Note: This is the second post in our look at The Impossible Dream, 1967 Boston Red Sox season. You can read the first post by clicking here.
A New England winter – a harsh mistress that is as cold as she is unforgiving. For months on end, the region is pounded by cold temperatures, snow, and cloudy days. Some stay inside and away from the elements while others embrace it and engage in the copious amounts of winter activities that the region offers. Others (like yours truly) mix up the seasonal activities and go cabin camping on a 10 degree January days. The length of the New England winter coincides so perfectly with the start of baseball season that it is almost as if nature intended it and that Red Sox baseball is a reward for surviving yet another winter.
Sometimes however, nature miscalculates and Opening Day at Fenway Park becomes a high-wire balancing act that requires all hands on deck to make a reality. Opening Day 1967 was one of those times. By late March, the grounds team at Fenway Park began to realize that lingering snow and frost would make getting the field prepared for Opening Day an incredibly tricky and delicate endeavor. The grounds crew not only had to clear the snow, most of it from a recent snowstorm but also had to contend with the underlying frost, as deep as 8-10 inches in places, that had formed over the winter. As the team told The Boston Globe on March 22, 1967, the 20 days between then and Opening Day was going to be the “bare minimum” needed to get the field ready. Director of Park Operations, Dan Marcotte only gave the field a 50-50 shot at being ready to go for Opening Day. It was also noted that a snow event, not entirely unheard of in Boston in late March, could substantially jeopardize their ability to get the field ready.
Crew worked around the clock to grade, level, and sod the field. They even brought in helicopters to assist with the drying process. In the event that the field was not ready, the Sox were prepared to extend their training camp by four days and possibly play exhibition games against Triple A affiliate Toronto Maple Leafs in the interim.
Snow did find its way into the forecast and it came mere days before Opening Day. Luckily for the grounds crew however, the snow melted and soaked into the field. However, Marcotte noted to The Boston Globe that the ground was incredibly saturated as a result. To make matters worse, there was a 50-50 chance of precipitation on Opening Day.
In a harbinger of things to come, the field was ready to go on April 12th for the Red Sox’s return to Fenway to take on the Chicago White Sox. Like most things in 1967 however, it would be a nail biter, so close in fact that the Red Sox had to spend their morning working out at Harvard.
“In all my years with the Red Sox I have never seen a team in such good condition.”
The above quote, from Red Sox Executive Vice President and General Manager, Dick O’Connell was a great summary of the general feeling around the Red Sox as the season began. A better than expected spring had lifted the spirits around the team. The optimism however did not spill over to the local fanbase, who despite media predictions of crowds of up to 20,000, did not crowd into Fenway Park. Only 8,324 fans showed up to a chilly Opening Day to watch Jim Lonborg take on John Buzhardt of the Chicago White Sox.
Walt Williams of the White Sox stepped into the batter’s box to face Lonborg in the first at bat of the 1967 season. He started us off with a ground out to 3rd to begin a 1-2-3 top of the 1st that ended with a strikeout to Tommie Agee.
The first score of the season came in the bottom of the 2nd, which started with a Reggie Smith double. As Smith waited at 2nd, Rico Petrocelli hit a single into the outfield that brought Smith home. An inning later, Petrocelli returned to the plate and hit the first home run of the season to put the Red Sox up 4-0.
The White Sox would answer back in the top of the 4th however when a Lonborg wild pitch allowed Agee to score from a third. In the bottom of the 6th, Carl Yastrzemski reached on an error that also brought Jose Tartabull home and gave the Red Sox a 5-1 lead.
After only allowing one run through six innings, Jim Lonborg’s day began to take a turn for the worse in the top of the 7th. The inning began with Pete Ward reaching base with a double, followed by Ken Berry moving him over to third with a single. A wild pitch to the next batter, Bill Skowron, would bring Ward home. Lonborg then sat down Skowron with a strikeout. The next batter, Ron Hansen, would reach base on an error and score Berry, who had moved to 2nd on the wild pitch. Hansen would then score on Jerry Adair’s single to bring the score to 5-4. It was after this that Dick Williams decided that he had seen enough and pulled Lonborg from the game in favor of John Wyatt. Wyatt would pitch the rest of the 7th and the 8th before handing it off to Don McMahon to close it out in the 9th. The Sox would go on to win the game, 5-4.
The joy of Opening Day would be short-lived as the Sox dropped the next game to the White Sox, 8-5, in a game that epitomized “the agony of defeat.” In the 2nd game of the season, the Red Sox entered the 9th inning with a 5-3 lead. A 5-run rally in the ninth inning would bring the Red Sox record to 1-1 and end their opening home stand.
The Red Sox would pack up and leave town to head to the Bronx to face the hated New York Yankees. Rookie Billy Rohr was set to take the mound for the first Red Sox-Yankees game of the season. In the next post in this series, we will take a look at the near-miss in the Bronx and the career of Billy Rohr.