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Carl Yastrzemski, 1975

October 24, 2007
  

The Yazmobile

Chapter 1

My earliest memory is of chasing after my brother, a toy machine gun in my hands. I wanted to be part of the war game he was playing with his friend Jimmy, but he and Jimmy were too big for me, their legs too long. I couldn’t keep up. Some time around then, my brother began serving as my interpreter. I could make sounds, but no one could understand them as words except my brother, who passed along my wishes to the grown-ups. This arrangement didn’t last that long, but in a way his role as my conduit to the world lasted for many years, stretching into adulthood. We drifted through our twenties together, sharing one small Brooklyn apartment after another, trying to salve the various disappointments of our lives by using the language we’d shared since before I’d even fully known how to speak. The gaps between us grew, our lives inevitably continuing to diverge even as we remained under the same roof, the clutter of our directionless lives entangled. But we always had at least one way to connect, a shared language that had been there for most of our lives, the center of that language the prayer-word Yaz.

The card above is from 1975, the year the shared language got its center. I was seven and my brother was nine. It was our first full year living in Vermont, away from our father, away from the sidewalks and toy machine guns of New Jersey. I’d never paid any attention to baseball before, but suddenly my brother was playing little league and collecting baseball cards, and what he did, I did. This imitative way of being was something that would in many ways define my life, my imitations often going beyond mimicry to become a kind of inward orthodoxy that seized on one or another of the various pursuits of my brother as if they were the exploits of a visionary, each detail worthy of the impassioned scrutiny of a solitary monk. I understand my connection to baseball in this way. My brother liked baseball a lot. In fact, he was a better player than me, bigger and stronger, even able by age 13 to throw a curveball. But I don’t think he grabbed hold of its details as fiercely as I did, something I noticed early on, when we were both still in little league and he tried to argue that Rogers Hornsby, and not Ty Cobb, held the record for highest lifetime batting average. It may have been the first time in my life that I knew more than my brother about something, ironic given that I studied the baseball encyclopedia so assiduously because I subconsciously believed it would bring me closer to my brother.

I had trouble when he went away to boarding school for his junior and senior years. Who was I supposed to be now? When he came back for visits we would stay up late talking, lying on our beds in the dark. He did most of the talking, telling me about the kids in his dorm. True to form, I built these friends of his into the larger than life figures of myth. When I visited him for a weekend at the school and met some of the friends he’d spoken of all I could do was laugh uncontrollably, hysterically, even the most mundane utterance from their mouths seeming to me to be the funniest thing I’d ever heard. Even at the time I realized that I was laughing in large part out of terror. Who was I to be in the presence of these impossibly sophisticated, hilarious gods?

After my brother graduated from the boarding school I followed him there, per the mimicking script of my life. The terror of my earlier visit persisted throughout most of my truncated stay at the school, but it was certainly at its worst in my earliest days there. One bright and sunny Sunday a few weeks in I slipped into the TV room on the first floor of my dorm. The TV room was not a cool place to be, especially on a bright and sunny Sunday when you could be out talking and laughing in your Izod shirt with a gaggle of beautiful girls in front of a leaf-pile, your lacrosse stick perched on your shoulder. My other stints in the TV room thus far had been sad, shame-filled congregations with other dateless and misshapen fellows to watch Michael Jackson and Prince prance around on Friday Night Videos while all the regular kids groped one another through L.L. Bean garments under the soft, English Literature-enhanced boarding school stars. But on this particular Sunday I had no company at all. It was just me and the television, and as I kept my eyes locked on the screen I could occasionally hear people on their way out to join the laughing sounds of autumn, the passers-by probably wondering why the weird kid who looked exactly like his more normal brother was subjecting himself to the unprecedented indignity of watching television during the daytime.

But I guess to my credit, at least in this one instance, I didn’t really care what anyone thought. I had to watch television on this particular Sunday, for it was October 2, 1983. It was Carl Yastrzemski’s last game.

Come on Yaz, I said whenever he came up to bat. I probably meant to say it to myself but I’m sure as the game went on and he kept failing to homer and thus match the renowned adieu of the man who had always cast a shadow over his career, Ted Williams, my little prayer began to sneak out of my mouth, no doubt prompting the more well-adjusted kids ambling by to note that now the weird kid was talking to himself.

By his last at-bat I was pleading out loud to the television, my cracking voice slapping off the concrete TV room walls. It seemed like something I had been doing all my life: pleading for Yaz. He settled into his familiar stance, twirling his bat forward and leaning toward the pitcher slightly, as if trying to hear the pitcher’s internal monologue. The TV thinned the crowd noise to a hollow buzz, but I could still tell that they were all shouting the same syllable as I, everyone wasting the last of their voices on that yawing, fizzling, incantatory sound.

“Come on, Yaz!” I hollered. “Come on, Yaz!

(to be continued)

21 comments

  1. 1.  Just think how much you would have idolized him if you had seen him play from 67-70.


  2. 2.  You know, it’s weird, but I think the fact that I didn’t see him then may have added to his hold on me. Maybe it’s a little like how horror movies where you never see the monster are much scarier than explicit gorefests. All I had to go on were the numbers and the way people’s grateful and pleading reaction to him when he came to bat seemed to reflect those old numbers. The Monster Yaz of ’67-’70 was just out of the frame, looming hugely.


  3. 3.  One of the drug companies is now pushing a birth control product for women called Yaz. I was sickened by this when I saw a TV commercial for it a couple of weeks ago. Is nothing sacred?


  4. 4.  Yaz, yeah, he could hit a little.


  5. 5.  Dude, your writing has been one of the best things to happen to baseball blogging this year. Thanks.


  6. 6.  Alex is right.

    Reading Kevin Smith’s recent collection of blog postings, and waiting for the delivery of Scott Adams’, and recalling the Steven King/Stewart O’Nan book about 2004, tells me that Cardboard Gods needs to be a book.

    Even a vanity press one. I’d buy it. While pricing them for my wife, I noticed that they’re not really all that unreasonable.

    Are you planning to host a World Series chat?


  7. 7.  3 : I saw that. It’s the first thing you see when you Google “Yaz”.

    5 : Thanks a lot, Alex.

    6 : Thanks for asking about the game chat. The Rockies blog Bad Altitude will be handling the Baseball Toaster game chat duties tonight. (I’ve been doing the Red Sox playoff games so far because there’s not a Red Sox blog on Baseball Toaster.) I think when Mark (the Bad Altitude author) heads to the games in Colorado I’ll pinch-hit for him, game-chat-wise.


  8. 8.  7 Thanks, Josh.

    3 I am in that industry, so I see that product quite a lot. I always chuckle a little tiny bit.

    It makes me wonder, though-was no one in that room a baseball fan over the age of 40? They do have committees to dream up names for things, and they actually do try to come up with names that are not confusable with other pharmaceuticals, so as to prevent errors.

    Yaz is a modified version of an earlier product of theirs called Yasmin, which is another somewhat odd name.

    The naming of these products in particular is somewhat bizarre. They seem to work overtime to make them super-girly, giving them names that end in “-essa” and “-elle”, as if there was any other possible market for them.


  9. 9.  Would have been nice if they had done something with the 40 year WS team other then have Yaz give out the lineup.


  10. 10.  9 : Fox didn’t make much mention of the ’67 team, but the Red Sox themselves have been having celebrations throughout the year for the ’67 team. Last night they brought the ’67ers out to the mound and had Yaz throw out the first pitch.


  11. 11.  I’m three quarters Polish, so Yaz was somewhat of a revered personage in our household growing up. WTIC, the Hartford radio station that broadcast Red Sox games, had a contest where they’d give away an autographed ball signed by either Yaz or the whole Sox team (I forget) to the person who guessed what day he would hit his 3,000th hit. Actually, it could’ve been his 400th home run. My brother won the ball. Kids being kids, we used it in a pickup game and lost it in the woods.


  12. 12.  10
    Right, wouldn’t it have been nice to show some 67 footage, or do a segment on Tony C? That team was full of great stories, TV really misses the boat when they have the opportunity to display it’s great history when they have a captive audience.


  13. 13.  This is easily the best blog on the Internet . . . and I’m not just talking about baseball blogs. Keep it up Josh. I’d buy this book too.

    I’m pretty sure Yaz didn’t wear a batting helment during the 1978 playoff game with the Yankees. I have it on VHS. Did he always refuse to wear one?


  14. 14.  11 : “My brother won the ball. Kids being kids, we used it in a pickup game and lost it in the woods.”

    Perfect.

    13 : “I’m pretty sure Yaz didn’t wear a batting helmet during the 1978 playoff game…”

    That’s surprising to me, if it’s indeed true. Yaz’s batting helmet did look a little different than other batting helmets; he modified it to give himself a better sight line, I think. Maybe the modification made it appear at a glance as if he was wearing a cap and not a helmet. I wonder if there’s any clips of that game (such as the final out) on the Internet.


  15. 15.  I have the ’75 all-star game video too, when Yaz hit an HR. To me, that looks like no batting helmet too: http://tinyurl.com/2wpykp


  16. 16.  15 : Sure does look like a regular cap. Here’s a helmeted Yaz in ’67:

    http://i.a.cnn.net/si/2004/baseball/mlb/specials/postseason/2004/10/25/bestcity.reactions/yaz_si.jpg


  17. 17.  Hey Ennui Willie-

    I remember Yaz day on TV-38 WSBK-Boston (you remember they were the folks who broadcasted “The Movie Loft” on Friday nights for dorks like me to watch due to the fact that, back then, I could’t get laid in a morgue) he trotted around Fenway to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Later on, they (I believe the Red Sox organization) presented him with a Ford Bronco II with a fishing boat in-tow. I never new Yaz liked to go fishing. Maybe “they” were confusing him with another great left-fielder…


  18. 18.  Hey Admiral,

    Apparently Yaz loves fishing almost as much as his predecessor, though in the following article he passed on the chance to go fishing with Ted Williams when the Splendid Splinter told him there was no beer allowed on the boat:
    http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/redsox/articles/2005/09/27/fishing_boat_captain/


  19. 19.  Josh,
    You’ve been there…me too. And yes, you captured the moment. I can almost smell the fresh-cut grass in the neighborhood again. As the third of three boys growing up in West Hartford, CT we listened to every BoSox game on the crackling AM radio my mom and dad had in the kitchen. The drama, the heros, the pain. Yaz was my hero, and mine only. My older brothers would mention Ted or one of the guys on the current roster who was hot, but I’d always stick with number 8.

    I had the chance to see a game at Fenway once, the memory is still a blur of excitement…the crowds around the park and walking in, my dad trying to bribe the box seat usher for better seats (I thing it cost him a fin to get us closer), sneaking in our own sandwiches and home-made root beer (my dad worked 16 hours a day, so money was always tight) the Monster looming in front of us (“how they gonna hit it over that, dad?”).

    I’m right-handed. I remember my dad asking me when I was a tike and just learning to swing a bat “why are you swinging left-handed?”. My answer? “Because Yaz does, dad.”

    Godspeed Carl.


  20. I was (and am) a die-hard Yankees fan, and I obviously hated the Red Sox, but my favorite all-time player growing up was Carl Yastrzemski. Is this wrong?


  21. celerinosanchezsombrero: Well, I don’t blame you. He was a loveable ol’ cuss.



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