A little bit of the 1970s died when George Scott passed away on Sunday at the age of 69.
Scott, who had struggled with diabetes in recent years, was one of my favorite players. Some of that is attributable to the distinctive look that he cut during his years with the Red Sox. With his massive round body wrapped tightly in Red Sox polyester, Scott had an appearance that made him easy to spot, both on television and at the ballpark. He also wore a helmet when he played first base and he accessorized his uniform with a necklace that was apparently made of a strange mix of shells, wooden beads, and ivory tusks.
Let’s tackle the necklace first. When a curious reporter asked him to identify the material that comprised the necklace, Scott answered matter-of-factly, “Second basemen’s teeth.” Whatever the actual composition of the necklace, the jewelry made the feared slugger that much more intimidating when he strolled to the plate or delivered a rolling block on a middle infielder.
Much like his contemporary, Dick Allen, Scott wore a helmet while playing first base for most of his career. Scott began wearing the helmet because of the idiotic behavior of some fans on the road who threw hard objects his way. Rather than take any additional chances, Scott ditched the usual soft cap for a hard helmet. He continued the practice, both at home and away, for the rest of his career.
The helmet and the necklace were ever-present during games in the 1970s, but Scott had another unusual fashion habit that trademarked his pre-game workouts. During his second stint with the Red Sox, Scott wore a rubberized suit in an attempt to lose some of the weight near his midsection. As Don Zimmer revealed in the first of his two books with New York sportswriter Bill Madden, Scott managed to sweat off a few pounds during each workout, but by the time the start of the game rolled around, Boomer seemed to have gained all of the weight back. Whatever he tried, he just couldn’t rid himself of the excess poundage.
Scott’s weight, helmet, and necklace tended to distract from one other important consideration: He was a very, very good player. Amazingly agile for a man his size, Scott’s quickness, footwork, and soft hands made him arguably the best defensive first baseman of the late 1960s and early 1970s. (Perhaps only the Dodgers’ Wes Parker was better.) At the plate, Scott had “light tower” power. When he connected, his ferocious swing and sheer strength produced an array of tape measure home runs.
Signing with the Red Sox in 1962, Scott made his big league debut four years later as a combination first baseman and third baseman. Although he struck out a league-leading 152 times, he also hit 27 home runs, made the All-Star team as the starting first baseman, and finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.
He played even better in 1967, putting up an OPS of .839 and helping the Red Sox win the pennant and complete their “Impossible Dream.” Though he still put in some time at third base, the Red Sox played him more at first base, where his fielding won him the first of eight Gold Gloves.
The 1968 season saw Scott begin the year in a deep and mysterious slump from which he could not recover that summer. He batted a meager .171 with three home runs in 124 games. It was a lost season, but Scott bounced back to put up decent numbers in each of the next three seasons. A 24-home run campaign in 1971 had some thinking that Scott would remain in Boston for years, but the Red Sox decided to take advantage of his growing trade value and turn him in for some speed and pitching. The Sox packaged Scott with outfielders Billy Conigliaro and Joe Lahoud, catcher Don Pavletich, and pitchers Jim Lonborg and Ken Brett, sending them to the Brewers for 30/30 outfielder Tommy Harper, right-handers Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin, and minor league outfielder Pat Skrable.
The massive 10-player deal took Scott away from friendly Fenway Park and into the relatively unfamiliar environ of County Stadium. Though he hit only seven home runs in Milwaukee that summer, he put up a better OPS at home than he did on the road. For the entire season, Scott hit 20 home runs while adding the surprising dimension of 16 stolen bases. He remained a solid player, earning MVP votes and winning a Gold Glove in each of his first three seasons with the Brewers. In 1973, he batted a career-high .306 while actually increasing his power output.
In 1975, Scott’s bat exploded. Reaching career highs with 36 home runs and 109 RBIs, Boomer tied Reggie Jackson for the league lead in the former category and captured the league crown in the latter. He also paced all league hitters in total bases. With his violent, all-out swing and raw power, Scott emerged as the most feared right-handed hitter in the American League.
After a downturn in 1976, the Brewers decided to cut bait with their 32-year-old slugger. The Red Sox, looking for another right-handed slugger, thought it was a good time to bring back their former first baseman. They sent the left-handed hitting Cecil Cooper to the Brewers for Scott and veteran outfielder Bernie Carbo.
Enormously popular in Boston, Scott enjoyed a happy homecoming with the Red Sox. He blasted 33 home runs and slugged an even .500. Scott helped the Red Sox win 97 games, but Boston ran second to the eventual world champions in New York.
In 1978, Scott began to show his age. He hit only 12 home runs in 120 games and struggled during the second half, when the Red Sox blew their 14-game lead over the Yankees.
Then came the tumultuous season of 1979. After a terrible start, the Red Sox dumped him two games before the June 15 trading deadline, sending him to the Royals for young outfielder Tom Poquette. But Boomer was a bad fit for Royals Stadium, where the deep power gaps, spacious outfield and fast artificial turf did not suit his game. After he hit only one home run in 146 at-bats, the Royals released him. For the first time, it appeared that Scott’s career might be at an end.
Nine days later, a surprising team came to Scott’s rescue. The Yankees, in the midst of an awful, tragedy-filled season, decided to give Boomer a late-season look. Looking for any kind of bright spot during a miserable summer, Yankees fans watched Scott played well in his Bronx audition, putting up an .840 OPS in a 16-game stint. With his bat looking live, rumors circulated that the Yankees might bring Scott back for the 1980 season.
It didn’t happen. The Yankees signed free agent Bob Watson as a right-handed hitting first baseman and DH. “The Bull” made Boomer expendable, so the Yankees allowed him to become a free agent. When no other teams came calling, Scott took his bat and his mitt to the Mexican League, where he finished out his career as a player and manager.
As fine a player as Scott was, he had even great impact as one of the game’s most colorful characters of the 1970s. Friendly and outgoing, Scott happily chatted with fans and regularly signed autographs at the ballpark. Willing to talk after both wins and losses, he readily provided quotes to members of the media, whether in Boston or Milwaukee. He even developed his own terminology, referring to home runs as “taters.” (Other players, like Reggie Jackson, caught on and began to talk about hitting taters, too.) Scott also had a nickname for the dark first baseman’s mitt that he used, calling it “Black Beauty.”
George Scott was a beauty himself. If you were around to watch him play in the 1960s and 70s, you can easily picture him in your mind today. The large waistline. The helmet at first base. The booming swing. And yes, hanging from his thick neck, that full set of second baseman’s teeth.