Just as his moment in the 1946 World Series defined the career of Enos “Country” Slaughter, the 1967 baseball season redefined the franchise of the Boston Red Sox!
They had been mired in mediocrity, check that, they were abysmal. They had not had a winning season since they were 79-75 in 1958. They had hit the 1,000,000 mark in attendance only once in a decade and they had lost 90 games in 1964, 100 games in 1965 and finished in ninth place in 1966. Fenway Park was turning into a mausoleum as the 1966 edition of the Red Sox drew 16 crowds of less than 3,000 people and one game they actually had 485 people! However, late in 1966, a glimmer of hope showed in the performance of some young players. Then in the winter, they hired this man to manage the team.
” I promise we’ll have a hustling ball club” he told the press and the Fenway Faithful and “they won’t quit…..I don’t intend to have anybody quit on me here.” And then he added, “We’ll win more than we’ll lose.” A bold and brash statement about a team that in the previous three years had a combined record of 198-272 and had finished in 8th, 9th and 9th place. Most members of the media and most members of the Fenway Faithful thought he was nuts!
The transformation on the field was led by this man, MVP Carl Michael Yastrzemski, the man called simply “Yaz”! It is hard to describe his performance in 1967. The numbers tell part of the story, a .326 average with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Good enough for the Triple Crown, the last seen by major league baseball. His Hall of Fame manager, Dick Williams went to his grave saying that Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 was the best player he ever saw! There are still many who saw him and/or played with him that season that say the same thing.
His supporting cast was not bad either.
Jim Lonborg emerged as one of the best pitchers in baseball going 22-9 and winning the American League Cy Young Award!
George “Boomer” Scott played Gold Glove first base with the grace of a deer and he endeared himself to the Fenway Faithful naming home runs “taters” hitting 19 of them and batting .303.
Tony Conigliaro, (see posts Jan 7-13 2012) blossomed into an All Star before being beaned in August,
and shortstop Rico Petrocelli did as well.
Two rookies emerged with contributions which far exceeded expectations, Mike Andrews at second base and switch-hitting Reggie Smith in centerfield.
The front office made four very significant acquisitions during the season which were invaluable:
Adair provided veteran stability and leadership to a young infield.
Gary “Ding Dong” Bell went 12-8 after joining the Red Sox in June.
“The Hawk” provided some power when Tony C went down.
Howard brought an incalculable presence in handling the young Sox pitching staff.
The 1967 pennant chase, perhaps the most dramatic in baseball history, went down to the last week with the White Sox, Tigers, Twins and Red Sox still alive. The Red Sox emerged victorious by taking the last two games of the season from the Twins at Fenway Park, earning all of them one of these.
However, just as they had in 1946, the Sox dropped the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games and it was the Cards who took home the $8,314.81 winners share while the Red Sox settled for $5,115.23 each. To their credit, they voted one full World Series share to the Jimmy Fund!
The Red Sox never drew less than 1,000,000 fans again and since 1986 they have slipped below the two million mark but once. The 2008 season brought three million fans to Fenway Park and they have not slipped below that since.
And there are those that will tell you that the birth of Red Sox Nation occurred in 1967, the Summer of Love, the summer of The Impossible Dream, the summer of the Cardiac Kids, the summer to last a lifetime!
And so it was at this time in Fenway Park history, World Series time, 1967.