By In 100 Greatest

No. 36: Carl Yastrzemski

One of the joys of baseball is that it can prompt fury about stuff that doesn’t matter at all. And by “stuff that doesn’t matter at all,” I mean that literally — I’m not talking about arguments like “Who was better, Roberto Clemente or Al Kaline?” I don’t mean arguments like, “How good would Roger Clemens have been if steroids had never been invented?”

Those might not matter MUCH but they do matter to many of us because we’re baseball fans.

No, I’m talking about rage over something utterly irrelevant. Such rage erupted in 1967, the year of Yaz, and the funny part is that if you have not heard about it I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that by the end of this post you will be pretty ticked off too even though 48 years have gone by.

Let’s begin with this opinion: No baseball life ever led more perfectly to a crescendo than Yastrzemski’s path to 1967. He was born to have that season. His father, Karol (who later changed it to Carl), was a potato farmer by day and a baseball dreamer in his spare time. He was good enough as a young man to play professional baseball but, as fathers often said in his time, there was a Depression going on. He played some semi-pro baseball and worked the fields. He drilled all of his baseball expectations and beliefs and possibilities into his son and namesake. By the the time the young Carl was 2, he was dragging a baseball bat everywhere.

Yaz was an extraordinary athlete. You probably know that he was a great basketball player; it is often said and written that he set the Long Island high school scoring record, breaking the record of another pretty good athlete named Jim Brown. After doing a little research, I’m not sure it’s quite that clear-cut — which is to say I’m not sure he actually broke Brown’s record — but the larger point is certainly true. Jim Brown averaged 38 points a game and was an amazing high school basketball player. Yaz scored something around there and was amazing in his own right. He intended to play baseball and basketball at Notre Dame.

He ended up playing neither, at least on the varsity level. In the middle of his sophomore season at Notre Dame, he was offered a gigantic contract — it came out to more than $100,000 — to sign with the Boston Red Sox. Yaz was that kind of phenom. He played shortstop then, and he had a swing so powerful and pure that at his first spring training, Ted Williams told him, “Don’t let anyone change your swing.”

The newspapers for some reason called him Paul Yastrzemski when he first joined the Carolina League, but they soon knew him — he hit .377 with power and speed for Raleigh. He intended to make the Red Sox the next year, when he was 20, and he brought his dad along to spring training to help him get ready. Yastzemski
played pretty well that spring, but that was the last season of Ted Williams and the Red Sox wanted to shape his replacement. They sent Yaz to Minneapolis to learn how to play left field. He hit .339 and the next season was positioned in the shadow of the Green Monster and Teddy Ballgame.

Yastrzemski had numerous great seasons, of course, but it’s easy to miss because of the time when he played. For instance, in 1968, he famously led the American League in batting with a .301 average. If you convert those numbers to an average scoring environment, Yaz hit .327/.456/.538 with more than 300 total bases. He also won a Gold Glove and by advanced defensive metrics clearly deserved it. He probably should have been the MVP. He finished ninth instead.

In 1970, he led the league in runs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, slugged 30 homers and stole 23 bases. He probably should have been the MVP again. He finished fourth.
In all, Yaz got MVP votes in 14 different seasons … but he only won the one. That was 1967. That was not only his magical year, it might be the most magical year any player has ever had. The Red Sox had been terrible every year of Yaz’s career to that point. They stuck in 1966, stunk in 1965, stunk in 1964 and so on. There was no real reason to believe they would be anything other than stinky in 1967 too.

The Red Sox were basically a .500 team into July, which was an improvement but not enough to matter much. After losing to Baltimore 10-0 in the second game of a doubleheader on July 13, they were in fifth place. And then, the magic happened. Over the next 10 days, Yaz hit .371 with five homers. The Red Sox won all 10 games and were suddenly a half game out.

They plodded around for a month or so and fell back into fourth place on August 18. Over the next seven games, Yaz hit .360 with three homers, nine RBIs and nine runs scored. The Red Sox won all seven games. And they were tied for the American League lead.

It was like this all year: When Yastrzemski was merely good, the Red Sox faltered. He had to be superhuman. And of course, he had to be superhuman under the intense glare of Red Sox fanhood and under the gun for the 50 or so year World Series drought. On Sunday September 17, the Red Sox lost their third game in a row and fell back into third place tie with Minnesota, a game behind Detroit and Chicago. It set up one of the wildest finishes in baseball history, a four-team scramble for a pennant.

From September 18 to October 1, the Red Sox played 12 games. Carl Yastrzemski hit .523 with five homers, 14 runs and 16 RBIs. And the Impossible Dream Red Sox won the pennant.

In those 29 key games, Carl Yastrzemski hit .433 with 13 homers, 32 runs, 36 RBIs and the Red Sox won 25 of them. He went on to hit .400 with three homers in the World Series, pushing what was probably a superior Cardinals team to seven games. Baseball is not a game where one man can singlehandedly carry a team. In 1920, Babe Ruth famously outhomered every other team in the American League. The Yankees finished third. In 1924, Rogers Hornsby hit .424 — the Cardinals finished 65-89. In 1991, Cal Ripken had one of the great seasons of our generation, an amazing 11.5 WAR season. The Orioles finished 67-95.

So for Yaz to not only have such an extraordinary season — he won the Triple Crown — but also to play at his peak exactly when the Red Sox needed it, this was the stuff of sorcery. It was a forgone conclusion that he would win the MVP Award, and he did. Of the 20 votes cast for the MVP Award in 1967, Yaz got 19.

Which means, of course, that one person did not vote for Carl Yastrzemski.

That man voted, instead, for Cesar Tovar, a utility-man for Minnesota who hit .267/.325/.367.

This is where the rage begins. There was an overwhelming amount of it in the baseball community when the results were announced. Cesar Tovar? Seriously? Baseball reporters lined up to tee off on the “homer” who voted for Tovar. “Ridiculous and irresponsible!” grumped the Boston Herald Traveler’s Bill Liston. “A first place ballot for Harmon Killebrew could have been justified. If the voter wanted to render under Cesar the things which were his, he should have given him a banjo as befitting a .267 hitter.”

Interlude: Light hitters were called “banjo hitters” in those days. OK, back to the fury.

“The vote for Tover was parochial and pathetic,” wrote Joe Trimble of the New York Daily News.

“One member of the Twins, who received MVP support himself, commented on Tovar’s first place vote,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Richard Dozer. “He told me, ‘I couldn’t believe it.’”

“If Cesar Tovar is deserving of one Most Valuable Player voter over Carl Yastrzemski,” wrote Bud Tucker of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “my name is Isador Plotnik, and I drive a cab in Brooklyn.”

The intensity was so hot, that the St. Paul Pioneer’s Arno Goethel felt like he had to go public to say he was NOT the guy who voted for Tovar. “My vote,” he said, “went Yaz first, Killebrew second and Tovar sixth.”

When Goethel announced that he had not picked Tovar, everyone in the Baseball Writers Association knew that it had been Max Nichols of the Minneapolis Star who did. This was in the days before Twitter so nobody felt comfortable naming Nichols publicly, but everyone felt comfortable bashing him in an anonymous way. The Sporting News wrote: “We believe that the BBWAA, within its ranks, should take some action to penalize the writer for his unwise vote by banning him from ever serving again on a selection committee. The vote for Tovar was a black eye for the BBWAA.” Detroit’s Joe Falls simply ripped the vote for its “stupidity.”

But Falls did not stop there. He decided to reach out to Max Nichols. And in reaching out to Nichols, he found something surprising … Falls actually found himself gaining an odd respect for Nichols. “I still think he’s dead wrong,” Falls wrote. “But at the same time I respect his right to vote for whoever he chooses.”

See, Nichols did not back off his vote when challenged by Falls. He didn’t say, “Yeah, I kind of messed up there.” Instead, he said that if given the same chance he would vote for Tovar again. “From what I saw, Tovar was the most valuable player in the league,” he said. “He played six positions for the Twins and I saw him win games for them at all six positions. … We didn’t have the best of player relations on our club, but Tovar never got mixed up in any of the clubhouse politics. He kept plugging away no matter where they put him.”

When Falls saw that this was a thought-out vote, one made from a genuine position, he realized that even though it was a looney decision none of this really mattered. After all, Yaz won the MVP award by a landslide. There is no bonus for winning the thing unanimously. Forever more, when the trivia question comes up, “Who won the American League MVP award in 1967,” the answer will be Carl Yastrzemski. We can get so angry in baseball over such insignificant things. Falls felt so much respect for the way Nichols stood his ground, he even let Nichols finish off his column.

“I don’t know why it had to be unanimous,” Max Nichols said. “If that’s democracy — that I had to vote the same way everyone else voted — we’re living in two different democracies.”

Yes yes. Democracy gives everyone the right to vote! Hear hear!

Oh, wait, I should probably mention one tiny thing. Max Nichols stopped covering the Twins at the beginning of September 1967. He was moved to the city desk then. So, um, yeah, he voted for Cesar Tovar as MVP in a year where he didn’t see Yaz play during one of the greatest stretch runs in baseball history.

And when asked about the reasoning of his vote, he said, “I go by what I see, not by what I read in the papers or what somebody tells me. … I guess I didn’t see Yaz in his best games against the Twins.”

So … um … like I said, insignificant things in baseball can still make you pretty angry.

73 Responses to No. 36: Carl Yastrzemski

  1. WisconsinRob says:

    Joe, great read. BUT, you have Carl Ripken Jr on the 91 Orioles. Poor Carl could never hit a curveball.

  2. Owen says:

    I had forgotten about the vote for Cesar Tovar. Great story, Joe. By the way, although almost everyone was in the right range for Yaz on their picks list, only ESPN stuck the landing perfectly.

  3. dlf9 says:

    Glad to have the top 100 back.

    While the era in which Yaz played hurt his stats, and thus his lasting reputation, in another way, he was very fortunate. Playing in Fenway inflated his stats significantly.

    Home 306 / 402 / 503
    Road 264 / 357 / 422

  4. Brent says:

    By Mr. Nichols’ logic, the people who did the worst job voting in that MVP vote were the KC voters. Yaz’s numbers against the A’s were .239/.346/.373, easily the worst numbers he had against any team. Against the Twins, he was .356/.387/.576. I looked to see whether Yaz’s numbers in September, 1967 against the Twins moved his numbers that significantly (since that is when Mr. Nichols moved from the sports desk to the city desk). He only played two games against the Twins in 9/67, the last two of the season. He did go 7 for 8 with a double, a homer and 6 RBIs. Subtracting out those games from the totals against the Twins, he was only .274/.315/.451, with 3 home runs, 3 runs scored and 5 RBIS. I guess if Mr. Nichols was judging the MVP on only what his eyes saw, then maybe Yaz’s MVP numbers were rather pedestrian. He must have wondered why this ordinary seeming guy in Minnesota seemed otherworldly in the papers, though.

  5. Kendal says:

    I grew up reading Joe Falls in the Detroit Free Press. Excellent columnist, really liked his stuff

  6. oilcan23 says:

    I’m now mad about the 1968 MVP vote, which I was not aware of before you brought it to my attention.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Denny McClain won 30 that year. There was no way he was NOT getting MVP.

      • Will3pin says:

        1968 MVP voting was a Tiger landslide, they took 4 of the top 7 positions, and had 7 players receive votes. McClain (1), Freehan (2), Horton (4), McCauliffe (7), Northrup (13), Cash (23), Stanley (25). Sock It To ‘Em!

        Only regular season starters not receiving votes – Kaline (injuries), 3b Don Wert, and SS Ray Oyler. Oyler’s timely “0 for August” slump resulted in moving CF Mickey Stanley to short, and opening up room for a healthy Kaline to start in RF.

        So for the World Series, they started 7 players receiving MVP votes, plus a Hall-of-Famer in Kaline. Plus they had the (to be named) World Series MVP in Lolich as 2nd starter. No wonder those pesky Redbirds never stood a chance! 😉

        I believe this was the only time a battery (McClain, Freehan) took the 1-2 slots in MVP voting?

  7. NevadaMark says:

    Yaz told a neat story in his biography, about the Phillies (I think; read this 40 years ago) offering him even more money than the Red Sox AND offering to put him in the starting lineup that very night. Alas, Yaz senior insisted on the team paying Yaz’s college education if he didn’t pan out and there the Phillies balked.

    I wonder why the Yanks didn’t try to sign him, him playing in their backyard and all.

    • Tom Shaer says:

      To Nevada Mark, The Yankees DID try to sign Yaz. Their scout objected to Mr. Yastrzemski’s bonus goal ($100K?) and the scout then threw his pencil in the air and said the Yankees would never pay that amount.

      Mr. Yastrzemski, whom I sat with in the Fenway Park press box 1978-82, told me he felt thowing the pencil was rude, so he then threw the Yankees scout of the family home.That story is also contained in Yaz’ first autobiography. Chicago Tom

      • NevadaMark says:

        Thank you Tom! That was the book I was referring to. No wonder the Yanks started to suck midway thru the sixties.

  8. Sam says:

    “I go by what I see, not by what I read in the papers or what somebody tells me. … ”
    because I have a giant paper due in, like, four hours I spent most of the weekend re-reading the FJM archive…this guy makes Joe Morgan seem like Bill freaking James.

    • Although I’m not defending the ridiculous vote, you do have to remember that every game wasn’t on TV, like today. There was just the one Saturday morning game of the week that was nationally shown. Still, I have to imagine that the Red Sox, a popular team in the northeast, and in the pennant race, had to have been on Game of the Week at least a a couple of times. The writer, if he was doing his job, should have been watching the games to make sure he was casting an informed vote. But, as we know, when it comes to voting on anything, some people research the candidates carefully & others vote based on affiliation. That’s what this guy did. He voted based on his affiliation and affinity for the Twins. Even there, voting for Tovar (.267/.325/.365 with 6 HRs, 47 RBIs, 97 OPS+ over Killebrew (.269/.404/.558 with 44 HRs and 112 RBIs, 173 OPS+) was impossibly stupid.

      • NevadaMark says:

        This guy misses the entire month of September during the greatest pennant race in the history of the American League and they let him vote on the MVP? I wonder who made that decision?

  9. sansho1 says:

    Too often voting controversies are ginned up around the concept of unanimity. I appreciate this sort of unabashed subjectivity. The voting rules bore out the more deserving winner, so why not reserve a little brain space for some outside-the-box thinking?

    • Sam says:

      in principal, sure…I don’t think I was ticked until it got to the “I never saw him play, so I voted for someone else.” I mean, if he voted for Tovar because he liked the guys taste in clothes, that would be ok, as long as he was making any kind of an informed decision, that referenced Yaz. For democracy to be a functional concept you need a reasonably informed, non-idiotic voting body. What this dude did is like saying “I am voting for candidate x because I like his stance on the economy.” “Well, ok, but what do you think of x’s stance on the middle east?” “That does not matter to me because I have never been there.”

      I would almost take issue with Joe saying that this does not matter: I think what information we chose to process and how matters a lot; and I think that the habits that we pick up with trivial things like sports can carry over into more “important” areas of life. On some level, a guy blatantly refusing to believe anything that he read in the newspapers (while working for a newspaper, what wierdo…) matters MUCH MORE than arguments over weather Clamente was better than Kailine, or what the Rocket would have been w/o steroids.

      • sansho1 says:

        But that’s just it — this one voter’s windmill-tilting did NOT matter in any appreciable way to the final result. The voting body in this case was clearly informed, as Yaz received almost the maximum number of MVP points.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        Sam, I actually think it’s worse than voting for a political candidate for one issue. It’s not irrational to say, for example, I really care more about the economy than I do the Middle East. It’s completely irrational to say I voted for this guy because I didn’t see the other guy. It’s more akin to saying you voted for x for president because his/her name came first on the ballot.

  10. tim says:

    Yaz was a guy that would typically average 15 homers and 80 rbi a year. He had a few monster seasons, but more often then not, was merely a good player. Context of the eras be damned. Yaz deserves to be on this list. But wow. Way way to high.

    • Grammer Police says:

      You really need to go read somewhere else, someplace simpler, because actual baseball analysis is obviously waaaaaaaaaaaaaay over your head.

    • That’s a pretty hard case for you to take on. He had a seven year peak WAR of 55.7 and a career WAR of 96.1. That’s elite. As with any player that plays 23 seasons, there is going to be a fair number of mediocre seasons mixed in, especially after the age of 30. That’s called a normal career arc.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I agree with you. I think Yaz, outside of 1967 and a couple of other great years, was highly overrated. He played 23 years and hit 452 home runs. I realize Fenway isn’t the best home run park for left-handed hitters but Ted Williams hit 521 despite missing 5 years to wars. I just don’t see why Yaz is so highly esteemed.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      Yaz was arguably the best hitter in baseball over the course of his career. He is 36th lifetime in WAR, 19th in situational wins added, 13th lifetime in runs created, 5th in times on base, 6th in walks. He had 3419 hits, which is 9th all time. He backed up all those times on base with 452 homers. He did all that during the worst years for hitters since deadball. He also had some speed and excellent defense. Yes, these are mostly counting stats, and he did have a huge advantage playing in Boston, but there are three very important categories where he is top ten all time in those counting stats. You can defend a position that Yaz is too high, just as you can argue he’s too low; WAY too high is not defensible, not unless you don’t understand offensive context and normalization.

  11. :-) says:

    This article touches on a sentiment that I have had in the past when considering people like Babe Ruth not being unanimous picks for HOF. People have to remember that these people played before we were able to see players on television/internet on a daily basis. Writers in each city were given opportunities to vote on MVPs/HOF based mainly on what they personally witnessed at games in their towns. Lots of writers get a vote with the idea that, if a player is generally successful, this will be witnessed by the majority (but not EVERYBODY). It could be that Yaz didn’t play as well in the games that this particular writer witnessed. It could be that the few people who didn’t vote Ruth into the HOF were young writers, who maybe saw him in a handful of games at the end of his career when he wasn’t spectacular.

    It would be harder/less excusable for a Ruth like player to not be a unanimous pick in modern times with all of the technology available to see games.

    • Very true, but you also had other “research tools” like The Sporting News to review. Anyone who was a true baseball fan, back in the day, poured over their weekly copy & looked forward to it’s arrival. Since this guy was moved off of sports & had a successful career elsewhere, I suspect the issue was that he wasn’t really a baseball fan. He was just a writer who covered baseball until he was given the job he really wanted. I’d be interested in the timing of his move, as well. Moving a guy off of sports in September, when the local team was in the heat of a pennant race (the Twins came in second) is quite an interesting story, I’m sure. The Twins were really stacked that year and were only two years removed from winning the pennant. In short, the Twins were THE story. And the guy stopped covering the Twins right when things were heating up?

      • Mark says:

        Max Nichols was a lifelong baseball fan. He spent a fair amount of his adult life in Minneapolis covering baseball. Remember, the Twins didn’t come to the Cities until 1961. IIRC, he was moved off the sports desk not by choice.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      Yaz won the Triple Crown (and Gold Glove) for the pennant winning team. He led the AL in Runs, Hits, RBI, Homers, Batting Average, OBP, Slugging Percentage, OPS, OPS+, total bases, and WAR. He had +1.7 dWAR in left field, It’s like comparing Cabrera to Trout in the Triple Crown year if Cabrera were a gold glover and Trout had no power and a lot lower batting average for a team that didn’t make the playoffs. Note that both KC voters picked Yaz even though he was far worse against them. By WAR, Tovar was about the ninth best player on the Twins, behind four starting pitchers who all threw 222+ innings and way behind Killebrew, who had 76 more points of OPS+ than Tovar.

      The Twins finished one game behind the Red Sox. In most years, it’s okay with me to pick a Twin for MVP. But 1967 was not most years; it was a Triple Crown year for a guy who seems to have deserved his Gold Glove on the team that won the pennant. It was a bad call, even though there are some good justifications for it. Hell, Dodger fan though I am, even I had to admit Bonds earned his MVP the year he edged out Beltre on a playoff team, and that was a LOT closer than Tovar to Yaz.

  12. JYO says:

    23 seasons with one team. 3400 hits / 646 doubles / .380 lifetime OBP and 130 lifetime OPS+. Yaz was a total stud. Red Sox legend and absolutely deserves to be ranked this high. (One season with an OPS+ under 100 = 96 when he was 41)

    In the dread of the Red Sox championship drought, Yaz was the shining light and kept hope in the heart of every Red Sox fan. All hail #8.

  13. RJR says:

    Facts and Supposition
    1930s – Synthetic testosterone is created in Germany. It is considered to be the birth of todays anabolic steroid.
    1940s – Synthetic testosterone is used by German troops for stamina and endurance. Allied troops use synthetic testosterone to save malnourished concentration camp survivors.
    1950s – Eastern Bloc countries, led by the Soviet Union, win an unusually high medal count in Olympic track and field, wrestling and weightlifting.
    In response Olympic team Doctor John Ziegler creates the 1st oral testosterone derivative. Dianabol.
    1960 – US Olympic team regains medal wins. President Kennedy continues to take Dianabol for the rest of his life.
    1963 – San Diego Chargers hire former US Olympic weightlifting team trainer Alvin Roy as a strength coach. Players strength training include daily dosage of Dianabol. San Diego Chargers beat the Boston Patriots 51 – 10 in the AFL title game.
    1966 – 1967 – After another below expectation year greeted by boos and empty seats, Carl Yastrzemski does the unheard of. He hires an off season personal trainer. His name was Gene Berde. Gene Berde had been on the Hungarian Olympic boxing team in 1928. Later he became a trainer for the 1950s Hungarian Olympic boxing and weightlifting team.
    Yaz wins the triple crown. Revives baseball in Boston. Invents Yaz bread.
    SI Sportsman of the Year article gives kudos to his off season training regimen and notes his increase in bat speed.


    • RJR says:

      1950s addendum:
      It was an open secret that the Olympic teams from the Eastern Bloc were using synthetic testosterone to increase their medal counts. The East German female Olympic track and field team were ridiculed by the western media for their abundance of muscles and facial hair.
      John Ziegler was the US Olympic team Doctor.

    • buddaley says:

      Carl Yastrzemski’s home run totals for his career:
      1961-66: 11, 19, 14, 15, 20, 16

      1967-70: 44, 23, 40, 40

      1971-83: 15, 12, 19, 19, 14….hit 20+ three times with a high of 28.

      That four year period certainly stands out.

      • Dan says:

        Ted Kluszewski’s home runs:

        1948-52: 12, 8, 25, 13, 16
        1953-56: 40, 49, 47, 35
        1957-61: 38 HR total

        Must have been the roids

    • So, yes. I’ve always said that we act like steroids were invented and suddenly came into baseball in 1985, at the earliest, with Jose Canseco’s arrival. A lot of people think they came in even later. That’s pretty silly. The main thing that kept widespread usage of steroids out of baseball that long was the belief/myth that getting too big would make a player “muscle bound” and would hurt performance. A couple of earlier players who went against that thinking were Tom Seaver and Brian Downing who openly embraced weight lifting in their training. Downing, of course, is suspected of being an early adopter with his, let’s say, non-traditional career arc. I had never heard this story about Yaz, but there definitely were other players in the 60s and 70s who at least experimented with steroids. Maybe even back in the 50s. Another reason why they weren’t widespread is that there wasn’t a lot of knowledge about what to use, how much to use, etc. So experimentation early on may not have been very successful. To be successful, you’d need to get knowledge from someone, like a trainer. There was no internet, no online off shore sources for purchasing steroids. You’d get them from body builders and weight lifters…. aka trainers. So, interesting thoughts.

      • Richard Aronson says:

        Downing was a cerebral player who completely changed his batting approach after a bad ankle injury; he also started wearing glasses roughly 1976 (no glasses in his baseball card picture) or 1977, which may have also helped his approach at the plate. I’ve never seen anyone have success with his batting style before or since. I heard many interviews of the man. I think he analyzed his strengths, compensated for his weaknesses, and remade himself into a good hitter. Most of the steroid users I’ve heard don’t sound nearly as thoughtful nor insightful as Downing was. He may have used, but I don’t think so.

        • The stance was an extreme move & all credit to Downing for making it. But he went from an unimpressive, somewhat pudgy player, to a greek god in one off season. I followed the Angels and it was a topic that never quit. The announcers and the print media talked about his physical transformation all the time. It wasn’t like he looked trimmer or gained muscle. He got HUGE. He instantly got the nickname Incredible Hulk. There was nobody like him at the time. So, you can talk about glasses and stances, and I’m sure that helped. But something radical happened in one off season that had never been seen before. If you want to say that all happened naturally, then fine. It’s not provable either way. But it’s highly suspicious at the very least.

    • Spencer says:

      Super interesting theory. We do need to remember that 1967 was Yaz’s 27 year old season. Hitters often break out around that time. His career arc isn’t that strange.

      Even so, that’s still an interesting theory. Can’t be ruled out.

  14. Mike Schilling says:

    I don’t even see how Goethel could vote Tovar sixth with a clean conscience. Tovar hit, as Joe mentioned, .267/.325/.367, and was a below-average fielder, for a total of 2.4 WAR.

    • Especially since the local stud, Killebrew, had a monster year & you could argue, had a season very close to Yaz’s. As a fan, you can love the guy, like Tovar, who plays anywhere and seems to be able to do anything. I think Tovar was a guy who , as a stunt, ended up playing all nine positions in a game. He was definitely a fan favorite. But to vote for the guy for MVP? That’s the equivalent today of voting for Martin Prado. Can you imagine what would happen to a voter who did that today?

      • Andrew says:

        The do-it-all utility guy is always popular with hometown fans. Long after Tovar, Detroit’s Shane Halter did the all-nine-positions thing. People loved him, but he wasn’t very good and actually seemed like a jerk to me. Since then I’ve noticed a few other “super sub” types who wear this invisible cloak of virtue. My guess is that it’s rooted in resentment of ballplayer salaries — hey, at least ONE guy on the team is working hard for his low-end money.

      • NevadaMark says:

        Yes, I can imagine. Besides some criticism, nothing. As far as I know, no writer has ever had his ballot yanked for casting a ridiculously stupid vote.

  15. Great article Joe! Brings back so many awesome memories. My dad would take me to Fenway when I was a kid to see the Sox play. Yaz was my baseball idol. (Dad’s was Ted Williams, of course). I was only 7 during the Impossible Dream season, and it helped form my love of the game, and the Red Sox.
    Thanks for taking me back there Joe!

  16. I’m still upset that Robin Yount was unanimously voted MVP in 1982. Joe Gallo of a Toronto paper voted Reggie Jackson first that year. Jackson finished 6th in the voting that year.

  17. Will3pin says:

    Back in the day,one was revered on the grade school playground for being able to spell Yastrzemski. Might be used to get you to bat first in 500up.

  18. Ian says:

    I think I’m in the minority here but I hate the idea of unanimity in anything. It can get to the point of just being group-think. It amazes me how many people get upset over the idea that Maddux or Henderson or whomever didn’t get 100% of the HOF vote.

    • It bothers me more that Nolan Ryan got the highest vote percentage for the HOF. Why Nolan Ryan? I watched him a lot, and he was awesome, but he was very flawed. He is nowhere near Maddux, Johnson, Pedro, Clemens, et al.

      • Richard Aronson says:

        All time leader in (insert counting stat here) gets a lot of respect for HOF votes. So does best single season in (insert counting stat here). Ryan had several such categories, not all of which were positive. I’d rather have any of the other pitchers you named pitch a game for my daughter’s life, but I don’t think any of them has the best season totals or career totals in any statistic. I can understand why Ryan was such an obvious HOFer.

  19. John Leavy says:

    It’s odd that Yaz was not a unanimous choice for MVP in 1967, but even odder that Orlando Cepeda WAS.

    • John Leavy says:

      To clarify: Cepeda had a great year in 1967, and was a perfectly fine choice for MVP. But several guys in the NL were about as good (Hank Aaron , for one), so I’m about surprised the vote was unanimous.

    • Richard Aronson says:

      The NL had better voters.

      • John Leavy says:

        I merely note that a very strong case could have been made for Hank Aaron or Roberto Clements in 1967. Both men had numbers at least as good as Cepeda’s. Heck, if Dick Young had voted for Richie Allen, no one would have said “You’re nuts!”

        By contrast, Yaz had NO competition and still didn’t win unanimously.

        • NevadaMark says:

          Ron Santo would have been a good choice. Maybe Cepeda deserved the MVP and maybe not, but a unanimous selection?

        • Marc Schneider says:

          It’s just sort of the often irrational nature of elections in general. You had different people voting for the AL and the NL. I think Cepeda was unanimous because the Cardinals were so good and his competition was on bad teams. (Of course, you could argue the reverse-that the Red Sox needed Yaz a lot more than the Cardinals needed Cepeda given that they won by so much.) No one was going to vote for a guy on a seventh-place team (Aaron). By contrast, the Twins were in the race and barely lost, so in the fevered mind of a partisan voter, he could argue that Tovar was as valuable as Yaz since he played more positions. Not justifying it, but I guarantee that many voters in all kinds of elections use the same kind of reasoning. For example, it’s been shown that the taller candidate generally wins presidential elections.

    • SB McManus says:

      I’m never really surprised when the MVP votes go to the league leader in RBIs. It’s pretty clear that before around 2010 the default MVP vote for many voters was whoever led the league in runs batted in and then someone had to make a pretty big case from there to knock them from that perch. The farther back you go the more prominent the “sort by RBI MVP vote” become.

  20. Dave says:

    Not a comment on Yaz per se, but some of you might not know this: his grandson, Mike “Yaz” played at Vanderbilt and is an outfielder in the Orioles system. He did quite well last year across three levels. And if you look at him, even without knowing his name, you know he’s related.

  21. MCD says:

    I’m less angered by Nichols vote for Tovar, than by the fact that, as of 2015, he *still* has a vote.

  22. Alejandro says:

    A brief comment on César Tovar:

    He was Venezuelan, dark-skinned and poor. He had to be a working child (a shoeshine boy). He didn’t finish school.

    Dark skin, lack of education and poverty in Venezuela, back in the 1940s, composed a life sentence. Fortunately Tovar had an extraordinary ability to make the bat meet the baseball. That gained him his pardon.

    Moreover, he played “Caribe”: he would dig in to get hit by pitches; he wore uniforms two sizes above his own so the wide sleeves would get brushed by the ball, just to scream in pain to the umpire’s face and run to first; he would play any position with grit and astuteness.

    Problem is, even a smart ballplayer can only go so far if he has to grow up fighting against squalor. You don’t eat as a kid, you end up being skinny, small and in general the opposite of Mickey Mantle.

    Still, Tovar won his personal war, played Major League Baseball (he had 204 hits in 1971) for 12 years and Venezuelan baseball for 22.

    In his country he was beloved and revered as a supremely shrewd hitter. A connoisseur of the game.

    So, Yaz deserved his unanimous MVP, sure, but knowing Tovar’s story I can’t really begrudge him his one first-place MVP vote in 1967.

    I mean, all things considered, he kind of deserved it.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      But that’s not why the guy voted for him. I agree it’s a great story, but the stated rationale was that Tovar was more valuable than Yaz, which makes no sense. If Nichols had said, I know Yaz deserves it but I want to make a statement about the kind of man Tovar is, at least that would have made some sense.

      But, I also agree that since Yaz won anyway, what difference does it really make?

  23. Bill James answered a reader’s question on his website last week about how the Dodgers were able to win three pennants (and barely miss a fourth) in a loaded National League from 1962-67. He answered “Sandy Koufax.” His point being that if Koufax had not been every single bit as amazing as he was in those years — if he’d only had a standard 20-8, 2.80 ERA Cy Young year — the Dodgers would have finished well out of first place. He dragged them to three pennants, which accounts for the mystique around him.

    The only other player I can remember who did that was Yaz in 1967. With the exception of Jim Lonborg, the rest of the Red Sox had mostly forgettable seasons. I’ve seen players take over post seasons — Bumgarner is only the most recent — but not a whole season. Anybody know of any parallel.

    • tayloraj42 says:

      I’d disagree that the rest of the team had “forgettable seasons.” Outside of catcher, which was an absolute black hole, the Red Sox’ regular at every other position had an OPS+ of 100 or greater. Losing Tony C midseason and the lack of production from his replacements certainly hurt, but even so, there were a lot of guys on that team who had at least ‘pretty good’ seasons.
      In another sense, though, you’re absolutely right – without Yaz having his historically great season, they’re nowhere close to the pennant. And you also don’t see too many other guys who have the reputation for having done that…outside of Koufax/Yaz…I dunno, Dizzy Dean in ’34? I can think of some other situations where guys had great seasons and their team narrowly won the pennant, but don’t receive the narrative of having ‘single-handedly carried the team’ the way Yaz did.

  24. TWolf says:

    Before his triple crown season, I remember reading in the Sporting News and/or other
    publications that Yaz had begun a demanding exercise program to prepare him for the season. Physical fitness was not in vogue then as it is today. Perhaps that was the main reason his power numbers increased far beyond what they were early in his career.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I have a hard time with people wanting to blame steroids anytime a hitter improves dramatically. Maybe it’s true and maybe Yaz or other did use, but you can’t prove and there is a certain McCarthyite tone to these kinds of allegations. Maybe the guy did just work his ass off. Why assume the worst with no evidence? If he used, he used, but why guilt by association, ie, his stats improved so he must have juiced?

  25. John says:

    There’s a serious fallacy in the “democracy” argument. I have a vote in our democracy because as a citizen it is my unalienable right. That is simply not the case for writers. A sportswriter has the vote only because he or she belongs to a group so entitled because of a presumed level of expertise. If I knew nothing about basketball, I’d certainly not be qualified to write about it, much less to vote on the quality of performance of the players.
    So when a writer casts a vote such as Tovar for MVP in ’67, which is obviously unjustifiable based on the facts in play, there is no “cover” in a presumed right to free expression. That writer has demonstrated a degree of incompetence that, were it to happen repeatedly, should result in the loss of the vote. The very fact that a vote could be taken away exposed the limits of the freedom of expression argument. Not that I’m holding my breath for the BBWA to behave seriously by enforcing analytical standards…
    Anyway, back to # 8: Yaz in 67 was otherworldly: his final two games with Minnesota with the pennant on the line (7 for 8, 6 rbis, his 44th hr) stand as exemplary of his season of one big hit after another, and a level of clutch performance placing him among the elite in the history of the game. Last remark: few had the temerity to test his arm and his playing of caroms off the wall; those who did regretted it.

  26. SteveL says:

    This is an old thread but I feel like writing about Yaz tonight. First of all, anyone who ever saw Yaz as a player would know that he never looked like a beefed-up steroid user. He was 5″ 11″ 185 most of his career and never changed much in his physique. He strengthened up before 1967 but not that noticeably from a physical standpoint. Stan Musial had a very similar power surge at the same age in his career. Does that make him a steroid user? Yaz’s batting average in 1967 was .326 ( in a league that batted .237). That might not sound so extraordinary today but it was the 3rd highest average in the American league for the entire decade of the 1960’s (after Norm Cash in 1961 and Rod Carew in 1969). Yaz was easily the best player in the American League during the 1960’s. Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson were great AL players for opposite halves of the decade. Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline were almost as good in different ways, but Yaz was a combination of their best attributes. One could make a strong case for Yaz being the best major league player from 1967-1970, better than Aaron, Mays, Clemente, McCovey, Bench, etc. He is still the only player in American league history to lead the league in hits and walks the same year (1963) – bet you didn’t know that! Nagging injuries and age caught up with Yaz in the 1970’s, but he was still very much one of the best players in the league over the decade. It’s strange, but 1963 – 1976, most of Yaz’s career, were really lousy hitting years in the AL with the exception of maybe 69 and 70. His offensive numbers were drastically impacted by this. And while Fenway was great for his average it was not great for his power. The fact that he hit 27 homers in Fenway in 1967 is just one of many miracles during that year. If one uses WAR as the truest measure of baseball value, Yaz’s 1967 is a better year that any position has ever had except for a couple of years by Babe Ruth. Add to that the impact that Yaz had on n underdog team during one of the greatest pennant races of all time, and it is hard not to conclude that he was the most valuable position player for one year on any team ever. Take THAT, Cesar Tovar!

  27. AvidYazFan says:

    I’m late to the party here, but I’ll throw in my two cents nonetheless. 1st – awesome article… I hailed from Springfield, MA during Yaz’s career (8 during his 67 season,) so I ate, drank and slept Yastrzemski (and yes, I was one of those kids who could spell Yastrzemski’s name by the time I was ten.) I found a lot of the comments truly interesting and I obviously disagree with the ones that feel Yaz was only a good player for most of his career. I’d like to point to the 1970 ALLSTAR game where Earl Weaver was the manager. Remember that was the year Boog Powell won the M.V.P. award. Yaz started the game in centerfield and some time during the late innings, Weaver took out his first basemen (that’s right, Boog Powell) so he could keep Yaz in the game. Yaz even made a spectacular defensive play over there. Yaz had a 4 for 6 game and was voted the game’s M.V.P. award (only time a player was voted this for the losing team) Yeah… Earl Weaver, the manager of the Orioles knew who the true M.V.P. player of this team was – and for the record, Yaz’s stats that year were just as impressive as his 67 stats (or damn near) – too bad the writers didn’t agree. YAZ was the type of player that needed a situation where they needed him to rise to the occasion – remember the 75 playoffs where he destroyed the Oakland A’s both offensively and defensively after playing first base for the entire season (Jim Rice’s rookie year) – I know the critics will instead remember that one playoff game against the Yankees in 78, but they’ll overlook the fact that he was 2 for 4 with a homerun that game and just remember him popping out to Nettles at third. Bottom line – Yaz was the man.

  28. Herb Smith says:

    People are entitled to their opinions, but it’s really going out into the loony area to insinuate that Yaz wasn’t an all-time great.

  29. A700Hitter says:

    Great read. There was on statistical typo. In 1970, Yaz hit 40 HRs, not 30.

    As for the ridiculous notion that Yaz was over-rated, ask the pitchers of his day how they felt about facing him. No one could throw a fastball past that man, not even when he was 43 years old.

  30. Scott says:

    Late to this conversation .. Great article Joe .. One other thing about the magical year Yaz had .. He posted a 12.4 WAR – the highest since the Babes 12.4 in 1927 and the highest since .. Interesting when you see articles about the greatest single seasons ever and Yaz is not in the top 10.. The forgotten season indeed

  31. Chip S. says:

    Yaz’s transformation during the offseason between ’66 and ’67 seems pretty simple to understand if you read this piece. Specifically: Yaz, who had studied business at Notre Dame, fulfilled a promise to his parents by finishing his degree at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., in 1966.

    You go from working out maybe a couple times a week to a few hours a day and you’re gonna improve strength and endurance a LOT, without chemicals.

    I mean, seriously… if you look at this pic from that offseason, is your first thought “Steroids”? Really?

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