Tuesday, November 22, 2011

#280 - Carl Yastrzemski

Here's the first Hall of Famer in quite a while in this set. Yaz is holding what from this angle is an enormous piece of lumber in Oakland. '73 was a sort of comeback year for him as he put up his best numbers offensively since '70 and recorded his 2,000th hit during the season. And he played everywhere that year, even third base after Rico Petrocelli got hurt. I always liked Yaz even though a lot of people thought he was aloof. He came out of the NYC area and made it big in Boston which was normally anathema to both sides. I was a big Yankee fan in the Seventies and once while waiting for tickets at the window in '78 I was chatting with this stately older woman in front of me. It turned out she was Yaz's aunt and when some idiot behind me heard that he sort of accidentally hit her with his baseball cap. I then had to sort of accidentally knee the guy in the gut. Sometimes being a Yankee fan is no fun.

Carl Yastrzemski grew up on Long Island where in high school he starred in football, basketball, and baseball. There was lots of interest in him at that time but when no team would match his dad's wish for a six-figure bonus he took up a hoops and baseball scholarship offer from Notre Dame. He stayed in South Bend through the fall semester of his sophomore year when he signed with Boston for about $106,000 in '58. A pitcher and infielder in high school, he stuck to middle infield his first season in the minors, hitting .377 in B ball. In '60 he learned how to play the outfield in Triple A, hitting .339, so that he could take over left field at Fenway following Ted Williams' anticipated retirement. He came up in '61 to do exactly that and had a pretty good rookie year, even though his K totals were a little high from trying to park the ball too much. In the off-season a chat with the guy he replaced confirmed that his hitting was just fine without him trying to go yard all the time. The talk worked and his sophomore season was a significant step up and in '63 he won his first batting title and All-Star nod while also leading the AL in hits, doubles, walks, and OBA. He had also turned into an awfully good fielder and that season he won the first of what would be seven Gold Gloves. In '64 Yaz spent the bulk of the season in center, to make room in left for rookie slugger Tony Conigliaro. The next year Tony C moved to right, Yaz back to left, and the Sox went through a couple guys before they settled on Reggie Smith in center in '67. In '65 and '66 Yaz led the AL in doubles and returned to the All-Star game for the first two of what would be 15 consecutive seasons.

1967 was a huge year for the Sox as their young stars Jim Lonborg, Reggie Smith, Rico Petrocelli, George Scott, and Tony C (before he got hurt) helped propel the team to a dramatic pennant win and near World Series victory. But the big gun was Yaz. He had a monster year that just kept getting better down the stretch and in the post-season. He won the last Triple Crown - we are now abutting on year 45 - and also led the AL in runs, hits, and OBA in his big MVP year. He then hit .400 with three homers and five RBIs against the Cards. In '68 his year wasn't nearly as huge - no hitter's was - but he was the only AL guy to hit over .300 and he won his third batting title doing it. In '69 his average would finally tank a bit but he had a power resurgence and in '70 he had another MVP-caliber year, leading the AL with 125 runs and an amazing .452 OBA, the highest of his career. He also played a ton of first base that year as George Scott had to take over third. '71 and '72 were a bit rough as he missed some time for injuries but he had a nice stretch drive the later season as the Sox almost stole the division from Detroit. Then in '73 he moved mostly to first base which would be his primary position the next few seasons. The next year he again topped the AL in runs and hit .301, the last time he would top .300 in his career.

In '75 Boston had another magic but ultimately heart-breaking season. This time the big guns were a different bunch of youngsters, namely Dwight Evans, Jim Rice and Fred Lynn. Yastrzemski had about the poorest power season of his career at that point with 14 homers and 60 RBIs, but he again turned it on when it counted. He hit .455 in the AL playoff sweep of Oakland and .310 with four RBIs and four walks in seven games against the Reds. He then got back to it the next few regular seasons, topping 100 RBIs in both '76 and '77. In '79 he and Lou Brock became the first guys to stroke their 3,000th hit the same season. By then Yaz's most regular spot was DH which would continue to be his through the '83 season after which he retired. He hit .285 for his caeer, with 646 doubles, 452 homers, and 1,844 RBIs. He also put up a .379 OBA and even slipped in 168 stolen bases and is currently eighth all-time with 3,419 hits. Defensively he led the AL in outfield assists seven times. His post-season totals were a .369 average with four homers, nine RBIs, and a .447 OBA in 17 games. Yaz was elected to the Hall in '89 and since playing has occupied himself with various business interests, speaking engagements, and admin work and instructing duties with the Sox.

Topps could only fit in three short star bullets here, but they are awfully good ones. I like that "Y" in his signature; it looks like a Q. He must get a pretty good workout at autograph shows.

These two guys share colors, but little else:

1. Yaz and Ben Oglivie '71 to '73 Red Sox;
2. Oglivie and Jim Crawford '76 to '77 Tigers.

1 comment:

  1. I loved watching Yaz as I grew up in the Boston area....my first recollection was 1976. Strangely, many images that stick are bizarre or tinged with sadness: among them, popping out to Nettles to end the 78 one-game playoff after homering earlier in the game; base-running misadventures his final year or two, including one time at 2nd when he couldn't decide whether to go in standing up or sliding....so he sort of careened; and his 3000th hit, a basic grounder vs Yanks in Sept 79 with Willie Randolph making a feeble attempt to stop it. He also made the final out in the 75 World Serious vs. the Reds, flying out to center. I know this from reading about it...must've been sleeping by then, as I was a mere 7.