With Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera perhaps being closer to winning the Triple Crown than any player in the last 45 years, it was the perfect timing for Carl Yastrzemski to be available for comment.
The former Red Sox icon was unveiled Wednesday night as the backup left fielder — behind Ted Williams — on the All-Fenway team.
When Yaz led the 1967 Red Sox to the Impossible Dream, winning the pennant on the final day of the season, the triple crown couldn’t have been any further from his mind.
But in all the years that have followed, with nobody else winning it, Yaz feels that the next Triple Crown winner is all but inevitable.
“Someone is going to do it,” Yaz said. “Whether it’s Cabrera this year or next year. I’m surprised it’s gone on this long to be perfectly honest. When Rose broke Cobb’s hit record I never thought that was going to happen and when Ripken broke Gehrig’s consecutive game record I never thought that would happen either. So it’s going to happen.
“One thing that’s going to help him is he’s in a pennant race. Of course there’s so much more publicity now a days, people calling and everything else. In ’67 the Triple Crown was never even mentioned once we were so involved in the pennant race. I didn’t know I won the Triple Crown until the next day when I read it in the paper. That’s how involved we were in the pennant race.”
“Like I said, I thought somebody would win it a long time ago. The surprising thing about it is in the 50s and when Mantle won and Williams and Frank, we had the higher mound. I’d like to see what some of the pitchers would throw today, what their speeds would be, if they came off a higher mound. I could see Verlander probably throwing 100 mph or more on every pitch. Like I said, I’m surprised it’s lasted so long.”
The duck boats were back at Fenway Park again on Tuesday night, this time lugging around those beloved “Idiots” of 2004, who snapped Boston’s 86-year World Series championship drought.
There were three duck boats, filled with coaches and players from that memorable team. Terry Francona, Dave Wallace, Lynn Jones, Brad Mills and Ron Jackson represented the coaching staff. Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon, Tim Wakefield, Keith Foulke and Jason Varitek were among the many players on hand.
Millar, Pedro and Foulke held court with the media for a very light-hearted press conference that instantly reminded one how much fun those teams were to be around.
What sticks with these guys eight years later?
“It was a great thing,” Foulke said. “We didn’t really know what we were getting into. I don’t think we did. To do what we did, that team, after the story behind 86 years in this city, it’s the greatest thing ever.”
Martinez: “The thing that sticks in my mind the most is the last out, knowing that we got rid of the burden on every player that passed through the organization. It was a moment of relief for everyone that played the game in Boston. That’s probably the biggest one — just getting that last out. I kept thinking about getting that last out, and when he finally flipped that ball and they called him out, that was it.”
Millar, in a stunner, was the most expansive of the three: “You know what it is? Like Foulkie said, you didn’t realize what you were getting into. But the truth of the matter is that group of guys, the family — it wasn’t just a team. It was a unit that literally hung out together and ate together and liked each other. That doesn’t go on. You can’t buy that. That was the one thing about that that I remember is that we all went to different teams, we all played on different teams, Foulkie went to Oakland, Pedro played with the Mets, but that one group that we had, we had so many different guys from Billy Mueller to Trot Nixon to Pedro Martinez to crazy Manny Ramirez to Keith Foulke, who had every coolest car in the world and cool little gadget thing to Fake Cowboy Millar to David Ortiz. The group, it was a group. That was the one thing, coming back now and seeing everything, you remember the tightness. We weren’t the best players. We had a few superstars in Pedro and Manny, but we were the best unit, if that makes sense.”
So that chemistry stuff was not overrated when it came to the ’04 Red Sox. Millar could not overstate that enough.
“You hear that a lot, ‘What’s chemistry? If you don’t have players, you don’t have chemistry.’ Bull, bull, bullllll, bull, OK? You’ve got to pull for each other. You’re not fooling us. We can fool you guys. You can say the right thing, and we know a few of the teams out there that say the right thing in front of the cameras. But you can’t fool your teammates. If someone is pulling against Keith Foulke because he wants to be the closer and doesn’t know his role, you feel that. If someone is pulling against Pedro Martinez because he wants to be the guy, you feel that. We pulled for each other. That was what was cool.”
Was there a point the players sensed this uncanny chemistry?
“It’s one of those things you don’t sense,” Foulke said. “It’s there. Probably when you look at it now, looking back, that’s when you understand what it was. Like Kev said, we were buddies. When your buddy goes out there, if Johnny is running into a wall or whatever, you want to work harder to make sure that effort doesn’t go for naught. We’re a family. You go to battle with your brothers.”
“We had a lot of team dinners,” Pedro said. “A lot of them. We used to go out all of us together. Six in one pack, six in the other pack. ‘Where you going to be? We’ll be in this place. We’re having dinner in this place.’ But we were all in the same place at the same time.”
How hard would it have been for Martinez to have left Boston without the World Series championship?
“I would probably retire right after then,” he said. “I would have been so disappointed that I came in here with a purpose, and that was the purpose. I’ll probably say that I was the only player out of all the players that felt like he had something to achieve for this team. I was called in to build the team around me as the ace of the team. It took me until the last year to actually finally get it, but I could easily say, ‘Mission accomplished.’ I’ve actually been to the Green Monster many times. This is the first time I’m actually going to express this. After I got in, everybody normally has the history of signing the Green Monster. I refused to until I won it for Boston. I keep forgetting — every time I come back I keep forgetting — but now I feel like I can sign it, and leave my name in the Green Monster. I haven’t signed it yet.”
Funny how timing can be. With the rampant speculation about Bobby Valentine’s future with the Red Sox, what better time for John Farrell and the Blue Jays to come to town?
It is a poorly-kept secret that Farrell was likely the top choice to succeed Terry Francona as Boston’s manager following last season, but the Blue Jays had no interest in freeing him from his contract.
Maybe things have changed a little a year later. The Blue Jays, much like the Red Sox, are having an unsuccessful season in which they’ve been ravaged by injuries. Now, Farrell has just one season left on his contract.
If the Red Sox decide that Valentine — who also has one year left on his contract — isn’t their manager beyond this season, you’d like to think a deal could be worked out with Toronto for Farrell.
Anyway, with limbo being the obvious way to describe the current situation, here are some thoughts from Farrell:
“There’s a lot of speculation, obviously, but as I said last week in Toronto. I’m the manager of the Blue Jays. This is where my focus and commitment is. I’m under contract. That’s obvious,” Farrell said. “If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. At the same time, we’ve dealt with a lot of challenges ourselves. I can understand the natural connection, because I’ve worked here in the past, but my focus is clearly with the Blue Jays.”
“I don’t look at other situations, because my focus is here. We’ve got a lot of challenges ourselves with getting guys back on the field. I’ll say this – knowing what the Red Sox have gone through, with the amount of players they’ve lost to injury, I can empathize with Bobby and having to deal with a lot of changes to the roster. And because of that change, you’re always trying to filter in new guys and get an understanding of what their capabilities are and how you can best utilize them to win a ballgame.
Did Farrell expect there to be such a buzz surrounding his latest return to Boston? “I don’t know that you can fully anticipate anything. You understand there are articles written, there’s things that are out there. With respect to everyone involved, my focus is right here in this dugout in this uniform.
If Farrell stayed in Toronto, would he want assurances beyond next season, asked Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston?
“Gordon, you’re putting the cart way before the horse with that. My contract is through 2013. My approach day in and day out doesn’t hinge upon my status. My focus and attention is today, right here. ”
Boston vs. Toronto? “Any place is going to have its own uniqueness to it. Managing is an honor. It’s a challenge at the same time. Different positions have different sets of challenges that are connected to them. Regardless of where you are, the focus remains on your task and duties at hand and doing the best job that you’re capable of at the time and that’s my focus right now, the challenge the Blue Jays have to face.
On what Terry Francona accomplished. “Having been in that dugout for four years, you do get the opportunity and the privilege to see it firsthand. He was a very successful manager, balanced a lot of different things both inside and out, he did a very good job. The history and the record speaks to that.”
“Through it all, through the ups and downs along the way, the one thing Tito always talked about was be true to yourself. As long as you can look yourself in the mirror and know that you did what you felt was the right thing to do, and that being the players come first, as long as you keep the players first in your decision-making and your thoughts toward them individually, you’re probably guided in the right direction to the right thing.”
Obviously, managers in Boston are under tremendous scrutiny. “I’ve never managed in Boston. I’ve only managed in one place, and that’s right here in Toronto. Having worked in Boston, sure, there’s a tremendous fan base that’s very passionate, the expectations are very high, but as a competitor, that’s what you aspire to do and be involved in.”
More on empathizing with Bobby V.
“As a manager, yes. We’ve had a lot of the same situations unfold, and it’s not easy. Its definitely not easy. We come in here today with a rotation that’s mapped out, and yet you come into the ballpark, you’re waiting for the next phone call, and in this case it’s J.A. Happ is out for the year. Not are you on Plan A or B; right now both teams are on Plan T or U. That’s where we’re at.”
How much does Farrell enjoy managing? “I love it. It’s an honor to be in the position entrusted with the team, to run a team at field level, and that’s never taken lightly. I can’t wait to get to the ballpark every day.”
Obviously, Farrell still has ties in the Red Sox organization.
“I had the fortunate ability to work closely with guys that I respect and guys that we have history even prior to working here in Boston, whether it was Mike Hazen and I running the farm system in Cleveland. Not only are they professional colleagues, on some level they became personal friends. We had success, we shared a lot of challenges along the way. That’s what you would hope would take place having worked for a number of years in one place or another.”