“This is really a love story, an affair betwixt a town and a team. A town that waited and waited for what seemed like an Impossible Dream.”
These words, the opening words of an album produced by the now defunct WHDH-AM and uttered by long time Red Sox announcer Ken Coleman are perhaps the best summation of the 1967 Boston Red Sox season. As a historian of the Red Sox and diehard fan, the 1967 season is perhaps my favorite season. 2004 may have been the breaking of the Curse but 1967 saved baseball in New England. This is the year that Yaz won the Triple Crown, Jim Lonborg won the Cy Young, and the Sox almost took down the Cardinals to win it all. It was the year of an intense pennant race, back before the advent of the Division and Championship Series, when the teams with the best record in their respective leagues squared off in the World Series. It was a year that strung us along, only to rip our hearts out in the bitter end. 1967 and its offseason saw the aforementioned loss to the Cardinals in the World Series, the career altering (and ultimately ending) injury to Tony Conigliaro, and the skiing accident in the offseason that derailed Lonborg’s career. We may never know what Tony C. and Lonborg may have contributed to the team, we got but a glimpse.
It was also a light at the end of the tunnel, the redemption of a team whose mediocrity had doomed them to the back burner of New England’s cultural conscience. It was the year that may have saved Fenway Park, then seemingly doomed to meet the wrecking ball. 1967 means so much in the history of the team on Yawkey Way. It was a turning point, it was a shining light, it was the Impossible Dream.
This is the first post in a series on the 1967 Boston Red Sox. I’ll sprinkle these through the rest of the season. I hope you enjoy either reliving or learning for the first time.
“We’ll win more than we’ll lose”
The above statement, uttered by new Boston Red Sox manager Dick Williams, on the eve of the 1967 season would today be taken as a pessimistic take on the team’s chances in the coming season, a dismissal of the team’s chances of making the postseason and a concession that merely having a winning season was sufficient. In 1967 however, the Red Sox were perennial basement dwellers that had last posted a winning season in 1958. They also hadn’t finished higher than 7th in the American League since the decade began and last made the World Series in 1945. In fact, the most recent Boston team to play in the World Series, the Braves, had departed for Milwaukee in 1953. Fenway Park, which today stands as monument to sports culture in New England, could barely fill half of its seats and baseball had been placed on the back burner of New England’s collective conscience.
The 1966 Boston Red Sox had posted 90 losses, finishing 26 games behind American League Champions Baltimore Orioles. The only bright spot of the 1966 season was that the only team worse than the Sox were the New York Yankees. The team’s attendance was also dismal, averaging approximately 10,000 fans per game. In the American League, only the Kansas City Athletics had lower. Manager Billy Herman, who had also led the Red Sox to a 100 loss season in 1965 was fired before the season ended.
On September 28, 1966, it was announced that Dick Williams had signed a one year contract with the team. Williams came to the Sox with impressive managerial credentials. He had just managed Sox’s Triple A affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs to playoff appearances in 1965 and 66 and won the International League’s Manager of the Year. Despite these accolades, the idea that Williams could do anything with the perennial basement dwellers at Fenway was still far-fetched. On the eve of the 1967 season, Boston Globe sports writer Harold Kease predicted that the Sox would climb three spots to finish sixth in the American League and largely attributed his prediction to Williams’s competency as a manager. Pessimism about the team’s chances wasn’t just limited to the usually pessimistic Boston media however, when asked by Boston Globe writer Will McDonough about the team’s chances, right fielder Tony Conigliaro said, “at least fifth. I think Baltimore, Minnesota, and Detroit are better ball clubs than we are. But I think that we can be as good as anybody else. If we get real good pitching we could even sneak into fourth.” Carl Yastrzemski agreed with Conigliaro and said that, “I think our pitching is good enough to get us into fifth place.”
In the April 11th “Editorial Points” in the Boston Globe, it was said that, “[i]n other years the cynics expected the Red Sox to go nowhere. The experts say that they’ll go halfway to somewhere.” Fifth place was the expectation, possibly fourth, anything else seemed like an Impossible Dream.