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Sunday, September 22, 2013
Yaz honored by Fenway statue

By Gordon Edes
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The day and the city belonged to him -- Mayor Tom Menino would make it official in a few minutes. But first, the greatest living player in Red Sox history needed a place to change.

And because he was never one to stand on ceremony, even on a morning the ceremony was for him, Carl Yastrzemski ducked into an unoccupied concession stand a Sox security man opened for him Sunday morning.

He wore a navy blue blazer, a blue shirt, khaki-colored slacks and a red rose pinned to his lapel. He did not wear a tie. With his statue about to be unveiled alongside that of Ted Williams, who never wore a tie, either, it was fitting. To paraphrase Updike, gods don't wear neckties.

Yastrzemski
Carl Yastrzemski, who played 23 seasons with the Sox, sees similarities between this year's team and the Impossible Dream team of 1967.
It has been 30 years since Carl Yastrzemski retired from the Red Sox -- Oct. 2, 1983. It has been 46 years since 1967, Boston's summer of baseball love, when the man they called Yaz stirred New England hearts to embrace an affair that remains as strong as ever today. Which is why it was appropriate that manager John Farrell and players Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava accepted their invitation to represent the 2013 team on this occasion.

To sit there and hear a barbershop quartet called the "The Average Joes" sing the anthem adopted by an earlier generation of Sox fans, "The Impossible Dream,'' the echoes of which have resonated again during this 21st-century, worst-to-first odyssey.

"In a way, there are a lot of similarities,'' Yastrzemski would say of his '67 pennant winners, who had entered the season as 100-to-1 long shots, playing for a new manager, Dick Williams, who had vowed, simply, that his team would win more games than it would lose.

"They're playing as a great, great unit,'' Yaz said of the team that a few hours later would win its final regular-season home game, David Ortiz and Jackie Bradley Jr. hitting home runs in a 5-2 win over the Blue Jays. "Different guys doing something spectacular every day. That's what you need to win the division. I'm looking forward to the playoffs. I think we have an outstanding pitching staff.''

Early-morning rains had not discouraged the several hundred fans who gathered for the unveiling of the latest handiwork of master sculptor Antonio "Toby" Mendez, whose statue of "The Teammates" -- Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Dom DiMaggio -- already has a place of honor outside of Fenway. He had chosen to immortalize the moment in which Yastrzemski, bat in one hand, raised his helmet in acknowledgment of the ovation that greeted the final at-bat of his 23-year career with the Red Sox.

Old teammates had gathered, the famous and the obscure. Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, who both spoke. Luis Tiant and Steamer Stanley. Dick Drago and Rich Gedman, Joe Lahoud and Bob Montgomery. Frank Malzone and Bill Monbouquette, Ted Lepcio and Gary Waslewski. The Spaceman, Bill Lee. David Pesky, Johnny's son, a year after the death of his dad, who was one of Yaz's first managers. Dick Berardino, the longtime Sox coach and instructor.

This statue means as much to me as being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having my number retired.

-- Carl Yastrzemski
The front office was there in force, too. Tom Werner, who was a Harvard freshman in '67 when he went to Fenway for the first time. Larry Lucchino, the CEO, and Ben Cherington.

"What a difference, this year compared to last year,'' Yastrzemski said as he began his speech. "Ben put a team together and John [Farrell] pushed all the right buttons.

"I was talking to Gomes and Nava and Pedroia a little bit before, and what a difference, playing on a winner. I was telling them my first six years with the Red Sox, they were tough years. Twenty-five, 30 games out, by the All-Star break. You lose the incentive. Then '67 came along, and baseball was fun again. You guys made it fun here for the fans of Boston.''

The master of ceremonies, Dick Flavin, had noted that Yastrzemski's greatest regret was the team's failure to win a World Series while he wore the uniform. But on Sunday, Yastrzemski, the most private of men, spoke of a more abiding lament, one that even the presence of his wife, Nancy, and his daughters Mary Ann and Susanne, could not take away.

"I wish my son, Carl Michael, could have been with us,'' he said haltingly. "He was my biggest fan.''

Carl Michael Yastrzemski Jr. had starred in baseball at Florida State. He had advanced as far as Triple-A as a player. He was 43 when he died of a heart attack, in the wake of hip surgery. His son, Mike, was drafted in the 36th round by the Sox in 2009 but elected to play at Vanderbilt instead. He was drafted in the 14th round this June and signed by the Orioles.

"You know, it's a tough thing -- it's hard for a parent to outlive his son, or daughter,'' Yastrzemski would say later. "We were close. I probably went playing an extra three or four years. I used to work out with him all the time in the offseason. He loved it. He gave me a lot of incentive. Like I said, I wish he was here.''

Yastrzemski spoke for just less than three minutes Sunday. Rice had advised not to expect more.

"Yaz was the type of person who believed in a couple of things,'' he said. "Short, quick and direct. Anything over five minutes is too long.''

Joking that Yaz was looking at his watch while he spoke, Rice told of Yaz taking him out to left field to show him how to play the Wall.

"Jimmy, I'm going to show you how to play left field,'' Rice said. "Then he said, [expletive], Jimmy, you're going to have to learn to play there yourself.''

One of the greatest days in Sox history, Flavin said, was the day that Yastrzemski's father, Karol (the name was Anglicized to Carl), threw a Yankees scout out of his house, insulted by the offer that had been made to his son.

"My father was a very quiet man,'' Yastrzemski said. "That's where I probably got it from. Very hard worker. He instilled that in me when I was a young boy. He was a tough, good man. A good man.''

Sunday morning, Carl Yastrzemski, the 74-year-old son of a Long Island potato farmer, gazed upon his bronze likeness in front of the place, he said, he had called home for 23 years. "This statue means as much to me as being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having my number retired,'' he said.

How did it feel to look at a statue of yourself?

"Ha, ha, ha,'' he said. "I look pretty young. The hair's not gray.''

And so he will be, the man they call Yaz. Forever young.