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Sunday, March 30, 2014

1967 Red Sox: The Impossible Dream Season: A Review

The Boston Red Sox are reigning World Series champions and have won three titles in just the past decade. In the more than 100 years of their existence, they have won eight World Series and been one of the best-known and popular teams in all of baseball. However, their 1967 squad, whose improbable success was known as the “impossible dream” but fell short of winning it all, has arguably endured as the most memorable of all their teams for fans.

1967 Boston Red Sox: The Impossible Dream Season by Raymond Sinibaldi (Arcadia Publishing) details the rise and run of the ’67 team through an impressive collection of 200 black and white photographs. Although Sinibaldi largely lets the pictures do the talking, his captioning provides valuable context, and his introduction to each chapter frames the importance of the season against his own experiences as a young fan dealing with dealing with his brother’s deployment in the Vietnam War.

Red Sox fans had become accustomed to failure leading up to the 1967 season. Boston had last won a World Series in 1918 and endured numerous challenging seasons, occasionally interrupted by great teams that were never able to find themselves as the last one standing at the end.

After going 72-90 in 1966, the Red Sox won 92 games and the American League pennant in 1967 before losing to the heavily favored St. Louis Cardinals in seven games in the World Series. The team may have come up just short but their out-of-nowhere success and the often thrilling ways they won games with a cast of likable and talented characters firmly stamped their place in the history books and the hearts of Boston fans forever.

Sinibaldi’s work obviously has strong personal overtones. However, many fans can claim a similar affinity to a particular sports team and season because of how they were able to emotionally invest and connect; in many cases helping fill whatever voids existed in their lives at the time. That doesn’t make the importance of the 1967 Red Sox any less important. To the contrary, the timeless sentiment and warm regard is indicative of the special place the team occupies for so many.

The collection of photographs that comprises 1967 Red Sox is impressive and comprehensive. Cumulatively, they form a cohesive and entertaining pictorial essay that tells the story of the historic team. Instead of simply being action shots of important moments during the season, careful attention is paid to include pictures explaining how the ’67 team came to be and its composition, right down to the players who had the briefest cups of coffee and sat at the furthest ends of the bench.

With all the detail comes an ample spotlight on the most important figures from the impossible dream team; with outfielder Carl Yastrzemski, outfielder Tony Conigliaro, pitcher Jim Lonborg and manager Dick Williams being among the most prominent.

The beauty of 1967 Red Sox is the way it puts the magical season in the context of the topsy turvy world that was swirling around at the same time. The war, the Civil Rights movement and the particularly contentious racial issues happening in Boston made for a difficult and uncertain existence. Calling a baseball team a respite could be cliché, but it was never truer than in the case of this one season.

Boston was a hotbed of racial strife in the ‘60s and the Red Sox were the last major league team to integrate (in 1959- 12 years after Jackie Robinson debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers). Sinibaldi does cover this but doesn’t make it a focal point of the book. Providing a bit more detail on this issue could have taken the narrative into even more interesting places. However, he does a nice job of spotlighting the African American players who may have been small in number but not in impact on the 1967 team, including Elston Howard, George Scott and Reggie Smith.

1967 Red Sox isn’t just a baseball book. It is also a book about community and finding ways to cope in difficult times through the redemptive qualities of sport. It’s an excellent look back at one of the more memorable times in Boston and baseball, and well worth a look by fans and non-fans alike.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book being reviewed by the publisher, but received no payment or other consideration for this review.

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