Today, Friday August 22, is Carl Yastrzemski's 69th birthday. I came across an article in the Hartford Courant written by Jeff Goldberg, and I want you all to read it. So with Jeff's permission, I'm running his tribute in full. It appeared in this morning's Courant, and I know you'll enjoy it. Thanks...
By JEFF GOLDBERG | The Hartford Courant
Carl Yastrzemski celebrates his 69th birthday Friday, and while the setting for such an occasion -- a recovery room at Massachusetts General Hospital -- seems hardly appropriate for a party, the cause for celebration could not be more profound.
Yastrzemski underwent successful triple bypass surgery Tuesday after complaining of chest pain Monday. The news of his hospitalization stirred memories throughout New England, recalling a Titanic figure in Boston sports, although one who fled the spotlight once his 23-year, Hall of Fame career ended 25 years ago this October.
"Think what he accomplished," said Jerry Remy, Yastrzemski's teammate from 1978-83. "He wasn't a big guy, compared to today's standard of players. Even in his time, he wasn't a real big guy, but he could sure generate a lot of power."
Yaz was listed at 5 feet 11, 182 pounds, but his height was closer to 5-10. And few players had wider, more powerful forearms. Despite being a constant smoker during his playing days -- often sneaking a butt between innings -- he had remarkable stamina.
"One thing, until the day he retired, he refused to miss a fastball," Remy said. "He would not miss a fastball. Even at the end, he'd tinker with that stance and do everything possible, because he didn't want to be embarrassed by a fastball." It was 25 years ago today, in fact, that Yastrzemski left one of his final hitting highlights. For Joe Castiglione, who was a rookie Red Sox radio broadcaster in 1983, the memory of the game on Yaz's 44th birthday remains vivid.
"He lined a double into the right field corner to beat Toronto, Aug. 22, 1983, around Pesky's Pole," Castiglione said. "Even at 44, he could turn on anybody's heater."
Yastrzemski played in 3,309 games, hit 452 homers and amassed 3,149 hits, earning first-ballot entry into the Hall of Fame and his No. 8 retired at Fenway Park in 1989. He hit his final home run Sept. 10, 1983 off Rick Sutcliffe at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, although technically, the last one came off Baltimore's Jim Palmer two days later, in the first inning at Fenway. The game was rained out in the third inning, denying Yaz No. 453.
"I don't see him that often, but he reminds me of that," said Palmer, now an Orioles broadcaster. "That's what I call good timing." But like every member of the Red Sox between 1919 and 2003, Yastrzemski's career was backlit by the inability to bring the Red Sox a World Series title, despite reaching Game 7 in 1967 -- his Triple Crown season -- and again in 1975.
"The thing I'll remember most about Yaz is that in the '78 playoff game, when we lost," Remy said. "My locker was next to his and he was crying like a little baby after that game, because he had never won a championship and we got beat 5-4 and all of a sudden it hits you, we're going home again.
"He knew he was getting close to the end of his career." Yaz had two hits in that game, including a homer off Ron Guidry, but he also made the last out.
His failed quest for a championship played on the emotions of all who witnessed his retirement weekend at Fenway, Oct. 1-2, 1983, striking a melancholy chord at the proceedings for one of the last players of the modern era to spend his entire career with one team.
"In those days it was Ted Williams, Yastrzemski, and then Jim Rice came along," Remy said. "You felt like it was part of Red Sox tradition that was gone forever. It really was a weird feeling. I remember talking to him, and he was like, 'This is it,' but you never believed him, because he would always come back the next year. But that was it, and it was emotional. You almost felt like a part of your childhood was gone." There was no Williams-esque homer in Yaz's final at-bat that late Sunday afternoon, just a popup to second base on an eye-high, 3-and-0 fastball by jittery Indians reliever Dan Spillner.
But after Yaz came out of the game for the final time in the eighth inning -- handing his cap to a young boy in the seats near the Red Sox dugout -- he created an iconic sports image, circling the perimeter of the field, waving and shaking hands with the Fenway faithful as he ran past in an almost unprecedented display of emotion.
"I think the run around the field was spontaneous," Castiglione said. "He did it two days in a row. It was something he had to really dig deep for, because it wasn't in character. He was a shy guy, a very quiet guy. To do that, he really did feel the emotion. That was probably the greatest sendoff for an athlete I've ever seen."
Peter here, and well said, Jeff. I know it was a tremendous sendoff because I was there. It was a day I'll never forget, although I was not one of the lucky ones who were able to shake hands with the sports legend. Godspeed, Yaz. May you heal and have a long life. You brought joy to so many of us, and you made Red Sox Nation into what it is today. Many thanks.
The Red Sox play the Blue Jays today with revenge on their minds. One good thing is that Roy Halladay pitched Thursday night, so we won't be seeing him up in Canada. Before I go, here are the pitching matchups for that three game set...
Paul Byrd (7-11, 4.55 ERA) vs. Shaun Marcum (8-5, 3.36) today
Jon Lester (12-4, 3.17) vs. Jesse Litsch (8-7, 4.20) Saturday
Daisuke Matsuzaka (15-2, 2.77) vs. A.J. Burnett (16-9, 4.51) Sunday
Well, that's a wrap for today. I hope you enjoyed the Yaz article as much as I did. Enjoy your Friday, and may the Red Sox extract their revenge from those pesky Blue Jays, who are nipping at the heels of the Yankees in the AL East. As always, BE WELL.