The Birth of Red Sox Nation
This article originally appeared in SABR's "The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox: Pandemonium on the Field" (SABR, 2017), edited by Bill Nowlin and Dan Desrochers.
The 1967 Red Sox team surprised everyone by winning the pennant and taking the World Series to a seventh and final game. Before the season began, new manager Dick Williams predicted the team would "win more games than we lose." That in itself was a bold claim for a team that had one foot on the cellar floor the year before, finishing in ninth place, just half a game out of last place. Fans at Fenway were few and far between for most of the 1960s, with crowds often as not in four digits — and from time to time fewer than 1,000. Most observers of the game picked the '67 edition to improve to seventh place, maybe sixth. Come mid-summer '67, the team was puttering along quite well when suddenly they won 10 in a row and the returning heroes were improbably met at Logan Airport by a crowd estimated at up to 10,000 — more than had greeted The Beatles when the Fab Four had last come to Boston.
This was a different era in baseball, with 10 teams in each league and no playoff other than the World Series. Virtually every player had to work a second job in the offseason to make ends meet, players roomed on the road, and often shared apartments with teammates when in Boston. Kids who followed baseball knew the averages of their favorite players, but had no idea what the players were getting paid.
It was a year when a number of players captivated the imaginations of a fan base that grew and grew — players like Rico Petrocelli, who caught the popup that secured first place; Jim Lonborg, who barely made it off the field when he was engulfed by fans surging in celebration; Tony C, who had to follow from the sidelines with his vision permanently impaired, and Yaz, who won the Triple Crown, defined clutch down the stretch, and made every play in the field as well.
It was a magical season, a very special season for the Red Sox franchise, for the fans, and for baseball overall. If not for the '67 Sox, were would Boston baseball be today?
To win the pennant was truly an Impossible Dream, but a dream come true. Those who lived through it will never forget it. The experience formed a bond between the Boston Red Sox and a reborn fan base that has been tested — many times — but never broken. This truly was the birth of what's now termed Red Sox Nation.
BILL NOWLIN was one of the first fans to the mound when Jim Lonborg induced the final out and the Red Sox won the 1967 pennant. He was elected as SABR's Vice President in 2004 and re-elected for five more terms before stepping down in 2016, when he was elected as a Director. He is also the author of dozens of books on the Red Sox or Red Sox players, including "Ted Williams At War" and "Love That Dirty Water: The Standells and the Improbable Victory Anthem of the Boston Red Sox" (both from Rounder Books.) He has written Johnny Pesky's biography (Mr. Red Sox) and co-edited a series of Red Sox "team books" written by numerous SABR authors that focus on different years when the Red Sox fielded exceptional teams, including: '"75: The Red Sox Team that Saved Baseball" (2005); "The 1967 Impossible Dream Red Sox" (2007); "When Boston Had The Babe: The 1918 Red Sox" (2008); and "Lefty, Double-X, and The Kid: The 1939 Red Sox, a Team in Transition" (2009). He is also co-founder of Rounder Records of Cambridge, Massachusetts. He's traveled to more than 100 countries, but says there's no place like Fenway Park.