Carl Yastrzemski replaced a legend in left field for the Boston Red Sox. By the time his 23-year career was over, Yastrzemski was a legend himself.
Yastrzemski replaced Ted Williams in Boston's lineup in 1961, stepping into the spotlight as a much-heralded rookie with only two seasons of minor league experience. Raised in Bridgehampton, N.Y., on his family's potato farm, Yastrzemski briefly attended Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship before signing a professional baseball contract for $100,000.
Originally a second baseman in the minors, Yaz moved to left field when Williams vacated the spot for the 1961 season. He drove in 80 runs in his rookie season, received support in the American League Most Valuable Player voting in 1962 and a year later made his first All-Star Game, won the first of his seven Gold Glove Awards for his work in left field and led the league with a .321 batting average.
By 1967, Yastrzemski had grown stronger via a dedicated weight lifting regime. That season, he produced one of the most memorable campaigns in history when he won the AL Triple Crown while leading the Impossible Dream Red Sox from ninth place in 1966 to the American League pennant. Yastrzemski also led the AL in runs, hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases that year as Boston clinched the pennant on the final day of the season.
In his final 37 at-bats of the season – with the Red Sox's season riding on virtually every one of them – Yastrzemski totaled 20 hits (for a .541 batting average) with thee home runs and 14 RBI. The Red Sox lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series, but the season rekindled the fan base's passion for the team that remains to this day. In an announcement that was a foregone conclusion, Yastrzemski was named the AL MVP.
Yastrzemski won his third batting title in 1968, finishing fast to hit .301 as the only AL player to reach the .300 mark in the Year of the Pitcher. In 1970, he nearly duplicated his 1967 season with a .329 batting average, 40 home runs, 102 RBI and a league-high 125 runs scored.
He continued to be productive well into his 30s, helping the Red Sox win another AL pennant in 1975 and then topping the 100-RBI mark in 1976 and 1977. In 1979, Yastrzemski became the first American League player to tally more than 3,000 hits and 400 home runs, reaching both milestones that season.
Yastrzemski spent his entire 23-year career in Boston, where he was an 18-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner. He retired following the 1983 season with 3,419 hits, 1,816 runs scored, 452 home runs, 1,844 RBI and 1,845 walks. He is one of three players in history – along with Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth – to total at least 1,800 runs scored, 1,800 RBI and 1,800 walks.
"I think about baseball when I wake up in the morning," Yastrzemski said. "I think about it all day and I dream about it at night. The only time I don't think about it is when I'm playing it."
Yastrzemski was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.