Carl Yastrzemski is the first American League player to record more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs.
Yastrzemski [yuh-STREM-skee] had to follow in the footsteps of the greatest player in Red Sox history when, as a 21-year-old rookie in 1961, he replaced the legendary Ted Williams in left field. While his first two years were solid but not spectacular, he broke out in 1963, winning the AL batting championship with an average of .321, leading the league in doubles and walks, and making his first All-Star team.
It was the start of one of the greatest careers in the history of one of baseball’s most storied franchises.
Yaz played 23 big league seasons, all with the Red Sox. He served as team captain from 1966 until his retirement in 1983 and is the only Red Sox to collect 3,000 hits. Yastrzemski is the franchise leader in games, runs, hits, doubles, RBI, total bases and plate appearances. He is second in walks, third in home runs and fourth in stolen bases.
Modest, humble and hard-working, Yastrzemski was never flashy, and was one of the most complete players of all time. A left-handed hitter, he smashed 20 or more homers in eight seasons, and belted 40 or more in three of them. Yaz batted over .300 six times and stole 168 career bases. A seven-time Gold Glove winner, Yastrzemski was masterful at playing balls off the Green Monstah, the famed 37-foot-high left field wall at Fenway Park. He led all American League outfielders in assists seven times and led the circuit in double plays turned from left field in four separate seasons.
An 18-time All-Star, Yastrzemski won three batting titles and led the league in runs and doubles in three different seasons. From his iconic stance — with bat held high in the air — he topped the AL in on-base percentage and OPS+ [which measures on-base plus slugging adjusted to ballparks] four times, and twice led the league in hits. Yaz had a prolific career, winning the AL MVP in 1967 and finishing in the top ten four other times. He collected 3,419 hits and belted 452 homers, a feat not accomplished by AL immortals Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig or Williams.
Yaz enjoyed his best season in 1967, the year of the Red Sox Impossible Dream. Following a ninth-place finish the year before, Boston was embroiled in a four-team pennant race coming down stretch. In the final two weeks of the season, Yaz went 23-for-44 with five homers and 16 RBI to lead the BoSox to their first pennant since 1946. Yastrzemski finished the year with a .326 average, 44 home runs and 121 RBI to become the sixth AL Triple Crown winner in history, and the last until Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera accomplished the feat 45 years later, in 2012. The 28-year-old left fielder was named AL MVP, Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year,” and won the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of 1967.
The Impossible Dream season was followed by the The Year of the Pitcher. In 1968, Carl Yastrzemski won the AL batting title with a .301 average, the lowest of any batting champion in history. It was the third and final batting title in his career. Yaz also led the league in walks, OBP, OPS and OPS+. After the season, MLB, seeking to improve offense, narrowed the strike zone and lowered the pitching mound from 15 to ten inches.
Born August 22, 1939, Carl Michael Yastrzemski was raised in Southampton, New York, by Polish parents on a family potato farm. Young Carl played on sandlot baseball teams with his father, who, he maintains, was a better athlete than he was. A two-sport standout at Bridgehampton High School, Yaz shattered the Long Island schoolboy basketball record for career points previously held by Jim Brown. He briefly attended Notre Dame on a basketball/baseball scholarship before signing with the Red Sox for $ 100,000 in 1958.
Yastrzemski spent two years in the minors before making his big league debut in April 1961. A second baseman in the minors, Yazmoved to left field when Williams retired following the 1960 season. While the right-handed throwing Yastrzemski patrolled left for most of his career, he also played center, right, third base and first base over the next 23 years. Later in his career, Yaz also served as a DH.
Yaz appeared in two World Series – 1967 and 1975. Both were epic, seven-game affairs. In 14 World Series games, he batted .352, yet Boston lost both Series. Not to be outdone, Yastrzemski has returned to Fenway Park for all four World Series the BoSox have played in during this century. Yaz threw out the first pitch in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018 – each won by the Red Sox.
Carl Yastrzemski is Red Sox royalty, and most certainly has a place on the Red Sox Mount Rushmore and, behind Williams, is the second greatest player ever to wear the iconic “B” on his cap. The franchise retired his number 8 in 1989, where he joined BoSox legends Williams, Joe Cronin and Bobby Doerr. That same year, Yaz was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot.