Carl Yastrzemski 1978 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 4, 2017

IMG_1429Happy Labor Day everyone. I guess if I have listed the first two batters who made the 3 outs to end the 1975 World Series in Juan Beniquez and Bob Montgomery, I might as well bring up Yaz as well.

You’ve probably seen the clip. Yaz was the Red Sox last hope in the 1975 World Series and he flew out to Cesar Geronimo in centerfield, ending possibly the greatest World Series ever played.

Yaz also popped out to end the 1978 Bucky Dent playoff game. (He also homered off of Ron Guidry in that game, for the record.)

There is a lot to unpack in a post honoring Carl Yastrzemski. He was and remains one of my favorite players of all time. There was a sense of royalty to him when I started following the Red Sox in the late 1970’s. Yaz had already been there for 15-16 years when I was a young fan. He was a link to a long time before I rooted for teams or before I was born for that manner.

I had no shortage of Yaz cards to pull for this post. I liked this one from 1978. That was the first year I collected cards and I was super excited to get this one. He looked like a person of authority, looking up at… something. I am not sure what. But man he looks important.

And hey look! He has the shield showing he was an All Star then. He wasn’t just an old guy playing out the string.

Yaz was my grandmother’s favorite player. I think a lot of New Englanders of earlier generations liked him because he was a nice Catholic boy who went to nice Catholic schools and was from the Northeast (he was from Long Island.) So all these added to him being like someone from the neighborhood winning in Boston.

Also, all of what we think of as “Red Sox Nation” can be traced back to 1967. This notion that New Englanders flocked to their beloved Fenway Park and made summer days all about the Red Sox was not true for a long time. Fenway Park was considered an old dump and the Yawkeys (the pieces of shit that owned the Red Sox for decades) threatened to move the team if they didn’t get a multipurpose Astroturf new stadium to replace Fenway.

You read that right.

Then Yaz and the 1967 pennant race came about. People rediscovered Fenway Park and the love for the Red Sox. It hasn’t gone away and Yaz was a big part of that. Maybe he was THE part of it.

I remember in 1979, the first year I really followed baseball day in and day out, Yaz was the big story in Boston. He had a chance to become the first American League player with 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. He hit homer 400 on July 25th.

Khans Hot Dogs and Hilshire Farms, the companies that made Fenway Franks, had a contest. Mail in the day you think Yaz will get hit 3,000 and the winner will get a T-Shirt, a Poster and … um… maybe some hot dogs, I don’t remember.

I dutifully wrote some date on the order form that came with the hot dogs. Then as he inched closer to 3,000, I began to watch each day I could. Remember this was before cable TV and MLB.com. Not every game was televised.

But more games were shown on TV 38 because of the Yaz chase.

On September 9th against the eventual AL Champion Orioles, Yaz got hit 2,999. On September 10, he went 0 for 4. On September 11 against the Yankees, he also went hitless.

Scalpers were having a field day selling tickets with anticipation for hit 3,000 being stretched out for a few more days.

The September 12th game was against the Yankees. Yaz needed one more hit but they were about to go on a road trip. It would have been anticlimactic if he passed 3,000 in Baltimore or Toronto.

I was watching dutifully in our living room in Weston, Massachusetts.

In the first inning, Yaz walked and came around to score when Jim Rice homered off of Catfish Hunter.

My favorite player, Butch Hobson, doubled to start a 3 run rally in the 4th but Yaz ended the scoring by grounding to second for the third out.

Yaz led off the 6th with a grounder and it was looking like this was going to be another fruitless night in pursuit of 3,000.

In the 8th, Yaz came up against reliever Jim Beattie with 2 outs and nobody on and the Red Sox up 8-2. He swung and ground it just past Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph. He did it. As announcer Ned Martin described it “All hell breaks loose in Fenway.” His kid ran out to meet him at first. police and cameras surrounded him. He gave a speech and received a standing ovation. Pinch runner Jim Dwyer took over for him at first.

And where was your pal Sully? I missed it. I went to the bathroom. After watching him ground out and pop up for days, I was sitting on the toilet when Yaz got 3,000. An early lesson was learned. Don’t leave. You might miss something.

By the way, a few weeks later, we were mailed a Yaz T Shirt and poster from Hillshire Farms and Kahns Hot Dogs. We won. Or maybe everyone got that, I don’t know. I always felt like a winner.

In 1983, we went to a bunch of Red Sox games even though the team wasn’t very good. It was the last year of Yaz and it seemed like everyone in New England came out that year to say good bye. I didn’t miss his final at bat, which he popped up to end his career. That game he ran around Fenway Park, high fiving the fans. He did that 12 years before Ripken. That was a Yaz move.

Finally, he was one of my favorite players and a symbol of my childhood and connection to a previous generation. And yet, even as I type this sentence, I have to carefully look at his name so I do not mistype it.

Y… A… S… T… R… Z… E… M… S… K… I…

It is that Z after the R that always throws me off.

Bob Montgomery 1973 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 3, 2017

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Before I talk about Monty, I must say, the 1973 Topps cards could be my favorite of all time. They were simple and yet had the iconic silhouette of the player in the lower right hand corner which was just so cool.

I never had many of these because I WAS ONE YEAR OLD WHEN THEY CAME OUT. I supposed this creased and battered card probably existed in my grandmothers house in Connecticut where one of my older cousins probably had it.

Bob Montgomery is a Red Sox institution. He has been involved with the club for so long that it is hard to remember a time where he wasn’t doing something for the team.

He was born and raised in Tennessee and was signed by the Red Sox out of high school as an outfielder. He switched to catching in the minor leagues as a way to get promoted faster. He made it to the majors in 1970 and never went back to the minors. From 1971 to 1979, he was a major league from the start of the year to finish. And only twice did he play more than 40 games in a season.

Monty was the classic backup. His job was to fill in for Carlton Fisk and give him a breather from time to time. His batting average sometimes looked insanely high on paper. He hit .320 in 1973, in 128 at bats. He was a .300 hitter in 1977, in 17 games. In his final big league season he was a .349 hitter, in 86 at bats.

Sometimes, especially when Fisk went into a slump, some fans wanted Montgomery to be the starter, since he was such a prolific hitter. Here’s the problem. He didn’t want that. He knew that if he was a starter, that batting average would PLUMMET.

He had a great gig and was a fan favorite. He even posed for Jordan Marsh ads. For those of you who do not know, Jordan Marsh was a chain of stores in the Boston area that included clothing and fashion. And who better to model clothes than a stylish backup catcher for the Red Sox?

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The style extended to his times at bat. In 1971, players were required to wear a helmet when they came to bat. Those who played before 1971 could be exempted and be grandfathered in. Monty played 22 games before 1971, so guess what? He chose to NOT wear a helmet.

He would come to the plate with a soft hat on which he put a liner in the inside to protect him. I am guessing a helmet would have been smart for him to wear.

When I was a kid starting to read stats in the 1979 yearbook, I saw several players on the team had played in the 1975 World Series. Monty was one of them. He had one at bat.

Now when you see a reserve catcher, one who was following World Series hero Carlton Fisk, got only one at bat, usually that means they got a mercy at bat in a blow out game. I figured he was in a situation where it was a game the team looked like they were going to lose and the manager said “Put Monty in there. It’s his only chance to play in the World Series.”

That’s what I assumed.

Holy Cow was I wrong.

What was the low leverage situation that Bob Montgomery made his lone appearance in the 1975 post season in? IN THE BOTTOM OF THE NINTH OF GAME 7 OF THE WORLD SERIES!!!!

The Reds were leading by one run in the bottom of the ninth with Will McEneaney on the mound. As I wrote yesterday, Juan Beniquez came up as a pinch hitter for Rick Miller and flew out to the right fielder Ken Griffey.

Denny Doyle was up next. Manager Darrell Johnson decided to roll the dice. Monty was a right handed hitter and as I mentioned before, got his share of hits in a small sample size. Where he was a situation where a single would have changed the complexion of the inning.

If Montgomery got a single, chances are he would have been lifted for pinch runner Doug Griffin (Monty was pinch hitting for second baseman Doyle.)

Yaz was up next. Fisk followed with Fred Lynn after him. If they batted with a runner on, a home run would win the World Series for the Red Sox.

One thing Monty’s at bat does bring up through the eyes of a fan in 2017 is the flawed line up construction they had in the 1970’s. Why are two batters who can be pinch hit for higher up in the lineup than a pair of Hall of Famers and the man who was the MVP in 1975?

The point was moot. Monty grounded out, making it 2 outs and nobody on. Will McEneaney got Yastrzemski to pop up and end the World Series. Ahhh if only Monty got that hit.

He played for the Sox through 1979 and was one of the announcers of the team through the 1980’s and into the 1990’s. He still makes guest appearances on the broadcast and will also announce for the Pawtucket and Portland minor league teams for the Sox. He evidently also runs a board game company.

So Monty made one post season appearance while wearing a soft hat. It was with one of the greatest World Series in history on the line. He didn’t get the World Series ring. He DID win 11 Emmy Awards as an announcer which, I must say, it quite impressive.

Almost as impressive as his batting average in those short seasons.

Juan Beniquez 1980 Topps – Sully Baseball Card of the Day for September 2, 2017

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The Red Sox were not exactly pioneers in opening up doors to players from the Caribbean in the 1970’s. Remember, they WERE still being run by Tom Yawkey who liked his team Lilly White. But there were a smattering of Spanish names on the roster in the 70’s.

Luis Tiant, Luis Aparicio and Juan Marichal were on the team. So was Roger Moret. Juan Beniquez was signed by Ray Negron in 1968. He was an 18 year old infielder that the Sox were hoping would be the heir to Aparicio.

He played a handful of games at shortstop in 1971 and 1972 but his defense was suspect and off he went to the minors to work on his defense.

While in the minor leagues in Pawtucket and Louisville, Beniquez hit for a decent average, good power and lots of speed. He got 16 triples and 30 stolen bases at Louisville in 1971. He batted .298 with 13 homers at Pawtucket in 1973. With a Red Sox team loaded with young hitting stars, Beniquez looked like he was going to fit in well.

He was the regular center fielder in 1974 and began 1975 as the starting left fielder and lead off man. But the emergence of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn with Yaz, Evans and Cecil Cooper still on the squad, Beniquez found himself riding the bench.

He did well as a part time player, batting .291. Beniquez was labeled as having a “bad attitude”, but a lot of non white Red Sox players got that reputation while having great reps elsewhere. Funny how that works.

After 1975, he was traded to the Rangers in the Fergie Jenkins trade, earning a Gold Glove in 1977. Later he was sent to the Yankees in the deal that sent Sparky Lyle to Texas and Dave Righetti to the Yankees.

He bounced from team to team. From 1978 to 1981, he played for a different team every year going from Texas to the Yankees to the Mariners to the Angels. It was in Anaheim that Beniquez found his swing.

He batted .305 in 1983 and .336 in 1984, finishing 25th in the MVP race. He remained a .300 batter for the Angels in 1985 and Baltimore in 1986 before bouncing between the Royals and Blue Jays in 1987 and 1988.

A valuable role player, he had the biggest and most pressure filled at bat as a member of the Red Sox.

Jim Rice was injured in the post season and Beniquez got some playing time, starting each game of the ALCS victory over Oakland. But with no DH in the World Series, Yaz played left, Cecil Cooper played first and Beniquez rode the bench again except for Game 4 when he started in left.

In Game 7, Beniquez was on the bench until the bottom of the 9th. The Reds took the lead with 2 outs in the top of the 9th. The Red Sox needed one to tie and two to win the World Series. With Rick Miller coming up against left handed reliever Will McEnaney, manager Darrell Johnson chose to send Beniquez up as a pinch hitter. If he got on, they would have speed on the basepaths for the tying run with the likes of Yaz, Fisk and Lynn coming up.

He had the ball 1 ball and 1 strike but he flew out for the first out of the inning. The Red Sox would go 1-2-3 in the 9th. The chance for Game 7 as being the Juan Beniquez game did not come true.

OK, so he wasn’t a post season legend. He DID play for 15+ seasons and managed to be quite the part time hitter, and that isn’t bad.