April 11, 2007

Sawx Nation Update: Impossible Dream 1967 team reunion


BOSTON -- The Back Bay Fens were a baseball backwater when Gary Bell and Lee Stange visited Boston in 1965 as teammates on the Cleveland Indians. At the time, Boston was just another tour stop for American League pennant contenders. Bell and Stange remember coming into a near-empty Fenway Park during September's dog days and seeing the usual group of gamblers isolated in their customary right-field bleacher seats, wagering on foul balls and strike calls.

"There couldn't have been 5,000 people here," Stange said.

Two years later, Stange and Bell played before legions of Boston faithful on the same grounds, this time as a pair of Red Sox. Each was moved by the Indians in separate trades -- Stange in '66, Bell in '67 -- and each, as critical components of the 1967 Boston pitching rotation, helped the Red Sox realize their Impossible Dream.

The Red Sox honored their 1967 predecessors, who went from ninth to first place in the American League until they lost to Bob Gibson's Cardinals in the World Series, in a stirring ceremony at Fenway Park before Tuesday's home opener.

One by one, beginning with Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, 23 men from the Impossible Dream team emerged in period uniforms from behind a gigantic American flag, which unfurled from the top of the Green Monster.

Former stars Reggie Smith, Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews took their fielding positions as Lawrence, Mass., native Robert Goulet crooned the lyrics to the song, "The Impossible Dream." Billy Conigliaro, who played for the Red Sox from 1969-71, represented his late older brother, Tony, whose promising career was derailed by a beaning in August 1967.

After a brief organ interlude, manager Dick Williams emerged from the Green Monster and the crowd roared, a moment of spirited vindication for the skipper and his team. Although widely celebrated by fans for "bringing baseball back" to Boston, as Yastrzemski said in a media session after the celebration, the Impossible Dream Sox had not assembled as many members together at Fenway since the year they won the pennant.

Forty years later, Red Sox Nation stretches from coast to coast -- and well beyond.

"Before '67, there wasn't a Red Sox Nation, I can tell you that," Yastrzemski said.

Case in point: the Sox completed their 20th straight year in 1966 without an American League pennant. After the retirement of Ted Williams in 1960, yearly attendance had hovered around 800,000, well below the league average and a fraction of last year's turnout of 2,930,588.

In 1967, a meager 8,234 fans showed up for the Sox home opener. And "that was a big crowd," Yastrzemski said with a laugh.

On Tuesday, after yet another phase of renovation -- this year, engineers found a way to fit bleacher seats high above the right-field corner, naming the section "Conigliaro's Corner" -- fans packed storied Fenway, which now holds 38,805.

As a kid, we had the LP homage to that season that we wore out numerous record needles listening to.

Posted by Steve-O at April 11, 2007 07:26 AM | TrackBack

Do you remember "Big Yaz Bread"? One of the local bakeries had an endorsement deal with Yastrzemski. As a kid, I ate many a sandwich on Big Yaz bread.

For me, though, the 1975 team was still the ultimate Red Sox team. Yaz, Fisk, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn, Rico Petrocelli, Dwight Evans, Denny Doyle, Rick Burleson, Rick Wise, Rogelio Moret, Spaceman, El Tiante -- man, that was a team. I was a little too young to remmeber 1967, except as the stuff of lore.

Posted by: The Colossus at April 11, 2007 08:15 AM

Well, I would have been one during the Impossible Dream year, so there's that. But yeah, it's the 75 and 78 teams that define the Sawx for me.

I have a very scuffed ball signed by Tiant on my desk.

Posted by: Steve the LLamabutcher at April 11, 2007 08:19 AM

For anyone interested in REALLY getting into the story of the incredible 1967 team, check out the book THE 1967 IMPOSSIBLE DREAM RED SOX. I was honored to participate in creating the book - but most of the work was done by 60 (!) contributors. We also involved 26 members of the team itself, almost every living member. It's quite a project, with 16 pages of color, over 300 photos in all, and bios of every player.

Posted by: Bill Nowlin at April 11, 2007 08:49 AM