I don’t think younger baseball fans – and by younger, I mean before age 50 or so – can understand the kind of September that Carl Yastrzemski had in 1967.
In the days before cable TV, you got your news largely from newspapers and radio, and that meant serious fans had to put a little more effort into the process, but they also received a greater reward. The “reward” was never greater than that tumultuous year when the whole country seemed to be fraying at the edges with a fury that would alarm even a hormonally challenged 17-year-old. I was both.
Yaz batted .416 in the final month of the season, but it seemed like closer to .700 for that amazing final week, including 4-for-4 on the final day when the Red Sox clinced the pennant and he nailed down his Triple Crown.
I got a chance to interview Yaz recently, and in brief window while he signed autographs at Dick Gordon’s Red Sox Reunion, he talked about that remarkable season.
“It was a very special team. It was the first time we had been involved in a pennant race, and we ended up winning the pennant,” Yaz recounted. “It was an ‘Impossible Dream.’ ”
And he didn’t hesitate to point out that it turned baseball around in New England. “When I first came up in 1961, we had around 8,000 people on opening day. Look at Ted Williams’ last game at Fenway: 10,000 or 12,000 people. The 1967 team changed everything.
“We became winners instead of losers, and it brought all the fans back to the ballpark.”
Throughout the interview, Yastrzemski seemed intent on putting the focus on the ballclub, rather than on his individual heroics, but I can think of few instances in baseball history when the efforts of one player so dominated the discussion.
“Every single person on that team contributed in some way. You’ve got to give Dick Williams a lot of credit,” Yaz said, which the Hall of Fame has apparently agreed with, after voting the former manager in for this year’s induction this coming summer. I will have an interview with the new Hall of Famer in the coming weeks in these pages.
“I remember watching Williams work the other guys into the game, the guys who weren’t starting,” Yaz continued. “And he kept them all in shape so they were ready. It all proved itself in the last two months of the season when somebody would have to come in and fill in.
“When it came down to the last two weeks of that season, the game was fun again, playing the game when it was a team effort. My first six years, people would come out and watch because we were so bad, always finishing last or next-to-last.
“The last two months of the season, you didn’t necessarily have to get a hit; you could contribute with a play in the field, a walk, base running …. and you’d get a standing ovation.”
For Yaz and the older members of the ballclub, that incredible pennant race contrasted sharply with earlier seasons when the moribund franchise was struggling in the closing years of the Yankees’ unprecedented 16-year dynasty from 1949-64.
“The atmosphere was completely charged. I liked being in the pressure situations,” Yaz said between drags on a cigarette that would routinely hang precariously at the edge of the table. “People keep talking about the pressure, but believe me, there was no pressure. My first six years playing on a losing team was 10 times as tough as being in a pennant race. Plus, at the time they were always comparing me to Ted Williams,” Yaz said.
Yaz noted that while he hung on to his Triple Crown award from that remarkable season; most of his other trophies and awards have been given to the Hall of Fame. As the chart of recent auction sale prices below illustrates, collectors have managed to hang on to Yaz jerseys even if he wasn’t able to, and they’ve paid a pretty penny for them along the way.
T.S. O’Connell is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. Reach him by e-mail at: thomas.o’firstname.lastname@example.org; or (715) 445-2214, ext. 243.