BOSTON -- Carl Yastrzemski said Wednesday he did not know he had won the American League’s Triple Crown until the day after the 1967 season ended.
“We were so involved in the pennant race, I didn’t know I’d won the Triple Crown until the next day when I read it in the paper,’’ said Yastrzemski, the last man to lead either league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in the same season.
Yastrzemski, 73, was at Fenway Park Wednesday night as part of the Boston Red Sox’s celebration of their all-Fenway Park team, selected in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the ballpark.
Appearing at a media session following the ceremony, Yastrzemski was asked his thoughts about Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown bid. The Tigers third baseman began the night leading the AL in batting with a .329 average, three percentage points higher than Joe Mauer, was first in RBIs with 133, nine more than Josh Hamilton, and trailed Hamilton by one home run, 43 to 42.
Cabrera is the first player since Yastrzemski to lead his league in batting average and RBIs while being within two of the home run leader with two weeks or fewer to go in the season. No player since Yaz led his league in two of the three Triple Crown categories in a season and finished second in the third category, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Somebody’s going to do it, whether Cabrera this year or next year,’’ Yastrzemski said. “I’m surprised that it’s gone on this long, to be perfectly honest. When [Pete] Rose broke [Ty] Cobb’s hit record, I never thought that would happen, and when [Cal] Ripken broke [Lou] Gehrig’s consecutive game record, I never thought that would happen either.
“So it’s going to happen.’’
Being locked in a pennant race deflected the attention from his personal pursuits, Yastrzemski said.
“One thing’s going to help [Cabrera] is he’s in a pennant race,’’ Yastrzemski said. “Of course, there’s more publicity nowadays following him and everything else, what he’s doing every day and so forth. In ’67, the Triple Crown was never mentioned once.
“The only person who mentioned anything at all the last couple of weeks, and I think he referred to the batting title, was Jim Lonborg. He came up to me and we’re playing Baltimore, Frank Robinson was ahead of me a few points, [Lonborg] said, ‘Get some hits today because I’m going to give Frank an 0-fer. And he did.’’
On Sept. 24, with the Red Sox having five games left to play and the Orioles six, Lonborg struck out Robinson twice and induced him to fly out. The Orioles outfielder, who had won the Triple Crown in 1966, batted twice more in that game off reliever Bucky Brandon, going 1-for-2. Yastrzemski went 1-for-4 that day and led Robinson, .317 to .314.
On Sept. 2 that season, Robinson was ahead of Yastrzemski by 22 percentage points, .331 to .309, and with 15 games left, on Sept. 13, led .315 to .309. But in his last 15 games, Yaz batted .491 (27-for-55) with five home runs and 18 RBIs. Robinson batted .273 in that span, and Yaz won the batting title going away, .326 to .311.
Minnesota slugger Harmon Killebrew also hit five home runs in that span and tied Yaz in home runs at 44. Killebrew drove in 12 runs over that stretch and finished eight RBIs behind Yaz, 121 to 113.
How did Yastrzemski, who went 7-for-8 in the last two games of the season as the Red Sox won the pennant on the final day, remain oblivious to the pressure?
“Once I replaced Ted [Williams], nothing ever bothered me again,’’ Yastrzemski said.