John Harvard, Samuel Adams, Joseph Hooker, Paul Revere, James Michael Curley, Make Way For Ducklings.
Famous local statues, all.
Now make way for Yaz.
Carl Yastrzemski’s statue was dedicated outside Gate B at Fenway Park Sunday morning. At long last, the top performer in pennant-race history is cast in bronze outside the hardball house where he made his magic.
“It’s a tremendous honor,’’ Yaz said after the 40-minute ceremony. “This statue means as much to me as being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having my number retired.’’
Boston’s team owners and city fathers are assembling a nice little Freedom Trail dedicated to Hub sports. You can rub Red Auerbach’s bald pate as you stroll through Faneuil Hall Marketplace, salute Bobby Orr on the way into North Station, stare into the eyes of Cy Young in front of Churchill Hall at Northeastern, and admire Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” form outside BC’s Alumni Stadium. Pretty soon we’ll be toasting Bill Russell at City Hall Plaza, and the Sox already have immortalized Ted Williams and his “teammates” (Bobby Doerr, Dominic DiMaggio, and Johnny Pesky) at the intersection of Ipswich and Van Ness streets.
Appropriately, Yaz will stand forever at the same junction, just a few feet from bronzed Teddy Ballgame. The new monument celebrating Yaz (sculpted by Toby Mendez) features a 44-year-old Yastrzemski tipping his helmet toward Fenway fans before his final career at-bat in 1983.
“I look pretty young,’’ Yaz said as he gazed up at his bronzed image. “The hair’s not gray.’’
There’s nice symmetry in the unveiling of a Yaz statue on the last home date of this 2013 season. The 1967 Red Sox were the Cardiac Kids, a band of baseball brethren who vaulted from ninth place to first and made it to the seventh game of the World Series. They saved baseball in Boston. And now we have the 2013 Cardiac Adults, a worst-to-first edition that went from loathed to loved in seven short months. Sox manager John Farrell and players Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes, and Daniel Nava attended the Yaz unveiling before going to work against the Blue Jays Sunday. The playoff-bound Sox of 2013 hope to follow the cleat prints of the team Yaz carried on his shoulders in Boston’s greatest baseball summer.
In the final two weeks of the 1967 season, Yaz hit .523 with five homers and 16 RBIs. He went 7 for 8 in the final two “must-win” games of the regular season, then hit .400 with three homers in the World Series. Greatest thing since sliced bread? Yaz was more than that. He inspired his own line of loaves — “Big Yaz Bread” hit the grocery stores in 1968.
The son of a Long Island potato farmer, Yaz replaced Williams in left field at Fenway in 1961 and played in 3,308 games, hitting 452 homers, winning a Triple Crown, three batting titles, seven Gold Gloves, and the 1967 Most Valuable Player award. He went into the Hall of Fame in 1989 (appearing on 95 percent of ballots cast) and assumed the title of “greatest living Sox player” when Williams died in the summer of 2002.
Because of his performance and longevity, Yastrzemski is a New England baseball institution. A generation of New Englanders grew up, married, and began raising families while Yaz patrolled the patch of grass in front of the Green Monster. From 1961-83, a tourist tour through Boston included the State House, the Hatch Shell, the Union Oyster House, and Yaz at Fenway. No player in baseball history played more seasons (23) with one team.
When Yaz retired, he disappeared. Twenty-three years on the field was enough. He left us his game and rarely felt compelled to come back to his longtime summer workplace. He was not one for coaching, managing, or lacing up the spikes for an old-timers’ game. Literature has J.D. Salinger, film has Garbo, the Dodgers have Koufax, and we have Yaz; an iconic figure who just wants to be left alone.
“I don’t like to reminisce about when I played,’’ Yaz said in 2011. “I had my day in the sun and it’s over with.’’
Yaz lives on the North Shore with his wife, Nan, and keeps track of his daughters and grandchildren. His grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, hit .273 in his first year of minor league ball in the Baltimore Orioles system this summer.
For a couple of weeks each spring, grandpa Yaz works with young hitters in the batting cages at the Red Sox training facility. Many days he’ll take a long walk around the ballpark’s warning track with former teammates Luis Tiant, Jim Rice, and Dwight Evans. Most days, Yastrzemski is fishing and/or golfing by early afternoon.
He appears annually at Fenway for a Genesis Fund event and — in the tradition of the late Thomas A. Yawkey — Yastrzemski is a lifelong supporter of the Jimmy Fund. When the Sox need autographed baseballs for any charitable cause, the balls are left for Yaz in the back room of a North Shore butcher shop, then picked up (signed) a week later.
Otherwise, the Sox leave him alone. He is not a regular in the meet-and-greet “Legends Suite” at Fenway. He regularly rejects offers to speak, or shoot television commercials. Two years ago, when a major book publisher came at him with an offer that required a day of promotional interviews in New York, Yastrzemski said, “I won’t go to New York for a million dollars.’’ There was no book deal.
Mayor Thomas Menino and Sox owners Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino were among those who came out to honor Yaz Sunday. A barbershop quartet sang “The Impossible Dream” and Jess Cain’s immortal cornball ditty “Carl Yastrzemski” was played over a loudspeaker. Sox favorites Tiant, Frank Malzone, Bill Monbouquette, Bob Stanley, and Bill Lee attended and Rice and Evans delivered brief remarks.
Toastmaster Dick Flavin kept the ceremony moving and spoke fondly of Yastrzemski’s dad, Carl Yastrzemski Sr.
“My dad was a quiet man and a hard worker,’’ said Yaz. “He instilled that in me. He was a tough, good man.’’
Yaz could have been speaking about himself.
He stuck around to toss the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday’s regular-season home finale against the Blue Jays. Yaz performed the same chore before a game in the 2004 World Series and again when the Sox won in 2007. He said he’s keeping his arm loose for next month.