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The two major accidents of 1967 held back the ’68 Sox. Jim Lonborg was unable to pitch until May 28, because of his December skiing accident; his 6-10 record shows he couldn’t muster the stuff he’d had in 1967. Tony Conigliaro had to sit out the entire season, and it was unclear if he’d ever be able to see well enough again. In February, former manager and GM Pinky Higgins veered off I-20 in Louisiana and killed a roadside worker, while injuring three others. He was later convicted of negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated. Fenway Park attendance more than doubled in 1967 over ’66, to more than 1.7 million. It was a year which started out with a lot of empty seats, but then became almost impossible to get into during September. Opening Day 1968 was sold out, more than triple the crowd in 1967, and they got to see the American League pennant raised in center field. By the end of the season, despite a fourth-place finish (this team, too, won more than it lost: 86-76), more than 200,000 people had come to the park than a year earlier, rather close to 2,000,000. In the 11:05 AM Patriots Day game, the Red Sox beat the Indians, 9-2. Yaz made three hits, and Rico hit a three-run homer, and Gary Waslewski had a complete-game win. Ken Harrelson played his first full season with the Red Sox, and led the team with 35 home runs, driving in a league-leading 109 runs. Carl Yastrzemski won his third batting title, but with a very low .301 (actually, .3005565) mark. It was called the “Year of the Pitcher” – Yaz was the only player in the American League with the requisite number of plate appearances to hit over .300. After the season, the decision was made to lower the height of the pitching mound to restore better balance between batter and pitcher. On August 23, Yaz played his first game at first base. He handled himself well in the field, and was 2-for-4 at the plate. The Red Sox had picked up two new pitchers in separate trades, Ray Culp and Dick Ellsworth. In an odd twist of fate these pitchers were once traded for each other by the Cubs and Phillies. In 1968 they both led the Red Sox with 16 victories, Culp was 16-6 (2.91) and Ellsworth 16-7 (3.03). Culp ended the season in impressive form, with four shutouts and 39 consecutive scoreless innings – before getting skunked in the season finale. Two days earlier, Fenway fans gave Mickey Mantle a standing ovation in the first inning, believing it to be his last ballgame in Boston. The Red Sox ended up 22 1/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers, but finished ahead of the team in New York for the third straight season, something they hadn’t done since 1918. Fenway had hosted another event in late July. On the 25th, Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy held a political rally and an oversold 40,000 crammed into the ballpark. BSO conductor Leonard Bernstein gave the cue, and the Senator’s motorcade drove to a stage in left field from the gate in straightaway center.

By Bill Nowlin
 

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Tagged:
Dick Ellsworth, Dick Williams, Gary Waslewski, Jim Lonborg, Ken Harrelson, Mickey Mantle, Pinky Higgins, Ray Culp, Tony Conigliaro
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