The pitchers and catchers are in, the high school season has begun in Florida and despite the fact that the northeast was once again hit with snowfall this weekend, we are on the threshold of baseball season.
Back in the days of vinyl records (remember them?) it was always about this time of year that I would break out my highlight record of the 1967 Red Sox Impossible Dream season.
“This is really a love story, an affair twixt a town and a team…..that ran and hit and never quit, and forged the Impossible Dream”.
It was almost a half century ago that a baseball team of kids, Cardiac Kids to be precise, revitalized a city and saved a franchise in a pennant race that has yet to be duplicated. And as I tip toe towards the winter of my life, the thrills and joys of that summer linger on my palate like the finest vintage of the finest wine.
Little did I know that what transpired that year would bring joyful wonders for a lifetime, but I digress.
Coming up on Thursday of this week is Christmas for this soon to be sixty year old as I will emcee the annual putting contest at the Plantation Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic at the Plantation Golf Club in Venice Florida.
Participating in that event will be a couple of members of that 1967 team, the utility player extraordinaire and the shortstop.
George Thomas played five different defensive positions on the 1967 Red Sox team.
“Petrocelli’s back, he’s got it, the Red Sox win, there’s pandemonium on the field…….Listen!” Ned Martin
I have been doing a bit of 1967 research of late (can’t get enough of it) and it became crystal clear to me that to come to an understanding of 1967 and what it meant to a city, its fans, a franchise and to baseball as a whole, you must understand what led up to it.
Always fascinated by the utility player, my reintroduction to George Thomas had me move back almost 20 years before him to the summer of 1950 and a guy named Billy Goodman.
Billy Goodman made his debut with the Red Sox in 1947 and played through the 1957 season.
The wirery, sweet swinging left-handed hitter hit .310 as a rookie first baseman in 1948 and followed that up with a solid .298 the following year. In 1949 he played a couple of games at the other corner of the diamond but that gave no hint at what awaited the kid from North Carolina in July of 1950.
It was July 11th and Red Sox great Ted Williams was playing left field in the All Star game in Comiskey Park in Chicago. The second batter of the game for the National League was Pirates slugging outfielder Ralph Kiner. He smashed one towards the corner in left field which Williams ran down to make the catch. However he slammed into the wall breaking his elbow. He remained in the game and went 1-4 before being replaced in the ninth inning.
Ted is cheered up by a couple of fans at Sancta Maria hospital as he recuperates from his elbow injury.
The “Splendid Splinter’s” absence created quite a void in the Red Sox line up but as every injury to every player on every baseball team does, it opened the door for someone to step up. Step up is just what Billy Goodman did!
Goodman waiting to take his hacks.
Billy had spent the first part of the season shuttling back and forth between first and third base and he had found his name sprinkled from the second to sixth spot in the order. However when Ted went down Goodman settled into his left field position and the leadoff spot in the order.
Billy Goodman (L) the 1950 batting champ with Walt Dropo the 1950 Rookie of the Year. Sitting behind them is Dom DiMaggio (R) and manager Steve O’Neil.
At the All Star break the Red Sox were 42-35 and in fourth place in the eight team American League. They were eight games back of the first place Tiger, five behind the second place Yankees and they trailed the third place Indians by three and a half games.
From the time that Goodman entered left field and the leadoff spot in the second game of a July 17th doubleheader, the Red Sox went 49-23 the rest of the way, the best in the league. All the affable lefty did was hit .378 in July and .397 in August propelling him to the American League batting crown. He hit .381 with runners in scoring position and .356 when there were two outs with those guys in scoring position; and in what are refered to as the clutch stats, the “late and close” situations (two outs seventh inning or later with the team down a run, tied, or up by one) he hit at a .412 clip.
The Red Sox got to within a game of first place with a 3-2 win over the Tigers on September 17th but they would wind up in third place, four games behind the Yankees who were in their second year of what would become five straight World Series wins.
Goodman would go on to be an overshadowed star in the league. A lifetime .300 hitter, he was traded to the Orioles in 1957 and then to the White Sox where he made a significant contribution to their pennant in 1959.
Rico makes the catch to end the last game of the season on October 1, 1967 giving the Red Sox their first pennant in 21 years. Behind Rico an exhilarated Yaz, in front of him a jubilant Jim Lonborg.
It would be 17 years before a Red Sox team would be within a game of first place after September and that is just where they were on the morning of October 1, 1967, a game behind the Minnesota Twins who they played at Fenway on that glorious early fall day. When that baseball, off the bat of Rich Rollins, nestled into Rico Petrocelli’s glove to end the contest, it triggered an explosion of joy the likes of which the city had never seen.
That joy would reverberate throughout New England and to the bedroom community of Weymouth Massachusetts where echos of that day, that year continue to touch me and bring a smile to my heart.
Is it irony or serendipity that Billy Goodman passed away on October 1. 1984, 17 years to the day of Fenway Park’s “pandemonium on the field”, and in Sarasota Florida no less, 10 miles north of where I write this morning?
I’m not sure. All I know is this morning I am more aware of Billy Goodman and his place in baseball history; more aware and more appreciative of yet another boy of summer. And all put in motion by that year of wonder, 1967.
Ah, 1967 she has given me so much; she has taken me places I never dreamed I could go. I miss her but she is always with me and I wait in hope of what is next; for somewhere deep within she whispers to me and in the whisper I know that what is next….. will be best!
Love that 1967…..