Year Inducted: 1989 (BBWAA, ballot #1, 423/447)
Life isn’t always fair, is it? If a player is a right fielder in New York, no matter how great he is there is always the shadow of Babe Ruth hanging over his head. The same could be said of whoever is the catcher in Cincinnati, or the shortstop in Pittsburgh (which it was, unfortunately for Arky Vaughan). The same is true of whoever plays in left field for the Red Sox. Whoever plays there knows that, not only can they never be the best left fielder in Sox history, he can never be the best player in Sox history either, as Ted Williams has that title pretty much for eternity. Yet, when Carl Yastrzemski replaced Williams following Ted’s retirement, little could the Red Sox know that they wouldn’t miss a beat with him in the outfield.
Yaz played his entire 23-year career with the Bosox, mostly patrolling left field but also playing his fair share of first base towards the end of his career when another future Hall of Famer in Jim Rice came onto the scene. Yaz slashed an impressive .285/.379/.462 with a wRC+ of 130. Every single one of Yaz’s 3419 hits came for the Red Sox, a club record. Yaz was a left-handed hitter, but still made great use of Fenway’s cozy left field dimensions to collect 646 doubles, 59 triples and 452 home runs. Yaz was almost instantaneously one of, if not the best, hitters in the American League, winning three batting titles and a Triple Crown over the course of his career. A great run producer, Yastrzemski knocked in and scored over 1800 runs in his long career.
While he wasn’t a great baserunner (and many big players aren’t), he was one of the hardest working players in professional baseball. Yaz was constantly working on improving his game in any facet he thought he was lacking in, and as such became a brilliant outfielder. Yaz was worth 185 fielding runs in his career, including a strong positive amount from when he transitioned to first base (and worked hard to make himself great there).
A great anecdote to underscore how hard Yaz worked occured in 1967. When Yaz won the Triple Crown in 1967, it was the summer of the “Impossible Dream” for the Red Sox. In addition to Yastrzemski’s exploits, the Sox had a surprising contribution from Jim Lonborg who would lead the AL in wins and strikeouts. Buoyed also by the early exploits of Tony Conigliaro (and yes, that was the year Conigliaro got hurt) and an excellent bullpen, the Sox took the AL Pennant and faced off against Bob Gibson in the World Series. After dropping the first game 2-1, Yaz was taking a lot of BP after the game. Tim McCarver, the Cardinals’ catcher, thought that he was going overboard. After 162 games, he still needed extra batting practice? The next night Boston evened up the series with a 5-0 shutout keyed by two Yastrzemski home runs. Boston may not have won that series, but it wasn’t due to Yaz. He had an OPS over 1.300 in the series with three homers and five RBI.
Yaz’s work ethic helped him play in over 3000 games in 23 seasons. Because of this, some of his numbers may seem like they are the production of a compiler, but Yaz was worth at least 2 fWAR in all but five seasons, with most years being above 4 (and an 11 spot in 1967). Yaz finished his career with the 17th most homers and the sixth most hits of all-time. His 94.8 fWAR ranked him 19th all-time, with all the players ahead of him either hitting for slightly more power or playing a more demanding position on the diamond. Yaz may not be the best Red Sox player ever, but he certainly was one of the best to ever step onto the diamond.
Stay tuned for the next updates.
On deck 12/15/16:
#11- The Iron Man
#10- The Grey Eagle