Mike Yastrzemksi’s Big Fly Would Have Fallen Flat If Not For Grandpa’s ’67 Squad That Saved Fenway

Boston fans welcomed Carl Yastrzemski’s grandson with open arms … as the enemy. It’s a bit of sportsmanship saved only for a place that appreciates its history in a historic place … a place that wouldn’t be here without the 1967 Red Sox.

Mike Yastrzemski provided one of the season’s most electric moments Tuesday night when he homered at Fenway Park in Boston.

Fenway: home to Ted Williams, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Babe Ruth (for 391 games and two home run titles), and Mike Yastrzemski’s grandfather, Carl.

Carl was on the ’67 team and was the MVP — led the majors in hits, runs, RBI, homers, average, total bases, and OPS. The team won the pennant, but lost Tony Conigliaro to a beaning and the World Series to the Cardinals.

Both the beaning and the series are part of baseball’s lore for bad and good (if you’re a Cards fan) but more importantly to all of baseball (no offense Sox fans) the ’67 team saved Fenway.

According to an article by the great Will McDonough in the Boston Globe, Tom Yawkey was ready to walk. After years of failing to integrate his team with black ballplayers, Boston went through an eight-season stretch where they failed to finish above .500.

According to an excerpt from “Remembering Fenway Park: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Soxthe team drew just over 10,000 fans per game in 1966, and in one game against the California Angels, drew 409.

“409,” Tom Yawkey must have thought. “Time to clean house.” And then maybe he reconsidered, “Or… move it?”

In McDonough’s piece, he quotes Yawkey, envious of other cities that built circular concrete and steel money-makers, “In the past five years there have been a half dozen new stadiums constructed in the country,” Yawkey said. “In all that time all we’ve done in Boston is talk. I wonder why? Why can those other cities build stadiums and not Boston?

Somehow, for some reason, Oakland, Arlington, Anaheim, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Diego and Houston were all driving Yawkey nuts, what with his cramped confines, the laughable right field foul pole, the hideous wall in left, that ugly brick and the god-awful way it was part of the community instead of being stuck out in the middle of a nice, pleasant rice field.

“It might be different if those other cities weren’t getting together and getting stadiums built. But they are — and we aren’t. So it makes you wonder,” he moaned.

Yawkey claimed to lose more than $3 million each year on the Sox, in part because of a lack of parking.

“With a new stadium,” Yawkey said, “this club would be a financial success. There’s no doubt in my mind. “Without one, it cannot be.”

But then the ’67 Sox came around. Even though they lost the Series, the team continued to win more than it lost and baseball in the city was reborn. For the next 52 years, the Sox would draw more fans than the league average, except for three (’84, ’97, and ’00 according to Baseball Almanac.)

Part of the charm of the franchise was how close they got to exorcising the curse of Ruth, who got traded during after setting the single-season home run record of 29. This was another period of bad ideas: “I don’t care if he hits 30 home runs next year, I don’t want him on my team!”

Ruth hit 54 the next year and the Yankees … oh, lets not …

Boston again lost the Series in ’75 and ’86, both in heart-breaking fashion, all in front of the Green Monster.

And there were the ALCS losses: four of them. Then, 2004 rolled around and in front of the same giant wall and the Pesky Pole and Ted Williams’ red seat, they lost the first three and it was all but over. But “the idiots” as they called themselves then did the unthinkable and won four straight to beat the Yankees. Boston then won another four straight to finally get revenge on the Cardinals (though the Sox had to celebrate on the road).

All the heartache, all the near-misses, all the agony shared by people who went to their second home every year to root for their boys and embrace all of the good things … the great things the game has to offer were shared in the same place. That’s what made Tuesday’s home run by a visiting player no less incredible. The grandson of a legend who came back to the coliseum where his grandfather mastered his craft … showed that he too has a bit of legend inside.

The Red Sox family couldn’t help but be proud after Mike Yastrzemski’s blast reminded them of another outfielder with much the same look who patrolled Fenway for 23 years. Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

All of the heartache and efforts of the underdog aren’t too far away from the story of a former Orioles farmhand who was called up by San Francisco as a 28-year-old rookie and has been one of the Giants’ best players.

He’s now part of the lore of the place: a baseball institution that received $285 million worth of renovations a decade ago (including a virtual reality booth). The changes were brought about  as wiser heads came up with a plan that scrapped a bone-headed plea in 1999 by CEO John Harrington. His idea would have built a replica stadium somewhere else (think mega sports complex!) Imagine, $285 million, for a place in which Tom Yawkey once figured he’d never turn another profit.

So as the fans at Fenway rose to see Yaz the younger round first base after uncorking a mighty blast to straightaway center field, they roared the appreciation of a group that knew they had seen another piece of history and cheered as though it wasn’t the enemy, but rather their Hall of Fame left fielder and MVP himself who had hit the blast. This home run was okay. It was family after all who had hit it. It truly was a singular moment in a singular place.

Tiger Stadium is gone, as is the old Comiskey Park and the old Yankee Stadium. I know of no one who has a particular desire to visit their replacements. But fans still will drive hours to see the other remaining reminder of professional baseball’s birth, Wrigley Field in Chicago, after a $550 million renovation.

And they will continue to make the pilgrimage to Fenway for another 30 or 40 years at least, to soak up the history and the greatness and the heartache of the place. I hope they say a special thanks to the ’67 Sox, who helped save it.


Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.