1967 The Impossible Dream

Carl Yastrzemski's torried late-season hitting lifts the Boston Red Sox above a crowded AL pennant race—but it's the St. Louis Cardinals, led by pitcher Bob Gibson and speedster Lou Brock, who keep Boston from earning its first world title in 50 years.

Was it really just a dream? Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski blasts his second of two home runs in Game Two of the 1967 World Series. The Red Sox made a one-year climb from ninth to first in the American League, but met their match in the Fall Classic against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Boston Red Sox were having an identity crisis. The fabled franchise that enjoyed a healthy share of American League dominance through its first two decades and later basked in an extended period of popularity off the bat of Ted Williams seemed to lose its sense of purpose.

They couldn’t blame Harry Frazee for this one. Saved 34 years earlier by current owner Tom Yawkey, the Red Sox looked once again in need of redemption. Boston hadn’t enjoyed a winning season since 1958, bottoming out at 100 losses in 1965. The commonly fanatic Red Sox fan base was attending in absentia, with annual attendance shrinking to a mere 650,000 at Fenway Park—a ballpark rumored to be in danger of demolition as plans for a suburban domed facility began to be drawn up.

Worse, it seemed the Red Sox players didn’t care. There was a pervasive lack of urgency in a clubhouse filled with no-namers and has-beens who developed an undisciplined country club attitude. Since Williams’ departure, the only serious threat in the Boston lineup came from his replacement in the outfield, Yastrzemski—an undisputed star in relative terms only. Although Yastrzemski won a batting title in 1963, he otherwise had shown little else to convince Red Sox Nation that he was genuine superstar material.

There did appear to be some light at the end of a very long tunnel. Young sluggers such as Tony Conigliaro, George Scott and Rico Petrocelli were emerging as equals to Yastrzemski. They hired a general manager, Dick O’Connell, who finally made the Red Sox get serious about signing quality black talent, not token benchwarmers to pacify outsiders. And their new skipper was Dick Williams, barely three years removed from the end of his marginal playing days—but connecting as a manager, having taken the Sox’ top farm team in Toronto to successive International League titles.

These moves were all fine and nice for the long-term, but as the Red Sox readied for 1967, pundits believed the status quo was in order. Sports Illustrated picked the Red Sox to finish ninth in the ten-team AL, while Vegas oddsmakers made Boston 100-1 longshots to win the pennant.

Little did anyone realize how swiftly the Red Sox’ long-term goals would be achieved.

Red Sox players filtering their way into spring camp in Florida quickly learned that their laid-back atmosphere was about to be shattered by Dick Williams, who despite his 38 years of age looked gruff and acted the part. It was his way or the Tollway; it didn’t matter if you were a rookie or an all-star. Even Ted Williams, visiting camp to lend his sage, wasn’t spared; the new manager read the living legend the riot act for disrupting outfielders from doing their daily drills.

Those who came to Florida overweight suffered worse under Williams; he threatened to bench George Scott if he didn’t tip the scales the right way, and when young starter Jerry Stephensen couldn’t shake off ten pounds as Williams ordered, off to the minors he went.

One player who would have no problem with Williams’ shape-up-or-ship-out policy was Carl Yastrzemski. In the winter he had discovered something called off-season training—a form of exercise many players of the day still resisted. Worked hard daily by a former Hungarian Olympic coach, Yastrzemski immediately felt a new surge of powerYastrzemski also had help from Boston hitting coach Bobby Doerr, who refined Yaz’s batting stance. in his swing during spring training, a crucial element that would pay off handsomely for the Red Sox.

Tony Conigliaro shows the awful after-effects of the fractured cheekbone sustained after being hit by California’s Jack Hamilton. The injury was the first in a series of setbacks that would dog Conigliaro, who had already amassed over 100 home runs at age 22, for the rest of his life.

The year that would be best known for the Red Sox as “The Impossible Dream” started out more like yet another nightmare. The team struggled into May in seventh place, and although they felt improved over 1966, such optimism was offset by Williams’ emotionally harsh and icy rule. As if that wasn’t enough, the players fumed—and briefly considered mutiny—when Williams repeatedly ridiculed his players in front of the media.

After the all-star break, the Red Sox won ten straight games to break away from the .500 mark; suddenly the focus was off a vindicated Williams and on a crowded pennant race. In late August, the team was further motivated and won another seven straight after witnessing its darkest episode of the year: The beaning of Tony Conigliaro. The left cheekbone of the talented 22-year-old slugger took such a direct hit from California pitcher Jack HamiltonA vilified Hamilton was turned away at the hospital where Conigliaro was recovering, and was intensely booed when he pitched a few days later against the Red Sox at Fenway., Conigliaro’s skin was indented with the stitches of what teammates suspected was a spitball. The injury would sideline Conigliaro for a full year and a half, and the vision problems he suffered would result in a shortened career—in advance of a shortened lifeConigliaro died of a heart attack in 1990, at the age of just 45. after baseball.

The Red Sox entered September thick in the hunt for an AL pennant that resembled a total free-for-all. Three other teams joined Boston in a month of musical chairs in which teams often rose from fourth to first in a single day, and vice versa.

The contenders included the Minnesota Twins, re-energized after a middling start that led to the firing of manager Sam Mele; the Detroit Tigers, a well-balanced bundle of talent many believed was the best in the league; and the Chicago White Sox, attempting to emulate the Hitless Wonders of 1906 with a .225 team batting average—with not one everyday player hitting above .241. Needless to say, rock-solid pitchingChicago’s 2.45 ERA and .219 batting average against were both far and away the best in baseball. kept the White Sox in the chase.

On the morning of September 7, all four teams were locked in a first-place tie—and over the season’s final three-plus weeks, they never lost sight of one another. The final weekend arrived with AL officials scratching their heads over the real possibility of a round-robin playoff in the event three teams tied for first.

In one of the tightest pennant races ever witnessed, four AL teams—Boston, Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago—stayed within no more than three games of one another from September 1 on. Here’s how many days during this time each team led or had a share of either first, second, third or fourth place.

The White Sox were the first to bow out, in the only way they knew how—by being shutout three straight games, as part of a five-game losing streak to end the year. The Tigers were faced with the rough task of wrapping the season up with consecutive doubleheaders against the Angels, while the Twins and Red Sox squared off against each other at Fenway for their final two games.

The Tigers split on Saturday, while Carl Yastrzemski hit a three-run homer to lift the Red Sox over Minnesota, 6-4. That left Sunday’s matchup at Fenway as a winner-take-all—assuming the Tigers didn’t sweep the Angels.

Behind a 4-for-4 performance by Yastrzemski and strong pitching by starter Jim Lonborg—a nice guy who in 1967 turned mean on the mound—the Red Sox knocked out the Twins with a 5-3 victory. The celebration was paused as the team gathered in the clubhouse to hear the fate of the Tigers, who had won the day’s first game over the Angels—and with a win in the nightcap could set up a tie-breaker playoff against Boston. They listened as the Angels, after trailing early, came back to hand the Tigers an 8-5 loss—and help the Red Sox capture their second AL pennantThe Baltimore Orioles went from world champs to a sixth-place tie with the Washington Senators. Another stellar year from Frank Robinson was offset by subpar performances and an aching pitching staff. in nearly 50 years.

Though much of the Red Sox players contributed with a series of cardiac-style comeback wins throughout the year, Yastrzemski and Lonborg were the team’s unquestioned valuables. Yastrzemski rose in the clutch, batting over .500 with five home runs in the Sox’ final 12 games—helping to earn him the AL triple crownNo one in either league has since won the triple crown. with a .326 average, 44 homers and 121 runs batted in. Lonborg, in only his third big league campaign, led the AL with 22 wins (while losing only nine) and 246 strikeouts.

The tense AL race was the only suspense left for the St. Louis Cardinals, wondering whom they’d face in the World Series while breezing to the National League pennant.

Since last winning it all in 1964, the Cardinals transitioned themselves through two average seasons, purging elder power hitters Bill White and Ken Boyer—while picking up a younger one early in 1966 with Orlando Cepeda, the outspoken first baseman who fell out of favor with manager Herman Franks in San Francisco. For 1967, the Cardinals also rescued Roger Maris from his Hell away from home, New York. Even though Maris’ power production was a skeletal resemblance of his Yankee years, he remained a highly skilled player who knew how to win—and, by returning to the heartland close to where he grew up and lived, was now a far happier camper to boot.

Playing well in July, the Cardinals feared trouble ahead in their quest to hold first place when ace pitcher Bob Gibson had his leg broken from a Roberto Clemente line drive. Without Gibson, the Cardinals actually began to play better, as the new cast coalesced and performed as a solid unit of one. Gibson’s return in September only helped to make the pennant race a closed caseReigning two-time NL champ Los Angeles badly missed the retired Sandy Koufax and finished a dismal seventh at 73-89. as St. Louis charged to a 101-60 mark.

Cepeda, the Puerto Rican native who continuously rallied his teammates to the triumphant cry of “El Birdos,” batted .325 with 25 home runs and 111 RBIs to secure the NL Most Valuable Player award. Lou Brock easily had the numbers to make a case for the MVP as well—batting .299 with 32 doubles, 12 triples and 21 home runs, while leading the league with 52 steals and 113 runs scored. On the mound, the staff for which Gibson seemed to tower well above on Opening Day rose to provide an uplifting presence in his absence. Most notable among the upstarts was 29-year-old rookie Dick Hughes, who thrived upon the challenge of taking Gibson’s spot in the rotation and finished the year at 16-6 with a 2.68 ERA.

A competitive and feisty World Series would be dominated by the stars that helped get their teams there: Bob Gibson and Lou Brock for the Cardinals, Jim Lonborg and Carl Yastrzemski for the Red Sox.

The Cardinals got the running start in Game One with a six-hit complete game victory for Gibson, 2-1, as Brock scored both runs in a 4-for-4 performance. Lonborg, with only two days’ rest after winning the regular season finale, got the Sox even in Game Two with spectacular verve, retiring the first 19 batters on his way to a one-hit, 5-0 shutout; backing Lonborg at the plate was Yastrzemski, smashing a pair of homers with four RBIs.

Moving on to St. Louis, the Cardinals won the next two games, with Gibson firing a five-hit shutout in Game Four to put the Red Sox on the edge of elimination. But it was Lonborg nearly matching Gibson’s achievement in a 3-1 Game Five win, his bid for a shutout spoiled only by a too-little, too-late homer by Maris in the ninth.

Back in Boston, it was Yastrzemski in Game Six. He ignited a home run binge when he hit the first of three consecutive blastsYastrzemski’s home run was immediately followed by solo shots from Reggie Smith and Rico Petrocelli. in the fourth inning, and the Red Sox forced Game Seven with an 8-4 win over a Cardinal team that used eight pitchers.

After missing each other in the rotation, Gibson and Lonborg—preparing for his fourth start in 12 days—finally got the chance to go head-on in Game Seven.

Emotions ran high and tense off the field before the winner-take-all finale. Headlines in Boston newspapers quoted Dick Williams’ forecast: “Lonborg and Champagne.” At the Boston hotel where the Cardinals stayed, even the cooks in the kitchen were playing mind games—attempting to starve Gibson out of his breakfast by continuously “messing up” his order before finally serving him two pieces of burnt toastA fiery Gibson asked to have the toast taken away, to which the waitress was said to retort: “We’ll take you away.”.

Lonborg, Yastrzemski and the rest of the Red Sox were the next to be toast, discovering that Gibson was at his best when angry. Gibson went the distance, allowing three hits, striking out ten, and adding a solo home run to the wealthy support of Cardinal offense (aided by Brock’s three steals) to give St. Louis its second world championship in four years, 7-2.

Carl Yastrzemski’s celebrated tear to end 1967 was all the more impressive with his World Series numbers tacked on. Here’s how hot he was over his last 19 games, including the seven he played in the Fall Classic.

In the 27 innings that made up Gibson’s three complete-game victories, only three runs and 14 hits were allowed while 26 struck out. Brock was Gibson’s every equal at the plate, going 12-for-32 (.375) with four extra base hits, eight runs, and a Series-record seven steals. In defeat, Yastrzemski amassed ten hits in 25 at-bats (.400) with three homers; the other Red Sox players collectively hit just .193. Lonborg, after winning his first two starts, was asked too much in his third, pitching for the second time on two days’ rest while facing off against Gibson.

The Cardinals’ return to baseball dominance was, in historic terms, overshadowed by the impressive Red Sox revival—one that would ignite the team to above-.500 campaigns over each of its next 15 years. After suffering a miserable stretch in the doldrums, one impossible dream had been achieved for the Boston Red Sox.

The dream, however, of winning the World Series—something the Red Sox had not done since 1918—would itself seem to remain an impossibility.


1968 baseball historyForward to 1968: Year of the Pitcher Batting averages plummet as major league pitchers dominate the game of baseball as never before.


1966 baseball historyBack to 1966: Wish You Were Here, Mr. DeWitt Frank Robinson dominates the American League for the Baltimore Orioles—and proves to his former employers in Cincinnati that he's not an Old Thirty.


1960s baseball historyThe 1960s Page: Welcome to My Strike Zone In a decade where baseball as a tradition is turning stale with America's emerging counter-culturism, major league owners see its biggest problem to be, of all things, an overabundance of offense in the game. The result? An increased strike zone, further contributing to a downward spiral in attendance, but greatly aiding an already talented batch of pitchers.


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They Were There: Dick Williams
Dick WilliamsDick Williams talks of his often turbulent reigns as pilot of the Boston Red Sox and Oakland A's.



TGG on YouTube
1967 Boston Red SoxThis ten-minute clip features excerpts from a retrospective of the Boston Red Sox' pennant-winning campaign in 1967 by a local Boston TV station shortly after the end of the season. It includes live color TV footage of Billy Rohr's near-no-hitter to start the year, and the pennant-clinching victory at Fenway Park.


1967 Standings

National League
St. Louis Cardinals
101
60
.627
---
San Francisco Giants
91
71
.562
10.5
Chicago Cubs
87
74
.540
14
Cincinnati Reds
87
75
.537
14.5
Philadelphia Phillies
82
80
.506
19.5
Pittsburgh Pirates
81
81
.500
20.5
Atlanta Braves
77
85
.475
24.5
Los Angeles Dodgers
73
89
.451
28.5
Houston Astros
69
93
.426
32.5
New York Mets
61
101
.377
40.5
American League
Boston Red Sox
92
70
.568
---
Detroit Tigers
91
71
.562
1
Minnesota Twins
91
71
.562
1
Chicago White Sox
89
73
.549
3
California Angels
84
77
.522
7.5
Baltimore Orioles
76
85
.472
15.5
Washington Senators
76
85
.472
15.5
Cleveland Indians
75
87
.463
17
New York Yankees
72
90
.444
20
Kansas City Athletics
62
99
.385
29.5

1967 Postseason Results
World Series St. Louis (NL) defeated Boston (AL), 4-3.


It Happened in 1967

A Rohring Debut
Boston Red Sox pitcher Billy Rohr, making his first-ever appearance on a major league mound, is one strike away from a no-hitter at New York against the Yankees on April 14; Elston Howard then breaks it up with a single. Rohr completes the game with a one-hit shutout, 3-0. Howard is rewarded by the Yankee fans with a chorus of boos; later in the year he’ll be traded to the Red Sox. Meanwhile, Rohr’s star will fall as fast as it rose. He’ll win only two more games in a career that ends a year later in Cleveland.

Menace 2 Baseball
It’s a rough year to be a spin-mastering spokesman for mercurial Kansas City A’s owner Charles Finley—that is, if there’s one that the low-budget Finley is willing to pay. As his team tumbles toward yet another 100 losses, Finley alienates his players into near-mutiny for dismissing first baseman Ken Harrelson and suspending pitcher Lew Krausse for “misconduct” violations; alienates manager Al Dark for backing the players and not him; alienates the National Labor Relations Board, which subpoenas Finley to explain the Krausse suspension; and alienates the State of Missouri, which he angers at year’s end by moving the A’s to Oakland.

Finley is labeled a “menace to baseball” by Harrelson, and “one of the most disreputable characters ever to enter the American sports scene” by Missouri state Senator Stuart Symington, who fought hard to keep the team in Kansas City.

Now That’s Expansion
Major league owners approve a second wave of expansion this decade, and the cities they pick stretch the map of the major leagues to the corners of the Continental United States—and beyond. The National League chooses San Diego and Montreal—which officially makes the majors international—while the American League goes with Seattle and Kansas City, the latter a replacement franchise for the Oakland-bound A’s. Missouri politicians, steamed over the A’s departure, pressure baseball to have the teams begin play in 1969, instead of 1971—much to the displeasure of NL owners, who were never wild about more expansion to begin with.

Cy by Cy Honors
Two Cy Young Awards, one for each league, are given out for the first time after a single award had been handed out through its first 11 years of existence. Jim Lonborg wins the AL vote, while the NL bestows its honors on Mike McCormick of the San Francisco Giants.

The Perfect Flood
Outfielder Curt Flood, who went the entire 1966 season without making an error for the Cardinals, finally errs when he muffs a fly ball on June 4 against the Chicago Cubs at St. Louis. His errorless streak at the position had lasted 227 games, a major league record soon to be broken by Don Demeter and then, in 1993, by Darren Lewis.

Two More for the 500 Club
Mickey Mantle and Eddie Mathews become the sixth and seventh players to hit 500 career home runs. Mantle reaches 500 on May 14 against the Baltimore Orioles, while Mathews—now playing for the Houston Astros after 15 years with the Boston-Milwaukee-Atlanta Braves—collects his on July 14 against the Giants at San Francisco.

Invasion of the Unorthodox No-Hitters, Part I
Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Barber takes a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth at Detroit on April 30—and loses both, walking his ninth and tenth batters of the game and, with two outs, throwing a wild pitch to allow one Tiger runner to score. After Stu Miller replaces Barber, a Mark Belanger error at shortstop scores the game-winner. It’s only the second no-hitter in history that ends in a loss, and the second that involves two pitchers.

Invasion of the Unorthodox No-Hitters, Part II
Dean Chance of the Minnesota Twins also has an imperfect no-hitter, as he allows a first-inning Cleveland Indian run with two walks, an error and a wild pitch. He only walks three more the rest of the way to earn a 2-1 no-hit win on August 25. Less than three weeks earlier, Chance had retired all 15 batters in a rain-shortened, five-inning 2-0 win over the Red Sox. Baseball later votes not to recognize any no-hitter or perfect game thrown in less than eight innings.

Cub Soldier
Chicago Cub pitcher Ken Holtzman is 9-0 after 12 starts in what will be his second full season…well, not exactly. In late May, he reports to the Army, and for the next six months he’ll be allowed to pitch for the Cubs on weekends only.

Dust Off the Infield Tarp Manual
For the first time since moving to Los Angeles a decade earlier, the Dodgers are rained out at home on April 21. It will be another nine years before the rain keeps the Dodgers from playing at Chavez Ravine.

Around the Horn’d
The Orioles’ Brooks Robinson, who’s best known for erasing runners with his spectacular defense at third base, sets a major league mark for a different kind of base-cleaning: He hits into his fourth career triple play, August 6 against the Chicago White Sox.

No More Stalling
Two managers for the Detroit Tigers—former Dodger pilot Charley Dressen (heart attack), and Bob Swift (cancer)—both die shortly after poor health forces them to hand over the reins. Third manager Frank Scaff survives and the Tigers finish third in the AL at 88-74.

The Dodger Silencer
New rule: Teams are now required to remove their pitcher when either a manager or coach makes a second trip to the mound in one inning.


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