The Impossible Dream Red Sox: 1967 (Parts I & II)
It is Cardinals versus Red Sox one more time in the World Series. The last time they met in the Fall Classic the guys from Fenway swept the Midwesterners. They also had a showdown in October in 1967.
In 1966, the Sox lost 90 games and finished ninth. Attendance at Fenway Park was 811,172—an average attendance per game of 10,095. It was pitiful.
LEIGH MONTVILLE: I was a sportswriter at the New Haven Journal Courier and convinced my boss to send me to Opening Day of the 1967 season. “Okay,” he said, “you can take the train but you have to come right back after the game is over. I don’t want you staying overnight.”
I had my matching sport coat and my tie and my new portable typewriter. I took the train up and got off at Back Bay. It was cold. I tell the cab driver, “Fenway Park.”
“Why are you going there?”
“Because I’m a sportswriter and I’m covering Opening Day.”
“The game is postponed. Too Cold,” he said.
I had to get a story so I went in the locker room and talked to Dick Williams. I was terrified because I had read all this stuff about how gruff he was.
MIKE ANDREWS: Dick was a tough manager, very, very tough. He wasn’t one who gave you a lot of accolades.
LEIGH MONTVILLE: I didn’t know they had a press room so I went across the street to a grille to type up my story while knocking back a couple of beers.
Rookie BoSox pilot Dick Williams realized he had a tough job ahead. Coming off a 90-loss season, the Red Sox were a 100-1 shot to win the American League pennant in 1967.
The young, crew-cutted disciplinarian promised that the team would win more than it lost in 1967. He vowed changes, and said that if blowing up the Country Club atmosphere was what was needed, he would do that, too.
“There had been tremendous teams at Boston,” Williams said, “but they had won just one pennant in twenty-one years. At home they were excellent, but they just could not win on the road because it was a team manufactured to play at Fenway Park.”
Williams said he would not allow the dimensions of Fenway to influence his managing style and the play of his ball players. “I made it clear,” he said, “the Green Monster was not going to be a factor. I had seen too many players ruining themselves taking shots at the wall. I made my pitchers concentrate on pitching to right-handed batters who always came up there looking for the ball away thinking we’d get them to avoid pulling. I knew that the way to pitch at Fenway is to get the ball inside and gradually back the batter up a little.”
Jose Tartabull CF
Joe Foy 3B
Carl Yastrzemski LF
Tony Conigliaro RF
George Scott 1B
Reggie Smith 2B
Rico Petrocelli SS
Mike Ryan C
Jim Lonborg P
JIM LONBORG: It started off as a typical Red Sox season. There were 8,324 fans on a cold and dreary April 12th, Opening Day. We beat the White Sox 5-4. Petrocelli hit a three-run homer. And I got the win.
The next day there were only 3,607 at the ballpark. And then we went on a road trip. We came back having won 10 straight games. And when our plane landed there were thousands of fans waiting at the airport. That moment was the start of the great relationship between the fans and the players.
BOB SULLIVAN: I went to Dartmouth, and we used to road trip down to Fenway and get standing room without any trouble. It was eight dollars for grandstand seats. But so many seats were empty. You would flip an usher a quarter and you could move down into the seats. Then it changed. What happened was ’67.
A lot of the buzz in Boston was about rookie Billy Rohr who on April 14th one-hit the Yankees and Whitey Ford at the Stadium.
ED MARKEY: Billy Rohr in the early part of that season became the symbol of our renaissance—the left-hander we so needed over all those years.
Markey and thousands of other Red Sox fans were at Rohr’s next start on April 21st.
ED MARKEY: Fenway Park was electric. This was our chance to vanquish the Yankees. He won that game, too, 6-1, subduing the Yankees a second time, beating Mel Stottlemyre, 6-1.
Despite his promise, Rohr never won another game for the Red Sox and finished the season in the minors. Although Rohr wasn’t in a Red Sox uniform for all of Boston’s “Impossible Dream,” he helped set the pace for it.
“Billy Rohr was 1967,” Peter Gammons wrote, “even if he only won two games and was out of town by June.”
MIKE ANDREWS: My 1967 salary was 11 thousand dollars. And in July Tom Yawkey called me into his office and gave me a four thousand dollar raise. I was told he was always doing things like that.
After the All-Star break, Boston took off on a 10-game winning streak. In July, crowds topped 25,000 a game.
In August, they numbered 30,000 or more.
In September, there would be standing-room sell-outs.
BISHOP JOHN D’ARCY: There was a tradition that every rectory in the immediate Boston area would get a free pass to Fenway. It was indeed a wonderful perk. The rectory was the priests’ home, but if somebody worked there and was not a priest, he could probably use it as well. I think you had to pay 50 cents or a dollar to get it. You would go in and find your own seat, but it was not hard to find a seat in those days. In 1967, when the crowds came back, that was the end of that.
A crowded Fenway Park in that era before ’67 was an anomaly. Weird weather conditions were not. Fans from the start of play in 1912 brought umbrellas, jackets, blankets with them–even in mid-summer. On April 25,1962 the ocean breeze dropped the temperature at Fenway from 78 to 58 degrees in 10 minutes. One August day in 1967 pea-soup fog caused a couple of stoppages of a game—outfielders could not see.
But an even stranger sensation was at Fenway Park on the 18th of August—pennant fever. The Red Sox were in fourth place, and were hosting the fifth place California Angels in a four game series.
Tony Conigliaro singled his first time up off Angels starter Jack Hamilton. In the fourth George Scott led off with a blooper to short left center field and was cut down trying to stretch the hit into a double. A fan in the leftfield grandstand tossed a smoke bomb onto the outfield grass delaying play.
When play resumed, Reggie Smith stroked a line drive single. Conigliaro batted next.
DAVE MOREHEAD: I was sitting on the top step of the dugout, charting pitches, right there by the corner closest to the on-deck circle. I was talking to Fitzie, the clubhouse man. I was watching Tony. Jack Hamilton threw the pitch.
An inside and high fastball hit Tony C. flush on the cheek below the left eye. Dropping to the ground, his cheekbone crushed, his eye ball imploded, Conigliaro writhed in pain.
DAVE MOREHEAD: He had to have lost sight of the ball. It was frightening. His left eye was closed before our trainer, Buddy Leroux, got to him.
Coaches and players raced out to the unconscious young star. A silent and stunned crowd watched as one of their favorites was taken off the field on a stretcher.
More than a year and half later, Conigliaro would return to play baseball for the Sox. He had some small successes. But the injury left him with some brain damage and vision problems and ended what should have been a brilliant career.
Two days after the “beaning” there was a doubleheader against California. The Sox won the first game 12-2 and then the second game, 9-8. Reggie Smith homered batting left and right-handed. Yaz popped two three-run homers‚ one in each game of the doubleheader.
On the 30th of September, Carl Yastrzemski slugged his 44th home run as the BoSox nipped the Twins 6-4 to tie for first place.
BRUCE TUCKER: That 30th of September was my first time at Fenway, I was 18. I paid a dollar to an usher at the gate to get in. It was the end of the ‘67 season. Fenway was jammed with people. The “grown ups” in the stands. Guys wearing shirts and ties.
We had no seats. We just went from place to place, sat on the stairs until some usher would come over and tell us to get out of there, and then we’d sit on the stairs somewhere else until another usher told us to move. But we saw the game.
Senator Ted Kennedy, his father Joseph P. Kennedy, his brother New York Senator Robert Kennedy and Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey were at the game. Winning pitcher Jose Santiago gave Senator Kennedy the game ball.
JIM LONBORG: I was on the mound on October 1, the winning pitcher as we clinched the pennant. All of my teammates and thousands of Fenway fans seemed to run at me. It’s what you dream about in Little League. I was trying to get back into the dugout. Thank God for the Boston police – they were able to control the crowd.
The Red Sox beat the Twins, 5-3, but the “The Impossible Dream” was still a dream until Detroit lost to California to finish a game behind the Red Sox. Listening intently to the radio in their locker room, Boston players and officials reacted with glee as California nipped Detroit, 8-5. Inside Fenway Park loyal fans rejoiced.
BRUCE TUCKER: The Sox finished 20 games ahead of the 9th-place Yankees. Boston was going into the World Series. People started tearing apart the scoreboard, ripping the sod off of the field, just trashing the place.
The attendance at Fenway Park that “Impossible Dream” season jumped from 811,172 in 1966 to 1,727,832. Winning 20 more games than in ’1966, Boston was 49-32 at Fenway, 43-38 on the road.
BRUCE TUCKER:We went back for the World Series, all of us taking the day off from school, taking the bus into Boston, asking the usher to let us in.
“How much you got?” he asked.
“Well, we got change.”
“Gimme what you got!”
One at a time, we gave him whatever we had in our pockets and he let us through the gate.
The Fall Classic match up was Boston versus St. Louis. Cardinals Ace Bob Gibson irritated Red Sox management, fans and players. Looking around Fenway Park prior to the series, the power pitcher asked: “Where’s the upper deck? Where are all the seats?”
Gibby was disappointed that Detroit was not the competition. “Their bigger ballpark would have meant more fans, more money,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but $1,500 is a lot of money to me.”
Game one, the fourth day of October,Lou Brock of the Cardinals collected four hits and Gibson fanned 10 Red Sox. Jose Santiago pitched a beauty for Boston and even homered. But St. Louis won, 2-1 scoring on two RBI ground balls from Roger Maris.
Two home runs by Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg’s masterful pitching (no-hit ball for 7 2/3 innings) and a one-hit 5-0 gem evened the series for Boston. Sal Maglie, Boston pitching coach, said that Lonborg’s performance was “a better pitching effort than Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956” against him and the Dodgers.
The next three games, two of which were won by the Cardinals, were played at Busch Stadium. That set up games 6 and 7 at Fenway Park on October 11 and 12th. The Sox won Game 6, 8-4, setting up the decisive seventh game.
Jim Lonborg, with a lot of mileage on him from a long season, started with two day’s rest. He was ineffective. Bob Gibson was most effective. Fanning ten, yielding but three hits, the Cardinal ace led his team to a 7-2 victory and the world championship.
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.