Entries from Oct 1983

Boston Globe

September 30, 1983

Once, it was a simple game played on grass under the sun and fans deceived themselves into thinking that men played it only for fun. Over the years, the night took it from warm afternoons and there are green carpets now instead of lush lawns and the explosion of dollars has turned the music of the sport into the sound of an adding machine.

Kids no longer pose in playground shadows pretending to be DiMaggio, Mays or Mantle. The ballet involved in chasing long fly balls or the visual poetry of a double play is still there, but free agency and labor disputes have resulted in loyalty that has turned to rust.

Lawyers and owners speak in Wall Street tones; players mutter in some dead language that always has a clause for cash; and all three parties are part of a deceit that has robbed the game of its magic and the fans of a piece of their youth.

Yet through it all, across all the years, you can always find a handful of athletes who act and perform as if they are the custodians of the game’s reputation, as if their every time at bat is going to help restore a piece of the dream that every child once held in his heart whenever baseball was played.

Carl Yastrzemski is such a man.

He never had the power of a Jackson or a Schmidt. He never had the speed of a Clemente. He does not have the size or strength of someone like Winfield or Rice.

He approached the game the way a carpenter frames a house. His foundation was desire; the walls were made of intensity; the roof was nailed down with heart.

His career has stretched across the terms of six presidents, a couple of mayors and two decades that have changed the face of this country forever. There are people just one year out of college whose entire memory of the Red Sox is book-ended by the name Yastrzemski.

He played on some awful teams, some good ones and, perhaps, one great one. He was stacked in batting orders with players who were pathetic and a few others who had better natural ability and physical gifts than No. 8 did.

Through it all, the first- and last-place finishes, the embarrassment and the applause, it was always Carl Yastrzemski’s pride that bound those teams together and carried them through the long season. From March to October, he ran everything out.

He was “The Captain,” but his speeches were given in the batter’s box and out along the cinder track in left field. He was an all-star but the glitter in his game came from his consistency. He was a steady light in the sky, not some shooting star that faded in a haze of adhesive tape, whirlpools and excuses.

His talent was always disguised within a body better suited for a journeyman infielder. And there were years when he was hurt nearly all the time and the numbers from those seasons libel his career when looked at separately.

But he played. He altered his stance or favored his back. He limped a bit and took a little off the throw in to the cutoff man but, always, he played.

And all the games across all the years do not encompass one third the effort that Carl Yastrzemski poured into his sport. Box scores don’t show callouses picked up from hours in a batting cage and statistical totals don’t compute the sweat, pain and sacrifice of a life devoted to a game.

In September of l967, he became a legend. No man has ever had a month, a season, like Yastrzemski did sixteen summers ago. Day in and day out, he lugged a marginal collection of baseball players toward the dream of a first- place finish.

In the fall of l975, he was an aging left fielder on a team of considerable talent. But it was Yastrzemski who took a ball off the left field wall, turned and fired to throw out Reggie Jackson, who had thought he could take second on an old man’s arm, and when the umpire called him out, the Oakland A’s died right there in the copper-colored dust of the infield.

By l978, there was a touch of gray at his temples and the lines around his eyes were not from laughing. And it is in a scene from a crisp, clear October afternoon of that year that Carl Yastrzemski will live forever in my mind.

His Red Sox had bled themselves into a tie for first place with the Yankees of New York. Now it was the ninth inning of a playoff game and 32,295 fans stood in silence for the duel: “The Captain” against “The Goose.”

They say the ball finally came down in Graig Nettles’ glove. They say there was a final score, and that the Yankees won. But they are wrong because legends live forever and there are dreams that never die.

In places beyond New England, there are people who claim that “The Captain” never played on a team that won a World Series. Yet on that autumn day, and on every day he wore the uniform, Carl Yastrzemski, No. 8, was always a world champion.