Signed as a shortstop off the Notre Dame campus in February 1959, Yastrzemski replaced Ted Williams in left field for the Boston Red Sox in 1961 and followed him into the Hall of Fame in 1989. When he retired after 23 years, Yastrzemski ranked first in career games (3,308), third in at-bats (11,988) and walks (1,845), sixth in total bases (5,539), seventh in hits (3,419) and doubles (646), and ninth in RBI (1,844). He’s the only American League player with both 3000 hits and 400 homers.
Although he won three batting titles, played in 18 All-Star games, and was acknowledged as the finest defensive left fielder of his time, Yastrzemski will be primarily remembered by Red Sox rooters for his 1967 season, the year of The Impossible Dream. Starved for a pennant for 21 seasons, Fenway partisans had no reason to think that 1967 would be any different from the miserable ninth-place finish of 1966. But, going into the final week, four teams were still in the race and three teams would finish within a game of one another. Yastrzemski almost single handledly carried the club during the last month. In the final 12 games, he had 23 hits in 44 at-bats (.523), with five home runs, 14 runs, and 16 RBI. The Red Sox needed to win the last two games with the Twins to avoid a three-way tie with them and Detroit. Yastrzemski went 7-for-8 with five RBI, including a three-run homer in the first game. He also snuffed out a Twin rally by throwing out Bob Allison at second base on what looked like a sure double.
Yastrzemski hit .400 with three homers in the World Series. He won the Triple Crown by hitting .326 with 44 HR and 121 RBI and also led the AL in hits (189), runs (112), total bases (360), and slugging average (.622). He missed a unanimous vote for the MVP award because one sportswriter thought that Cesar Tovar (.267, 6 HR, 47 RBI) of the Twins was more valuable.
Yastrzemski’s .301 batting average in 1968, “The Year of the Pitcher,” is the lowest ever to lead a league, but some sabermetric analysts consider it the equivalent of Bill Terry‘s .401 in 1930 if the contexts are considered. Yastrzemski constantly tinkered with his batting stance but remained consistent. Outside of the brilliance of 1967 and his three batting crowns, it was his consistency as much as anything that earned him Hall of Fame honors, but he was also a clutch hitter. Besides his 1967 feats, he hit .455 in the 1975 LCS and .310 in that year’s World Series, and he hit a home run off the nearly-unbeatable Ron Guidry in the 1978 playoff game. He went 4-for-4 with two walks in the 1970 All-Star Game.
In addition, Yastrzemski was a great fielder with a strong arm who made himself an expert in playing the tricky caroms off the Green Monster, Fenway Park’s left field wall. In the 1975 LCS, he returned to left field after playing first base for three-quarters of the season and shone defensively. In 12 years as a left fielder, Yastrzemski won seven Gold Gloves and led in assists seven times. On July 21, 1982 he played centerfield and went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Nearing 43 years, he may have been the oldest major leaguer to play center.