Times change, people change, even the rules of the game change.
Boston baseball remains the same.
It was evident at The Sports Museum on Tuesday, when members of the 1967 Red Sox reunited at the non-profit inside TD Garden to celebrate and reminisce about “The Summer of Love.”
There are some differences. Baseball has more stats, more technology, and more money than it did during the Impossible Dream season.
“I don’t even know what WAR is!” Jim Lonborg said.
“I go crazy when the players come back off (the field) after having an at-bat or something and they’ve got a tablet out there,” said Lonborg, the 1967 American League Cy Young winner. “Their heads are so filled with numbers.”
He, Rico Petrocelli, and Gary Bell made up the event’s memorable panel. Teammates Darrell “Bucky” Brandon, Dave Morehead, Billy Rohr, José Santiago and George Thomas were seated throughout the room. Carl Yastrzemski even made a brief surprise appearance to reconnect with his teammates before the panel, clad in a Red Sox jacket.
But in essence, the Red Sox playoff formula, the recipe for doing the impossible, requires the same ingredients:
Doing the little things right
“My first year, Yaz and I, we lost 100 games, and then we put it together the next year and lost only 99,” Petrocelli joked.
Things changed with the arrival of Dick Williams, who’d finished out his 13-year playing career in Boston. He was a rookie all over again in 1967, promoted from managing Boston’s Triple-A affiliate to manage in the Majors on a one-year contract.
“One of the things he said right away is, ‘We’re not going to rely on home runs, we’re going to do the little things: Bunting, hit-and-run, and let the home runs take care of themselves,’ ” Petrocelli said. “We worked a lot on that, and we came out, we started out a little slow, and then gradually, we started doing the things right that he was telling us and teaching us to do. And then we started winning ballgames.”
Throughout his tenure – and countless times during the most recent season – Alex Cora has emphasized the importance of doing the little things, playing what he calls “fundamental baseball” or “old-school baseball.”
“We won the ALDS playing good fundamental baseball,” he told reporters during the 2021 postseason.
Conversely, not doing so consistently this year resulted in Boston’s third last-place finish in four years.
“I thought we were a loose team,” Petrocelli said. “We were having fun, we weren’t expected to win.”
“Gary was great, he kept us loose. And José,” Petrocelli pointed to Santiago, “One time at home, he came in with a tape recorder, and he was interviewing guys in Spanish! Stuff like that, you know, we were just loose.”
Decades later, members of the 2004 team would describe themselves in similar fashion. They were the lovable “Idiots,” a team no one expected could do what hadn’t been done by their predecessors for 86 years. There’s even footage of Kevin Millar in MLB’s official World Series film about that historic season, roaming around the clubhouse with a camcorder like a modern-day Santiago.
Learning from greats
After getting off to a slow start by his standards, Yastrzemski completed a Triple Crown season and won American League MVP.
“Bobby Doerr changed his batting stance,” explained Bell.
“Bobby helped all of us,” added Petrocelli. “He brought Yaz’s hands down, and it was just amazing to see, every time, it really seemed like every time he came up with men on base, he knocked in runs.”
The Hall of Fame infielder also took on an unusual project with the ‘67 team.
“Bobby Doerr would work with all the pitchers in spring training,” Lonborg said. “He said, ‘If you want to win some ballgames, the manager has to have faith in you as a hitter, to not pinch-hit for you when you get there.’ And so, he really worked hard with us, and he knew I could run, and he taught me how to drag bunt, and I did it two or three times during the summer. Thanks to him, we were all a threat at the plate.”
On the final day of the regular season, Lonborg not only pitched a complete game, but also successfully actualized Doerr’s lessons. Trailing the Minnesota Twins 2-0 the sixth inning, he bunted 50 feet down the third-base line for a hit, igniting the comeback.
MLB no longer requires pitchers to hit, but the tradition of Red Sox mentorship lives on. In 2019, Dustin Pedroia taught Eduardo Rodriguez a new grip for his slider.
“I had the misfortune of being Billy Rohr’s roommate at the time in the hotel in New York,” Lonborg joked. “He kept me up all night long, I don’t know how he had enough energy to even pitch the game the next day, with questions: ‘Well, how do you pitch Mickey Mantle?’ ‘I don’t know, I can’t get him out myself! I can’t tell you!”
That day in April, Rohr got a strike away from pitching a complete-game no-hitter in his Major League debut, but Elston Howard’s single ruined the fun.
“We wanted to kill him,” Petrocelli said. “Tony Conigliaro was in right field, he looked like he wanted to throw it, throw the ball at Elston … that got us going, that really did.”
Almost 51 years to the day, Joe Kelly’s bench-clearing brawl with Yankees infielder Tyler Austin had a similar effect on the 2018 Red Sox.
Of course, older fans will remember the ironic twist that came later that season: on Aug. 3, the Red Sox acquired Howard.
Winning fixes everything
The 1967 season reignited fans’ love for the Red Sox.
“New England was on fire that year,” Bell said. “Kids had transistor radios in the classrooms. It was, everywhere you went, it was Red Sox. It was beautiful.”
“The biggest moment was when we went on a 10-game road trip and we won 10 games in a row,” Lonborg said. “We came into Logan Airport, before there was any security, and there were 10,000 people at the airport, on the runway. They couldn’t let us get off the plane.”
“Boston had the greatest fans that I’ve ever been around,” Bell said.
“They would thank us, you know, for the excitement,” Petrocelli recalled of getting recognized around town. “People started coming to the ballpark.”
On Opening Day 1967, Fenway took in 8,324 fans. On Oct.
1, there were 35,770 people packed into Boston’s baseball cathedral, watching Lonborg pitch and bunt the pennant home.
The world is different now. You can’t get to any gate at Logan without a ticket, let alone wait for a plane on the tarmac. But what has endured, before 1967, during that season, and since, is how much this city loves when its baseball team attempts to do the impossible.
They say change is the only constant.
But winning will always bring even the most beleaguered Boston fan back.