A baseball post! Who’d’ve thought?
How do you replace a Hall of Famer who might have been the greatest hitter of all time? In 1960, the Boston Red Sox were faced with this question as Ted Williams, who had patrolled left field for them since 1939 (with time off for service in World War II and the Korean War) announced his intention to retire from the game. Ted had a fantastic career, with a .344 batting average, a .482 on-base percentage, 521 home runs, 1,839 runs batted in, and three walks for every strikeout. Were it not for his extraordinary patriotism, Henry Aaron might have been chasing him for the all-time record in home runs. He homered in his final at-bat, a way of thanking the Boston fans.
The job of replacing Ted was handed to Carl Yastrzemski (ya-STREM-ski), a 21-year-old outfielder who had hit well in 1960 at Minneapolis, then Boton’s AAA affiliate (the following year, the Washington Senators would move to Minneapolis and become the Minnesota Twins).
Carl Yastrzemski 1963 Topps baseball card. Source: The Golden Age of Baseball Cards
Was Carl as good as Ted? No one was as good as Ted. But Carl was more than good enough. He led the American league in hitting three times, including 1967, when he also led the league in home runs (44) and runs batted in (121) — in other words, the Triple Crown. That year, he led the BoSox to the American League Championship and into the World Series, where he batted .400 and hit three home runs against the St. Louis Cardinals in a losing effort.
When it was all over in 1983, Carl had a more-than-respectable .285 lifetime batting average, with 452 home runs and 1,844 runs batted in, besting his predecessor by five RBI. He led the Red Sox in eight different all-time categories, and, as with his predecessor, that earned him a place in The National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. I remember Yaz from the games he played against the White Sox. You hated to see him come up to bat with men on base, because more often than not he found a way to beat you. He’s one of those guys that, when he beat you, you just tipped your hat to him. What else could you do? He’s in the Hall of Fame because of it.
Be sure to be with us tomorrow, April 30, for the last entry in this year’s A to Z Challenge.