A new ballplayer stepped into the shoes that Ted Williams had worn for more than 20 years, and it wasn’t easy. Carl Yastrzemski , age 21 when the season began, became the new Red Sox left fielder and heir apparent. Yaz struggled at first. As late as the first week in June, he was hitting .217 and had four home runs.
Williams was asked to come by and talk with him, and that seemed to offer some new confidence. He finished the season at .266 with 11 homers and 80 RBIs. Fenway soon became a comfortable home for another Hall of Fame career largely played out in the shadow of the left-field wall.
Expansion of the league added two new franchises, and the league changed from a 154-game schedule to one that was 162 games in duration. With no divisions in the league, it was now possible to finish in 10th place. The Red Sox never finished 10th. In 1961, they had a sixth-place finish, with a 76-86 record. The Mantle/Maris Yankees won 109 games, putting them 33 games ahead of Boston.
There were four years where baseball held two All-Star Games, and Fenway had the second game on July 30, 1961, the first game in Boston since 1946. Ted Williams had the honor of throwing out the first ball. Rookie right-hander Don Schwall was the only member of the Red Sox to make the game played in Fenway. At the time, he was 11-2 on the year, and the brightest hope for Boston’s future. The AL only used three pitchers in the 1-1 tie, called after nine innings due to torrential rains. Schwall pitched the middle three and gave up the only run to the NL. Schwall finished 15-7, and was accorded Rookie of the Year honors in the AL.
Monbouquette’s 14 wins were second on the staff. Gene Conley (who’d won a world championship ring in his other job, playing basketball for the Boston Celtics), then rushed to join the Red Sox for a very late spring training, and won 11. Monbo set a Red Sox record with 17 strikeouts during a May 12 game against Washington, losing his shot to tie the major-league record when catcher Jim Pagliaroni dropped a foul tip for what would have been strike three.
Pags provided a big punch in the highlight games of the year, a Father’s Day doubleheader on June 18. The Senators scored five runs in the top of the ninth to take a commanding 12-5 lead. Boston had two outs and a runner on first, and then proceeded to score eight runs to win the game. Pagliaroni tied it with a grand slam, and Russ Nixon’s single won it. Not content to rest of his laurels, Pagliaroni hit a home run in the 13th inning to win the second game, 6-5.
The consistent Runnels led in average with .317. Frank Malzone led in RBIs with 87 (Yastrzemski drove in 80), while Gary Geiger’s 18 home runs topped the team – and provided another thrilling moment with his August 8 inside-the-park grand slam at Fenway off Camilo Pascual. All in all, though, it was a disappointing season. The Red Sox finished in sixth place and without Williams as a draw, attendance languished - a decline of more than 275,000 patrons.By Bill Nowlin
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- All-Star Game, Bill Monbouquette, Camilo Pascual, Carl Yastrzemski, Don Schwall, Fenway Park, Gary Geiger, Gene Conley, Jim Pagliaroni, Russ Nixon, Ted Williams