CARL YASTRZEMSKI

Yaz World SeriesCarl Yastrzemski was selected to his first American League All-Star team in 1963.  Fifty years later he still clearly remembered walking into the locker room at Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium.

“Bill Monbouquette, Frank Malzone and Dick Radatz were all selected along with me.  When we got to the park, the first player I saw was Al Kaline [Detroit Tiger’s future Hall of Famer].  I looked across the room and there was Brooks Robinson and Elston Howard.  I was just a 23-year old kid.  I was in awe.

“When I got to our dugout, across the way I see Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.  Then I spotted Stan Musial, who I idolized growing up as a kid.  I remember being a little overwhelmed.”

Carl’s other strong memory of his first All-Star selection involves the late Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.  “When Bill [Monbouquette], Frank [Malzone]), Dick [(Radatz] and I were picked for the 1963 team, Mr. Yawkey made it a point to stop by the locker room to congratulate us.  He was a great person, and a great owner, but more than anything, he was a great baseball fan.”

ALL TIME ALL-STAR

            The term All-Star and the name Carl Yastrzemski are virtually synonymous.  Yaz was selected for the American League All-Star team 18 times.  He was the honorary Captain of the American League All-Star team in 1989.  His batting accomplishments in 14 All-Star appearances place him among the elite in the history of the game.  In Red Sox history, only the legendary Ted Williams with 18 appearances in 16 seasons (Williams played in both All-Star Games held in 1959 and 1960) has a comparable All-Star record.

The 1999 All-Star Game at FenwayPark brought Yaz back to Boston as one of one hundred players selected for the All Century team.  Taking a break from his role as honorary chairman of the most successful “All-Star Fan Fests” in baseball history, he recalled his All-Star memories.

“Back when I was playing, it was really only a one-day event.  Now it goes on for several days, and the fans have a lot more opportunity to get involved.  My only regret is that we don’t have a bigger ballpark here in Boston so more fans could see the games and the other activities.”

THE EARLY YEARS

Carl Michael Yastrzemski succeeded Ted Williams as the Red Sox leftfielder in 1961.  Yastrzemski had been a three-sport standout at tiny BridgehamptonHigh School on Long   Island, New York.  He enrolled at Notre DameUniversity on a combination baseball and basketball scholarship in the fall of 1957.    Yaz’s college aspirations were put on hold when he signed with the Boston Red Sox during the Thanksgiving break of his sophomore year.

The first professional baseball stop for Yastrzemski was the Red Sox Class A team in Raleigh, North   Carolina, for the 1959 season.  His .377 batting average easily topped the league and earned him a promotion to the top Sox farm team in Minneapolis.  His .337 batting average in Triple A, and the retirement of Ted Williams at the end of 1960 bought him a one-way ticket to FenwayPark.  His career with the major league club was to last through 23 memorable seasons.

Replacing Ted Williams in left field and in the hearts of Boston Red Sox fans was a Herculean task for any player, let alone a 20-year-old with two years of professional baseball experience.  Ted Williams was a larger-than-life figure on and off the field.  It is often said, only partly in jest, that the late actor John Wayne only wished he could be Ted Williams.

Laboring under the lengthy shadow cast by the memory of Williams, Yaz batted .266 in his rookie year, and improved to .296 with 43 doubles in his second season in 1962.  His All-Star selection in July of 1963 heralded his break-through season when he led the American League with a .321 batting average while playing outstanding defense in left field.

Yaz’ continued success earned him All-Star honors in 1965 and 1966.  His first six seasons in the major leagues had established him as one of the star players in the game.  But his 1967 season would propel Carl Yastrzemski to a place among the elite players in the history of the game.

THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM TEAM

            The 1967 Boston Red Sox assembled in Winter   Haven, Florida, for Spring Training under rookie manager Dick Williams with little fanfare.  The team had finished in ninth place the year before and the “experts” in Las Vegas had assigned them a 1-in-100 chance to win the American League pennant.

The first sign that things might be different appeared when rookie Pitcher Billy Rohr came within an Elston Howard single of pitching a no-hitter in his major league debut at Yankee Stadium.  Rohr’s hopes for a no-hitter were kept alive in the ninth inning when Yaz made a sensational catch of a Tom Tresh line drive.

“One of the big differences in 1967,” Yaz recalled, “is that I was able to work out the preceding winter.  In earlier years, I was finishing up my college work.  But I had completed my degree at MerrimackCollege so I had time to focus on my conditioning.  I reported to spring training in great shape.”

By the time the 1967 All-Star game rolled around, Yaz was among the top five in the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.  The Red Sox were only six games out of first place at the All-Star break, and it was clear that the team had as good a shot at the American League pennant as anyone.

When he looks back at the 1967 All-Star Game held in Anaheim, California, one fact stands out for Yaz.  “I remember we had four guys on the team.  I was on it, along with Rico [Petrocelli], Tony [Conigliaro], and Lonnie [pitcher Jim Lonborg].  To me, it was an acknowledgement that we were a team to be reckoned with.  We had arrived.”

Fellow All-Star Rico Petrocelli has fond memories of Yastrzemski’s 1967 All-Star Game performance.  “The game started in the twilight [4:15 PDT] and the hitters were having trouble seeing the pitches.  That is, all the hitters except Yaz.  He had a remarkable ability to tune out any distractions.  Every time I looked up that day, it seemed he was on base.  He was like that all year.”

The 1967 American League All-Stars managed only nine hits over 15 innings as they fell to their National League counterparts 2-1.  But Yaz rapped out two singles and a double hitting in the shadows on a sultry, 92-degree day.  His two walks for the day meant he had accounted for five of the eleven American League base runners.

The 1967 Red Sox held New England fans spellbound all summer and into the fall, as they battled for first place in the most exciting pennant race in American League history.  Their thrilling win over the Minnesota Twins on the last day of the season touched off one of the great celebrations in Boston history.  While a different Red Sox hero seemed to emerge daily, the one constant was Yaz.

Former teammate George Scott remembers it this way, “Yaz hit 44 homers that year, and 43 of them meant something big for the team.  It seemed like every time we needed a big play, the man stepped up and got it done.”

The storybook season came to an end when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series four games to three, but Carl Yastrzemski’s place was indelibly etched in baseball folklore.  Yaz came within one vote of a unanimous selection as the Most Valuable Player of the American League.  He was selected by Sports Illustrated as the “1967 Sportsman of the Year” at year-end.  And he achieved baseball’s “Triple Crown,” leading the American League in batting, runs batted in, and home runs.  In all the baseball seasons that have followed, only Miguel Cabrera has been able to match his Triple Crown feat.

ALL-STAR MVP  

            Between 1965 and 1979, Yaz was named to 15 consecutive All-Star teams.  The game he remembers best is the 1970 All-Star Game held in Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.  That game was one of the most hotly contested match-ups in All-Star history.

“I remember that I started out in left field, then I was shifted to center, and I finished the game at first base.  What I remember most is Pete Rose crashing into Ray Fosse [Cleveland catcher] to score the winning run for the National League in the twelfth inning.”  Almost as an afterthought, he mentions, “I won the MVP trophy that night.  I gave the trophy to [then] President Nixon, and now it is in his library in California.”

Yaz had four hits, to go along with a run scored and a RBI to earn his MVP honors that year.  He and Ted Williams [1946] are the only two American Leaguers with four hits in an All-Star Game.  Never one to focus on personal statistics asked about this record Yaz responded, “I never knew that before.  To tell you the truth, I was so sick of losing to the National League that I didn’t pay much attention to that stuff.”

It is sometimes written that Yaz had a “career year” in 1967, but never again approached that standard.  It should be noted that in 1970 he led the American League in runs scored, on-base percentage, total bases, slugging average, and he came within .0001 of winning the batting title.  When coupled with his all-time high of 23 stolen bases, you have a year that would have been a career year for almost any other player.

Those 23 stolen bases made him only the second player in Red Sox history to steal more than 20 bases and hit more than 20 home runs in a single season.  Former All-Star outfielder Jackie Jensen was the first Red Sox player to achieve this combination in 1954, and Jensen duplicated this feat during the 1959 season.

THE LATER YEARS

            In February 1971, Carl Yastrzemski signed a three-year contract that was reported to pay him $500,000 over the three seasons.  At that time his contract was the largest in baseball history.

Yaz returned to the All-Star team each year from 1971 to 1974.  In 1971 he earned his sixth Gold Glove for fielding excellence, and in 1974 he led the American League in runs scored.  But the next All-Star Game that stands out in his memory is the 1975 game played in Milwaukee.

“What I remember best is being a teammate of Hank Aaron.  He was finishing out his career as a designated hitter with the Brewers, and it was just great sitting with him on the bench after seeing him across the diamond all those years.

“I got into the game as a pinch-hitter and homered off Tom Seaver.  My home run tied the game 3-3 so it felt pretty good.  The thing that still kills me is that he [American League Manager Alvin Dark] didn’t put me in to play left field. The guy he put in there [Claudell Washington of the Oakland A’s] made a couple of errors that cost us the game.  I think I could have made a difference in the outcome.  I was really sick of losing to the National League at that point.”

Yaz’s play throughout the post-season in 1975 reminded fans that he had always been at his best in clutch situations throughout his career.  After playing first base during the regular season to make way for emerging superstar Jim Rice, Yaz returned to left field after Rice was injured in late September.

Carl Yastrzemski played his old position in virtuoso style as he helped lead his team to a three-game sweep over the defending champion Oakland A’s in the Championship Series.  His stellar play in the field and at bat continued into the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.  Although the Red Sox lost to the Reds in seven games in one of the greatest World Series ever played, Yaz had scored 11 runs, and batted .350 during the ten postseason games.Yaz-Reds

From 1976 to 1983, Carl Yastrzemski made the American League All-Star team six times.  On July 14, 1977, he notched his 2,655th hit, moving past Ted Williams as the all-time Red Sox base hit leader.  In 1979, he became the first American Leaguer to accumulate more than 3,000 lifetime hits and over 400 career home runs.

His final All-Star game in Chicago in 1983 really stands out in his mind.  That game marked the 50th anniversary of the first All-Star game, and the National League brought a streak of eleven straight victories into the game.

“I had made up my mind to retire at the end of the season, so I knew it was my last All-Star game.  What I remember about the game is that Fred Lynn (his former Red Sox teammate) hit a grand slam homer to break the game open for us.  I knew then that I was going out an All-Star game winner.  It was a great feeling”

HALL OF FAMER

            On October 1, 1983, the next-to-the-last game of the season, 33,491 of the Fenway Faithful gathered to pay tribute to Carl Yastrzemski.  The pre-game ceremony lasted for about an hour, and then came Yaz’s turn to speak.   After 23 years of never flinching in a pressure situation, Yaz broke down and cried when he stepped to the microphone. Yaz Day

Once he regained his composure, he asked for a moment of silence for his mother and for former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey.  After thanking his family and everyone connected with the Red Sox, he finished with the words, “New England, I love you.”

Yaz then broke into a victory lap along the perimeter of the entire ballpark.  He reached out and touched as many hands as he could along the way.  “I wanted to show my emotions,” he said in the clubhouse after the game.  “For 23 years, I always blocked everything out.  I wanted to show these people that deep down, I was emotional for all that time.”

In January of 1989, in his first year of eligibility, Carl Yastrzemski was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  His vote total that year was among the highest recorded in the history of the Hall of Fame.

If anyone worried that Red Sox fans would forget Yaz after his retirement, those fears were assuaged at the time of his Hall of Fame induction ceremony.  On a picture-perfect Sunday afternoon in July, an estimated 25,000 fans crowded the lawn around the Hall of Fame to pay tribute to Yaz.  Before the ceremony, recordings of Jess Cain (former Boston radio personality) singing “Caaarl YastrzemskiCaaaaarl Yastrzemski” echoed from one edge of the crowd to the other.

Fellow inductees Johnny Bench [Cincinnati Reds catcher] and Red Schoendienst [St. Louis Cardinal second baseman] were greeted warmly by the crowd.  But the greatest crowd response was for Carl.  He acknowledged Ted Williams, who was seated on the stage with his fellow Hall of Famers, with the following story:

“I remember in 1961 when I was a scared rookie, hitting .220 after the first three months of my baseball season, doubting my ability.  A man was fishing up in New Brunswick.  I said, ‘Can we get a hold of him?  I need help.  I don’t think I can play in the big leagues.’  He flew into Boston, worked with me for three days, helped me mentally, and gave me confidence that I could play in the big leagues.  I hit .300 for the rest of the season.  I would like to thank Ted Williams.”

EPILOGUE

Carl Yastrzemski retired after 23 seasons with some of the greatest offensive statistics ever compiled [please see box below].  But many fans remember him for his standout defensive play, especially for his earlier years in left field, as well.  When asked about his career highlights, the seven-time Gold Glover recalls two fielding plays.

“I remember the throw I made to get Bob Allison [Twins] at second base in the last game of the 1967 season.  And I remember cutting off Reggie Jackson’s line drive in the 1975 playoffs in Oakland.  Those are the plays that stand out to me.”

The baseball careers of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski are inexorably linked.  Their paths crossed directly for the last time when they were introduced before the All-Star Game at Fenway Park as two of the 100 greatest baseball players of the 20th century.  The crowd reaction when Yaz was introduced shook the ballpark to its ancient foundations.  The response of the crowd when Ted was driven from the far reaches of centerfield to a spot near the pitchers’ mound nearly equaled the decibel count of the jet fly-by following the National Anthem.

Carl Yastrzemski was selected to replace Ted Williams in left field for the Boston Red Sox in 1961.  Today, more than 40 years later, it is abundantly clear that no one will ever replace Ted Williams in the hearts of Red Sox fans.  But it is equally clear that Carl Yastrzemski has rightfully earned a place alongside Ted as one of the greatest all-around ballplayers to ever grace the game of baseball.

Carl Michael Yastrzemski: the man we affectionately call Yaz.

 

 

 

CARL YASTRZEMSKI’S   RANKS IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HISTORY

CATEGORY

CAREER TOTALS

ALL-TIME

MLB RANK

Games   Played

3,308

2nd

At-Bats

11,988

3rd

Base   on Balls

1,845

6th

Base   Hits

3,419

8th

Doubles

646

8th

Total   Bases

5,539

8th

Extra   Base Hits

1,157

11th

RBI

1,844

13th

Runs

1,816

18th

Home   Runs

452

35th

SOURCE:   Basseball-Reference.com 2013

Article written by

Herb Crehan is in his 19th season as a Contributing Writer and he has written more than 100 feature articles for RED SOX MAGAZINE. He is the publisher of a website that is dedicated to the preservation of Boston baseball history. Comments and suggestions for future articles may be submitted at his website www.bostonbaseballhistory.com

2 Responses

  1. Dan Merlin September 23, 2013 at 10:18 am | | Reply

    Another great article! Yaz was one of my favorite players growing up. I know some people have said he was not friendly (he passed me up for an autograph when I was a kid) and some have even questioned his selection into the Hall of Fame. But he was a true Red Sox and he accomplished many great achievements throughout his career. And the fact that he had to follow the great Ted Williams….well that makes him even more impressive. Others may have buckled under that type of pressure. Yaz was clutch and a great defensive player. That and his batting numbers make him a HOF’er to me!

  2. Richard Salsman September 23, 2013 at 9:57 pm | | Reply

    This was a fine article. At my age (80′s) Ted is my hero, but Yaz was the second greatest left fielder in Red Sox history. Good work Herb–Go Red Sox! D. O, D.

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