Red Sox great Yastrzemski's statue unveiled
Former teammates on hand to honor Fenway fixture in emotional ceremony
BOSTON -- It was nearly 30 years ago when Carl Yastrzemski gave one of the most heartfelt goodbyes of any iconic athlete in Boston sports history.
From foul pole to foul pole, and all along both baselines and behind home plate, Yaz ran by the stands and slapped hands with the fans who had cheered on his heroics for over two decades.
But even in retirement, and despite what he thought at the time was closure, Yastrzemski never really did say goodbye.
He has remained a fixture in the minds of Red Sox fans new and old. Look no further than the No. 8 jerseys which still grace the stands at Fenway Park on a daily basis.
And Sunday, a statue -- which, as Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino said, "immortalizes him at Fenway Park" -- was unveiled in Yaz's honor.
The statue replicates Yaz's final at-bat, when with the crowd roaring for several minutes, he tipped his helmet in salute.
Known for being a stoic man, the 74-year-old Yaz let down his guard and allowed the emotion of the moment to seep in -- just as he did during that two-day retirement festival at Fenway back in 1983.
"I'm deeply honored to stand before you today seeing this statue in front of the place that I called home for 23 years," said Yastrzemski. "This statue means as much to me as being inducted into the Hall of Fame and having my number retired."
As those who observed Yaz throughout his latest day in the spotlight will attest, those were hardly just hollow words.
"He was smiling from ear to ear through the whole thing," said Red Sox president/CEO Larry Lucchino. "He set a Yastrzemski record for smiles."
Surrounded by former teammates Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, Luis Tiant, Bob Stanley, Bill Lee, Rich Gedman, Dick Drago and others, Yaz also had visitors from the current team, including general manager Ben Cherington, manager John Farrell, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and the two current left fielders -- Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes.
The resurgence of the Red Sox made the timing of the unveiling all the more appropriate. Fans packed the street outside of the Gate B entrance where the statue resides and celebrated not just a past hero, but the success of the 2013 team.
And there might not be a bigger fan than Yastrzemski.
At least by public expectations, the last team that overachieved more than the 2013 Red Sox would have to be the 1967 "Impossible Dream" team, which Yaz led all year, and never more than in the final two crucial days of the regular season, when he put his team in the World Series by going 7-for-8.
"In a way, there's a lot of similarities," Yastrzemski said. "They're playing as a great, great unit. There are different guys doing something every day, and that's what you need to win the division, which they did. I'm looking forward to the playoffs, because I think we have an outstanding pitching staff."
Just prior to Boston's game against the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon, Yaz was back inside of Fenway Park, throwing a strike to David Ortiz for the ceremonial first pitch.
A couple of hours before that, during the ceremony, Rice and Evans tried to sum up Yaz's impact.
Showing his lighter side, Rice demonstrated that Yastrzemski was always substance over style.
"For some of you out there who didn't know anything about Yaz, Yaz is the type of person who believed in a couple of things -- short, quick and direct," Rice said. "Anything over five minutes is too long."
Rice took just a couple of minutes to express what he absorbed from Yaz.
"I was able to have a mentor like Johnny Pesky to work with me, and he said that if you're going to be around the game, you need to watch someone that knows how to play the game," Rice said. "And that man was Carl Yastrzemski. I watched him day in and day out, how he prepared himself. He was always the first one to the ballpark, the last one to leave.
"But some of the things I didn't like. He never slept on the plane. I had to sleep on the plane, because we were going coast to coast. And I didn't enjoy the way he used to pack his clothes. Everyone that played with Yaz knew that he could pack his clothes for 15 days, probably in a grocery bag. That's the way he was. But you had to love the man -- the man had character. He set everything by example."
Evans was probably the closest friend Yastrzemski had during his career.
"Carl and I spent a lot of time together, on and off the field," said Evans. "We were in the outfield together, in the clubhouse together, and yes, in fishing boats together. This man had a profound impact on my career. As I think about him, here's what you should know. Carl Yastrzemski was a true leader -- a great captain. It wasn't what he said. It was what he did. This man played hurt more times than I could tell you. A lot of guys played hurt. You guys know it too. But very few can produce. He not only did that, but he taught me how to do that."
Baseball's last Triple Crown winner until Miguel Cabrera produced the feat last season, Yaz inspired a song back in that Impossible Dream season.
On Sunday, Dick Flavin, one of the PA announcers at Fenway Park, crafted a poem that captured the essence of Yastrzemski.
Flavin's poem read as follows: "There's a name for a man who strove every day, persevered at his craft, showed others the way. There's a name for a man who never would rest, who honed all his skills until he was his best. There's a name for a man who made himself great, the working man's hero, he wore number 8. It's a Hall of Fame name, great glory it is, there's a name for that man -- the man known as Yaz."
For Yastrzemski, the hardest thing he had to do during his career was end it. In fact, he almost prolonged it another year. It was something he was torn about even as he finally said farewell to the fans on that Sunday afternoon against the Indians.
"I really wasn't going to retire then [originally]," Yaz said. "I was going to play one more year. I had talked to Haywood Sullivan and Ralph Houk after the All-Star break and I said, 'I'm going to play one more year.' They said, 'We'll just have Yaz Day as a simple ceremony-type thing.' So, what was going through my mind was whether I made the right decision to retire or should I have played one more year? It's tough to leave the game when you loved it so much."
But Yastrzemski won't leave the outside of Fenway Park now. There is a statue the ballpark to serve as a forever reminder.