Carl Yastrzemski is synonymous with Boston, as significant in the city’s iconography as Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and the Paul Revere House. To be a Red Sox fan is to know pride in Yaz’s representation of New England’s greatest asset—doing a job without regard to glamour or grandeur.
On September 12, 1979, Red Sox Nation celebrated when Yaz knocked a ball through the right side of the Yankee infield—#8 had reached #3000.
Suspense filled Fenway Park after Yaz hit the first pitch thrown to him by Jim Beattie—himself a native of the slugger’s adopted home base of New England—towards the area patrolled by Yankee second baseman Willie Randolph. Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe described, “Would Randolph field the ball? Nobody could say he could. Nobody could say he couldn’t. Not Randolph. Not the pitcher, Jim Beattie. Not the diehard, the final group of 34,337 which was waiting on this clear September night. Not Carl Yastrzemski.
“Certainly not Carl Yastrzemski.”
Approximately a millisecond after the ball passed Randolph, cheers erupted throughout New England, from Kennebunkport to Kenmore Square.
It was the only hit of the night for Carl Michael Yastrzemski, whose 3000th hit was one of 140 that he notched in 1979. For Yaz, baseball receded after retirement. “I find that everyone remembers more about it than I do. I just never think about having played baseball. I was very fortunate, very gifted. I think once I retired, I kind of said, ‘That’s it, there’s another life out there,'” said Yastrzemski in a 2011 profile by Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.
When Yaz reached the elusive 3,000 plateau, he did it against the backdrop of a legendary rivalry, one of the most heated in sports. It was all the more dramatic in 1979 because of what happened the year prior. When the Red Sox leaped to a lead the size of the Grand Canyon—14 games in mid-July—a pennant was as likely to be lost as a Kennedy becoming a Republican. And yet, the Yankees chipped away at the lead, forcing a one-game playoff after both teams had the same record at the end of the season.
Yaz was the voice of reason, if not pessimism. In a 1986 article for UPI, Richard L. Shook interviewed several members of the Red Sox squad, including Bob Stanley, who said, “I remember Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) coming in after one loss and saying, ‘I’ve got a feeling we’re going to blow this thing’ [and] I think a lot of guys felt that. Plus we had a lot of individual guys on that team. They played for themselves. They didn’t pull for each other. They didn’t care if we won.”
Indeed, the Yankees won the pennant, thanks to a home run by Bucky Dent, forever villainous in the hearts and minds of Red Sox fans.
Yaz inherited Fenway Park’s left field region from Red Sox icon Ted Williams, playing his rookie season in 1961, a year of other firsts—Alan Shepard became the first American astronaut in space, John F. Kennedy became the first American president born in the 20th century, and Six Flags Over Texas became the first them park in the Six Flags stable.
When he retired after the 1983 season, Yastrzemski counted a Triple Crown, 3,419 career hits, and 452 home runs among his many achievements, the most significant being his gentlemanly manner.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 21, 2016.
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