Carl Yastrzemski, 1981November 5, 2007
(continued from Carl Yastrzemski, 1980)
OK, I don’t actually have a 1981 Carl Yastrzemski card. As I’ve mentioned before on this site, in 1981 my card-buying dropped off precipitously. I can’t really remember why this happened, but it probably has a lot to do with the fact that my older brother had stopped collecting cards by then. Also, I had just slammed into puberty, so I had other things on my mind. And if that’s not enough, 1981 was also the first time a player strike wiped out a huge swath of games during the season. Unlike the later player-owner standoff, in 1994, baseball was able to return in time for the World Series, but everything seemed a little flimsy during that postseason, as if the proceedings were occurring under an asterisky mist. To that point I had been drawn to baseball in large part because it had been devoid of ambiguity for me, so things never quite seemed the same after the season where everything only sort of counted.
I stopped gathering Cardboard Gods, but I never really let go of some of the dreams that had gone hand in hand with that gathering. One of them was that Yaz would acknowledge me, that he would acknowledge the letter I’d sent him, that he’d somehow hear my praise and the praise of all the other Yazites and break into a smile so wide as to banish sadness forever. Another was that the Red Sox would someday win it all. The picture above is of course from the parade celebrating the attainment of the latter dream. That’s my brother in his just-returned Yaz hat, a piece of victory confetti dangling from the misshapen brim. You can see by the figure at the left that there are duckboats passing by. We must have decided to break from our frenzied cheering to take a picture of one another (I also have a matching shot of me) during one of the happier moments of our lives, the conquering heroes finally riding past, almost close enough to touch. I had heard that former players would be riding in the parade, and I hoped that Yaz was among them so I could cheer him as a champion. But he wasn’t there. In fact, in late October 2004 he was little more than a month removed from losing his only son, Mike. Yaz appeared the following April at Fenway to raise the championship banner with Johnny Pesky. I still hadn’t heard about his son’s death, so as I watched the banner-raising I wondered why Yaz seemed so subdued. The days of suffering are over, I wanted to tell him. Come on, Yaz!
Yaz threw out the first pitch of the World Series this year, and he seemed a little happier, surrounded on the mound by some of his teammates from the great 1967 pennant-winning team. All in all the 2007 championship season was less freighted by the weight of history. This element seems to have extended to the parade, which by all accounts was a buoyant, laughing celebration, best defined by the jigging relief ace and free of thoughts of the past and of loved ones gone beyond and tears of gratitude and joy.
I wasn’t there for the parade this time. If I lived closer I probably would have gone, but in some ways I’m glad to have the parade of 2004, my brother by my side, as the only one in my memory. After the moment captured by the photo above we cheered some more for the last duckboats, then we walked around dazed for a while. I remember seeing a pack of shirtless teenaged boys stagger past with a crudely rendered cardboard sign that read “Show us your boobs!” I bought a championship T-shirt from some guy with a garbage bag full of them. We passed a big guy in a Pedro shirt and an afro wig saying into his cell phone, “So you get the bail money yet?” Eventually my brother and I found ourselves packed in with a crowd on a bridge stretching over the Charles River. We yelled as the duckboats floated by beneath us and then moved up the shore, a continual roar following them from the throngs at the water’s edge and echoing across the river and up into the cold gray sky. Winter was on its way, but for the first time in our lives we were going into it as champions. The sound of the roar rippling up the shore for the 2004 Red Sox sounded exactly like the first crowd-prayer I’d ever heard, that one long unbroken syllable, as if we were all yelling as loud as we possibly could for Yaz.
(Continued in Epilogue)