The 1967 AL Pennant Race: The 30,315,229 to 1 Possibility

This article was written by Andy Andres

This article was published in the 1967 Boston Red Sox essays


By all accounts, the 1967 American League pennant race was one of the greatest of all time. Entering the last week of play, four teams had a chance to make it to the World Series. By all accounts, the 1967 pennant race was one of the greatest of all time. If it had not unfolded the way it did, and some fiction writer wrote the tale, many would not believe it possible.

The Teams:

  • The Chicago White Sox (the “Hitless Wonders”) could not hit a lick (the best batting average among regulars on that team was Don Buford’s .241), but they had the best defense in the AL that year (only 491 runs scored against, the next closest team was team was 20% higher).
  • The Minnesota Twins, led by Harmon Killebrew (tied for the AL lead in HR), Tony Oliva (led the league in doubles), and Rookie of the Year second baseman Rod Carew.
  • The Detroit Tigers, led by Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, and the underrated second baseman, Dick McAuliffe.
  • The Boston Red Sox, led by Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg, and MVP and Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski (who also led the league in both OBP and slugging).

The Timeline:

  • According to Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson in Red Sox Century, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder laid 100-to-1 odds against the Red Sox winning the pennant.
  • On July 1, the White Sox enjoyed a comfortable five and one-half game lead over the second-place Tigers.
  • On July 14, the Red Sox found themselves in fifth place, six games out of first, and only two games over .500. Then the Red Sox went on a 10-game winning streak to get back into The Great Race.
  • At the start of play on August 15, the Red Sox still found themselves in fifth place, but very much in the race – only three games back. That day the California Angels started a six-game losing streak — and then there were four …

 

August 15, 1967: start of play

TeamGWLT*PCTGB
Minnesota Twins11563502.558
Chicago White Sox11161500.5501
Detroit Tigers11562521.544
California Angels11662540.534
Boston Red Sox11360530.5313

 

1967, AL final standings

TeamGWLT*PCTGB
Boston Red Sox16292700.568
Detroit Tigers16391711.5621
Minnesota Twins16491712.5621
Chicago White Sox16289730.5493

 

Last 7 weeks in 1967

TeamGWLT*PCTGB
Boston Red Sox4932170.653
Detroit Tigers4829190.6301
Minnesota Twins4928210.5711
Chicago White Sox5128230.5603
Totals197117800.594 

 

*Ties due to darkness were still recorded in 1967


  • From August 15 onward, the four teams in The Great Race played terrific baseball. Combined, they played at a .594 winning percentage (this translates into 96 wins for a 162-game season). Standings changed daily, sometimes hourly. Great performances and outstanding baseball were the norm.
  • One day, at the start of play on Thursday, September 7, all four teams were tied for first place in the American League!

Going into the last week of play, the Red Sox had only four games to play, the White Sox and Twins had five each, and the Tigers had six. Most thought the White Sox were best situated to win the pennant because in their last five games, the Pale Hose were scheduled to play the last-place Kansas City Athletics twice and the seventh-place Washington Senators three games.

Interestingly, at the start of play on Wednesday that final week, there was still the quite possible scenario of a four-way tie for first place — imagine the discussion regarding tiebreakers! According to Jeff Miller, in his book Down to the Wire, in the spring of 1967, some engineers at Honeywell apparently decided to amuse themselves by calculating the odds of a four-way tie for first in either the National League or American League. Their calculations showed that the chances of a four-way tie were 30,315,229 to 1. As Miller mused, why the engineers chose to use the company’s time this way remains unknown — baseball had never seen a tie involving more than two teams before 1967.

But that Wednesday (September 27) a gloomy cloud fell over the South Side — the White Sox lost a doubleheader to the lowly A’s. Nevertheless, they still had a chance going into the final weekend because at the start of play on Friday all four teams were within a game and a half in the standings. The other three teams had a harder row to hoe — the Twins and Red Sox would play each other twice on the weekend and the Tigers had to play four against the fifth-place Angels. And things got worse for the Tigers because of rain on Friday, requiring them to play back-to-back doubleheaders on the final weekend.

The ending is well known, and celebrated in Red Sox Nation. The White Sox were eliminated that Friday, as they lost to the Senators. Detroit ended up splitting both doubleheaders with the Angels. Then the Red Sox, led by Carl Yastrzemski’s heroics (Yaz went 7-for-8, hit a homer, scored two runs, and drove in six in those two games), swept the Twins to win The Great Race!

ANDY ANDRES is a diehard Red Sox fan who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife, Kate, and their three children, Maddie, Aubree, and Griffin. When not spending time coaching and playing softball, he teaches biology at Boston University and Harvard College. He plays P/3B for The Jumbo’s Peanut Surprise in various Tufts Softball Leagues, and has been schooled at Universities Brown, Harvard, and Tufts. He teaches what is likely the first ever college course in Baseball Analysis and Sabermetrics at Tufts University with David Tybor and Morgan Melchiorre.

The Greatest Pennant Race Ever?

Click image to enlarge. Source: http://www.alexreisner.com/baseball/history/race?y=1967

 

Notes

Retrosheet (www.retrosheet.org) was invaluable in preparation of this essay.

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