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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #95: Jacoby Ellsbury

The Red Sox have had some great center fielders. Freddie Lynn, Tris Speaker, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Damon. Ellis Burks and Jackie Bradley Jr had their moments, as did Reggie Smith and Jimmy Piersall. Out of all of them, one of the most enjoyable to watch was Jacoby Ellsbury.

The first full-blooded Navajo to play major league baseball, Ellsbury was an incredible high school athlete in Oregon. His senior year he scored 23.6 ppg in basketball and hit .537 with 65 steals in baseball. He had nine picks and six kickoff return touchdowns in football. This kid was a stud. He went to Oregon State, became a first-team All-American, and the Red Sox drafted him in 2005 with their first pick.

He bounced back and forth between the majors and the minors in 2007. In his 33 games with the parent club, he hit .353 with 9 stolen bases. He was later pressed into duty that postseason with the Red Sox, during which he hit .360 in 25 at-bats. He started the entire World Series for Boston, hitting .438, and could easily have been the team's MVP as they swept the Rockies and Ellsbury earned his first ring. He would still be eligible for Rookie of the Year in 2008.

And he nearly won it, coming in third. Ellsbury hit .280 in full-time duty in 2008 with 50 steals, 25 of them in a row without being caught. In 2009 he hit .301 with 70 steals, a team record. 2010 was lost to injury, but in 2011 he exploded. He hit .321 with 32 homers and 39 steals, becoming the first Red Sox player in the 30-30 club and finishing second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP race. He was an All-Star, a Silver Slugger, and a Gold Glove that year, and that doesn't sum it up. He was exciting to watch on the basepaths, causing chaos and fear, scoring from second on passed balls, stealing home, and being that hardest of things to accomplish in the staid game of baseball - fun.

Ellsbury would be hurt again much of 2012 - his breakneck style put his willowy frame at risk - but in 2013 he stole another 52 bags and helped the Sox win another World Series, hitting .500 in the ALDS and .318 in the ALCS. It would be his last action with the Red Sox. He became a free agent after the season and signed, controversially, with the rival Yankees.

And here's the best part - the Yankees paid Ellsbury huge dough ($153 million over seven years) and he's been a bust for them. In four years in New York he hit just .264 with 102 steals and 39 home runs. And no rings. For once, we got the best years of a player and let the Yankees pay for his retirement. Have to love it when that happens.

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