The Boston Red Sox have a fan base and teams that create memories unlike most sports teams. Often, the two inform and feed off the other. Herb Crehan’s The Impossible Dream 1967 Red Sox: Birth of Red Sox Nation (2016, Summer Game Books) celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of those greatest collaborations, which was so memorable it spawned a team name for the history books and launched an identity for those on the sidelines that persists to this day.
Coming in to the 1967 season the Red Sox had little to look forward to. Mired in the second division since 1959, the team had some great young players like Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg and Tony Conigliaro but had not been able to see it translate to any sort of success in the standings. With rookie manager Dick Williams at the helm there wasn’t necessarily an expectation that was going to change overnight. As it turned out, that was wrong because Boston went on to win 92 games (many in an exceedingly exciting fashion) and took the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the World Series before finally conceding the end of their magical season.
Crehan pivots back and forth from detailing the season and highlighting 13 of the most memorable figures from the 1967 team—from what they did that year to how their career and lives turned out afterwards. From the MVP performance from Yaz to the iron man exploits on the mound of Lonborg, the squad is rife with stories both good and bad. It was such an exciting year that fans were driven to a frenzy, which have remained a strong force ever since.
The fiery Williams ruled the team absolutely but was not always successful in reaching his players. The weight struggles (and confidence) of players like George Scott and Joe Foy impacted their play on the field but somehow did not become issues that derailed the success of their teammates. Williams was blunt if nothing else, and his methodology and the way it worked (or didn’t) in such cases were major storylines that season.
Second baseman Mike Andrews was a nice player but was never a star. Nevertheless, he was a major contributor in 1967 and went on to have a lasting impact in the Boston community through his work with the Jimmy Fund Charity.
Undoubtedly the biggest story on that year’s team was when star outfielder Conigliaro was hit in the face during a game by a pitch and went on to miss the rest of the season and all of 1968. Once looking like a potential future Hall of Famer, the 23 year-old suffered diminished vision, and while he had a couple of productive years upon his return, he was never the same again and out of baseball by the time he was 30. Crehan lingers on the “what might have been” with the slugger, who passed away at the age of 45—his life snuffed out too soon much like his baseball career.
The writing style of The Impossible Dream is formulaic in a baseball book sense. An aggregation of statistics, interviews and follow up are all staples of the genre. That being said there is a reason why they are used so often, and the author does a good job here of combining everything into a cohesive narrative.
It’s hard to believe that the 1967 Boston Red Sox are turning 50 this year. The iconic team is one of few to gain such lofty status in history despite not winning it all at the end. This was due to the combination of dynamic and memorable players, and story lines that captivated a fan base in such a way that they would never be the same again. An impossible dream, indeed!
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.
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