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It's impossible to overlook 1967 dreamers

Yes, Yaz threw out Saturday night's first ball. That's not enough.

Nope, not enough '67.

Having Carl Yastrzemski, the man they call Yaz, throw out the ceremonial first pitch for Game 1 of the 2004 World Series was a good thing, but it was also a tip-of-the-iceberg thing. There can never be enough 1967 tribute. Never, never, never, ever, ever, ever, EVER! You hear me?

You shouldn't stop with Captain Carl. If Red Sox management wanted to do it up right, they should have rounded up every living member of the 1967 team. Every last one of them should have been introduced to the crowd because they are the reason the 2004 team is where it is. They are the reason John W. Henry, Tom Werner & Co. are sitting on the mother lode right now. I wonder if these owners know that. Probably not. But they should.

Everything that is happening now with and for the Boston Red Sox is directly attributable to the accomplishments of the 1967 team. There would be no nightly sellouts, no phenomenally lucrative broadcast rights, and none of the other millions in ancillary income were it not for the "Impossible Dream" team that transfixed New England 37 years ago.

The young'uns among us will scoff, but we will forgive them because what they see now is all they know. The Red Sox have broken their attendance record in each of the last five years. This season was the first in Red Sox history in which the team officially sold every ticket for each of the 81 home games, something that was once so unimaginable that even noted Red Sox enthusiast Stephen King could not have formulated the concept in his fertile mind. These are the headiest of times for anyone residing in New England who loves both baseball and the Boston Red Sox.

The young'uns don't remember the Don Buddin/Eddie Bressoud Era.

Here is the state of baseball in this town back in 1966: Sick.

The Red Sox drew a respectable (for the times) 1,129,866 in 1960, which, not coincidentally, was Ted Williams's last year. From 1946-60, they failed to draw a million twice. Even when the team took a downward turn following the 1951 season, Ted remained a significant draw. Somewhere in the '50s he said, "All the American League has is me and the Yankees, and when I go the league is going to be pretty damn dull." Sure enough, he retired after hitting that final at-bat home run on Sept. 28, 1960, and the Red Sox began a steady drift from incompetence to dullness to irrelevance.

From 1961-66, the average Red Sox annual attendance was 812,160. Nowadays, that's 2 1/2 homestands. When I arrived here in the fall of 1964, there was no baseball buzz and no one was rhapsodizing about the glories and wonders of Fenway. Rather than a cathedral of baseball, Fenway was like a battered old sofa at grandma's house.

The baseball climate was entirely different. When Dave Morehead pitched a no-hitter against the Indians Sept. 16, 1965, there were 2,370 in attendance that afternoon. Despite a solid showing in the second half of the 1966 season, the Opening Day attendance in 1967 was 8,234.

Owner Tom Yawkey was no Fenway lover. He had been yelping about the need for a new, modern stadium for some time. Here are his thoughts on the matter, as reported in the June 24, 1967, edition of The Sporting News: "You ask me how I feel about the stadium and I ask you what has changed about the stadium since I left here last fall? As far as I can see, nothing has happened. My position is the same as it was six months ago. I feel the stadium is necessary for Boston, this state, and all of New England."

His glum outlook would quickly change when the team injected itself into the American League race with a 10-game winning streak. Thanks to Yaz, Tony Conigliaro, and Jim Lonborg, thanks to Rico Petrocelli, George Scott, and Reggie Smith, thanks to Joe Foy, Dalton Jones, and Mike Andrews, thanks to Gary Bell, John Wyatt, and Lee Stange, thanks to Russ Gibson, Mike Ryan, and Elston Howard, and thanks to several other contributors, not the least of whom was dynamic manager Dick Williams -- still the gold standard of skippers around here -- the people of New England rediscovered the joys and rewards of baseball.

The world was so different. No ESPN. No Internet chat rooms. No talk radio. Not even a lot of televised games. The mediums were radio, newspapers, and word of mouth, and if someone tells you that you could go from stoplight to stoplight and follow the progress of a game via car radios, or that you could walk through any neighborhood and keep up with the game from radios on front porches, it's all true.

Boston was like a town of baseball Rip Van Winkles, awakening from a long slumber. And it has never looked back.

It was a pennant race for the ages, with four teams still alive till the last Friday, and three fighting for the pennant on the final day. The electrifying events at Fenway on that memorable weekend pair with the Twins was as riveting as baseball gets. Count me among those whose favorite day in their entire Red Sox experience remains Oct. 1, 1967, when the Red Sox won their first pennant in 21 years and people poured into Kenmore Square to celebrate, not to vandalize.

All we now have flowed from that 1967 experience. The events of 1967 set all the forces in motion to produce the financial colossus the Red Sox have become. This is clear and undeniable. The current ownership could never thank either those players, or Dick Williams, enough. But they should try.

If we are back for a Game 6, the only viable choice to throw out that first ball is Dick Williams, who should be standing in front of that mound flanked by as many members of that team as the Red Sox can summon, and that includes Jess Cain, whose daily playing of the "Carl Yastrzemski" song he wrote titillated the gigantic WHDH radio fandom and helped bring people to the ballpark.

Gentlemen, you claim to know and appreciate your history. Prove it. 

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