Seasons in Boston: 1961-1983
Honors: Baseball Hall of Fame, 1967 AL MVP, 1967 Triple Crown, 18x All-Star, 7x Gold Glove, 1963, 1967, 1968 AL Batting Title, 1970 All-Star Game MVP
Red Sox Numbers: .285/.379/.462, 452 HR, 1816 R, 1844 RBI, 168 SB, 130 wRC+, 94.8 fWAR
Signature Season (1967): .326/.418/.622, 44 HR, 112 R, 121 RBI, 10 SB, 194 wRC+, 11.1 fWAR
Carl Yastrzemski epitomizes being a Red Sox player more than any other player in team history. Yastrzemski’s 3308 games with one franchise is more than anyone else in baseball history. His 23 years with the Red Sox is tied with Brooks Robinson from the Orioles for the most consecutive seasons with one franchise, though Yastrzemski played in more games.Signed by the team in 1958, he had the impossible task of taking over left field from some guy named Ted Williams, and he not only filled those shoes, but also carved out a legacy of his own that cements him as one of the greatest players in baseball history.
Left field at Fenway is the most hallowed positions in all of baseball. Over the years Babe Ruth, Williams, Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Mike Greenwell, and Manny Ramirez have all played the position. From Williams’s second season in the majors in 1940 when he moved from RF to LF, until 1996, the Red Sox had a nearly unbroken line of far above average left fielders. I don’t believe any franchise can even approach that. This is also why Yastrzemski finds himself on the bench in my lineup rather than as the starter. This was by far the most difficult decision I had to make during this process, but Williams was the better player.
Before having the unenviable task of having to replace arguably the greatest hitter ever to live, Yastrzemski was a highly rated prospect. As his SABR profile notes, he came to Fenway at the end of 1959 not to play, but to interact with the team and Williams said to him, “Don’t let them screw around with your swing. Ever.” By April 11, 1961 he was starting in left field and would begin to forge his own path to greatness. By his third season in 1963 Yastrzemski made his first All-Star team, won his first of three American League batting titles, and his first Gold Glove award. One area where he certainly surpassed Williams over his career was outfield defense, where he was potentially the best ever to play the wall.
Starting in 1965 and ending in 1979, Yastrzemski made the All-Star team every year from age 25-39, marking one of the best stretches in baseball history. In 1967, Yastrzemski had one of the single greatest seasons in MLB history winning the American League Triple Crown, the MVP, another Gold Glove, and guiding his team to the pennant with perhaps the hottest two weeks at the plate in team history. Down the stretch in the Impossible Dream season of 1967 it was a four-team race until the very end. On August 15, the Twins led the American League by one game and were trailed by the White Sox, Tigers, Angels, and the Red Sox were just three games behind. The Angels fell off, but the rest of the teams remained.
In the month of September he posted nine home runs and 26 RBI over his last 27 games. It came down to the final two games of the regular season against the Twins to determine who would win the pennant, and Yastrzemski delivered again going 7-8 with a home run and six RBI. The final standings were 92 wins for the Red Sox, the Tigers and the Twins just a game back, and Chicago White Sox lagging three behind. Yastrzemski would finish the regular season with a line of .326/.418/.622 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI with a 194 wRC+, a line made more impressive by taking place in the third worse run environment of the modern era.
In the World Series the Red Sox faced the Cardinals, led by Bob Gibson, one of the most dominant aces in baseball history. Yastrzemski would be one of the only players to actually do damage against St. Louis pitching, batting .400 with three home runs and five RBI in the series. Despite his herculean effort, the Red Sox lost in seven games. He finished the 1967 postseason with .400/.500/.840 line and a 277 wRC+.
The following year Yastrzemski would follow up the Triple Crown and MVP, with his .301 batting average winning the batting title.. To add context to that, 1968 was known as the year of the pitcher. That season,Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 and seven other starters had an ERA under 2.00, prompting the league to lower the mound the following season. The average batting average in 1968 was just .237 while the average ERA was 2.98. At the 1970 All-Star game he joined Williams as the only two players in American League history to record four hits in the event, winning him the All-Star game MVP Award.
Yastrzemski would have one more opportunity to play in the World Series in 1975 when the Red Sox lost to the Reds. He had a down year at the plate that season but he hit well in the World Series, batting .310, scoring seven runs, and driving in four over the seven game series. Again, however, the team came up short. By 1979, he had reached 400 homers and 3000 hits, an accomplishment only reached by ten players in league history. He retired after the 1983 season, and 37 years later his legacy remains as strong as ever. Yastrzemski ranks first in team history in both runs and RBI, third in home runs, fourth in stolen bases, second in fWAR, and eleventh in wRC+. Yastrzemski’s 1967 wRC+ is the best in Red Sox history in the not Ted Williams category and he was worth 12.5 bWAR—best in Red Sox history and best non Babe Ruth season in baseball history.
Like losing two World Series in seven games Yastrzemski, catches a tough break here by not making the all-time team as a starter. I can’t start him over Williams with his superior numbers and more games played in left field. I also can’t start him at first base where he ranks third in Red Sox history with 740 games started with a .813 OPS. The guy who I will write about shortly was simply far more productive while playing that position. Yastrzemski played his best ball in left field doing the hardest thing to do in baseball—replacing a legend. Now his legend stands on its own.