When you make a list of the best Sox players of all time you cannot leave Carl Yastrzemski’s name off the list. The lifelong Red Sox player, 18-time All Star, and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner ranks as one of the best left fielders in Red Sox and MLB history.
Yaz, as he was called, was born on a Potato farm to a Polish family on August 22, 1939 and grew up playing sandlot baseball with his father, who he claims was a better athlete than him. Yaz attended Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship (of all things) before beginning his storied baseball career. He was picked up by the Sox in 1959 and sent to the minors while Ted Williams finished out his career with the Sox.
Yastrzemski was finally called up in ’61 after The Kid called it quits, and boy oh boy did he face a lot of pressure to succeed when he took over the starting job in left. After an unspectacular rookie season that saw him bat .266 (stand that up to Teddy Ballgame’s .388 in his final season) Yaz quickly found his stride with a breakout 1963 season batting .321/.421/.475 with 14 homers, 68 RBI, and a league-leading 40 doubles. Not only did Yaz do well at the plate, but he was an excellent defender mastering the Monstah while flashing a great arm from the outfield. Check out the great outfielder in his grainy prime here (fav part is where he buries home plate, that’s classic):
Yastrzemski saved his best season for 1967, where he batted .326 while breaking out a power surge with 40 homers and 121 RBIs, all league leading giving him the Triple Crown award and his lone MVP award. It also happened that 1967 was the Impossible Dream year for the Sox, in part propelled by Yaz himself who batted .513 in the final two weeks of the season to lift the Sox up ahead one game in the standings by the end of the seasons. The Sox lost the series but Yaz did his part batting .400 with three homers over seven games.
1968 was dubbed as the “Year of the Pitcher” though as he won the batting title with a .301 mark; continuous lowering of the mound made it harder for batters to gain an advantage as pitchers suddenly started dominating, but old Yaz maintained his success at the plate. Some highlights include hitting 40 homers in back-to-back seasons between ’69 and ’70 while hitting .329 in 1970 as well. Check out Yastrzemski in his prime though, the guy was one of the best hitters in the league for a while:
1975 was a key year for the aging Sox left fielder though as the Sox once again made it to the World Series were they faced the Big Red Machine, once again falling four games to three with Yastrzemski making the final out with a fly-out to center. The most painful moment for Red Sox Nation came in 1978 in an AL-East Tiebreaker between the Sox and Yankees where Yaz made the final out with a foul pop-out to third base. It was the quintessential “Disney Moment” with the 38-year-old former hero in a tough spot against his most hated rival, but instead of lashing one down the line or even out of the park he ended the game in one of the most anti-climactic ways possible.
Yastrzemski called it quits after the 1983 season and retired at the age of 44 after 23 long seasons with the Sox. He ended his career with 3,308 games under his belt alongside 3,419 hits, 649 doubles, 452 homers, and a .285 career batting average. Yaz made the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility in 1989 and his number “8” was retired by the Sox shortly after.
Yastrzemski was long remembered for his salty New England demeanor and distaste for public appearances, so if you want to get an autograph good luck. That said while he could be downright mean to adult fans, he was often nice to younger kids being a father himself of his son Mike who went on to be drafted by the Braves before dying of a heart attack in 2004. Currently Yaz’ grandson Michael was drafted by the Mariners but signed with the Baltimore Orioles.