When I first started following Major League baseball in 1960, I did not hate the Boston Red Sox like I do now. There really was no reason to because back then they stunk and my Yankees were the most successful franchise in all of sports. Today of course, things are different. The Red Sox have not only won more World Championships than my Bronx Bombers in the 21st Century, up until the 2019 season, they had a pretty significant edge in talent on their big league roster so it is now much easier to despise those Beantown Bums. But because above all else I am a baseball fan, there have always been individual Red Sox players I admire. The current one is their wonderful right fielder, Mookie Betts, who plays the game the way it was meant to be played. Back when I was a kid my favorite Red Sox was Frank Malzone, who had been born in the Bronx, in the shadows of Yankee Stadium. He was a hustling, hard-hitting and good fielding third baseman and had been a Fenway favorite for years.
Then there was Carl Yastrzemski. The first time I saw him play live was at a 1962 or ’63 Yankees-Red Sox game in the House that Ruth Built. Every time he came up he hit the ball hard and every time a ball came near him in right field, he gobbled it up. Fortunately my Yankees won that day but on my way out of the old Stadium I stopped and purchased a package of 5 x 8 black & white glossy player photos of the Boston Red Sox to add to my growing collection. I got both Malzone and Yastrzemski in that package and I was one happy little baseball fan on the ride back up the thruway that evening.
It was Yastrzemski who would lead the Boston ball club out of the wilderness with his 1967 Triple Crown Performance that helped get the Red Sox to a World Series. By then, the Yankee Dynasty had already crumbled so rooting for Boston and Yastrzemski against St. Louis in the 1967 World Series was easy for me to do, but they lost.
At this point you may be asking yourself why, if this blog is supposed to be celebrating the birthdays of folks who were either born or at one time lived in Amsterdam, NY, you are reading about Carl Yastrzemski, the son of a Long Island potato farmer? Young Carl did live in Amsterdam for a very short while but he made quite an impression while he was here.
The kid who would one day be known simply as “Yaz” came to Amsterdam during the last week of July in 1955 to participate in the New York State Babe Ruth League Tournament. By then, the Rug City had lost both their Yankee minor league franchise and the Bigelow-Sanford carpet mills along with the thousands of jobs that went with it. Organizers were hoping that the scores of families who would be coming to Amsterdam from across the state to watch their boys play would not just enjoy the baseball but also get a great impression of the host city. Those organizers included Mortan Guttenberg, Dick Case, Carl Ferrarra, Mike Valerio, Dick Ruback, Norm McKnight, Joe Janeski, Iggy DiMezza, John Cady, Ray Sinda, Bud McQuatters and Joe Demars. As then-Recorder Sports Editor, Johnny Page observed in one of the columns he wrote which welcomed the Babe Ruth-er’s to our City, “…the Tournament is serving notice that our town is not dead.”
Yastrzemski was the 16-year-old star shortstop and pitcher on a team from Bridgehampton, on Long Island, which was coached by his dad. He quickly put everyone on notice just how good he was when he one-hit a team from Harlem-Valley in the Tournament’s very first contest, striking out 13 while driving in two of his team’s five runs with a single and a double and he was just warming up.
He played short in his team’s second game and slammed two home runs to lead Bridgehampton’s victory over a very good team from nearby Schenectady, 9-3. He again played short in his team’s third tourney game and ripped a double in the 5-1 victory over Auburn. That win sent Bridgehampton into the championship game in which they would face a very good Mattydale ball club, from out near Syracuse. Yastrzemski was the starting pitcher and threw a one-hitter for the first six innings, striking out nine in the process. His team held a 1-0 lead when he took the mound for the seventh and final inning but a single, a broken bat blooper and a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. The young Yaz then struck out the final two batters to win the tournament. His dad, who was Bridgehampton’s third base coach then watched proudly as his son got mobbed by his appreciative teammates.
Five years later, then Recorder sports editor, Bob Wischmeyer started his “Sports Beat” column with the news that a 20-year-old Yastrzemski had just inked a $100,000 contract to play for the Red Sox. In just a few years, fans at Fenway would find out what the Amsterdam fans who watched that ’55 Babe Ruth Tournament at Mohawk Mills already knew. This kid was something special.
What I loved learning about during my research for this post was how a group of former Amsterdam residents, many of whom I knew personally and remember so well, banded together at a time when Amsterdam was reeling with horrible economic news. They put together a youth sports event designed to showcase our City’s beautiful baseball park and then got families from all over New York State to come here, meet our people, eat in our restaurants, lodge here and then return back home with a great impression about our City. The Historic Amsterdam League’s slogan rings very true to me; The key to the Future is the Past.
Note: Since “Yaz” really wasn’t a formal resident of Amsterdam, I want to also wish my longtime friend, high school classmate and fellow HAL member Ray Fyfe (see photo on left) a very Happy Birthday. Ray was born and raised in our City and loves learning about Amsterdam’s history as much as I do so if you see Ray today, wish him a Happy Birthday, or better yet, buy him a beer!