REMEMBERING YAZ (Part I)
A statue honoring Carl Yazstremski will soon be part of the environment outside of Fenway Park–and justifiably so. This piece and the one that will follow merge oral history with narrative to bring back some of the life and times of one of Boston’s greatest ballplayers.
Ted Williams was gone but the talk was about the “new Williams” waiting in the wings and ready to become a new legend for the Boston Red Sox starting in 1961.
Back on November 28, 1958, two days after receiving a $125,000 offer from the Cincinnati Reds, he arrived with his father in Boston to negotiate with the Red Sox.
Scout Bots Nekola recalled the experience.
“They drove up to Boston in the middle of this damn blizzard,” Nekola said. “It was dismal, snowing like hell, and Fenway Park was the last place in the world you’d try to entice anybody with.”
The young prospect walked around the park while the veteran scout waited nervously. The youngster studied the fences; striding swiftly he came back to Nekola. “I can hit in this park,” he said.
Red Sox farm director Johnny Murphy offered the boy $100,000 plus college tuition. The father wanted $125,000 but dropped to $115,000.
“We’ll give you $108,000 plus a two-year Triple-A farm contract, a year plus the rest of your college expenses,” Murphy made a counter offer.
The contract was signed. They all went to meet general manager Joe Cronin who sized up the 5’11”, 170-pound young man “He doesn’t seem very big,” was the baseball legend’s reaction.
“He walked out shaking his head like a man who had met a midget when he expected a giant,” the youth recalled.
TED SPENCER: Over the winter the story was about Carl Yazstremski, the new Ted Williams. “Well, I’m not going to miss this,” I said. I missed Williams’ last game. Three guys in high school with me wanted to go, too. It was April 11th 1961, my 18th birthday. I went down to the basement ticket window in Remick’s department store in Quincy, Mass. and bought four tickets, $3.50 each. Great seats – about four rows behind the on-deck circle behind the dugout on the visitor’s side.
Yaz hit a bloop single to left field in his first at bat and went 1-5 that day. That first hit came off A’s hurler Ray Herbert. The Sox lost to Kansas City, 5-2.
“I came to love Fenway,” Yaz said. “It was a place that rejuvenated me after a road trip; the fans right on top of you, the nutty angles. And the Wall. That was my baby, the left-field wall, the Green Monster.”
JOHNNY PESKY: I think Yaz was as good as any outfielder that ever played there, and I’m not taking anything away from Ted. Yaz was like an infielder from the outfield. He threw well; they couldn’t run on him. And he knew how to play that Monster.
DAN SHAUGHNESSY: Yaz could decoy better than any outfielder and routinely pretended he was ready to catch a ball that he knew was going to carom off the Wall. Sometimes this would make runners slow down or stop altogether.
DON ZIMMER: When Bucky Deny hit the ball, I said, “That’s an out.” And usually you know when the ball hits the bat whether it’s short, against the wall, in the net or over the net. I see Yaz backing up, and when he’s looking up, I still think he’s going to catch it. When I see him turn around, then I know he’s going to catch it off the wall. Then the ball wound up in the net.
“I was so d— shocked,” pitcher Mike Torrez said. “I thought maybe it was going to be off the wall. D—, I did not think it was going to go out.”
BUCKY DENT: When I hit the ball, I knew that I had hit it high enough to hit the wall. But there were shadows on the net behind the wall and I didn’t see the ball land there. I was running from the plate because I thought I had a chance at a double. I didn’t know it was a home run until the second-base umpire signaled it was a home run. It was an eerie feeling because the ballpark was dead silent.
STEVE RYDER: It was just a pop fly off Mike Torrez. It just made the netting. The crowd was just absolutely stunned, absolutely stunned.
Don Zimmer changed the Yankee shortstop’s name to “Bucky F—–g Dent.” Red Sox fans were even more vulgar in their language.
Yaz had two hits in that game, including a homer off Ron Guidry, but he also made the last out.
DAN SHAUGHNESSY: I was covering for the Baltimore Eagle Sun in the second or third row. The old press box was down low. I was downstairs later in the stands when Gossage got Yaz to pop up because we were getting ready to go to the locker room and it looked like they were going down and that was interesting how Sox fans in those days had a sense of gloom, anticipating. Whatever happened, it wasn’t going to end well.
DICK FLAVIN: I was in a box seat right behind the Red Sox dugout. You could put your beer right on the roof. So I had a great look of Yaz coming off the field right after he popped up. He had his head down, anguish.
STEVE RYDER: I saw that popup up close. It was a fairly high one, you could say it was a homerun in a silo. It just ended the game, and the people left in kind of a dejected attitude and demeanor. Whipped.
DON ZIMMER: Instead of going into the clubhouse, I sat in the dugout and watched their team celebrate.
DENNIS ECKERSLEY: Yaz was crying in the trainer’s room. It was not as crushing for me because when you’re 23 you think, well, we’ll do it next year. We have such a good team. But if I knew what I know now, I would have been devastated. We never really got there again after that.
Harvey Frommer, a noted oral historian and sports journalist, author of 41 sports books, including the classics “New York City Baseball 1947-1957,” “Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball,” “Remembering Yankee Stadium,” and “Remembering Fenway Park,” is currently working on a book on the first Super Bowl—anyone with contacts, stories, suggestions please contact.