“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
The right-handed Robert William Stanley was born on November 10, 1954, in Portland. Although the Steamer moved from Maine at the tender age of 2, he did come back to his native state to visit almost every summer. On the strength of his senior year’s performance at Kearny High School, Stanley was offered a contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the summer of 1973. But he was a ninth-round pick and the Dodgers’ offer fell short of what he had in mind. He turned it down. Six months later, in January of 1974, Stanley was the first-round pick of the Red Sox and this time he accepted the team’s offer. Stanley’s first assignment was with Elmira in the New York-Penn League in the summer of 1974. His record was hardly earth-shattering. He was 6-6 with a 4.60 ERA. The next season saw him with Winter Haven in the Florida State League. At first glance his record there appears a disaster: He lost 17 games while winning but five. But the won-lost mark is deceiving. Winter Haven hitters couldn’t hit. His earned-run average was what did impress. It was 2.93 and it was obvious to anyone who actually saw him pitch that Stanley’s sinking fastball was a pitch to be reckoned with. It caused batters to hit the ball on the ground, easy pickings for a team with a good defensive infield.
The next stop in Stanley’s professional career was Bristol, Connecticut, in the Double-A Eastern League in 1976. There he really strutted his stuff for the Bristol Red Sox: he was 15-9 in 27 games –all as a starter – and had a spiffy 2.66 ERA. Between Double-A and the majors there’s traditionally a year or so of seasoning at the Triple-A level. With the Red Sox that meant Pawtucket. Bob, however, went directly to Boston. His work during the spring training of 1977 was so outstanding that Red Sox manager Don Zimmer decided to carry a ten-man pitching staff back to Fenway Park instead of his planned nine. Stanley was number ten.
In his first year in a Red Sox uniform Stanley set the pattern that would forever make him such an asset to the team. He was a starter. He was a long reliever. He was a short reliever. And he did it all well. His 1977 numbers include 13 starts, 28 relief appearances, and an 8-7 record, with a sub-4.00 ERA (3.99). His first game was in long relief, four innings on April 16 against the Indians in Cleveland and allowing just one earned run, earning him a save in the fifth game of the season, an 8-4 Boston win. It was in 1978 that Bob Stanley really came into his own. Appearing in 52 games, all but three in relief, he posted a sterling 15-2 mark. He was second in the league in won-lost percentage (his .882 was bettered only by Ron Guidry’s remarkable 25-3/.893) and tops in relief appearance wins (with an even dozen). Toss in ten saves and just five home runs allowed in 141innings and you have one mighty fine season.
The next year, 1979, saw Stanley go almost full tilt. His relief appearances dropped to ten, but his starts numbered a career-high 30. He also won a career-high 16 games, four of them – just one behind league leaders Nolan Ryan, Mike Flanagan, and Dennis Leonard – coming via shutouts. He was selected for the American League All-Star team and hurled two innings of scoreless ball against the star-studded senior circuit lineup. Stanley had identical 10-8 records the next two seasons, 1980 and 1981. They came via very different routes, though: In 1980 he split his time between starting assignments (17) and the bullpen (33 appearances), while in 1981 he was used almost exclusively in relief, making but one start.
In 1982 Stanley enjoyed another banner season. He set an American League record for most innings pitched by a relief pitcher (168), notched a 12-7 record, and recorded 14 saves. In 1983 Stanley’s 33 saves ranked him behind only Dan Quisenberry of Kansas City (who had 45). It was a Red Sox single-season record until broken by Jeff Reardon in 1991. Stanley was once more named to the American League All-Star squad. He did, though, post his first major-league losing season. More would follow. In fact, he would not see a winning season again until 1988. Fenway Park fans started to get on Stanley along the way. His spare tire made him an easy target. So did his $1 million salary.
In 1986 Stanley enjoyed his first trip to the postseason. He struggled a bit in the American League Championship Series against the California Angels (4.76 ERA), but in 6 innings in the World Series while closing four of the games against the Mets, he didn’t allow a run – though it was his wild pitch in Game Six, in relief of Calvin Schiraldi, that allowed Kevin Mitchell to score from third base in the bottom of the tenth with the run that tied the score. In 1987 the bottom really fell out. Stanley took up work again as a starting pitcher but was 4-15, with a dismal 5.01 ERA. To his credit, though, the “Stanley Steamer” hung in there. Two more seasons of “understanding,” though, were enough. Stanley resumed relief work exclusively in 1988 and was 6-4 with a 3.19 ERA, helping the Red Sox reach the postseason, though he faltered against Oakland in the one inning he pitched, giving up one run. He never had a decision in postseason play, but an overall 2.77 earned-run average.
In September of 1989 – after a number of run-ins with manager Joe Morgan – the Steamer packed it in, announcing his retirement. He was officially released by the team in late December. Stanley held the Red Sox record for most saves (132) until Jonathan Papelbon passed him in 2009. He compiled a 115-97 career-record with a 3.64 ERA, including 21 complete games. He might better be remembered as the man who pitched in more Red Sox games – 637 – than any other player in the club’s century-plus history. That’s something really worth remembering!