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Captain Carl, Jim Ed were kindred spirits

By John Powers
Globe Staff / July 24, 2009

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Carl Yastrzemski had held the title on and off for the better part of a decade, so the rookie from South Carolina wasn’t sure about the formalities.

“I don’t know if he was the captain in 1975 or not, but I called him Captain and I call him Captain now,’’ Jim Rice says. “He always has been my captain.’’

When Rice arrived in Boston for what would be a permanent stay, he found his exemplars in the two men who’d played left field before him. He used Ted Williams’s “The Science of Hitting’’ as his batting bible and observed Yastrzemski closely to learn how an established star went about his business.

“I tried to come in every day and take notes within myself, to see how a veteran player prepared himself,’’ says Rice. “Sometimes, he used to get here before the clubhouse people. I said, this man is 37 years old and he’s playing every day.’’

Yastrzemski quickly recognized a kindred spirit.

“I saw the same work ethic and that desire to be the best,’’ he says. “He made himself a great player. It wasn’t just the ability, it was the pride he had.’’

It was, both men believed, a privilege and a responsibility to be in the lineup every day. Late in the 1977 season, when the Sox still were in contention and playing a twinight doubleheader at Toronto, manager Don Zimmer asked Yastrzemski which game he wanted to play.

“He looked at me and said, ‘What do you mean?’ ’’ recalls Zimmer. “That’s the way Rice was, too.’’

The skipper was so certain of their availability that he automatically scribbled both names into the lineup the night before a day game.

“It was pretty nice when you could write them in third and fourth every day,’’ Zimmer says.

For nine years Boston managers had that luxury, without having to worry about soothing chafed egos.

“There’s a lot of jealousy in this game,’’ says Zimmer, “but there was never nothing between Yaz and Jimmy.’’

What there was, was a sense of shared professional values and an appreciation of the importance of continuity. On his final day in the game in 1983, Yastrzemski made a point of standing atop the dugout steps and leading the standing ovation for his heir apparent, even though Rice wouldn’t assume the captaincy for two more years.

It was, Rice observed later, as if Yaz had chosen him for a leadership position that technically didn’t exist but was generally acknowledged.

“When they put your name before the ball club, it tells you you’re a hell of a player,’’ Rice says. “They never said the Red Sox and Carl Yastrzemski. They said Carl Yastrzemski and the Red Sox.’’

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