This article was written by Bob LeMoine
“In other years, the cynics expected the Red Sox to go nowhere. This year the experts say they’ll go halfway to somewhere.” — Editorial, Boston Globe, April 11, 1967
“I don’t care where people say we’re going to finish,” grunted new Red Sox manager Dick Williams. “Let them pick us for 10th. But I know there are some great players around here, and they are ready to play ball.”1 Williams had managed Toronto, Boston’s Triple-A affiliate in the International League, to back-to-back Governor’s Cup championships in 1965 and 1966. The Red Sox, meanwhile, had endured eight straight losing seasons, never finishing higher than sixth. “A good way to go broke would be to bet that Boston will be the terror of the American League,” the Boston Globe sarcastically wisecracked, but then it expressed the familiar springtime desire, “it’s the crack of the bat that matters.”2 But fans would have to wait an extra day to hear that crack, as the Boston weather forced postponement of Opening Day to April 12. “Another first for our club,” declared Williams. “We were the first team to call off a game this year, weren’t we? Now if we can just continue to be first in things.”3
The Northeastern University band was the main attraction before the game, with a rendition of “Spanish Flea” on that cold, crisp spring day. One of the performers even dropped her baton every fifth bar, leading a man in the right-field stands to say, “It’s got to be part of the act,” part of the “universal optimism” of the day, in the words of the Globe’s Diane White.4 White also noticed these girls from the band were less interested in the game, and more interested in how this young Red Sox team was “overburdened with sex appeal. … Their interest in the game is often directly proportional to how attractive they find the left fielder.”5
Not mentioned in the discussion of sex appeal, Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe and Boston Mayor John F. Collins were present, with Volpe throwing out the first ball. Johnny Mathis performed the national anthem. The 1967 season was under way. Jim Lonborg, the soon-to-be 25-year-old groomed as the Red Sox’ ace in spring training, was 19-27 in his first two major-league seasons. He was opposed by the Chicago White Sox’ John Buzhardt, who was 64-82 over his nine seasons, but had a 10-3 record with a 2.47 ERA in 20 previous games against Boston.
A reported crowd of 8,324 or thereabouts6 braved the chills on the 46-degree day to see Dick Williams and the new-look Red Sox. It was so chilly that the umpires didn’t think twice on whether to wear short sleeves, which were now permissible under league rules.7 “It was very warm out there as far as I was concerned,” was the contrary opinion of Williams.8
The game was scoreless into the bottom of the second. Reggie Smith doubled and Rico Petrocelli ripped a line drive over second on the first pitch and Smith scored. Boston led 1-0. Perhaps Petrocelli was inspired by the “Go Rico!” sign displayed from an airplane flying over Fenway Park in the second inning. “The company I work for in the winter (Gibbs Oil of Saugus, Massachusetts) did that. I had no idea they would,” a smiling Petrocelli said.9
In the third, with George Scott on second and two outs, Smith walked. (He should have been the final out, but catcher Jerry McNertney misjudged a foul popup.) Petrocelli again swung at Buzhardt’s first pitch and stroked it into the left-field screen for a three-run home run. Petrocelli had seen two pitches, taken two swings, and had four RBIs. “It was a curveball,” he said. “I wasn’t going for the homer. I was trying to go up the middle. It was off-speed. I guess I got a little in front of it.”10 The White Sox got a run back when Tommie Agee walked and scored on a Lonborg wild pitch, and Boston led 4-1 after four innings. Buzhardt lasted only four innings, allowing only four hits but walking five, contributing to four earned runs. “I was trying to be too fine,” he said, “and my control was bad. But I was plenty loose. The weather was not a factor.”11
The Red Sox got their four-run lead back in the sixth inning. Jose Tartabull singled on a high chopper to the mound, and then stole second. Ron Hansen fielded Carl Yastrzemski’s grounder, but his throw sailed into the Red Sox dugout, and Tartabull scored. “I don’t mind losing,” Hansen said, “but I don’t want to give the game away, and that’s what I did.”12
Besides Tartabull and Smith, Joe Foy also stole a base, a rare scene for Red Sox teams of the era. “We’re the ‘Go-Go’ team now,” fans were heard yelling.13 Boston did finish third in stolen bases for the season (68), a giant leap from its league-worst 35 the year before.
The White Sox rallied for three runs in the seventh. Pete Ward doubled to right and Ken Berry singled just past the dive of Scott at first. With runners at first and third, Lonborg again threw a wild pitch, Ward scoring. Hansen hit a long fly ball to right. Tony Conigliaro drifted back, but lost the ball in the sun for a two-base error. Berry scored. “Worst sun I ever saw out there,” Conigliaro said. “I just put up my hands, hoping.”14 “Glasses are no good when the ball gets in the sun,” he added.15 Jerry Adair singled, scoring Hansen and making the score Boston 5-4. Dick Williams came to the mound and called in John Wyatt from the bullpen. Smoky Burgess hit a sharp liner to deep right that Conigliaro caught against the bullpen wall in right. Walt “No Neck” Williams sent Conigliaro running in instead of back, catching the short fly to end the inning.
Wyatt got into trouble in the eighth. With one out, Agee and Ward drew walks on 3-and-2 pitches, and Tommy McCraw ran for Ward. The runners performed a double steal, and the frozen Fenway faithful must have been fretting. But Wyatt rallied by striking out Berry and J.C. Martin on 3-and-2 pitches, and the tenuous Boston lead was preserved.
Wyatt led off the bottom of the eighth and was hit by a pitch from Bob Locker. Curiously, while Wyatt was allowed to bat for himself, he was run for by Mike Andrews. Wyatt wanted to stay in. “I can beat Andrews running,” Wyatt said.16 “I didn’t care if Wyatt was faster,” Williams retorted. “Speed isn’t everything in a situation like that. I wanted a baserunner on there, someone who’d know what to do.”17 Nevertheless, Boston failed to add an insurance run.
Don McMahon came on to pitch the ninth for the Red Sox. Hansen’s liner to right was caught by a streaking Conigliaro. Adair’s grounder was backhanded by Scott at first, who flipped to the pitcher for the out. McMahon fanned Ed Stroud to end the ballgame and give the Red Sox the win on Opening Day. The win was Boston’s ninth straight win at home against Chicago.
“I’ve been waiting a whole year for this one,” Lonborg said. “We challenged the hitters. I relied mainly on my fastball. We jammed a lot of right-hand hitters, kept the ball down. My sinker was only fair, and I threw only a few breaking pitches. You don’t know how good this feels.”18
Lonborg finished with 6⅓ innings pitched and three earned runs allowed on seven hits. “I got a little tired, but it was so cold that sometimes I couldn’t feel the ball,” he said. “I used rosin on my hand to grip it. I kept warm some by running the bases in the sun, and Buddy (Leroux, Red Sox trainer) kept putting ‘hot stuff’ on my arm to make it feel warm.”19
“Wasn’t that a great finish?” asked the new Red Sox manager, who would see plenty more great finishes in the 1967 season.20 Petrocelli was the batting star of the game, going 3-for-3 with four RBIs. “Three hits. I guess that’s as many as I had for April and May my first two seasons,” he joked. Petrocelli had been a slow starter in the early years of his career, batting .156 (7-for-45) in April the year before, and .125 (4-for-32) in 1965. He made good on his promise to the Globe’s Will McDonough in spring training. “I’m going to get off to a better start this year. I just know I am. I have confidence in myself.”21 A .333 April with a .438 on-base-percentage was maybe even more than he could have imagined.
Eddie Popowski made his major-league debut that day as the Red Sox’ third-base coach. “Pop,” having served in the Red Sox minor-league system since 1937, was a mentor and father figure to many of the young Red Sox players. He remained with the organization for 65 years in total, until his death in 2001. It was appropriate that Pop would be along for the ride of the 1967 Red Sox Impossible Dream season.
“They got good spirit,” Popowski said. “If we keep ’em that way, we’re gonna have a little fun around here.”22
And they certainly did.
This article appears in “The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field” (SABR, 2017), edited by Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers. To read more stories from this book, click here.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted the following:
McElreavy, Wayne. “Eddie Popowski,” SABR BioProject. http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/3505bc5c
1 Clif Keane, “Sox Open With Hope, High Praise,” Boston Globe, April 11, 1967: 1.
2 “Batter Up!” Boston Globe, April 11, 1967: 12.
3 Clif Keane, “Sox Await Warm Opener Today,” Boston Globe, April 12, 1967: 32.
4 Diane White, “Red Sox Win, Optimism Runs Rampant,” Boston Globe, April 13, 1967: 1.
6 There are inconsistencies on the actual attendance figure, although it was unquestionably the least-attended opener since 1953. The Globe reported contradictory numbers, with Keane’s report listing 8,324 and Kaese 8,234. The Boston Herald and Boston Record both gave both numbers in reports. See Bill Nowlin, “How Many People Came to Opening Day?” The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox (Phoenix, Arizona: SABR, 2017).
7 Harold Kaese, “Wyatt Agrees Williams Right,” Boston Globe, April 13, 1967: 49.
8 Clif Keane, “Petro’s Hits in Clutch Hoist Sox to 5-4 Win,” Boston Globe, April 13, 1967: 49.
9 Bill Kipouras, “Rico Shuns Spotlight,” Boston Herald, April 13, 1967: 33.
11 Richard Dozer, “Fenway Park Jinx Reaches Nine in Row,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1967.
13 Keane, “Petro’s Hits.”
15 Henry McKenna, “Petrocelli Sparks Red Sox, 5-4,” Boston Herald, April 13, 1967: 34.
18 McKenna, 33.
19 Jack McCarthy, “ ‘Balm’ Helped Hose Pitcher,” Boston Herald, April 13, 1967: 34.
21 Will McDonough, “Petro Shakes Habit – He’s Off Winging,” Boston Globe, April 13, 1967: 51.