This is the third part in a series about the Red Sox Impossible Dream season. Read the series and more about the Summer of 1967 in Boston.
On the night Red Sox Nation was born, the Sox themselves were in the air, flying back from a midsummer road trip. Amid the scattered card games, the banter with the sports writers, and the flirting with the flight attendants in their sugar-spoon hats, the only thing unusual aboard their United charter on July 23, 1967, was that none of the guys were asleep.
They were too wired, high off of a 10-game winning streak, 12 games above .500 and just a half-game out of first. Some of the guys were now trying on the P word — “pennant” — in interviews, even if their brash manager was playing it cool, sticking simply with his preseason prediction that they’d win more than they’d lose.
The plane began its descent, and the captain’s voice crackled over the intercom from the cockpit. Word from the tower was that a crowd was waiting at the terminal, so they couldn’t pull right in. Instead, they would taxi to a far corner of the airport, then ride a bus over to meet their families and the fans.
To a man, they wondered what was going on down at Logan. This was a team accustomed to being ignored, routinely playing to fewer than 5,000 fans in recent years, occasionally fewer than 500.
At the end of each road trip, broadcasters Ken Coleman and Ned Martin would mention the team’s flight details, but it was mostly a courtesy to the wives and girlfriends who might greet the team. Only occasionally would an autograph-seeker or two show up, or maybe a couple of kids in Little League uniforms.
Indeed, expectations had been so low back in January that when rookie manager Dick Williams won a trip to Paris on a new game show called “Hollywood Squares,” the scribes in Boston had a field day. Surely by July, Williams — Boston’s eighth skipper in as many years — would be unemployed and ready for that Paris vacation.
But now it was actually July, and a club that finished ninth the last two years had somehow reached the All-Star break at 41-39, keeping the manager’s brassy prediction intact.
They were a pleasant surprise, young, hungry, likable, with none of the overpaid loafers who had defined the more recent years of Tom Yawkey’s ownership. Williams had so drilled them in the fundamentals that they were just as likely to spring from the dugout to cheer a good bunt as a wall-ball double.
And they had built a buzz around a few memorable moments: the no-hitter rookie Billy Rohr took into the ninth in his April debut; the two-run, two-out, walk-off blast by Tony Conigliaro that cleared Lansdowne Street in June, after the Sox had fallen behind in extra innings; the night they responded to a beaning by pummeling the Yankees, 8-1, amid not one but two bench-clearing brawls in the Bronx.
Still, conventional wisdom said Boston would falter on the road and fold in the second half.
Except now they were doing the opposite. Suddenly, New England soldiers half a world away in Vietnam wondered whether there might be a misprint in their Stars and Stripes as they followed each win, honeymooners in Europe waited to scoop up the latest International Herald Tribune, and kids at camp slipped down to the lake at night with a pocket radio and a lone earbud, yearning to hear it for themselves.
The Sox had gone from background noise to the soundtrack of summer, so that you could walk down the street in Coolidge Corner or follow the length of Nantasket Beach and scarcely miss a pitch, the static and hum of the radio rising from so many porches, park benches, and picnic blankets.
A kid from Groton named Dan Shaughnessy who turned 14 during the streak would one day call this season a bright line in Red Sox history, comparing it to the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when black-and-white bursts into Technicolor.
All that followed — Red Sox Nation, duck boat parades, Fenway as “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark” ™ — could be traced to 1967, to the charge that came from the first pennant contender anyone had seen since the 1940s, the first one that all those kids born after the war had seen at all. To a Sunday night at Logan in July.
Only the players themselves, out on the road, were unaware of what they had ignited back home. As their charter dipped toward the lights of East Boston, they tried to imagine this crowd that might be waiting for them at 10 p.m. Maybe there were 50? 100? 250? No way there could be 500 or 1,000; not even the Beatles had drawn that many fans to Logan the year before.
What we need is a good winning streak, Dick Williams had mused to reporters 11 days earlier, sorting mail at Fenway the morning after the All-Star Game.
“It wouldn’t be a bad way to start the second half,” he said, and the writers noted it, though most had their heads in Anaheim, where four Sox had represented the American League: outfielders Carl Yastrzemski and Conigliaro, shortstop Rico Petrocelli, and pitcher Jim Lonborg.
It was the first All-Star Game broadcast in prime time on the East Coast — in color, no less, for anyone who had shelled out $499.88 at Jordan Marsh for a 23-inch Zenith.
And it showcased sparkling Anaheim Stadium, a three-tiered colossus ringed by oceans of parking: the anti-Fenway Park, in a new city built for the age of the jet and interstate.
Boston, in contrast, was a creaky hub trying to revive itself through downtown renewal, even as many of its residents — those who could afford to leave — drained rapidly to the suburbs and the Sun Belt.
Cramped Fenway, with obstructed views and no parking facility, was widely seen as a relic, drab and out of date.
It was also considered a detriment to the team, its tantalizing dimensions luring the Sox into the trap of swinging for the fences at home while ignoring almost all else, like pitching and defense.
Yawkey said he was losing $1 million a year. Without a roomy stadium and ample parking, fans would continue to shun Fenway, and he would be forced to relocate the Red Sox. “It can’t go on forever,” he told the Globe that June.
Except a funny thing was happening.
Fans were coming back, from just 3,607 in the second game to 10,000 or 15,000 now, sometimes even 20,000 if the weather and timing were right.
Forward-thinking general manager Dick O’Connell — a Bronze Star winner from Winthrop who’d worked his way up, finally getting the reins after ’65 — had assembled a new kind of lineup, and Williams had whipped them into form.
The manager knew this brand of team could win on the road, and with most starters under 25, he thought they were primed to succeed in the dog days of summer, when older teams might falter.
“We could be even better from here,” Williams said.
They opened the second half July 13 against Baltimore, the reigning champs, winning the first but losing the second in a doubleheader. That streak would have to wait.
The odds were in their favor the next day, with Lonborg due to pitch, suddenly a Cy Young contender at 25 after two lackluster seasons.
The lanky former Stanford premed had always had talent, but now he was harnessing it, complementing his fastball with a slider honed during winter ball, and brushing back hitters for the first time, too. He was leading the league in strikeouts and wins — and hit batsmen, too.
Before facing Baltimore that Friday evening, Lonborg went over to the Kenmore Square Cinema — in the old Cities Service building, now topped with the rebranded neon “CITGO” sign — and caught an hour of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up.”
He did it to relax, but also out of superstition. After getting roughed up in his first three starts, he decided he was bearing down too hard, so he went to the movies before his next time out, a Friday night game, and pitched a gem. After that, Lonborg became a fixture at the cinema before pitching Friday night games at home, always sitting alone on the left side of the aisle.
Whether it was the cinematic respite or a burst of offense — the Sox jumped out 8-0 after four — Lonborg that night earned his 12th victory.
That game and the next set a pattern for the streak: early leads, contributions from everyone, and good old-fashioned luck. On Saturday, backup catcher Russ Gibson, a Fall River native who had toiled a decade in the minors, helped Boston win its second straight without even entering the game.
Rookie pitcher Gary Waslewski had looked good in his previous starts, but Gibson thought something was off during bullpen warm-ups that afternoon, July 15. “Boss, the guy’s got nothing,” he said, pulling Williams aside. “Better get someone warmed up and ready.”
So Williams told Jose Santiago — slated to start the following day — to get throwing in the pen, as insurance.
When Waslewski missed the plate on 10 of his first 11 pitches, boos cascading already, Williams yanked him for Santiago. Inheriting two runners and a 2-0 count, he fought to 3-2 on Baltimore’s Paul Blair. On the payoff pitch, the runners bolted — and Blair drilled a liner right into the glove of Sox third baseman Joe Foy, who fired to Mike Andrews at second, doubling the lead runner.
Andrews pivoted — but got smacked off the bag by a forearm from an incoming Oriole. “First base, Mike!” teammates shouted to the dazed Andrews. With Santiago pointing the way, Andrews looped a sidearm throw to George Scott at first, completing a rare triple play. Baltimore’s rally erased, the Sox responded with four quick runs and cruised to a 5-1 win.
The next day, Sunday, they hosted Detroit, with the Tigers in third but just a game up on the fifth-place Sox in a crowded race. More than 28,000 roaring fans streamed to Fenway, one of them unfurling a banner in left that made clear Yaz had emerged from the shadow of Ted Williams:
“When we had No. 9, that was fine / Now we have No. 8, and he’s great.”
Through six seasons, Yastrzemski had been a rare bright spot but hardly a lock Hall of Famer, a .293 hitter who averaged 16 homers a year. But after adopting a rigorous off-season calisthenics regimen, he had exploded into a superstar, challenging for the lead now in all three Triple Crown categories. And he delivered against Detroit, belting his 21st homer, a career high already with half a season to play.
Conigliaro hit one out, too, the home-grown heartthrob, just 22 but already approaching 100 career homers. Up in Swampscott, his mother, Teresa, was fielding 200 letters a week, mostly from teenage girls, dutifully pulling autographed photos from a towering stack to answer each one.
The Sox won 9-5.
And then on Monday, the end of the homestand, Fenway ran out of programs for the first time in memory. The Sox won, 7-1 — their fourth in a row, and fifth of six since the All-Star break.
Up in a press box long known as “Earache Alley,” the sour scribes were increasingly sunny. The beat writer for the newly merged Herald Traveler tapped out a lede about “the surging Red Sox,” now “playing with the power and confidence that makes one dream they have a date with destiny.”
At Logan the next morning, they boarded a charter for Baltimore, and a seven-games-in-six-days gantlet on the road. Moving through the airport with little fanfare, they might have been an especially hale band of business travelers, 25 cleancut men in jackets and ties, toting their own bags.
But they were loose and jokey on the plane, as banter and gin games broke out up and down the cabin.
The flight attendants emerged with lunch, and most guys opted for steak, filling up on the plane to save their $12-a-day meal money for the bar later.
One of the writers ribbed Lonborg about consulting “the IBM machine” to predict which Oriole he’d hit that night, but he would have little need for retribution at Memorial Stadium. Once again, the Sox jumped out to a big lead, and Lonborg kept Baltimore flailing, fanning 11 in a complete-game victory.
They won again the next night, six straight, making them 48-40, third place but just a game and a half out of first.
“Nothing can stop us now,” Yaz said in the clubhouse. “This is the greatest feeling in the world.”
Though the veteran star was making $50,000, he knew most teammates got paid less than $15,000, making them especially hungry for a World Series bonus that might add an extra $10,000 apiece — a potential edge down the stretch.
That kind of cash could spare them from working a winter job, or buy the fully loaded Cadillac Joe Foy now envisioned. The 24-year-old Bronx native didn’t even have a driver’s license, but that didn’t stop him from dreaming. “Hey,” Foy would razz his teammates, if they left a runner on base. “You just took the steering wheel out of my hands!”
Back in Boston, the media declared “pennant fever,” with the line outside vacant Fenway Park a bigger story than the tweens trailing The Monkees, in town to play a sold-out Boston Garden.
As long as most could remember, you could wake up the day of a game and take your pick of seats, but that was quickly changing. In late June, when a fan was told no seats were available in the first 25 rows for a game three weeks out, his wife was so incredulous she contacted The Boston Traveler’s “Action Line.”
“That doesn’t seem possible,” wrote the woman, a “Mrs. B.C.” of Tewksbury. “What gives?”
Now, though, they were going so fast — by mail order and at the three places tickets were sold, the ballpark, Filene’s, and State Street Bank branches — that the choicest box seats ($3) and grandstand tickets ($2.25) were already gone for games deep into September.
Meanwhile, executives at WHDH were ecstatic, with day games suddenly drawing 70 percent of viewers and night games collecting a 50 share, even against a prime-time lineup.
On Friday, the Sox landed in Cleveland, and on the half-hour bus ride to Municipal Stadium, the normally unexcitable pitcher John Wyatt silently held up three fingers, Boston’s place in the standings.
Back in the spring, the well-traveled Wyatt — at 32, he’d pitched in the Negro Leagues, played a season in Mexico, and worked in a steel mill — had remained calm amid the initial fervor, saying, “There’s a lot of cotton to be picked yet.”
Now he, too, could see a climb to No. 1. “Wouldn’t that be something,” he said, “if John Wyatt went from ninth place to first place in one year?”
The previous night, the Sox were leading again when a rainout washed the finale in Baltimore off the books, postponing their seventh straight. It came instead Friday in Cleveland, with Foy hitting a three-run homer and Darrell “Bucky” Brandon pitching a complete game. “Oh, mercy!” said Ned Martin in the broadcast booth, an Iwo Jima veteran with a linguistic flair.
Some 620 miles away, in the smoky Record American newsroom, rewrite ace Bill Duncliffe began typing the final version of his weekly “Clip and Mail to Servicemen” feature for the Sunday Advertiser, summoning Ernest Lawrence Thayer.
“Oh, somewhere folks are gloomy,
And somewhere children pout.
But we’re all glad in Boston,
The Sox are one game out.”
“Well, a game-and-a-half, really,” Duncliffe explained, “but the way they’ve been going, that’ll be wiped out before you know it and they’ll be on top of the whole doggone league.”
The weekend arrived, and the queues grew longer outside Fenway, fans clutching money in one hand and radios in the other, braced for a long day. One line at 9 became three lines by noon, the heat and humidity rising, so that by the time people reached the ticket window, many were ready to cool off at the Pennant Grille, the bar just beyond the Green Monster, with opaque windows and yellowed pictures of old-time greats. For once, its name didn’t seem like a tease.
At 2:15, four men and a small boy huddled around a transistor radio in front of the entrance at the corner of Lansdowne and Brookline, listening to the first pitch from Cleveland, a photographer catching the scene.
Konstanty Pieczkowski, a bald man with a warm smile and a colorful history in the vending and waste-removal businesses, held the radio and draped an arm around little Bobby Baxter, as Alan Duffy and John “Mouse” Lally nursed cigars and leaned in expectantly to the call.
Eddie Fonseca knelt beside them, 48 years old and a Merchant Marine veteran, born four months after the Sox last won the World Series in 1918. The factory worker loved baseball even more than he loved playing the ukulele, and he had driven over to buy tickets and soak up the Fenway atmosphere in his two-tone ’65 Ford Fairlane, his shoes shined and slacks pressed as always.
Fonseca had no way to know as he listened to the call — Mike Andrews taking the first pitch for a strike — that this team would somehow reach Game 7 of the World Series, or that Bucky Dent would break his heart in ’78 and Bill Buckner again in ’86, let alone that he would reach a new century and see a world championship, his grandchildren surrounding him before the TV. That a Red Sox logo would one day adorn his headstone.
He just knew there was a charge in the air; they all did. When Andrews smashed the next pitch into the left field seats in Cleveland, cheers erupted in the Fens, drowning out radios around the empty ballpark.
Lee “Stinger” Stange pitched a three-hit shutout, Yastrzemski hit his 23rd homer, and the Sox won their eighth straight, just a half game out. Entering the clubhouse, Yaz unleashed a howl: “What do you think of this team now!?”
“It’s a new world,” he told reporters, as half-dressed teammates hooted and hollered. There was one day left on the trip, a doubleheader. “We’ve got to get two tomorrow, and go home big winners — and maybe in first place.”
Sure enough, they came out hot in Sunday’s opener and swept both games: another Lonborg win, two more Tony C homers, a Foy grand slam.
Ten in a row. Mercy. From the broadcast booth, Coleman and Martin did more than slip in the usual mention of the return flight. They touted it and touted it again, hoping fans would greet the team.
Bobbi Faneuil heard the call in Chestnut Hill with her boyfriend, and they changed their plans for dinner out with friends, veering off to Logan with them instead, the two young women dressed in white pantsuits with collarless jackets.
Ed Balas was taking the family back to Holbrook after their usual Sunday routine, lunch at his mother’s in Dorchester, supper at his mother-in-law’s in Arlington, Sox fans all. He turned around his turquoise Dodge Dart, fully carpeted from dash to trunk, pointing the family to East Boston.
Dick Roberts, who ran a print shop in industrial Kendall Square and raced dragsters on the side, was grilling in Wakefield with his wife and four young kids when they decided to go for it, bedtimes be damned, piling into their new Town & Country wagon, a living room on wheels.
Thousands had the same idea, so many headlights bearing down on the airport even before the final out in Cleveland that the cars soon swamped the available parking. Logan was already a tangle of construction — the big Eastern Airlines terminal starting to rise, the central parking garage not quite complete — and the bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched into the Callahan Tunnel.
When they reached the airport, fans spilled everywhere, children in pajamas, adults with homemade signs and portable radios, whistling and clapping, climbing rolling staircases and freight containers, some even scaling to the roof. A wave breached a barricade and encroached on the airfield, dangerously close to a DC-6 revving for takeoff.
Reporters scrambled to the scene, finding far too many fans to count, the Globe putting it at 5,000 — while noting it might be far higher — the Herald Traveler at 10,000 and the Record American 15,000.
The Sox were due at 10:20, but there was no way a jet could approach this crowd. The tower radioed the pilot, and the State Police radioed for backup, calling on the Framingham and Foxborough barracks, Lynnfield and Concord.
As they waited, a photographer snapped pictures of Faneuil, 21, and her friend Donna Popkin, and of the Roberts kids perched atop a baggage truck, 8-year-old Ricky with his crew cut and ever-present glove, 4-year-old Lisa chewing on a finger, 5-year-old Tammy grinning beside her, and then 2-year-old Mike — “Moose,” they called him, a sturdy, fearless toddler who would grow up to join the Air Force and get sent out West, killed in a motorcycle accident in California at just 24.
Moose was too young to know what was happening, but Ricky sensed it was something special, hoping to catch sight of Yaz or Tony C and tell all his friends, asleep back in Wakefield.
Finally the plane touched down, looping clockwise around the airport to a distant prewar hangar. A charter bus met the team, along with police, sirens blaring as they pointed back toward the terminal and the crowd.
Then the dams broke, hordes bursting through the reinforced police line and sprinting out toward the caravan. Fans engulfed the bus, slapping and rocking it, chanting players’ names, the Sox themselves staring out in astonishment. The bus could go no further. Yaz stood up, bracing himself. “Do you think they’re hostile?”
Williams, whose son had been bat boy on the trip, volunteered 10-year-old Rickyto emerge first, nudging him toward the door. Nowhere near 5 feet tall, he stepped out to approving roars. The players followed, trailing a wedge of troopers, wading through hands and elbows, basking in the adulation and grinning so wide it hurt.
Overhead, people waved signs: “Welcome Baby Bombers,” “Dick Williams for President,” “Next Year Has Come.” The crowd was so thick that Conigliaro made it all the way through before realizing someone had tucked a Raggedy Ann doll under his elbow. “How can we lose with people like this behind us!” he shouted.
Police led them to a private office, where wives and girlfriends waited. Jose Santiago saw no sign of his wife, Edna, though he and Jose Tartabull thought she might be picking them up. As Boston’s only two Latin-born players, in a region where Spanish speakers were scarce, they lived in neighboring apartments near the ballpark, their two families helping each other and sharing the Santiagos’ car.
They waited and waited, but with no sign of Edna — no way to know whether she was stuck in that crowd — they wandered out front to try hailing a cab.
Meanwhile, Ed Balas of Holbrook, who’d pulled his kids back quickly from the teeming crowd, was lamenting that they’d come all this way and not laid eyes on the Red Sox. Just then, he looked up and spotted Santiago and Tartabull, and asked them if they needed a ride.
Sure, Santiago said, and he and Tartabull climbed in just as others recognized them. They rumbled off toward the tunnel, the ballplayers wide-eyed — the president must be in town, Santiago thought, when he first saw the crowd — and the kids thinking no one will believe this, while their dad scrambled to figure out how to get to Fenway from Logan, wondering if he might have a ball kicking around in the trunk that the players could sign.
All streaks must end, and this one did two nights later, as the Sox lost the first of a three-game series with the Angels, who arrived with their own hot streak, winners of six straight.
But Boston took the second game, making Thursday the rubber match. A standing-room crowd of 34,193 crammed Fenway, the first sellout in years. After taking a 2-0 lead, the Sox bats fell silent, and they trailed 5-2 entering the ninth. The crowd was subdued — but stayed to the end. Pitching coach Sal Maglie stuck his head out of the dugout.
“Hell, no one’s going home,” he said. “We might as well win it.”
As if it were that easy, Andrews singled, Foy homered, and Conigliaro homered, too, sending it to extra innings. Sparky Lyle pitched a scoreless 10th, and in the bottom half Boston opened with a Reggie Smith triple.
Across town, a driver pulled up at the entrance to the Callahan Tunnel, not wanting to lose reception with the go-ahead run on third, cars stacking behind him. With one out, an infield bouncer brought home the deciding run, winning the day and freeing the traffic jam at the tunnel.
The Sox were now 54-41, a game out of first. Up in the press box, Globe columnist Harold Kaese dashed off a lede for the morning edition: “If the Red Sox can finish the season in the same fantastic manner that they finished Thursday’s ball game, they will be in the World Series for sure.”
Over on Morrissey Boulevard, the Globe editors agreed: This was front-page news. And the win had a headline writer on the desk humming a certain Broadway tune.
“ ‘Cardiac Kids’ At It Again,” the July 28 front page declared, above Kaese’s column. “The Impossible Dream?”