One of the biggest attractions at Spring Training with the Red Sox is seeing Carl Yastrzemski at the ball park. He has come to Spring Training every year since he retired in 1983 and fans and players alike can’t get enough of him while he’s there. He reminds fans, young and old of one of the greatest years in Red Sox history, 1967, when they pulled off the Impossible Dream.
On September 12, 1979, Yaz got his 3,000th Major League hit. He did it, at age 40, while batting third in the Sox lineup, against the New York Yankees in a game the Red Sox won, 9-2. Yaz would go on to get another 419 hits before ending his career on October 2, 1983, at age 44.
He was born, August 22, 1939, in Southhampton, NY, and was an outstanding athlete in High School. He was given a scholarship to Notre Dame University after High School to play both baseball and basketball. However, his talent in baseball was so impressive that he was signed by the Red Sox in 1958, during his first year at Notre Dame.
He was sent to Raleigh in the Carolina League his first year, 1959, and hit .377, winning the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year Awards in the league. The next year, 1960, he was promoted to Minneapolis in the AAA American Association where he hit.339.
He was brought up and played his first game for the Red Sox on opening day of the 1961 season. He started in left field and batted fifth between Jackie Jensen, the right fielder, and Pete Runnels, the third baseman. Runnels had won the batting title in 1960 and would win it again in 1962. Yaz’s first time up, he singled to left field but went one for five for the day as the Sox lost, 5-2.
In Game number two of the season and his career, the Sox beat the California Angels 3-0 and Yaz drove in two of the runs and scored the third. In the first inning, he singled to center to drive in second baseman Chuck Schilling with the game’s first run. In the third, he tripled to center and scored on Runnels double and, in the fifth he hit a sacrifice fly to left to score center fielder Gary Geiger with the third run.
If there ever was a sign that a great player had arrived, that game was it. He went on to hit just .266 that first year but improved to .296 in 1962 and to .321 in 1963 when he won the first of his three American League batting titles.
In 1967, the Year of the Impossible Dream, Yaz had a spectacular year. The Sox had finished ninth of ten teams in the American League in 1966, and were not expected to do any better in 1967. They had won just 72 and lost 90 in 1966, finishing ninth in the then ten team American League, 1 ½ games ahead of the last place Yankees and attendance was only 811,172 at home.
In 1967, they turned the record around and won 92 while losing 70 to win the American League pennant and attendance improved to 1,727,832. There were many heroes that year but no one did more to propel that team from ninth to first than Carl Yastrzemski.
Yaz hit .326 to win the American League batting title. He drove in 121 runs, the most in the league, and hit 44 homers to tie Harmon Killebrew for the most homers. He won the Triple Crown, the second Sox player in history to do so. Ted Williams had won it in 1942 and 1947. No one would win it again until Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers did in 2012, 45 years later. Yaz was also named Most Valuable Player and Baseball’s Player of the Year.
The American League season that year came down the final weekend before being decided. The Sox had to sweep the Minnesota Twins who were in first by one game and the Detroit Tigers had to lose one of their last two games against the Angels for the Sox to win the pennant.
Yaz went seven for eight in those two games with a homer and six RBI’s. In Game 1, he put the Sox ahead, 2-1, with an RBI single in the fifth and, with the score 3-2, Boston, in the seventh, he put the icing on the cake with a three run homer to put the game out of reach as the Sox won 6-4. In the last game, he went four for four with three singles and a double and his single with the bases loaded in the sixth drove in two to tie the game at 2-2. The Sox got three more in that inning, including one scored by Yaz, to make it 5-2 and went on to win 5-3.
The win assured the Sox of at least a tie for the pennant at 92-70 but the Tigers who were still 91-70 were playing their last game against California.
Pandemonium broke loose in Fenway at the end of the game and the fans took to the field to celebrate, ripping up sod and taking any souvenir they could of the game. I was in the ball park that day and in traffic after the crowd had cleared out of Fenway. When the radio announced that the Tigers lead off hitter, Dick McAuliffe had hit into a double play to end the game and the Tigers had lost giving the Red Sox the pennant, it seemed like every car horn in Boston blew.
In the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals which the Sox lost in seven games, Yaz went 10 for 25 at the plate, a .400 average, with three homers, two doubles, five RBI’s and four runs scored.
His career batting average was .285 and he had 452 homers among his 3,419 hits. In his 23 years with the Red Sox, he made 13,992 plate appearances, more than any other player in baseball history beside Pete Rose. He was named to 18 All Star teams and played his entire 23 year career for the Red Sox. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 with 94.6 % of the vote.
Captain Carl was one of the greatest players in Red Sox history and the year he had in 1967 was one of the greatest any player has ever had in baseball history. It’s worth a trip to Spring Training to see him in uniform again.