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Had someone predicted that the 1967 Red Sox would climb from a half-game out of 10th place all the way to win the pennant, they would have been mocked for dreaming the impossible.
New manager Dick Williams left no doubt who was running the ship. Williams declared, “There will be no captains on this team” as he took away Carl Yastrzemski’s role as captain on the team. He then declared, regarding the forthcoming season, “We will win more than we lose,” said manager Williams.
For a team that had lost more than it had won for eight years in a row, this was bold. It took a while for fans to come around. The ballpark was more than two-thirds empty even on Opening Day. Jim Lonborg won a 4-3 win over the White Sox, but there were only 8,324 fans there to see it. Spring training hadn’t offered much cause for optimism. It was their second year back in Florida, at Winter Haven.
For the fifth time, Ton Conigliaro suffered a broken bone due to the aggressive way he crowded the plate, this time his left shoulder blade, broken by a batting-practice pitch. That same week, The Boomer (George Scott) was playing where Dick Williams told him to - an unaccustomed spot in right field, and he slammed into the concrete outfield wall, suffering a concussion.
Fenway itself took some extra work to prepare for the season to come. In mid-March, the grounds crew resorted to “flame-thrower types of machines” to help melt snow on the field, and then on March 25 hired three helicopters to hover over the field to expedite the drying process of the plowed-up frozen field so they could lay new sod.
There was an early spark in the young season when Billy Rohr took the mound in Yankee Stadium for his big-league debut. He held the Yankees hitless through 8 2/3 innings, only losing the no-hitter when Elston Howard singled to right-center. He collected a 3-0 one-hit win (thanks to Reggie Smith’s leadoff home run). A week later to the day, Rohr allowed New York just one eighth-inning run. The promise petered out; he never won another game for Boston.
On May 14, Detroit and Boston combined for 50 hits, 28 of them a record-setting extra-base hits, as the Red Sox beat the Tigers, 8-5 and 13-9. Things got hot in June when White Sox manager Eddie Stanky dubbed Yaz an “All-Star from the neck down.” Rookie Gary Waslewski made his first start on June 15, and took the 0-0 game against the White Sox into extra innings.In the 11th, Chicago scored, and Boston was down to its last out. With Foy on first, Tony Conigliaro was down 0-2. He took three straight pitches, each close to a strike. Then he exploded and sent a drive high into the night. The Red Sox won the game, and there began to be talk of this year becoming an “impossible dream”.
At the same time, there was another burst of talk looking at alternatives to playing in Fenway Park. Tom Yawkey told the Boston Globe’s Will McDonough that the facility was deteriorating and that interests in Milwaukee had appealed to him to move the Red Sox there. McDonough asked, “Can you see the Red Sox playing in Fenway in five years?” Yawkey said, “No. I don’t intend to bankrupt myself.” In late August, GM Dick O’Connell said the Red Sox were looking for a new stadium, paid for by state funds, because the team “firmly believes it cannot be privately financed.” Gov. John Volpe submitted a bill to supply up to $50 million in funds from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority.
Then the Red Sox won 10 games in a row, from July 14 through the 23rd. The last day of the streak saw the Sox sweep a doubleheader in Cleveland, as Tony Conigliaro hit two home runs - #100 and #101 of his career. Just 22, he became the youngest player in history to reach the 100-homer mark.
The Red Sox returned from the road a half a game out of first place, and were met by a totally spontaneous crowd estimated at 10,000 fans who surrounded the team bus and mobbed them in Boston at an unprepared Logan Airport. Then one night in August all Fenway went silent. Facing the Angels on August 18, Tony Conigliaro was struck on the eye socket by one of pitcher Jack Hamilton’s fastballs. He was lucky to be alive. There was no more baseball for him in 1967, and despite an heroic comeback, he was never really the same again.
The team would not quit, though, and swept the Angels that weekend. In the Sunday game, they trailed 8-0 but came back to win, 9-8. On the 27th, Yaz hit two homers and right-fielder Jose Tartabull cut down Ken Berry’s potential tying run in the ninth inning, preserving a 4-3 Red Sox victory. Elston Howard (who’d been acquired from New York) blocked the plate expertly, and made the tag. Stout and Johnson term it “the signature moment of the season” in the book Red Sox Century. The pennant race in 1967 couldn’t have been any closer. There were four teams -Minnesota, Detroit, Boston, and Chicago all within two games of each other when the final weekend arrived.
The White Sox fell first, leaving three teams on the very last day of the season, any one of which could win the pennant. Boston need to beat the Twins and hope the Tigers lost to the Angels. The Twins were leading Lonborg and Boston, 2-0, going into the sixth. Gentleman Jim was the first batter and he bunted down the third base line. He beat it out for a hit, and Boston went on to score five runs in the frame. Yastrzemski threw out Allison at third in the eighth, and when Rico Petrocelli squeezed the last out on a pop up by Rich Rollins, there was “pandemonium on the field” as thousands of delirious fans flooded on to the field, making off with grass from the field and any other souvenirs they could scoop up. Carl Yastrzemski was spectacular, with 10 hits in his last 13 at-bats, and going 7-for-8 in the last two games. Yaz batted .326, had 44 homers, and 121 RBIs – leading the league in each category; no one in either league has won the Triple Crown since Yaz in 1967.
After the season, the accolades began to pour in. Yaz was named MVP. Lonborg won the Cy Young, with his 22-9 record (he also led the league in strikeouts). Dick Williams was voted Manager of the Year, and Dick O’Connell was Executive of the Year. In retrospect, 1967 has been said to bring about the birth of “Red Sox Nation”, as fans such as those who flocked to Logan Airport in July became increasingly committed Red Sox fans.
In all the years since 1967, the team has only had six losing seasons. On the day before Christmas, Jim Lonborg suffered a serious injury to his knee during a skiing accident at Lake Tahoe.By Bill Nowlin