It’s hard to imagine a more eclectic Red Sox Hall of Fame class than the five men — and one memorable moment — that are being honored today as 2010’s inductees.
There is a power-hitting shortstop, John Valentin, who had the nameplate “Sunshine” above his locker as an acknowledgment of his endearingly grumpy nature. There are two managers — Eddie Kasko and Don Zimmer, the latter of whom never expected his day to come. There was a record-setting base thief, Tommy Harper, whose place in Red Sox history extends well beyond anything he accomplished on the field. There is an outfielder, Jimmy Piersall, who was the inspiration for the film “Fear Strikes Out.”
And for the memorable moment, right fielder Tom Brunansky’s game-saving, division-clinching catch on Oct. 3, 1990? If there’s a replay that actually shows him snaring the ball when he made the sliding catch out of camera range along the right field line, please post it on YouTube, because Red Sox fans would love to see it.
“It’s really an amazing group,” said, yes, a sunny Valentin while looking around the room during a media availability session at the EMC Club at Fenway Park this morning. “It’s, what, probably three generations of Red Sox history represented here? It’s truly an almost unbelievable honor to be a part of it. I was lucky to play on some great teams with some great teammates, and to be remembered for all the years I spent with the Red Sox is pretty humbling.”
The formal induction took place at a luncheon today. There is also a ceremony planned before tonight’s game at Fenway Park.
Before the meet and greet with the media, the inductees, as well as former Red Sox players such as Luis Tiant and Bob Stanley, milled about and chatted. When Valentin, who played for the Sox from 1992-2001, playing on three playoff teams and batting .279 with 124 home runs, spotted Brunansky, he greeted him with a hug and a “Great to see you, Bruno.”
While they were teammates for just one season in Boston, 1992, they both share a significant place in franchise lore. While Brunansky, who played for the Sox from 1990-92 and ’94, doesn’t get back to Boston often — he lives in San Diego and recently accepted a job as a rookie-league coach in the Minnesota system — he said he’s frequently reminded of his time with the Sox, and a certain catch in particular.
“Oh, anytime I meet anyone from Boston, it’s the first thing they say,” Brunansky said. “It’s pretty amazing. I mean, I wasn’t there for that long of a time, and I’m reminded of that as much as I am of anything I accomplished in my career. (Brunansky hit 271 homers in a career spanning from 1980-94.) Red Sox fans, man, they know their stuff. I remember one game I had made a play — crashed into the wall, busted up my rib, and dropped the ball into the bullpen for a home run.
“I went to the racetrack later that night, my rib was still killing me,” Brunansky says with a chuckle, “and some guy yells across, ‘Hey, Brunansky! Nice catch!’ So I’m glad those guys remember me for one I actually made.”
Speaking of vocal fans, the inclusion of Zimmer — the class is selected by a 14-member panel — might have come as the biggest surprise. A proud baseball lifer who managed the Red Sox during a tumultuous era (1976-80), he often clashed with free-spirited players such as Bill Lee, Ferguson Jenkins, and Bernie Carbo. The talent-rich Red Sox never could win a division title in the loaded AL East, most notoriously losing a 14.5-game lead over the Yankees during the ’78 season, eventually losing a one-game playoff.
While Zimmer was often a target of fans and talk radio, he said today that Red Sox management never failed to treat him fairly.
“I loved being part of the Red Sox organization,” said Zimmer, who won 91 games or more three times as the Red Sox manager. “They always treated me with class. I had some problems with fans from time to time, but Boston has knowledgeable fans and they really do love the Red Sox. If things are going bad, they’ll tell you. But I could handle myself. Rather than telling them to go [expletive] in a hat, sometimes I’d just say, ‘Yeah, you know, maybe you’re right. You think that’s what I should do?’ Always stopped ’em in their tracks right there.”
Tommy Harper, whose club stolen-base record of 54 in 1973 — when he was voted the team’s MVP — stood until Jacoby Ellsbury broke it last year, was also honored. The inclusion of Harper, who has worked for the Red Sox for a total of 21 years in various capacities, was another example of fair treatment, for while his accomplishments as a player were impressive, his courage is also part of his Red Sox legacy.
To their credit, the Red Sox acknowledged the particular circumstances in their release today touting Harper’s contributions:
In 1984, Tommy was instrumental in the recognition and resolution of a long-standing discriminatory practice in the team’s spring training location. At the time, the Elks Club Restaurant in Winter Haven, Fla., was providing complimentary dining passes to only white members of the Red Sox and the media. Harper’s outspoken efforts brought the issue to the forefront and contributed to policy changes that endured the organization would no longer tolerate this practice.
While Harper said he didn’t believe his induction was any more overdue than anyone else who was honored today, he said he had received occasional acknowledgment through the years that his day would eventually come.
“Over the years some people have said, you know, with your record as a player, and the standing up for justice in the ’80s, you deserve to be in there. Everything in the organization that Ive done is with the intent of bringing the organization forward.”
Piersall, who overcame a high-profile battle with mental illness to spend nine seasons with the Sox (1950-58), was a well-rounded outfielder with outstanding speed and defensive skills who batted .273 with 66 homers. Kasko, who managed from 1970-73 and helped such players as Carlton Fisk and Dwight Evans blossom as major leagues, was actually chosen as the non-uniformed inductee of this year’s class. He served in various capacities with the Red Sox, including scouting director in late ’70s, before retiring in 1994.