It doesn’t seem as if it could be thirty years, but it is. On October 2nd, 1983, I was lucky enough to attend the last game in the legendary career of Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame outfielder Carl Yastrzemski.
From seats about twenty rows back along the third base line, I got to see one of my (and Boston’s) sports heroes one last time. Yaz started in left field, where he’d won seven gold gloves. In his prime, he was one of the three best fielding outfielders in baseball, along with Joe Rudi in Oakland, and Willie Mays of the Giants. With a strong and accurate throwing arm, Yaz used to charge balls like an infielder, and racked up staggering assist totals from in front of the short left field wall in Fenway. He is the last player to lead the majors in outfield assists while playing errorless baseball (1977, with 16 assists) doing so at the age of 38.
Yaz was just under six feet tall, and only weighed 180 or so pounds, small even by the standards of thirty years ago. But he had a sweet swing, and forearms like Popeye, and ended his career with 452 home runs, second only to the great Ted Williams in Red Sox history. He won the 1967 Triple Crown leading the 100-1 long shot “Impossible Dream” Red Sox to an improbable AL Pennant. He also won three batting titles, and was an all-star 17 times.
On this day, Yaz was in left one final time, batting fifth. He singled in the bottom of the third inning, off Bud Anderson, for his 3,419th and last hit in the bigs. He walked later in the game, and in the bottom of the 7th swung on a 3-0 pitch against Dan Spillner (who was a young pitcher and “nervous as hell”), popping up to second base. It was Yastrzemski’s 11,988th and last at-bat in the major leagues. As the team took the field in the top of the eighth inning, reserve Chico Walker ran out behind Yaz and replaced him in left, so that the Fenway fans could give him one last ovation. It lasted more than three minutes. After 23 seasons, Carl Yastrzemski was done as an active player. He had begun three years before I was born, and here I was a sophomore in college. He’d played against Mantle and Ford and Berra, and also against Cal Ripken Jr.
Following the game, with the stands still full, Yaz did a remarkable thing for such a private man. It is commonplace now, but it wasn’t then. Yastrzemski ran one last lap around the field, and where the stands were low enough to do so, slapped hands with the fans along the edge of the seats.
The Sox beat the Cleveland Indians, 3-1, by the way. Other highlights of the game included three hits by Jerry Remy (in his last full season before his knee gave out), and a massive 500-foot home run to deep center off the bat of Jim Rice. But, thirty years later, it is Yaz whom I will remember from that day. I’ve still got the “Yaz Day” painter’s hat, the commemorative poster, and program from that day. And a framed picture in my office of Yaz in the on-deck circle before his last at-bat.
As I contemplate my own retirement, the words of Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully come to mind. “It is a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-Star Game and an Old Timer’s Game”.
A BIG hat-tip to Tom (“T-gunner”), who scored the tickets to the game. I still owe you beer, T!