The summer that changed Boston

The nation was splintering, and Boston wasn’t immune. But something was happening here. Boston had long treated its ball club as an afterthought, but then on Opening Day 1967: the first glimmer of an implausible dream.

April 5 1967 / fromthearchive / Globe Staff photo by Ollie Noonan Jr. /   Fenway Park was  almost in shape for opening game as painters and ground crews put on the finishing touches.
After three weeks of frenzied work to thaw out Fenway Park following a brutal winter, the park appeared to be in good shape as workers applied the finishing touches on April 5, 1967, six days before the scheduled opener. More snow would fall April 7. –Ollie Noonan Jr. / The Boston Globe

The winter of ’67 had been brutal, a snow-covered March blurring into a frost-bitten April, and the pictures of flame-throwers and helicopters desperately trying to thaw Fenway Park in time for Opening Day made more than a few people wonder: Why bother?

Eight straight years the Sox had finished in the bottom half of the American League — the “second division,” they called it — 100 losses in 1965, a ninth-place finish in ’66, and rarely did they even fill their little ballpark halfway. Twice in ’66 they had played to just 1,000 fans, and once in ’65 they drew a mere 409, meaning 98.8 percent of the seats that day were empty.


Why bother indeed. Those Red Sox weren’t just mediocre, they were apathetic, branded a “country club” and “the Fenway Millionaires,” many of the players coasting under a succession of the aging owner’s front-office cronies and drinking-buddy managers.

Except now some close watchers — and there weren’t many — sensed changes afoot for ’67. The Sox were a young club with a new manager named Dick Williams, a crewcut drill instructor who had barked his way through spring training, setting a strict curfew, holding daily weigh-ins, and imposing a jacket-and-tie dress code, all while hammering away at foreign concepts such as bunting, stealing, and hitting behind the runner.

But that could only take you so far. John Gillooly of the Record-American mocked the pitching staff with a reference to a scrawny 17-year-old supermodel: “as thin as Twiggy and twice as curveless.” One Vegas oddsmaker set Boston’s chances of winning the pennant at 50-1, another at 100-1.

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