Carl Yastrzemski provides a great example of grace under pressure and the impact of consistency. Replacing a legend on one of the most high-profile teams in Major League Baseball, the man nicknamed “Yaz” went on to forge a legend of his own.
He’s a player who will never be forgotten, especially in New England. Carl Yastrzemski played all 23 years of his career with the Boston Red Sox, most of them in left field. Along the way, he became an All-Star 18 times, won seven Gold Gloves and got more than 3,000 hits.
Among all the players who have won the Red Sox uniform, Yastrzemski holds the team records for career RBIs, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases and games played. He also loved the game.
“I think about baseball when I wake up in the morning,” Yastrzemski said, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. “I think about it all day and I dream about it at night. The only time I don’t think about it is when I’m playing it.”
Raised on a Potato Farm
Life for Carl Yastrzemski began far from the glory of the baseball diamond. Born on Aug. 22, 1939, in Bridgehampton, New York, he grew up on his family’s potato farm. Both his parents were immigrants from Poland, and Yaz later wrote that they brought the business they knew from Europe to the United States.
Yastrzemski’s father was a semi-pro player, and he pitched tennis balls to his son every night after supper. Yaz later said that is his first memory of baseball – hitting the ball thrown to him by his father.
In his last two years of high school, Yastrzemski played with his father on the semi-pro team in Lake Ronkonkoma, where he caught the notice of scouts. Eventually, he attended Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship but offers from baseball teams continued to pour in. He eventually signed with the Red Sox for a $108,000.
He was 19 years old. Back on the farm, with the six-figure contract signed, Yastrzemski’s father raised his weekly allowance from $2 to $3, according to Yaz in his 1990 autobiography,
He later fulfilled a promise to his parents and finished his college degree in business, getting it from Merrimack College in Massachusetts.
Minor League Career
Yastrzemski started his Red Sox career with the Raleigh Capitals in 1959. After hitting well that year, he got invited to visit (but not play) with the Red Sox that September. He supposedly was told by Ted Williams not to ever let the team mess with his swing.
In 1960, Yaz married Carol Casper. He also played again in the minors for the Minneapolis Millers, where he played left field in anticipation of replacing Williams in the big club lineup in 1961. The team expected Williams to retire at the end of 1960, and he did.
Major League Career
It’s a long way from a Long Island potato farm to replacing Teddy Ballgame at Fenway Park. While he struggled at first, Yastrzemski began to settle in, especially after a visit from Williams who told him he had a great swing and just needed to use it and not try to emulate anyone else (including Williams himself).
His first two years were solid if not spectacular. But in 1963 he hit .321, led the American League with 40 doubles and won the American League batting title. He also led the league in doubles and walks. Yaz was on his way to playing out of the shadow of Williams.
It was his first of six seasons to hit over .300. It was also the start of an amazing run as one of the top players in the game.
Yaz Becomes a Star
One of the most notable moments in Yastrzemski’s early career came May 14, 1965, when he hit for the cycle. That proved to be foreshadowing for what was to come. It was 1967 that became his most stellar year. Yaz put up one of the best seasons by any player in baseball history, launching him into that rare space with baseball’s elite.
In that season he:
- Won the American League Triple Crown with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs, and 121 RBI.
- Came just one vote shy of unanimous selection as Most Valuable Player
- Had a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of 12.4, which was the highest since Babe Ruth in 1927
Perhaps most amazingly, he showed great grace under immense pressure. The Red Sox needed him in a wild pennant race at the end of the season, Yaz came through. According to the Society for Baseball Research, Yaz got 23 hits in 44 at-bats, drove in 16 runs, scored 14 and went 7-for-8 in the crucial final two games.
That was the best season in what was an elite career. In 1979, Yaz became the first American League player to reach more than 3,000 hit and 400 home runs.
According to the Hall of Fame, Yaz said of that milestone, “I’m very pleased and very proud of my accomplishments, but I’m most proud of that. Not (Ted) Williams, not (Lou) Gehrig, not (Joe) DiMaggio did that. They were Cadillacs and I’m a Chevrolet.”
Yaz retired in 1983 at the age of 44. His 23 seasons with the Red Sox ties Brooks Robinson’s run with the Baltimore Orioles as the longest careers with just one team. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, in 1989.
The Red Sox have since retired his No. 8 jersey. In 2013, the team erected a statue of Yaz at Fenway Park.
A survivor of triple bypass heart surgery, Yaz continues to live north of Boston, according to news reports. Boston.com reported in 2011 that while he is not a recluse, Yaz steers clear of the spotlight. He spends his time doing a lot of fishing and playing golf.
“I don’t like to reminisce about when I played,” he said. “I had my day in the sun and it’s over with.’’