An improbable dream comes true for overlooked player on 1967 Red Sox
The Red Sox recently went the distance to right a wrong from the 1967 Impossible Dream season.
On June 28, 1967, Ken Poulsen, a 19-year-old Class A infielder in Winston Salem, N.C., canceled his wedding — replete with 25 invited guests — when he was called up and told to report immediately to the Boston Red Sox.
Dalton Jones, the Red Sox third baseman, was summoned for a two-week stint with the Army reserves and the team needed a lefthanded-hitting infielder.
Poulsen’s fiancée, Vicki Swaton, took the move in stride, kissing Poulsen goodbye at the airport as he boarded a flight to Minneapolis to meet the team.
“We can always get married,” the 18-year-old Swaton told the Boston Globe in a Page 1 story on June 29, 1967. “But how often does a guy get sent up to the big leagues?”
Poulsen played just five games and went 1 for 5 with a double. When Jones returned, Poulsen was sent back down to the Carolina League and never made it back to The Show. The Sox won the pennant on the last day of that landmark season, but lost to the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.
Poulsen, at the time, was totally forgotten.
He never got an American League championship ring or a World Series share while other minor role players received extra paychecks. The players even voted a one-third share to George Smith, who was injured in spring training and never played a single inning all season. Two batboys, a clubhouse boy, two groundskeepers, and a parking lot attendant all received $750, according to the Globe.
“I didn’t expect money. I didn’t expect a ring, of course,” Poulsen told author Bill Nowlin in 2007. “But I sure wish they would have mailed me something, just with a stamp on it, if you know what I mean.”
But Poulsen wasn’t entirely forgotten. Jeff “Batman” Boujoukos knew of Poulsen’s plight. He had collected 786 Red Sox bats, and was just two from completing a collection of every Sox position player since 1960. Boujoukos knew Poulsen and Carmen Fanzone, who played 10 games as a Red Sox rookie third baseman in 1970, had addresses in Southern California.
Years earlier, Boujoukos wrote to both, but only Fanzone replied. Poulsen only responded to correspondence from kids seeking autographs and never answered collectors.
Boujoukos contacted Red Sox historian Gordon Edes wondering if the team could recognize his contribution.
“Ease his pain,” Boujoukos wrote in a text message.
Both agreed this was about more than just bats. It was a real-life “Field of Dreams” saga.
Edes and Boujoukos flew to Los Angeles seeking both bats and justice for Poulsen.
Fanzone happily gave up a bat, but, unfortunately, Poulsen had died the previous winter at the age of 70.
The duo located his 43-year-old son, Brett Poulsen, who lives near Sacramento and works at Raytheon as a rocket propulsion engineer.
Red Sox president Sam Kennedy quickly signed off to bring Poulsen, his wife Courtney, and their three sons to Boston for a special tour and ring presentation, which the Red Sox had kept secret from Poulsen. Kennedy enlisted Jim Lonborg, the 1967 Cy Young Award winner, to make the presentation before the opener of a three-game set against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 12.
“Oh my God, it was an injustice,” Kennedy said, clearly excited to right a wrong.
At Fenway, the entire family wore Poulsen’s No. 17 jersey and was given a special tour of the ballpark. Groundskeeper Dave Mellor even let them walk on the grass and take pictures at third base, where Poulsen played three games.
There also were little coincidences, not to be ignored. When they went out to lunch, there was a No. 17 jersey (belonging to World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi) hanging on the wall of the restaurant. One of the kids even found 17 cents on the sidewalk outside the team store.
“It’s a little weird,” says Brett.
Poulsen, who was appreciative of Boujoukos’s efforts in recognizing his father, contacted Louisville Slugger and gave them permission to make a replica Poulsen model bat for Boujoukos’s collection. Brett and his boys all signed it.
“Baseball, for us, was religion,” says Poulsen. “That ’67 [Impossible Dream] team meant a lot to him. I don’t think he was mad [at the Red Sox]. I think he was hurt. It hurt him more than he would ever convey to me. But I don’t think there was a bitter bone in his body about it.
“He felt like he was a part of something, and at the end, he wasn’t acknowledged as being a part of it. So I think his heart hurt a bit from that.”
But unlike Moonlight Graham, whose Major League career with the New York Giants in 1905 spanned one inning of one game as a right fielder, Poulsen at least got to bat in the big leagues.
Poulsen hit a double to the left-field corner off Orioles pitcher Jim Hardin in his last major league at-bat on July 14, 1967. Lonborg got the win in an 11-5 Boston victory at Fenway Park. Tony Conigliaro and Carl Yastrzemski both homered.
There is no known film of the hit. Poulsen could’ve told his son or daughter it was a vicious liner that left a permanent dent in the Green Monster. Instead, he told the truth.
“That [swing] was a mistake,” the lefthanded hitter told Brett. “I don’t hit the ball over there, I pull the ball. I don’t go the other way.”
“He was sheepishly embarrassed about it,” Brett says.
He also was amazed at the passion of Boston fans.
“When he checked into a Kenmore Square hotel, he was floored,” Brett says. “He said, ‘Everybody knew who the hell I was, they knew where I was from, they knew my stance, and they knew what high school I went to. They knew everything about me.’ ”
Brett says his father and Yastrzemski, who was in the midst of a Triple Crown season, used to play catch. But he knew Yaz was prone to a bad temper.
“Yaz was a little peeved if he struck out,” Poulsen says. “He’d disappear behind the dugout, go down that hallway, and break every light bulb. Like take his bat and just beat the crap out of every one of them until it was dark.”
After the ’67 season, the Red Sox left Poulsen unprotected in the minor league draft. He signed with the Yankees, who converted Poulsen to a pitcher. He posted a 33-34 record with a 3.02 ERA in six seasons in the minors, but told Brett the move was “a mistake.”
Poulsen retired from baseball in 1973, worked in construction, got divorced, and ran his parents’ 60-acre cattle ranch in California. He skipped the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park in 2012 to take care of his ailing father.
Rico Petrocelli, who played at shortstop next to Poulsen at third, applauded the Red Sox for reaching out to Poulsen’s family.
According to Edes: “Rico says, ‘Look, we won the pennant on the last day of the season. We won by one game. Anybody and everybody who played for us that season contributed to us winning. When the margin was that small, every guy made a contribution.’ ”
Lonborg, the team’s player rep, believes the lack of recognition was just an unfortunate oversight.
“A team is a team,” he said. “Ken came in for two weeks and bailed us out while Dalton was away. Every individual, whether or not it’s a clubhouse guy or a coach or a guy in the military reserve, is part of the team and the team has to be recognized as a whole.”
Above the bleachers, a photo of the teenaged Poulsen, in a Red Sox uniform, appeared on the Jumbotron.
When Lonborg presented Brett Poulsen with the ring, Poulsen says he was shaking as his wife, Courtney, wiped away a tear.
“Wow,” Brett said, as he walked off the field. “Now I know how a fiancée feels when she gets a ring. You look down and brush away the tears from your eyes. It’s really surreal. It meant a ton to him. There’s some closure.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever take it off.”