Carl Yastrzemski's final game
ON THIS DATE (October 2, 1983) ... There were hundreds, maybe thousands still out on Yawkey Way when Yaz came out of his final press conference in the dining room atop Fenway Park. He was signing autographs for some security guards and ballpark workers who were waiting for him on the roof when he heard the "We Want Yaz" roar from the street and looked down.
He stepped to the edge of the roof and waved out to them with another papal gesture in his uniform pants, team undershirt and shower clogs, then turned to Red Sox public relations director George Sullivan, and suggested that he'd like to go down to the street, and 10 minutes later, there were women and children and red-eyed truck drivers in a line that stretched down around the corner of Van Ness street. The people came in through an entrance, two-by-two, and he signed one program and poster after another for 40 minutes until there was no more line. When he had finished that, he came back into the park and signed autographs for people who get paid by the hour to work in the ballpark. It was 6:22 p.m. and dusk when he'd finished signing whatever they had for him to sign, then he stood atop the Red Sox dugout, pulled the cork out of a bottle of champagne, raised it, turned to survey Fenway and toasted them.
An hour later, as he came out to the parking lot to go to a party that Bob Woolf had for him at the Marriott, the hundreds still out on Van Ness street chanted "Yaz, Yaz, Yaz," and he signed a few more programs, shook a few more hands, climbed into the car and pulled out around the corner. As the car turned onto Ipswich street, he was former Red Sox player Carl Yastrzemski. He was history - .285 average, 3419 hits, Hall of Fame history. He had driven into that parking lot for the first time with a sixth-place team, being asked to replace Ted Williams, and he left with a sixth-place team under a cloud of the Updike goodbye of Williams.
And he had outdone Ted, he had outdone anyone who ever wore the uniform or possibly ever played in any sport in this city. No one really cared that, in his last at-bat, he threw himself at a Dan Spillner pitch in his eyes and popped up to someone named Jack Perconte, or that in his goodbye he had grounded to second, singled to left, walked and popped up that final 3-and-0 pitch, or that his last home run in a Red Sox uniform came Sept. 12 off Jim Palmer and was erased when rain wiped out the game in the third inning. Yaz didn't have to do something worthy of the ABC Network News. He was never Ted, only Yaz, never celluloid, only calloused flesh. On the day Hub Fans Bid Yaz Adieu, he didn't have to hit a Jack Fisher or Dan Spillner pitch into the bleachers. Playing left field and holding Toby Harrah to a single on a ball off The Wall - His Wall - was exactly what he should have done.
He had outdone Ted or anyone else because in the last two days of a 23 year career Yaz had thrown his arms and his emotion to the people. He passionately explained that he understood what makes the Olde Towne Team what it is as if he'd worked at the mill on the Nashua River and paid his way in. He said that it isn't the stars - only two baseball teams have gone longer without a championship - or the General or Limited Partners or titled executives that made the Red Sox the Red Sox.
He didn't ride around the park in a limousine. He ran around the park to touch the fans "who made this all possible" on Saturday, and long after he'd been replaced by Chico Walker in left field in the eighth inning yesterday as Ted had been replaced by Carroll Hardy 23 years before, he came out after the game in his jacket and did it again. "The people at the park today weren't the same people that were here yesterday," he said. Because so many things he couldn't control happened - Tony Conigliaro, Jim Lonborg and Jose Santiago being lost within 10 months around The Impossible Dream, then the Messersmith Decision coming one game after The Sixth Game of 1975 World Series - he could never give New England what he wanted to give them, so he did the next-best thing.
He touched and signed and repeatedly broke down and cried, explaining to every kid in Bellows Falls and Otisfield and Jewett City that what made all those records so great was to have done them for the team that they have made what it is. To the media, for whom he brought in bottles of champagne and toasted them for their fairness, and in penultimate taste remembered those who'd passed away like Harold Kaese and Ray Fitzgerald and Fred Ciampa and Bill Liston and George Bankert and Larry Claflin, he remembered the times he could have left and made the big money.
The pregame ceremony was emotional, and simple. He walked out to the mike between the first-base coaching box and the dugout, then had to circle away to fight the tears. When he came back he said "I saw the sign that read Say It Ain't So, Yaz,' and I wish it weren't. This is the last day of my career as a player, and I want to thank all of you for being here with me today. It has been a great privilege to wear the Red Sox uniform the past 23 years, and to have played in Fenway in front of you great fans. I'll miss you, and I'll never forget you."
He lifted his cap and turned, waving to the fans, as he would do each at- bat. The park swelled when he reached out and tapped a Bud Anderson fastball into left in the third inning, and when it came to the bottom of the seventh and two out and Wade Boggs on first and everyone from Eastport to Block Island knew it was Yaz' adieu, they'd have loved a home run. They stood again, Yaz stepped out again, and he swallowed hard to fight back the tears
"I was trying to jerk it out," Yaz admitted and he popped up to end the inning. He returned to left field, then, as Yastrzemski and Ralph Houk had planned earlier, Walker ran out to take his place, and Yaz came in, shaking hands with his teammates, the umpires and the Indians as he came across the infield. He stopped at the dugout, turned back to the first-base coach's box, turned 360 degrees as he waved again, then started his dash to the dugout unbuttoning his uniform ("I wanted to let them know that was really it"). He stopped to hand his cap to 8-year-old Brian Roberts of Needham, "because I wanted to give it to a kid and if I threw it into the stands it would have been havoc."
He'd done what he had to do. Carl Yastrzemski won't be remembered for a specific hit. He just did what he had to do ... over and over again.