And then there was one…
The trade of Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox Sunday leaves the Red Sox with only one carryover from the 2004 World Series winning team: David Ortiz. Youkilis might have not played a large role in that 2004 World Series championship, but he was bred to exemplify the personality that was birthed from those championship teams. He was one of the last of the true Boston Dirt Dogs; players molded from the likes of Trot Nixon, Brian Daubach, Kevin Millar, Lou Merloni and Jason Varitek. He was gritty, scrappy, hard-working, tenacious, dirty and intense on the field; but he was philanthropic, caring and sensitive off the field. He represented so much about what made the Red Sox so likable to so many fans during the mid-2000s, and his departure much like Theo Epstein’s, Jason Varitek’s and Tito Francona’s this off-season, signifies the loss of almost the final tangible reminder of those great times, and represents all but the end of an era.
It had been widely speculated for weeks now that Youkilis’ days with the Red Sox were all but over. It became so inevitable that during today’s game the Fenway Faithful gave him a touching and emotional standing ovation before his first at bat in what would untimely indeed end up being his last game as a Red Sox. If we know one thing about his future, it is that Kevin Youkilis will forever be loved by Red Sox Nation, and we were pleasantly reminded of that today.
The average baseball fan who was unfamiliar with him was introduced to Kevin Youkilis via the 2003 best-seller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book referred to Kevin Youkilis as “Euclis, the Greek God of Walks”, and the moniker stuck with him. Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s GM and the focus of the novel, made many unsuccessful attempts to trade for Youkilis before he ever reached the majors, as he was enamored by his unprecedented plate discipline even despite his seemingly average tools and skill set. Perhaps no one player more perfectly illustrates the flaws in collective wisdom that existed in baseball insiders more than Kevin Youkilis. Statistics like batting average, stolen bases, and RBI weren’t how you gauge a player’s true talents and Billy Beane knew that, and that’s why he was so enamored with Youkilis. Youkilis was slow, his defense wasn’t terribly impressive, his power was suspect and he was called “pudgy” and “roly-poly” even by his own coaches. Youkilis himself said once that he didn’t think he “had a tool”, let alone all five of them.
Youkilis was so unconventional and that’s why he was so fun to follow. He was a guy who just produced, produced and produced some more, but to many teams and scouts, that didn’t matter because he didn’t look the part. His numbers in college were tremendous, but at that time, teams were less concerned with performance as they were concerned with his physique and his unorthodox approach. The results, however, were always there and to those like Billy Beane his talents were as clear as day. He was a two time second-team All-American in college. He set University of Cincinatti records in almost every offensive category there is. He finished his four years with an on base percentage of .499, and an uncanny ability to almost never strikeout looking.
Billy Beane didn’t expect any other teams to be as smart as he was, and was hoping to draft Youkilis in a later round. The new age Boston Red Sox front office, which included a young Theo Epstein, weren’t the type to overlook a talent like Youkilis. Youkilis was drafted in the 8th round in 2001, 243rd overall, by the Boston Red Sox and received a signing bonus of $12,000, which was plenty enough to keep him satisfied to play the game he loved.
In the minors, Youkilis immediately performed. He led his class-A league in OBP. He reached base safely for the Lowell Spinners in 46 straight games. His 2002 season resulted in him being voted as the Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year. In 2003 he started the season out for the Portland Sea Dogs, where he led the Eastern League in OBP and was third in BA. He was named to the Eastern League All Star team, and the U.S.A. roster for the 2003 All-Star Futures Game. He moved up to AAA and Pawtucket later that season, where he broke his own individual record and reached based in 71 consecutive games, tying the minor-league record at the time.
After 32 games in Pawtuckett in the 2004 season, Kevin Youkilis was called up to the majors on May 15th to replace injured 3B Bill Mueller. He won the AL Rookie of the Month for May, and as they like to say, the rest is history.
During his Red Sox career, Youkilis was a three-time all-star, 2-time World Series Champion, a Gold Glove winner and the 2008 Hank Aaron Award winner.
Youk was a part of many memorable moments throughout his career. Whether the team was winning, losing, or even brawling, Youkilis seemingly always was playing a part in it.
In his first game, on May 15, 2004, Youkilis wasted no time showing off the power that so many suspected he’d never develop. In only his second at bat ever, Youkilis went yard off of former Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen. At the time he was the 7th player ever in team history to hit a home run in his first ever game. Youkilis would say after the game that “This one will go down probably as the greatest day of my life”. He would go on to hit 132 more for the Red Sox.
His best playoff performance came during the 2007 ALCS against the Indians. In that series, Youk hit three home runs and amassed 14 hits (tying the ALCS record), and scored 10 runs (breaking the ALCS record). He hit .500 that series (another ALCS record) with a .576 OBP and a .929 slugging percentage. In the World Series, Youkilis would not start any of the road games in favor of Mike Lowell and David Ortiz, and Youkilis handled what Bob Ryan called “the most difficult decision any American League manager has had to make in the 34-year history of the DH” with the utmost class. The Red Sox, as we all know, would go on to win the World Series that year, and it probably wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for his exceptional play.
In the regular season, Youkilis had a penchant for timely hitting as well. In an early season series against the Yankees in 2009, Youkilis hit probably his most memorable home run of his careers. After Jason Bay tied the game up in the bottom of the 9th against Mariano Rivera, Youkilis stepped to played in the bottom of the left and blasted a home run over the monster for a walk off against the team’s most storied rival.
One of most impressive feats, and perhaps most commonly forgotten one as well, was his record 238 consecutive games played at 1B without committing an error. He still holds the record for all players at any single position. The streak spanned the course of three seasons, from July 4th, 2006 to June 7th, 2008 and saw him go 2,002 chances in a row without a single error.
In 2009 Youkilis hit cleanup for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, and led the team in home runs.
Later that season, after hearing that his good friend and former teammate Greg Montalbano had died of testicular cancer, Youkilis dedicated that game to Montalbano. He hit two home runs that night, pointing up to the sky after touching home plate both times in one of the more emotional moments of his career.
In true Kevin Youkilis fashion, not everything was pretty. There was the brawl he started when he charged the mound after being plunked by Rick Porcello in the midst of his injury plagued 2009 season. There were some interesting moments when he was put in to play left field. There was the time where he was slapped by Manny Ramirez in the dugout, and the two players had to be separated. Years later, Youk shined some light on to the situation saying: “We have two different approaches to the game. Winning and losing isn’t life and death to Manny.”
The toughest part of his career probably was the past few months. Youkilis is having easily his worst season ever. He lost his starting job to rookie Will Middlebrooks, and there were reports of a strained clubhouse with him at the middle of it. Ultimately, his Red Sox career came to an end today in front of an emotional Fenway Park crowd.
Before his first at bat on this beautiful Sunday afternoon the crowd gave him a rousing ovation. Youkilis gave a tip of the cap to the fans, blew some kisses to the crowd and was visibly holding back tears at points during the game. He was removed from the game in the 7th inning for a pinch runner and the crowd yet again gave him one of their loudest ovations. He was mobbed by his teammates and pushed out of the dugout for one last curtain call.
The Boston crowd gave him a fitting farewell. It wasn’t the prettiest parting of ways, but at least for the last three hours on the field we all could sit back and appreciate all the hard work he’s provided this team. After the game, he entered the clubhouse to an empty locker without a nameplate, and news eventually broke that he was traded to the Chicago White Sox. It was an emotional, but fitting, end to a fun and successful nine year Red Sox career.
Life will go on for the Red Sox and their fans, and life will go on for Kevin. He’s been left for dead by most, but if there’s one person that can prove baseball pundits wrong, it’s Kevin Youkilis. I think I speak for all of Red Sox Nation in wishing him the best of luck for the White Sox. He will forever be remembered as a Red Sox, even though his socks are now black.