The Red Sox. From 2000 to 2009, have you ever seen such a drastic reversal of fortunes? Regardless if the Yankees (bleh) win the World Series, I can’t see how you don’t anoint the Sawx the team of the decade. Speaking of team of the decade, that’s what we’re doing right here.
We’ve anointed our shortstop of the decade in Nomar Garciaparra. Let’s move on to right field. It rather obviously came down to Trot Nixon versus J.D. Drew, and Nixon took home the honors.
Christopher Trotman Nixon spent 10 years with the BoSox, getting his first cup of coffee as a 22-year old in 1996. He was not called up in 1997 and didn’t make much of an appearance in 1998, meaning that 1999 was his first significant time as a member of the Red Sox.
He performed well enough to place ninth in the Rookie of the Year voting, amassing 447 at-bats and checking in with a .270/.357/.472 line with 15 home runs. Kind of tough to imagine that line finishing that low in voting. Fellow teammate Brian Daubach placed fourth in a year where Carlos Beltran took home the honors. He also cranked three home runs in one game, doing so on July 24th against the Detroit Tigers. (Nomar Garciaparra, the shortstop of the decade, knocked two home runs in this game as well. Brian Daubach and Troy O’Leary also joined in the festivities. Thank you, Jeff Weaver.)
Nixon manned right field for seven years in Beantown at the turn of the century, putting up a total line of .278/.368/.480 from 2000 to his final season of 2006. Despite developing a well-deserved reputation for being utterly incapable of hitting left-handed pitching, Nixon was tremendously valuable from 2000-2006, to say nothing of 1999.
Indeed, with a minimum of 3,000 plate appearances over said time period (Nixon had 3,350) and having played at least 80 percent of all games in right field, Nixon ranks seventh out of 10 possible entries for OPS. There’s tremendous value in that consistency. (Here’s the full list.)
Perhaps the moment we will all recall of Nixon is his pinch-hit two-run home run in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS, setting up an eventual series win over the Athletics. (Also the same series that Eric Byrnes shoved Varitek after ‘Tek blocked the plate effectively; Byrnes chose to hobble around as opposed to try to score.)
This home run effectively capped what would end up as Trot’s most successful season in the bigs: .305/.396/.578 with 28 home runs and 87 RBI. If he had played less against left-handers, he would have been at an overall OPS over 1.000. That’s how good he was, and people tend to lose sight of just how good Nixon was during his 1999-2005 stretch.
After the ’03 season, Nixon signed a three year pact at a total value of $19 million. While I was pleased with the deal at the time, I also openly wondered if it was smart to rely on Nixon. At this point, it was clear he was strictly a platoon player, but he was also one that was getting increasingly dinged up. Indeed, he missed most a big chunk of the 2004 season: April, May, half of June and August. (Fire Brand archive: Trot Nixon: Should we be worried? 3/04.)
A guest article on Fire Brand from March 2005 (Fire Brand archive: Hot Trot: The Time is Now) contained the following line that I think speaks volumes on how he was perceived: Trot’s career “has been a succession of peaks and valleys, sometimes tantalizing, other times frustrating. [He is] a cult hero in Boston, but we need to see numbers.”
The next couple of years saw Boston get swept by the White Sox and miss the playoffs in 2006. In the middle of it all was Nixon, who produced as always in 2005. It was clear, however, that Father Time was quickly intruding on the Trotman. (Fire Brand archive: What If: Is it Time To Trade Trot Nixon? 10/05. Fire Brand archive: Let’s Play GM: Acquiring a starter and trading Trot Nixon 07/06.)
Nixon was mired in a slump for most of 2006, and it was clear the team didn’t have any interest in extending him. He played out the stretch, receiving a standing ovation in the final game at Fenway after being removed for a replacement fielder.
The right fielder the following year became J.D. Drew, who also appears on the above list of right-fielders with 3,000 plate appearances. The Nixon era then ended. (Fire Brand archive: Goodbye, Trot 01/07.)
He would go on to serve in Cleveland, doing battle against the Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS — where J.D. Drew hit the $14 Million Grand Slam. Nixon would make some noise in the series as well, cranking three doubles in seven at-bats, driving in one. He signed as a free agent with the Diamondbacks to start 2008 and was sent to the Mets in the summer as the New Yorkers were desperate for outfielders. Nixon didn’t impress, and after signing a minor league pact with the Brew Crew in the offseason, was put on the inactive list and did not play. We can safely say that Nixon is retired from professional baseball.
In his time with Boston, Nixon was the quintessential ‘Dirt Dog’ that defined the 1999-2001 era Sox. He played with all-out hustle and was an extremely fiery player. Indeed, he was ejected from a game in 2005 while on the disabled list due to complaining about a Gabe Kapler home-run being ruled a double.
On Wikipedia’s ‘Dirt Dog‘ page (yes, they have one!) it says: “This title first started in the Boston Red Sox organization in July 2001. The original dirt dogs are widely considered to be Trot Nixon and Brian Daubach. Both players gained great popularity in Boston for this particular style of play. … Trot Nixon is still widely accepted as the ultimate dirt dog, for his play, his dirty cap and his pine tar caked helmet.” (The article is clearly slanted to the Red Sox, so take it with a grain of salt.)
Couple more stories about Trotter for you. The first begins in 2001, when the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, opined on what makes baseball brawls so awesome. One of his categories was ‘Crazy Guys’ and this is where Trot Nixon came up:
For instance, on my beloved Red Sox team, our token Crazy Guy is Trot Nixon, who would probably chase a pitcher out of Fenway Park and onto the Mass Pike under the right circumstances. Trot hasn’t enjoyed his breakout basebrawl moment yet, but it’s coming, I promise you. Sometimes you can just tell.
Nixon’s breakout moment came in April 2005, during a brawl with the Rays. The Rays hit seven Sox batters during one particular weekend (of which Nixon was none of them)… but he didn’t care. He was enraged nonetheless:
Nixon — who streaked from the dugout toward the mound in the seventh after Tampa Bay reliever Lance Carter knocked down David Ortiz with a fastball headed toward the cranium, just a couple of pitches after throwing a fastball behind Manny Ramirez — soon found himself in the clutches of Brazelton, who palmed Nixon’s face and, according to the Sox player, stuck his finger in his eye. …
“I think Mr. Reed [the umpire] thought I was threatening [Brazelton] or whatever, but I wasn’t threatening him. I was just giving him information.”
That information wasn’t Kathryn Nixon’s recipe for peach cobbler.
“What ignited me the most is that he was grabbing at my face,” Nixon said. “I was giving him information about what I’d do to him if he’s going to do some crap like that, you know.” (Boston Globe)
He’s had previous run-ins with the Rays, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. Boston and Tampa have had a rather strained shared history, starting in 2000 when Pedro Martinez plunked leadoff batter Gerald Williams.
The resulting brawl hurt two Sox players (Daubach, Lou Merloni) and ejected eight then-Devil Rays.
This event caused annual plunkings (that have only recently dissipated) and other behind-the-scene maneuverings (such as the Rays blocking Adam Stern from going to the Orioles in the 2006 Javy Lopez trade). Nixon is one player that takes hit by pitches very personally… such as in 2002.
Devil Ray pitcher Ryan Rupe hit Shea Hillenbrand and Nomar Garciaparra with pitches, and you could tell very much so that Nixon was displeased. So displeased that when he took a hack at one of Rupe’s pitches, the bat “slipped” out of his hand and flew to the pitching mound with Rupe’s face as a postage stamp. Fortunately, the bat landed harmlessly and there was no brawl — everyone was too much in shock. Nixon was suspended five games for the incident.
While Nixon’s career may only have burned bright for a rather short time, it was a light that helped shape the Red Sox. Without Nixon’s fiery passion (shades of Kevin Youkilis), who knows how the team would have come together in 2003 and 2004? Many successful teams have that one guy whose fire burns so hotly that they’re denigrated for it by outsiders, but beloved by players on the team. (Again, Youkilis. Also check out Paul O’Neill. The Angels had Torii Hunter this year.) Nixon served as that person for eight seasons.
Not everyone can have a long and fruitful career, spanning over a decade while being at the top of their game. It doesn’t mean their contributions should go unnoticed. Plain and simple, Nixon brought a major amount of value to the team and given his style of play, quickly endeared himself to fans. For both his contributions on the field and what he meant to fans, Nixon reigns as the All-Aughts right-fielder of the decade.
Players who played right field for the Red Sox from 2000-9, sorted by last name: Andy Abad, Benny Agbayani, Israel Alacantara, Brian N. Anderson, Jeff Bailey, Rocco Baldelli, Dante Bichette, Chris Carter, Cesar Crespo, Jose Cruz, Midre Cummings, Brian Daubach, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Everett, Cliff Floyd, Jeff Frye, Joey Gathright, Jeremy Giambi, Bernard Gilkey, Willie Harris, Rickey Henderson, Eric Hinske, Adam Hyzdu, Damian Jackson, Gabe Kapler, Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay, Darren Lewis, Javier Lopez, Alejandro Machado, David McCarty, Lou Merloni, Kevin Millar, Dustan Mohr, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, Bry Nelson, Troy O’Leary, Jose OFferman, Jay Payton, Wily Mo Pena, Manny Ramirez, Josh Reddick, Dave Roberts, Donnie Sadler, Adam Stern, Jonathan Van Every, Kevin Youkilis