Nothing tells the story of the early 1990s Red Sox better than that of Wes Chamberlain. Most Red Sox fans under 35 have never heard of Chamberlain, but let’s take a minute to look back on his working-class big league career, and see where he is today.
The Red Sox of the early 90’s were the first ones I really understood. I was 8 in 1986. I knew all the players, and had a pretty good understanding of the team – for an eight-year-old. Little did I know they wouldn’t win another playoff game until I was in college. But it was from about 1990 on that I was really reading the sports pages every day, and watching every game that I could. This was of course, the perfect time for the Sox to dip into mediocrity for a while.
Chamblerain attended Neil F. Simeon High School in Chicago (where Derrick Rose would later play). After high school he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fifth round of the 1984 June Draft, but he didn’t sign. He went to Jackson State for college (alma mater of Oil Can Boyd, and a pretty good football player named Walter Payton.)
The Pirates drafted him again in 1987, this time in the fourth round. He made his way up through the Pirates system before being traded to the Phillies on the day before the waiver trade deadline on August 30th, 1990 with Tony Longmire and Julio Peguero to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carmelo Martinez.
He debuted with the Phillies the next day, striking out as a pinch-hitter in a 4-3 win over the Padres. He got his first hit in the seventh inning on Sept. 9th at home against Sid Fernandez of the Mets. Von Hayes drove him in to give the Phils the lead in a 6-2 win.
Chamberlain would finished fifth in the 1991 NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He showed some pretty good pop in his bat in limited playing time. He homered 13 times in 1991, and 12 times in 1993. He was a nice fourth outfielder.
And for some reason he caught the eye of Dan Duquette. The Duke made some very good moves in his time with Boston (Trading for Pedro Martinez, fleecing the Mariners for Varitek and Lowe), but this one is a head scratcher. The Red Sox traded reliever Paul Quantrill and Billy Hatcher to the Phillies for Chamberlain and a minor league pitcher Mike Sullivan.
Quantrill would go on to have a 14-year big league career. He was a really good major league reliever. He had two seasons with sub-2.00 ERAs, and posted a career 3.83. Of the four players in the trade, he was the only one still in the major leagues in 1996.
Of course, he’ll always be known to Red Sox fans as the hurler who gave up David Ortiz’s game-winning two-run shot in Game 4.
Billy Hatcher had a great season (by early 90’s Red Sox standards) in 1993, hitting .287 with 9 homers and 14 stolen bases. He’s most famous for hitting .750 (9-12) in the 1990 World Series in the Reds sweep of the heavily favored A’s.
He’s most famous to Sox fans for stealing home with Mo Vaughn at the plate.
The other player the Sox got in the trade, Mike Sullivan, was a 6-3 righthander from Texas. He was pretty successful in the minors, compiling a 25-20 record and a 3.28 ERA in seven seasons – but he never got above double-A. By 1995 he was out of professional baseball.
Back to Wes Chamberlain
Wes Chamberlain was in Boston pretty much what he was in Philadelphia, an average to below-average fourth outfielder. He hit .256 with four homers and 20 RBI in 51 games for the Red Sox in 1994, and .119 with one homer and 1 RBI over the course of 19 games for the ’95 Sox. That one homer was a big one, as it came in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-3 tie off Orioles closer Armando Bentiz to give the Red Sox a 4-3 walk0ff win.
He was traded to the Kansas City Royals on August 14th, 1995 for outfield Chris James. James hit .167 for the ’95 Sox in 16 games.
Neither of them ever played in the big leagues again.
The Royals released Wes Chamberlain after the 1995 season. He played for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan in 1996.
He played winter ball in Venezeula, and had the game-winning hit to lead the Leones del Caracas past the Cardenales de Lara for the 1999 Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional championship.
He played in the Mets, Pirates, Rangers and Dodgers systems from 1997-1999, then played five more seasons of independent league ball, finally hanging up the spikes in 2004.
Getting to Troy O’Leary
Wes Chamberlain was one of the last in a long line of below average big league outfielders for the Red Sox in the early 90’s. He was in the line of Dwayne Hosey, Lee Tinsley, Ivan Calderon, Bob Zupcic, Greg Blosser, Jeff McNeely,
The tide started to turn when one of these middling prospects actually turned into something, when Troy O’Leary came to the Sox as a waiver claim in 1995. O’Leary was an underrated talent, who could flat out hit. He’s the guy who hit two homers in Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS after the Indians walked Nomar Garciaparra to get to him… twice.
Today, Wes is living in the Chicago area, and is the CEO of theweschamberlain.com, offering baseball lessons for kids ages 5 and up.
You can watch an interview with Wes Chamberlain below. I encourage you to listen to it. You’re going to come away really, really liking Chamberlain as a guy who worked hard to make the major leagues, and was very grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Part of the reason we love baseball isn’t the superstars – who are great. But it’s the down-to-Earth guys who work really hard, and get to the show, and are grateful about it. There’s something really relatable about that.
And by the way, in case you were curious, he wrote a book that you can get on Amazon.