9 AM, Sunday, May 14, 1967.
That’s the day and the hour that baseball was reborn in Boston. We can pinpoint the time thanks to a book written two decades later by the late, great Red Sox broadcaster Ken Coleman with Dan Valenti. The book, The Impossible Dream Remembered, was written to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the miraculous 1967 season, when the Sox vaulted from a 72-90 ninth place finish the year before to capture the American League pennant in a dramatic four-way race. In the process they reawakened New England’s long dormant love for baseball and the Red Sox.
Led by Carl Yastrzemski, who that year would win the Triple Crown, be elected American League MVP, win a Gold Glove, be chosen The Sporting News Player of the Year, Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, to name just some of the honors bestowed upon him, the ’67 Red Sox literally saved baseball in Boston.
Coleman, a bit of a pack rat, had saved all his notes from ’67 when he had been present for every game, from spring training right through the World Series. He was thus able, with the help of newspaper clippings, to piece together a day-by-day telling of the Impossible Dream story. Even more important, Bobby Doerr, the Red Sox legend who was first base coach and hitting instructor that year, had kept a diary of that season and made it available to Coleman for his book. That’s why we know the day and the hour the miracle began to happen.
Let’s start at the beginning. Yastrzemski, still only twenty-seven but already a six year veteran and owner of a batting championship, had up until then been a gap hitter; he’d never hit more than twenty home runs or driven in as many as a hundred runs in a season. But he had spent the off-season working with a personal trainer and came into spring training feeling stronger than he ever had before. He decided to transform himself from a gap hitter to a power hitter.
But when the season started, it wasn’t working. Long fly balls were dying at the fence rather than soaring into the bullpen or beyond. More than a month into the season he had only two homers and was batting under .300. Frustrated after a Saturday night loss that put the Sox record at a mediocre 11-14, he asked Doerr to meet him at Fenway early the next morning, Sunday, May 14th, for some extra hitting.
Bobby had a theory that Yaz’s slight uppercut swing was putting topspin on fly balls, causing them to sink. They talked about it before taking the field and mutually decided that Yaz should try holding his hands higher in his batting stance, which would result in leveling his swing. Then Doerr started to throw batting practice to him. Suddenly Yastrzemski was hitting fly balls that were soaring rather than sinking. Bobby wrote in his diary that day, “(H)e held his hands higher, about to the level of his left ear. He started hitting the ball all over, with power. Yaz said he was sure he corrected the problem this way…..By raising his bat, he leveled his swing and the ball carried with a good back spin.”
Bobby was careful not to take credit for the new hands position. Neither did Yaz say it was his idea. Both men, Bobby in his diary and Carl in a separate interview, described it as a collaborative decision. In any case, an iconic batting stance was born that morning. Ask any sixty-something year old baby boomer who followed the Red Sox half a century ago what Yastrzemski looked like at the plate and he’ll immediately cock his hands level with his left ear, left elbow out, and imaginary bat held straight up, perpendicular to the ground. For just an instant or two, he’s a ten year old kid again, channeling the great Yastrzemski.
For his part, Yaz wasn’t sure he’d be able to get around on major league fastballs holding his bat that way, but he was determined to try. His doubts were erased later that day, when, in his first at bat in a double header against the Tigers, he homered into the centerfield bleachers. He also homered in the nightcap and the Sox won both games. That was the beginning.
Cue the music. Everybody sing, “To dreeeeam the impossible….” Well, you know how it turned out. It was in all the papers.
Yaz had hit just two home runs in the month prior to that batting session. He went on to hit forty two more that year, in addition to driving in one hundred twenty-one runs and batting .326. The Red Sox made history that year, and they did it standing on the shoulders of Carl Yastrzemski.
But it wouldn’t have happened had not he and Bobby Doerr decided to get up early on a Sunday morning to put in some extra work.
The Workingman's Hero
There’s a name for a man who strove every day,
Persevered at his craft, showed others the way.
There’s a name for a man who never would rest,
Who honed all his skills until he was best.
There’s a name for a man who made himself great.
The workingman’s hero, he wore number eight.
It’s a Hall of Fame name, great glory it has,
There’s a name for that man – the man known as Yaz.
Reprinted from Red Sox Rhymes: Verses and Curses, with permission from William Morrow, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers