David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, and Nomar Garciaparra. These stars were household names for the Boston Red Sox in the 21st century, something the team now lacks. The Red Sox have some good players—not enough—but with proper marketing, the team has some who could reach that status, but not immediately. Arguably, the biggest issue preventing the Red Sox from having any marquee names is the team’s lack of success over the past few seasons. The Sox made the playoffs in 2021 but had back-to-back last-place finishes in the two following seasons, plus a last-place finish in the lockdown-shortened 2020 season.
Winning and novelty can generate interest; that’s why the first-year Colorado Rockies drew an MLB record 4,483,350 fans in the 1993 season. Wakefield was well-known for effectively throwing a knuckleball, and the Red Sox had a (debatable) 820-game sellout streak that spanned over 10 seasons in the 2000s and 2010s. The Sox won the World Series twice and usually made the playoffs during that stretch. The team consistently drew over 37,000 fans per game at one time, but in 2022 and 2023, it was under 33,000.
A team needs talent to win. Making a World Series appearance can give a player more exposure. Without a strong performance in the 2018 fall Series, odds are, few Red Sox fans would remember Steve Pearce, someone who played in just 79 regular season games for Boston over parts of two seasons.
Standout players are in a better position to become those household names, creating a compounding effect. David Ortiz is a Red Sox legend because he performed well in clutch situations and helped the team win the World Series three times. Good players on bad teams can have many fans, but playing for a good team helps their marketability.
Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers is the team's best player, with 98 home runs, two All-Star appearances, and two Silver Slugger Awards in the past three seasons. He’s on a 10-year $313.5 million contract with the Red Sox that takes effect this season, making him the team's first mega contract since Massachusetts passed its millionaire's tax. If someone on the current roster could be that household name, Devers fits the bill unless the contract becomes a total albatross for the Red Sox.
Longevity helps name recognition, and Devers is the only player from the 2018 World Series championship team left now that they traded injury-prone Chris Sale, a perennial Cy Young contender when healthy (and younger). Devers is entering his eighth season with the team and may play for them for another decade.
A few issues persist for Devers. In his first several years with the team, he was still learning English. He still speaks through an interpreter in interviews, making it harder for people to get to know him. Devers rarely uses social media. The job description says to win baseball games, not social media, though the latter provides fans a unique opportunity to hear from and interact with players. Those setbacks exist, but I see him becoming a household name, even if the team struggles.
Maybe some young player will one day develop into a superstar. In the short-term, the other player with potential for widespread name recognition is Masataka Yoshida, a fan favorite from Japan coming off a solid rookie season. For much of the 2023 season, Yoshida maintained a batting average above .300, though he slumped in the final months.