|Members of the Japanese media gather outside Fenway Park's Gate D on Yawkey Way yesterday; before 1967, there wasn't anywhere near the intense Red Sox coverage of today. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)|
Old days are impossible to explain to newcomers
It's hard to explain to the young people that there was life before $312 box seats, bloody socks, $60 parking spaces, and hundreds of photographers on site to shoot two guys from Japan facing one another in a midweek night game in April.
It's hard to convince anyone that there were only 8,234 souls on hand for the home opener 40 years ago, and that Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey was exploring ways to tear down Fenway and build a new ballpark in Boston.
The old men who'll be feted at Fenway today -- they know. They remember a time when Red Sox Nation had approximately the same population as Dunstable, Mass., and 1,247 turned out for a no-hitter (Dave Morehead, 1965), and the lone star was a young batting champ named Carl Yastrzemski.
"There really wasn't Red Sox baseball in my first six years [1961-66] here," Yaz, now 67, said yesterday over the telephone before going out for his daily walk. "There was no enthusiasm from the fans. The focus was on individuals, not team. It was very depressing. We got four tickets for every game, but mine went unused quite a bit."
Yaz and his 1967 pennant-winning teammates and manager will be on hand for today's 107th Red Sox home opener, the 96th opener for Olde Fenway -- the first one featuring a billboard with Japanese script.
Take a good look at the old-timers waving to the crowd today. These are the guys who played the 1967 Impossible Dream season -- the stardust-sprinkled summer that permanently changed the fortunes and the perception of the Boston Red Sox. In the years before '67, the Sox were an annual threat to lose 100 games and hover near the bottom of a 10-team league with the Kansas City Athletics and Washington Senators. Since '67, the local nine have been wildly popular and almost always in contention.
"It changed everything," said Yaz, who won the Triple Crown (which hasn't been done since) in the seminal season. "The Red Sox organization became winners and it became a Red Sox Nation. Baseball in Boston was back. There was a team focus again, instead of a focus on individuals.
"I remember the last month of that season. National writers were coming around [Yaz was featured on the cover of Life], asking about the 'pressure' of it all. I kept saying, 'What pressure? Baseball is fun again. This is much better than playing when you are 25-30 games out of first place.' "
All these years later, there are books and videos celebrating Boston baseball's summer of love. Yaz gets asked about '67 every day. Every play, every day.
"The surprising thing is that people remember more about it than I do," he said with a chuckle. "But once they remind me of something, it all comes back. It never gets old."
Here's another difference between then and now: Today Manny Ramírez makes $20 million per year to patrol left field in Fenway; in '67, Yaz was paid $50,000 to hit .326 with 44 homers and 126 RBIs.
A few of the '67 guys came to Fenway for a press conference at 4 p.m. yesterday. The ballpark was closed to the media until 3:30 because Daisuke Matsuzaka was in the house to do his offday throwing. Trust me when I tell you that the late Bill Crowley never had to close the ballpark when Gary Bell and Darrell Brandon came in for an offday bullpen session. Pre-1967, you could have handed out flyers in Kenmore Square and not been able to attract a crowd nor a camera.
"It's difficult to explain what those days were like," said Yaz, who'll bring his entire family to the game today. "I always remind people that they only had about 12,000 people here (10,454) for Ted Williams's last game."
Now they can just about fill the ancient yard for a Dice-K bullpen session.
Yaz spent a little time with the Sox in spring training and he likes what he sees in the 2007 edition.
"They got an outstanding ball club and that makes a day like today more special," he said. "I really like the pitching on this team. You know they're going to hit, even though it's hard to hit in this weather. I think these new owners have done a tremendous job."
Any impressions of Dice-K?
"I watched him throw on the side a few times in Florida," said the most famous living Red Sox player. "He really can spot the ball, and I think that's his big asset."
Dice-K never will know what it was like here 40 years ago. And it has nothing to do with the language barrier. Some things can't be explained. You have to live through them.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is email@example.com.