New Hampshire’s Gifts to Baseball
The Granite State has proved particularly fertile ground for producing big league players
While the Red Sox suffered through a rough 2022, let’s hit the ground running for the 2023 baseball season with a look back at New Hampshire’s firm baseball foundations. The Granite State punches well above its weight in producing Major League Baseball talent. Considering its population and long winters, New Hampshire is a veritable factory for producing big league players. Sixty current or former Major Leaguers were either born or raised in New Hampshire. It produced a Hall of Fame catcher in Red Sox and White Sox legend Carlton Fisk, as well as a Hall of Fame manager, Frank Selee, who piloted the Boston Braves (then Beaneaters) to five National League (NL) pennants in the late-19th century. I’ve selected an all-time New Hampshire starting nine to represent the embarrassment of baseball riches produced by the state. New Hampshire has proved particularly fertile ground for growing pitchers, so that selection will include several of the best in state history. The aforementioned Hall of Fame manager Frank Selee will serve as the club’s skipper.
Catcher: Carlton Fisk, Boston Red Sox, 1969-1980; Chicago White Sox, 1981-1993
Born across the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls, Vermont, Carlton Fisk was an unparalleled amateur athlete in his home of Charlestown. By the time he entered the University of New Hampshire on a basketball scholarship, Fisk was a local legend. Everyone of a certain age in the region has a story about Fisk’s prowess in American Legion baseball or the New Hampshire state basketball tournament. In 1967, the Boston Red Sox selected Fisk, who debuted for the Olde Towne Team in 1969. He went on to become one of the game’s best offensive and defensive catchers for close to a quarter-century. For a time, he held the record for most games played at catcher and homeruns by a catcher. His Game Six-winning 12th inning home run in the 1975 World Series, which he willed with his hands to “stay fair,” is one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.
First Base: Harry Bemis, Cleveland Indians, 1902-1910
Farmington’s Harry Bemis grew up on a farm and worked alongside his father as a shoemaker before becoming a professional ballplayer. He began his career as a catcher before moving to first base, having sustained a number of injuries protecting the plate in the rough-and-tumble game of the early twentieth century. He is perhaps best known for pummeling Ty Cobb after the notorious baseball great collided with him at home plate in 1907.
Second Base: Bernie Friberg, Chicago Cubs, 1919-1925; Philadelphia Phillies, 1925-1932; Boston Red Sox, 1933
Friberg was born to a family of Swedish immigrants in Manchester that later moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, to work in shoe factories. A .281 career hitter, Friberg was one of the NL’s best-hitting second basemen of his generation. On five occasions, he batted over .300 for the season. “Barney,” as he was known, was also a tremendous defensive infielder who demonstrated his prowess at all four infield positions.
Shortstop: Red Rolfe, New York Yankees, 1931, 1934-1942
Robert Abial “Red” Rolfe grew up in Penacook, the son of a lumber mill owner. He excelled in the classroom and on the baseball field, earning a spot on the Penacook varsity in eighth grade and leading them to a Merrimack Valley baseball title. He later brought his talents to Phillips Exeter Academy, where he drew the attention of a gaggle of scouts. Rolfe played college baseball and studied English at Dartmouth before signing on with the New York Yankees. In need of a shortstop, I’ve shoehorned Rolfe into the position, which he played occasionally. He is best known for his long tenure as the Yankees third basemen, where he earned four consecutive All Star bids and starred on the Bronx Bombers’ four consecutive World Series championship teams (1936-1939) alongside the likes of Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Tony Lazzeri and Joe DiMaggio.
Third Base: Joe Lefebvre, New York Yankees, 1980; San Diego Padres, 1981-1983; Philadelphia Phillies, 1983-1986
Concord’s Joe Lefebvre starred for the hometown Minutemen before drawing significant attention from big league scouts with the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League, the country’s best summer collegiate baseball league. He was selected in the third round by the New York Yankees before ending up in San Diego, where he platooned in the infield with several other players. Lefebvre enjoyed his best season in 1983 with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he batted .310 and helped lead Philadelphia to an NL East title. A series of injuries derailed Lefebvre’s career, but he made a long baseball life for himself as a well-traveled and highly respected coach for several MLB organizations.
Outfielder: Phil Plantier, Boston Red Sox, 1990-1992; San Diego Padres, 1993-1994, 1995, 1997; Houston Astros, 1995; Oakland A’s, 1996; St. Louis Cardinals, 1997
Manchester’s Phil Plantier has one of the most memorable stances in baseball history. He stands coiled and crouched on the left side of the plate. When he swings, he unleashes the most vicious uppercut this side of Mike Tyson. A Phil Plantier homerun is one of the most beautiful things in sports. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, he terrorized minor league pitching like few sluggers before or since. His 33 homeruns for the Pawtucket Red Sox led the AAA International League in 1990. As a rookie in 1991, he hit 11 homeruns for the Red Sox in just 53 games. After a rough 1992 in Boston, Plantier was traded to the Padres, where he enjoyed a career year in 1993, belting 34 home-runs while driving in 100 runs. Though he never matched that performance, Plantier remains one of the most memorable sluggers of his era. He later served as a coach for the Padres.
Outfielder: Sam Fuld, Chicago Cubs, 2007-2010; Tampa Bay Rays, 2011-2013; Minnesota Twins, 2014; Oakland A’s, 2014-2015
Durham-born Sam Fuld impressed enough at Phillips Exeter to earn a baseball scholarship to Stanford, one of the country’s top collegiate programs. Fuld went on to become one of the most productive players in the history of the Pac-12. He played on three teams that reached the College World Series and finished his career as the conference’s all-time leader in runs scored. Fuld was a journeyman outfielder throughout his decade-long big-league odyssey, highly valued for his baseball smarts and skills as a base stealer and defensive outfielder. The Stanford economics graduate parlayed his intellect into a career behind the scenes in the MLB. He is the current general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Outfielder: Kevin Romine, Boston Red Sox, 1985-1991
Born in Exeter, Kevin Romine’s family relocated to Southern California, where he excelled on the baseball diamond and football gridiron. He received both football and baseball scholarship offers but chose to attend nearby Orange Coast College on a baseball scholarship. Romine dominated the junior college competition and earned a spot on the Arizona State baseball team. As a junior, he helped lead the Sun Devils to the College World Series and was named an All-American as a senior. Arizona State has since retired his number 12. Romine was selected in the second round of the 1982 MLB Draft by the Red Sox. Though he struggled with a number of injuries, Romine was able to put together a solid MLB career, spending the back-half of the 1980s and early 1990s with the Sox as a reserve outfielder. The apple did not fall far from the tree in the Romine family; his sons Austin and Andrew have both enjoyed long MLB careers.
Pitcher(s): Stan Williams, Lefty Tyler, Bob Tewksbury, Mike Flanagan, Brian Wilson, Chris Carpenter
It is impossible to select one pitcher to represent the Granite State’s starting nine. New Hampshire has a pitching staff that could rival many states with much larger populations and climates much more amenable to year-round baseball. The best are probably Manchester’s Mike Flanagan and Exeter’s Chris Carpenter, the latter of whom grew up in Raymond and Bedford and starred in high school for Trinity in Manchester. Flanagan won 167 games over 18 seasons, earned an appearance to the All-Star game in 1978 and won the American League Cy Young Award in 1979. He is a member of the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame. Chris Carpenter won 144 games over 16 seasons, went to three All-Star games, won the 2005 NL Cy Young Award and earned two World Series rings as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. He is a member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Rounding out the New Hampshire bullpen are Londonderry’s Brian Wilson, best known for his long beard and closing out games for the San Francisco Giants during their 2010 World Series run. He earned three All-Star bids himself. Penacook’s Bob Tewksbury won 110 games between 1986 and 1998 for six MLB teams. Enfield’s Stan Williams pitched for a half-dozen MLB teams himself between 1958 and 1972, enjoying his best years for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Williams was as well-traveled a coach as he was a player, serving as pitching coach for six different MLB teams. Last but not least is Derry’s Lefty Tyler, who won 127 games for the Boston Braves and Chicago Cubs between 1910 and 1921. He was a member of the Braves’ 1914 World Championship team.
Taken together, all of New Hampshire’s baseball talent is an impressive testament to the grit, determination and skill of the people in this quiet corner of New England.