This article was written by Richard Johnson
This article was published in the 1967 Boston Red Sox essays
To truly appreciate the stunning achievement of manager Dick Williams and the Boston Red Sox in 1967, one must recall the dire circumstances from which they rescued the franchise.
Was there a better time to be a Boston sports fan than the spring of 1967? Bill Russell and company boasted an unfathomable string of eight straight world titles while the Bruins, led by a rookie named Bobby Orr, emerged from the NHL basement. And, just as both tenants of the Boston Garden seemed destined for greater glory, the Patriots played the role of lovable underdogs in the underdog AFL while the Red Sox, occupants of Boston sport’s proverbial “mansion on a hill,” worked feverishly on an edifice that had fallen into total disrepair.
At the start of the ’67 season, the Bosox made banner headlines when newly hired skipper Dick Williams laid down the law on several fronts. His first salvo was directed at team captain Carl Yastrzemski. Williams told his players, “This club has become a cruise ship overrun with captains and players thinking they are captain. The cruise is over and you don’t need a captain anymore. You have a new boss now — Me. Eliminating the club captaincy is my way of letting you know that things will be done one way. My Way.”
Shortly thereafter, team vice president and God-In-Residence Ted Williams stormed out of spring training as the result of a tiff he’d had with that-other-guy-named-Williams over the wisdom of pitchers playing volleyball for conditioning. This seemingly silly, and hitherto unimaginable, event marked a change of the guard. The new manager looked and acted nothing like the old bosses who preceded him on the poopdeck of the S.S. Crony Island.
At first, the other Mr. Williams made for good copy but soon inspired Boston’s legion of writers to search their dictionaries for adjectives to describe a turnaround they could scarcely believe.
By the end of the magical 1967 season chronicled within these pages, Williams’s tough love inspired nothing less than the rebirth of Red Sox. This rebirth was complete and encompassed competitive, economic, social, and spiritual dimensions. For those of us old enough to have witnessed them, the names of players such as Yastrzemski, Tartabull, Foy, Andrews, Lonborg, Conigliaro, and Rohr — among others — provoke an immediate and visceral reaction. To this day, I cannot hear the name Petrocelli and not hear the soft drawl of Mel Parnell’s play-by-play call of the soft popup that ended the last great pennant race in major-league history and the single most compelling season in franchise history.
In the scrapbook I started at age 11, there is a faded news clipping from the Worcester Telegram that contains a photograph I feel best captures the essence of that unforgettable season. It immediately encompasses the full spectrum of what endears them to Sox fans to this day. It shows Reggie Smith, Carl Yastrzemski, George Scott, and Mike Ryan stripped to the waist in the visitors’ clubhouse at Comiskey Park holding up teammate Joy Foy’s number “1” jersey to proclaim the Red Sox perch atop the American League.
This one image contains nothing less than the DNA of a winner. For here is a picture that depicts the soul of a team which seemed to change for the better before our eyes. In an era before political correctness skewed and distorted our perspectives of social norms, the ’67 Red Sox embraced integration in the spirit of winning. The team, which in earlier years rejected Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays, now featured a lineup as diverse as any in baseball. Winning for these men broke down barriers and helped make the team a role model whose shining example continues to inspire.
Without the Possible Dream of 1967 there’d be no Red Sox Nation, no NESN, no Yawkey Way, no Rem-Dawg, no Monster seats, no fawning celebrity posse of George Mitchell, Stephen King, Doris Kearns Goodwin, et. al., no $451 grandstand tickets, no Fenway Park — and possibly no Red Sox.
To truly appreciate the stunning achievement of Dick Williams and Company, one must recall the dire circumstances from which they rescued the franchise.
On the final day of the 1965 season the Red Sox lost their hundredth game before a crowd of 487 as Whitey Ford won an 11-5 decision over Arnie Earley. Such was the conclusion of the worst season for the team under the ownership of Tom Yawkey and the nadir of an era known to most as “The Country Club.”
Within 730 days the stands were full and the franchise has never looked back.
The saga of this team includes countless serendipitous events created by a cadre of role players whose character and grace under pressure will amaze you once more in the prose of the writers assembled within these pages. Play Ball.
Worcester native RICHARD JOHNSON has served as curator of The Sports Museum, located in Boston’s TD BankNorth Garden, for the past 25 years. He has also authored, edited, or co-authored seventeen books including histories of the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Boston Braves and Bruins as well as volumes on the Cubs (with Glenn Stout) and Boston Celtics (with son Robert Johnson). He has been a member of SABR since 1984 and served as a member of the Seymour Medal committee in 2005.
1 Prices have gone up since this appreciation was first written in 2007.