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The Impossible Dream — 1967 Red Sox Quest for the World Series.

Poster for first New York production of the Man of LaMancha.
Poster for the Man of La Mancha.3

To dream the impossible dream … . Fifty years ago those words immediately brought to mind the hit song1 from The Man of La Mancha, a musical about an elderly knight, Don Quixote, who undertakes noble, but seemingly impossible quests. To baseball fans arriving at Fenway Park in April 1967 the idea of the Red Sox playing in the World Series seemed as unlikely as any of Quixote’s adventures.2

No Matter How Hopeless. The Red Sox were perennial losers in the early 1960s. They hadn’t been to the World Series since 1946 and lost 90 games in 1966. Some games brought fewer than 1,000 fans to Fenway. Red Sox players had a reputation for always being there for last call at watering holes around the American League and the team often seemed more like a country club where players went to have a good time rather than play serious baseball.

But those who were paying attention sensed change in the air as the 1967 season got underway. Pitching ace Jim Lonborg announced he wanted to win 20 games and play in the World Series. Carl Yastrzemski had been shamed into a rigorous program of off-season conditioning. Several promising young players had joined the team and there was a new, no-nonsense manager, Dick Williams. Williams told players who treated loosing lightly that they would soon have something new to hate — him.

Things got off to a good start — Lonborg led the Sox to a 5–4 win over Chicago on Opening Day. By the end of April the Sox were tied for first place and they remained in the middle of the standings throughout May and into June — a lofty position they hadn’t seen in years.

To Fight the Unbeatable Foe. The first-place Chicago White Sox came to Boston in mid-June for a three-game series. During a prior series a few weeks earlier Chicago’s manager, Eddie Stanky, had taunted Yastrzemski by calling him an All-Star from the neck down. Yaz had responded with six hits. Passing third base on a homer, he had tipped his hat at Stanky in Chicago’s dugout.

Carl Yastrzemski on the front cover of Sports Illustrated August 21, 1967.
Yastrzemski on the Cover of Sports Illustrated.4

Now tempers flared as the teams split a double-header; Stanky was ejected and threatening to sue.

The next day the teams met again, remaining scoreless through ten. Then Chicago took the lead in the eleventh and quickly put out Boston’s first two batters. Red Sox fans were starting to leave when third baseman Joe Foy singled. The team’s fate now rested on the shoulders of a kid from Revere, Tony Conigliaro. He dueled with the pitcher until the count was 3–2. Down to the last strike, Conigliaro homered and the stands erupted. The next day Boston papers referred to the 1967 Red Sox season as the Impossible Dream.

To Reach the Unreachable Star. It seemed the heavens had aligned for Boston. Following the All Star break Boston racked up a ten-game winning streak. Fifteen thousand fans greeted them when they returned to Logan Airport, more than had turned out for the Beatles the year before. On August 20 Boston came back from an 8–0 deficit to beat the California Angels. By the end of August Boston was in first place.

Red Sox players celebrate pennant win on October 1, 1967.
Red Sox Celebrate Pennant Win.5

September found four teams vying for the pennant. Yastrzemski was on fire, hitting .523 over the final two weeks of the month. Then Chicago was eliminated and, with two days left, the race was down to three: Boston, Detroit and Minnesota. For the Sox to go to the World Series, they had to win both of their games against first place Minnesota and Detroit had to loose at least one.

Boston won its first game and pitching ace Jim Lonborg was scheduled to start the crucial final match. Most of his 21 wins, however, had been on the road and he had never beaten Minnesota. So when a friend offered him his room at the Boston Sheraton, Lonborg took it — he figured he would pretend it was an away game.

Minnesota took an early lead. Then a bunt put Lonborg on base to open the bottom of the sixth. Two more hits and the bases were loaded with no outs. Yastrzemski drove in two and another came home later in the inning. Two more runs and Boston ended the inning ahead 5–2.

Minnesota rallied in the eighth, but Lonborg held them to one run. Fans burst onto the field when the final out was notched in the ninth.

But the saga was not ended — Detroit was still alive in the second game of a double header. If they won, there would be a one-game playoff. Red Sox players huddled around transistor radios in the clubhouse for hours. Champagne corks popped when Detroit finally lost.

The impossible had happened — the Boston Red Sox were going to the World Series.

* * * * *

Jim Lonborg, Carl Yastrzemski, Dick Williams and George Scott at Fenway with 1967 Awards.
Lonborg, Williams, Yastrzemski and Scott at Fenway in 1968.6

Like many Quixotic quests, this one did not end in total victory. The 1967 World Series went seven games, but in the end Saint Louis prevailed. The Sox would have to wait until 2004 to break the fabled curse of the Bambino.

But the 1967 season brought New England baseball back to life. Never again would the Sox languish in the cellar. Jim Lonborg won the year’s Cy Young Award, Yastrzemski batting’s Triple Crown, first baseman George Scott a Gold Glove and Dick Williams, Manager of the Year. The hearts of Red Sox fans beat proud even without a World Series title for their team had remained true to its glorious quest. As Quixote says in the song “Impossible Dream,” that is what matters.

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  1. You can hear the song sung by Richard Kiley on YouTube. Lyrics are here.
  2. Information for this article comes from: Glenn Stout and Richard Johnson, Red Sox Century, Chapter on Summer of 67 by Dan Shaughnessy, pp. 315-40, Houghton Mifflin (2005); Mark Mulvoy, Virtue is Rewarded, Sports Illustrated (August 21, 1967); Bill Nowlin, October 1, 1967: Red Sox complete “Impossible Dream,” Society for American Baseball Research web site; Rico Petrocelli and Chaz Scoggins, Tales from the 1967 Red Sox, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. (2017); and baseball-reference.com for game statistics.
  3. Poster for Man of La Mancha. Image from Broadway Musical Time Machine: Looking Back at Man of La Mancha.
  4. Cover of Sports Illustrated for August 21, 1967, available on-line at Sports Illustrated Vault.
  5. AP Photo. Image from WBUR web site.
  6. Image from Boston Herald, July 8, 2011.

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Updated June 5, 2017.