In 1988, Greenwell would finish as the MVP runner-up to the steroid-filled Jose Canseco, reaching the first of his two All-Star game appearances and leading the Red Sox to the AL East division title. (For what it’s worth, his teammate Wade Boggs probably should have won the MVP that year ahead of both Canseco and Greenwell, but that’s another story.) Greenwell finished third in batting average, second in on-base percentage, fifth in slugging, third in OPS, third in hits, third in total bases, sixth in doubles, third in RBI and even finished fourth in triples. Injuries would rob the Gator of much of his last five years in Boston, but even at the end he would provide a career highlight, setting a major league record on September 2, 1996 by driving in all nine of the Red Sox runs in a 9-8 extra inning victory. Those 9 RBI are the most by a player who drove in all their team’s runs in a game. Greenwell would retire with a career .303 average in 1996.
The Red Sox would struggle to find a consistent left fielder for the next few years but would make a huge free agency splash after the 2000 season, signing slugger Manny Ramirez to an eight-year, $160 million contract. Ramirez was one of the best pure hitters in baseball both before joining the Red Sox and during his time with the Sox. While his many fielding antics are legendary (cutting off a Johnny Damon throw from center field for example), there is no doubt that Ramirez could mash the cover off the ball. Over the seven full seasons from 2001-2007 and until he was traded in July 2008, Ramirez would hit 274 home runs, hit .315 while reaching the All-Star game all eight years in Boston. Ramirez would help lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, winning the World Series MVP that year by hitting .412 in the four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals. Ramirez would help lead the team to another World Series in 2007 before being traded to the Dodgers in 2008.
The Red Sox would try to add both free agents and career minor leaguers to take over left field over the next eight years, but it would take another highly touted prospect to grab the job and take it over permanently in 2016. Andrew Benintendi burst onto the scene late in 2016 as a 21-year-old and grabbed hold of the left field job. He would hit .295 in 34 games in 2016 and was a favorite to win the 2017 Rookie of the Year award coming into the season. It would take a record-setting performance out of New York by Aaron Judge to deny Benintendi that Rookie of the Year award, but he would come out of the box last year by hitting .271 with 20 home runs, 90 RBI and 20 steals, becoming a part of the Killer B’s outfield with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. Benintendi became just the 12th rookie in 2017 to reach the 20/20 plateau. The future appears to be bright in left field again in Boston with the talented Benintendi covering the position. At just 23 years old, Benintendi has made his presence known and has the potential to continue a long lineage of All-Star left fielders in Beantown.