By Bert Lehman
He played his entire 23-year Major League Baseball Hall of Fame career with one team – the Boston Red Sox. In return, Red Sox Nation loved him and referred to him by just three letters – Y-A-Z. That relationship reached its pinnacle in 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did something that had been accomplished only 15 times prior in the history of Major League Baseball. It was in 1967 when Yastrzemski won the batting Triple Crown by leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in.
Winning a batting Triple Crown in Major League Baseball is extremely rare. For comparison, according to www.baseball-reference.com, there have been 39 pitchers who have won the pitching Triple Crown of leading their respective league in wins, ERA and strikeouts.
Despite it being extremely rare, Yastrzemski wasn’t the first Boston Red Sox player to claim a Triple Crown. Red Sox great Ted Williams won the Triple Crown two different years, 1942 and 1947. Williams and Rogers Hornsby are the only two players to win two batting Triple Crowns.
Entering the 1967 Major League Baseball season, Yastrzemski had six solid seasons in the majors under his belt, but nothing during those seasons would have indicated that he was going to have a breakout season, let alone a triple crown season.
During his first six seasons, Yastrzemski only twice batted more than .300, with a high of .321 in 1963. He did lead the American League in batting that season, so him leading the league in batting in 1967 with a .326 average wasn’t surprising.
Leading the league in home runs, though, was surprising. Prior to 1967, Yastrzemski’s career high in home runs was 20 in 1965. Yastrzemski’s power broke out in 1967, as he belted 44 bombs to lead the American League. During the rest of his career he hit 40 home runs in a season only twice, in 1969 and 1970. Other than those years, 28 home runs was the most he hit in a season the rest of his career.
Prior to 1967 Yastrzemski drove in more than 90 runs just one time, when he had 94 RBI in 1962. During the remaining 16 years of Yastrzemski’s career, he drove in more than 100 runs in a season only four times, with 111 RBI his highest.
Entering the final two-game series of the 1967 regular season, Yastrzemski was tied at 43 home runs with Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins played the Red Sox the final two games of the season.
In the first game of that series, Yastrzemski hit a home run in the seventh inning to take the home run lead. Two innings later, Killebrew hit a home run to once again pull even with Yastrzemski. Neither hit a home run in the final game of the season, giving Yastrzemski a share of the home run title and the Triple Crown.
Yastrzemski’s final line for the 1967 season was a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 126 RBI.
In addition to tying with Yastrzemski with 44 home runs, Killebrew was his closest competitor with 113 RBI. Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles finished second to Yastrzemski with a .311 batting average.
Unfortunately for Yastrzemski and the rest of the Red Sox team, the clock struck midnight on the magical 1967 season without a World Series title. The Red Sox fell four games to three to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Since 1967, only one player has won the batting Triple Crown. Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers accomplished the feat in 2012.
Yastrzemski never did win the World Series before he retired after the 1983 season. He was an 18-time All-Star, though, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989.
TOP 5 YAZ CARDS TO COLLECT
- 1960 Topps (No. 148) – It should come as no surprise that Yastrzemski’s rookie card is the card that collectors chase the most. It is different than his other cards as it is a horizontal card. A search on eBay will find many listings for this card. A PSA 8.5 version of this card recently sold for $2,628. Ungraded cards sell in the $200-$250 range.
- 1964 Topps Stand-Up – Some may consider this card as a surprise to the list, but graded examples of this card sell for a premium on eBay. A PSA 8 version of this card recently sold on eBay for $846. The selling price drops to $360 for a PSA 7 version.
1961 Topps (No. 287) – This is Yastrzemski’s first vertical card. That being the case, and the fact this card is still one of his first cards issued, collectors add this card to their collections with regularity. It’s affordable for most collectors with PSA 8 versions selling for around $200.
1976 Topps (No. 230) – This card features Yastrzemski in the follow through of his swing, with the vibrant Red Sox red helmet and socks grabbing the attention of the anyone looking at this card. A PSA 10 recently sold for $710 on eBay, but PSA 9 versions have been obtained for less than $75.
1965 Topps (No. 385) – We are guessing that the image of Yastrzemski on this card is one he posed for during Spring Training. We’ll call the pose “unique.” PSA 9 versions of this card have sold for around $550 on eBay, but are more affordable at around $130 in PSA 8 grades.
Bert Lehman is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Bert.Lehman@fwmedia.com