It's possible that no person had baseball more ingrained into their being than Ray Boone. A two-time All-Star, Boone is the patriarch of the first family to have three generations play in the major leagues. If that were not enough, all three generations -- Ray, his son Bob, and grandsons Bret and Aaron -- have all played in the All-Star game. Bob enjoyed a 19 year career. Aaron hit a walkoff home run to end the 2003 ALCS and send the New York Yankees to the World Series. Bret hit 252 career home runs, drove in over 1,000 runs, and was worth 22.6 WAR in his 14 year career.
Family wasn't the only thing that tied Ray to baseball, though. He went to the same high school as Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in the game's history. He played for Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau, Al Lopez, and Bucky Harris, and Tigers great Fred Hutchinson. He played alongside Williams, Boudreau, Larry Doby, Al Kaline, Bob Feller, and countless others. His two longest-tenured general managers were Hall of Famers Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer. Ray Boone is steeped in baseball history like few others, and he made a decent career for himself to boot.
|1953||CLE / DET||582||26||114||3||.296||.390||.519||.407||143||5.4|
|1958||DET / CHW||401||13||61||1||.242||.304||.406||.314||93||0.2|
|1959||CHW / KCA / MLN||211||4||19||2||.262||.394||.369||.350||115||1.0|
|1960||MLN / BOS||107||1||15||0||.211||.327||.267||.285||69||0.0|
Raymond Otis Boone was born on July 27th, 1923 in San Diego California. He starred at Hoover High School, where the legendary Ted Williams had donned the Cardinals uniform a few years earlier. Boone began his professional career in 1942, playing for the Wausau Timberjacks in the Class C Northern League. He hit .306 with 25 extra base hits in 89 games before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. He did not return to baseball until 1946, when he was sent to Class A Wilkes-Barre. He did not hit as well in his return, compiling a .258 batting average in 213 at-bats.
After two more seasons in the minor leagues, Boone made his MLB debut with the Cleveland Indians on September 3rd, 1948. He grounded out in his first at-bat, but hit an RBI double off of St. Louis Browns relief pitcher Frank Biscan for his first major league hit. Boone only got three more at-bats the rest of the month, the final a run-scoring single in a 10-1 victory over the Washington Senators.
Originally a catcher throughout his days playing amateur and minor league ball, Boone took to shortstop when player-manager Lou Boudreau had him take infield practice during spring training in 1948. Boone almost exclusively played shortstop throughout his days with the Indians and never appeared in a major league game as a catcher. Boudreau made Boone the Indians' starting shortstop in the middle of the 1949 season, himself sliding over to third base. Boone hit .268/.367/.372 after getting the starting job, but finished the year with a .697 OPS in 307 plate appearances.
Boone got more playing time in 1950, hitting .301/.397/.430 with seven home runs in 425 plate appearances. He was worth 2.8 WAR that season, and earned a full season's worth of starts in 1951. He struggled offensively that season, hittin just .233/.302/.329 in 605 plate appearances. Worse yet was his fielding. Boone committed 33 errors in 1951, bringing him up to a whopping 80 miscues over the previous three seasons. He committed another 27 errors in 1952, part of the league-high 94 errors that the Tribe infield had that season.
Indians general manager Hank Greenberg voiced support for Boone that offseason, but unloaded him in an eight-player trade with the Tigers on June 15th, 1953. Boone was hitting .241/.375/.393 at the time. With Harvey Kuenn entrenched at the shortstop position, Tigers manager Fred Hutchinson moved Boone to third base. The move paid off immediately, as Boone hit a home run and a double in his first game with the team. He hit .312/.395/.556 with 22 home runs (including four grand slams) and 93 RBI in 443 plate appearances for the Tigers, and finished eighth in the AL MVP voting. He was worth 4.5 WAR in just 101 games, but still led the team by over a full win.
Over the next three seasons, Boone was one of the best players in baseball. He hit .295/.375/.486 with a combined 65 home runs, the most on the team. He drove in 282 runs, just ahead of Al Kaline's 273. Boone won the AL RBI title in 1955 with 116 runs driven in. He made the All-Star team in 1954 and 1956 and received MVP votes in '54 and 1955. His 12.5 WAR ranked second among all MLB third basemen, behind only the great Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves.
Boone's knees had started to fail him a few years earlier, so new Tigers manager Jack Tighe moved the 33-year-old Boone to first base at the start of the 1957 season to minimize his injury risk. The move worked, as Boone was able to play in 129 games and amass 531 plate appearances. However, his bat declined, and he hit just .273/.353/.418. The Tigers traded Boone to the Chicago White Sox on June 15th, 1958, exactly five years after they acquired him from Cleveland.
Boone migrated around Major League Baseball in the final three years of his career, playing for the Tigers, White Sox, Kansas City Athletics, Milwaukee Braves, and Boston Red Sox. In 709 plate appearances, he hit .243/.334/.375, a far cry from his heyday with the Tigers a few years prior. He retired after the 1960 season and worked as a scout for the Red Sox for over 30 years. He passed away on October 17, 2004, the day that the Red Sox won Game 4 of the ALCS and began their improbable comeback over the New York Yankees.
Boone's time in Detroit was fairly brief, but he was one of the most impactful players in the team's history. His 18.0 WAR ranks 31st among Tigers position players and fourth among third basemen. He was one of the better players during an underrated era of Tigers baseball, one that featured greats like Al Kaline, Harvey Kuenn, and Charlie Maxwell. Boone was a patient hitter, walking in over 11 percent of his career plate appearances, but was also known for his power. New York Yankees manager Casey Stengel may have described Boone best in 1954. "There’s a guy who makes you give him good pitches. Then, when you give them to him, he’s apt to belt ’em a mile."