September 1967 and the last 'old school' pennant race
By September 1967, our family was settling in Wisconsin and figuring out that it got very cold in November. As my late mother used to joke, the snow and the freezing temperatures didn't feel so cold on the movie screens of her little town in Cuba. She and her sister were paying more attention to Ginger Rogers's hairstyles and wardrobe than the snow in the scenes. Honestly, leaving the tropical climate of Cuba and moving to the U.S. was probably the last thought in her head.
We fell in love with the Minnesota Twins for three reasons. First, they four had Cuban players. Second, we could pick up the games from a central Wisconsin FM station that came in really clear on my father's Telefunken radio. And third, the Braves had left Wisconsin, so we had to look out of state for a team to follow. The Twins became our team with perennial All Star and now Hall-of-Famer Tony Oliva, ex-MVP Zoilo Versalles, outfielder Sandy Valdespino, and back-up catcher Hank Izquierdo.
It was 1967, and there were two leagues. So the A.L. and the N.L. champs met in the World Series. No LCS or wild cards. Just two teams playing in October. Fair or unfair, but a lot of great teams didn't get to play in the post-season.
As the season was counting down, there were four teams in contention for the A.L. pennant after 158 games or the last weekend of the season. They were Boston, Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago.
What an amazing pennant race, as you can read in this article by Tim Wendel:
With two weeks left in the 1967 season, the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and Minnesota Twins were tied for first place in the American League, with the Chicago White Sox a half-game back.
Through the years, baseball has enjoyed plenty of memorable pennant chases and epic finishes. Back in August of 1948, four teams—the Yankees, Indians, Red Sox, and Athletics—were in a virtual tie for the lead.
Eleven years later, the Dodgers, Giants, and Braves battled to the end, with Los Angeles winning a best-of-three playoff.
All great moments, but they cannot surpass 1967, which baseball historian Rob Neyer calls the "best four-team race in major-league history."
As Mr. Wendel explains, most experts had picked the Orioles to repeat as A.L. champs. Unfortunately, the O's had injuries and never got going.
Chicago was eliminated Friday night. Detroit was eliminated on Sunday.
It came down to game #162 between Boston and Minnesota. The Red Sox won, and they went on to the World Series.
It was very exciting, and I remember watching the last two games between Boston and Minnesota on TV. Our hearts were with the Twins, who lost to Boston. Carl Yastrzemski had one of the most unbelievable Septembers in history:
In the final fifteen games of the season, Yaz batted an incredible .491 (27-for-55) with five homers and 18 RBIs, not only locking up his Triple Crown and MVP, but also guaranteeing the Red Sox would play in the postseason. It seemed that the more clutch the situation, the better Yaz played, as he performed even more spectacularly in the final ten games of the season, hitting .541 (20-for-37) with four home runs and 14 RBIs. And in the final six games, he hit .619 (13-for-21).
With two games left in the season, the Red Sox were a game behind the Twins with two to play against them. In those games, Yaz played the greatest games of his life, going 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in the first game, helping the Sox win, 6-4, and 4-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in the final game of the season, helping the Sox win, 5-3. In all, he hit .875 (7-for-8) and knocked in six runs in the final two games of the season.
Again, my brother and I saw it on TV. I hated Yaz with the kind of youthful hate that only a baseball fan can understand. The season was over, and it was time to watch Bart Starr lead the Packers to a Super Bowl win. I felt a lot better with that result.
Let me leave you with this note: Boston beat the Twins, and the game lasted 2 hours and 25 minutes. Who thinks that MLB needs a pitch clock? Just play baseball as we used know it.
Image via Max Pixel.