In honor of the recent spate of injury-related call-ups, I wanted to take a look at some of the most surprising and productive replacement players the Sox have had over the years. This is obviously weighted pretty heavily toward the years I’ve been an active fan — essentially 1987-present.
These selections are completely arbitrary; my definition of ‘replacement’ is essentially ‘players who were not supposed to play a major role on the team, but did’. If you think I forgot someone (which I almost certainly did), mention them in the comments. Hopefully one of the current Sox replacements will be up here on this list a few years from now — the team certainly needs someone to step up given the current injury bug.
Brian Daubach, 1999
I had to start off with Dauber, for me the quintessential Sox replacement player. A career minor leaguer, Daubach had had only a cup of coffee with the Marlins when he got called up to join the Sox opening the 1999 season. With Mike Stanley at first and Reggie Jefferson at DH, it looked like a bench role was in the cards; however, Daubach came out of the gate strong, and by mid May was a regular at first base and DH. He never had a season as good as his ’99 campaign (.294/.360/.562 with 21 homers) but he played a major role in getting that underdog team to the ALCS and was arguably the second-best offensive player on the club, behind Nomar.
Bill Mueller, 2003
Maybe David Ortiz would be a better choice here, but he still gets discussed quite a bit, and I wanted to give a bit of recognition to Bill Mueller. Signed as part of Theo’s ‘throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks’ strategy in 2003 (along with Ortiz, Jeremy Giambi, the bullpen by committee, and the ghost of John Burkett), Mueller, then 32, had never been a full-time player. However, once Shea Hillenbrand convinced management to drop him off at the nearest town dump, Mueller settled into his role as the everyday third baseman… and went on to win the American League batting title with an extraordinary season both at the plate (.326/.398/.540 with 19 HR and 45 doubles) and in the field, where I’d still rank his ability to charge and barehand a roller up there with anyone. Mueller may wind up being better remembered as the guy that drove Dave Roberts in with a single off Mariano Rivera in 2004, but 2003 was his career year, and an amazing story.
Juan Pena, 1999
Ah, the legend of Juan Pena. Two games. Thirteen innings. One run. 15 strikeouts, three walks… and he was never heard from again. Pena was drafted in the 27th round of the 1995 draft. He moved slowly up through the minors, never really having massive success, but always pitching well enough. In Pawtucket in 1999, he had a pedestrian 4.12 ERA, despite being a strikeout machine. But when he was called up to Boston for a short stint in May, he lit the team on fire with two sterling pitching performances: a six inning, one run effort against Anaheim, followed by seven scoreless innings against Toronto. Then… he vanished. Back to the minors, with an elbow injury soon to follow, Juan Pena never made the majors again. Instead, he bounced up and down in the Sox system, then out to the independent and Mexican leagues before finally leaving organized baseball in 2005. Still, those two electric performances in May of 1999 stay with me — fireworks from a highly unexpected source.
Dave Roberts, 2004
He was acquired for one reason, and one reason only: dude could run. The best base stealer in the game at the time, Roberts was a strategic move which worked out beyond anyone’s wildest hopes. It was Dave Roberts who, pinch running for Kevin Millar in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS stole a base when, as Maury Wills once described, everyone in the ballpark knew he was going. That steal saved the series and the season, and began a remarkable comeback leading to a World Series sweep. Dave Roberts is still revered; he got among the three or four loudest ovations at the 2005 ring ceremony, and recently spent time filling in for Jerry Remy as a NESN color commentator.
Tim Wakefield, 1995
Wake has been a mainstay of Red Sox pitching staffs for 15 years now, but at the time of his signing he appeared to be a one-hit wonder, a kid who threw a decent knuckler for a couple seasons before being cast off. The Sox signed him in late April; he’d been in the minors all of the previous season. He was picked up to add another arm to an ailing pitching staff, with ace Roger Clemens out until June. What he provided, instead, were months of Cy Young level pitching that propelled the Sox to a division championship. Wake was third in Cy Young voting that season, the only year he’s ever collected votes (criminally, in the case of his 2002 season).