The Impossible Dream: The Bosox

Dick Williams

Dick Williams

Fifty years ago (1967) the world was a lot different. I was in Viet Nam doing my bit. The anti-war people were screaming. Martin Luther King was still alive. The big hit on Broadway was a musical titled Man of La Mancha. It’s most famous song was “The Quest” which was better known as “The Impossible Dream.” And in baseball the Boston Red Sox were an afterthought. That changed when they ran off enough wins to grab the American League pennant and go to the World Series for the first time since 1946. The team caught the imagination of a lot of people and the season became known as “The Impossible Dream” season.

The Bosox were led by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams. He hadn’t been much of a player, but he had an eye for talent and led Boston to only its second pennant since Babe Ruth played for the team in 1918. The Sox hitters led the American League in runs, hits, doubles, batting average, home runs, total bases, slugging and OPS. They were third in stolen bases (all of 68), fourth in triples, and toward the bottom in fielding. Their pitchers were less impressive, finishing in the middle of the pack in most categories.

The infield consisted of four players averaging 24 years old. George Scott held down first. He had 19 home runs (third on the team) and 82 RBIs (good for second). Mike Andrews, who’d become famous (or infamous depending on your view of the matter) with the Athletics hit .263 with 2.9 WAR and was a decent second baseman. Rico Petrocelli, who in many ways became the face of the infield (he got a lot more press than the other three) played short, hit 17 home runs, had 4.1 WAR, and made the All Star team. Joe Foy was at third with 16 home runs, but only 2.6 WAR. Dalton Jones and Jerry Adair were the primary infield backups. Both hit about .290 with three homers apiece and 51 total RBIs.

Although the outfield was set at the beginning of the season, tragedy caused a major problem for the Red Sox as the season progressed. Tony Conigliaro was 22 and having a great year. He had 20 home runs, 67 RBIs, was hitting .287, with 3.7 WAR when he was hit in the eye with a pitched ball. Needing a replacement, Boston went with Jose Tartabull. “The Bull” hit only .223 with no power, only 53 OPS+, six stolen bases, and -1.8 WAR. It was a noticeable drop off. Fortunately for the team, the other two outfielders were much better. Reggie Smith played center and led the team with 16 stolen bases. He hit .246 but had 15 home runs and 61 RBIs for 3.4 WAR. But the star was Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. It was his Triple Crown year. He hit .326, had 44 homers, 121 RBIs, a 1.040 OPS (193 OPS+), and 12.4 WAR. For comparison, Ted Williams highest WAR was 10.9 in 1946. All that garnered Yaz the AL MVP Award. Later famed announcer Ken Harrelson and old-time Dodgers player Don Demeter were the other outfielders.

If both the infield and outfield were settled, the catching situation was a mess. Mike Ryan did more catching than anyone else in Boston in 1967 and he was above league average in the caught stealing statistic, but he hit only a buck .99 with no power and -0.6 WAR. Russ Gibson wasn’t much better. He was, like Ryan, above average in gunning down base runners, but he hit only .203 with a single home run. The solution was to bring in 38 year old Elston Howard from New York. Unfortunately for the Bosox, Howard was through. He hit .147 with 11 RBIs, a below average caught stealing percentage, and -0.8 WAR. For the World Series, Howard would be the primary backstop.

The pitching staff was also unsettled. Jim Lonborg was the unquestioned ace. He went 22-9 with a 3.16 ERA (ERA+ of 112), 246 strikeouts to go with 83 walks (a 1.138 WHIP), and 4.1 WAR. For the first time, MLB gave out two Cy Young Awards, one in each league (previously there had been a single award). Lonborg won it. Lee Stange and Gary Bell were the other pitchers who started 20 or more games. Stange was 8-10 with a 2.77 ERA while Bell went 12-8 with a 3.16 ERA. The fourth starter (in an era where most teams started four, not five pitchers) was almost as unsettled as the catcher. Bucky Brandon, Dennis Bennett, and Jose Santiago all started double figure games, with Santiago going 12-4 in fifty games (11 starts) to take the fourth spot in the Series. John Wyatt led the team in saves with 20, but 11 other players had at least one save.

It had been 30 years since Boston won the AL pennant. The “Impossible Dream” team of 1967 was an unexpected winner. They were something of a sentimental favorite nationwide. Standing in their way were the St. Louis Cardinals and Bob Gibson.

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to “The Impossible Dream: The Bosox”

  1. Sean Thornton Says:

    Conigliaro might be the biggest “what if” in baseball history…although one has to wonder if Jose Fernandez might pass him in that category, as both looked HOF bound from a very early age.

  2. wkkortas Says:

    Williams played with the KC A’s in 1960–two of his teammates were Hank Bauer, who managed the ’66 Orioles, and Whitey Herzog, who managed some OK teams himself. Maybe that’s why they stunk–not enough good players and too many damn managers.

  3. Miller Says:

    Great post. Thanks!

    The point about Yaz is a great one. We forget just how great he was, averaging 9.5 WAR from 1967-1970.

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