The pecking order of heroes who made the 1967 Red Sox impossible to forget
generally reads something like this: Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Lonborg, Rico
Petrocelli, Dick Williams. Reggie Smith is well down the list.
But to assume he didn't play a major role in the Impossible Dream season
that is still reverently recalled after 30 years would be a mistake. A rookie
in 1967, Smith went on to an outstanding 17-year major league career, the
first seven seasons of which were spent in Boston. But though he appeared in
three World Series with the Dodgers and at various times batted above .300,
hit 30 homers, and drove in 100 runs, Smith's most gratifying accomplishment
may have been his role on the 1967 Red Sox, who rose from ninth place the year
before to capture the American League pennant in a four-way cliffhanger with
the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins, then lost an epic seven-game World Series to
At 51, Smith is the last daily reminder of that fabled team that turned a
foundering franchise into a New England mania. He's the only member of the '67
Sox who's still employed in the majors, as hitting instructor and first base
coach of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his current role, he's deeply involved in
another pennant race, but he has no trouble looking 30 years into the rearview
``You never forget your first World Series,'' he says. ``The others were
exciting, but not as much as the first one, which is burned in my memory. I
think back about all the great players who never got to play in a World Series
and how lucky I was. I got to do it for Boston in my first year in the major
Though he spent most of his time in 1967 and throughout his career as a
center fielder, Smith is the answer to a trivia question: Who was the Opening
Day second baseman on the Impossible Dream team? Before his Fenway Park stay
was finished, he would engage in feuds with management and some teammates and
would be among the first black athletes to openly question the racial climate
in Boston. But none of that was relevant in his rookie year, when first-year
manager Williams relentlessly drove Yaz and the gang to Boston's first pennant
``It was a special season,'' Smith says, ``quite a year for a team that had
several rookies and second-year players. Only maybe a handful of the players,
I recall, had as much as four years in the majors in terms of experience.
``It was a fun time. It was only a 10-team league that year, and we were
the next-to-last team to win a pennant outright without a separate playoff''
before the division format was introduced in 1969. ``I was just glad for a
chance to be in the major leagues.''
Out of nowhere
No one gave the Red Sox a ghost of a chance in 1967. They were led by an
alleged tyrant from Triple A who was managing his first major league team.
Smith was a long shot to make it, even though he had hit .320 in 143 games for
Williams at Toronto in 1966.
Fortunately, Williams appreciated the versatility Smith brought to spring
training. Smith had been signed as a shortstop and had played both second base
and the outfield in the minors.
The circumstances that put Smith in the Opening Day lineup were bizarre, to
say the least.
The story began in 1966 with a series of broken promises. Smith thought he
could make the jump from Double A Pittsfield to Boston. Then manager Billy
Herman thought otherwise. At the end of the season, Herman was fired and Smith
was called up for six games.
In spring training of '67, it looked like more of the same. Smith was
prepared to go back to Triple A, though not willingly.
``I recall being upset because they were sending me out again,'' says
Smith, who was informed of the impending move by general manager Dick
O'Connell. ``That year they could keep 28 players -- three extra for 30 days
-- because of the labor situation. I had a pretty good spring and thought I
deserved the opportunity. O'Connell conceded they might be making a mistake
but wanted to do it, anyway.
``I told them they didn't have to think about it twice. I was out of
options and this was going to be the last time they would do it. I agreed to
go to De Land, Fla., for spring training with the Toronto ball club.''
He never got there. An injury knocked fellow rookie Mike Andrews out of the
lineup, and Smith was the only reserve above Double A who could play two
infield positions and the outfield.
``The next thing I knew,'' he says, ``I was the Opening Day second baseman
at Fenway Park.''
He played six games at second, and when Andrews returned to the lineup
after two weeks, Smith not only stayed up but replaced Jose Tartabull in
center field, playing 144 games there. He batted just .246.
But he was part of the revival.
``In 1967, we lost that losing stigma and developed a reputation for
winning,'' he says. ``That proved to be the turning point for us and the
After a time, Smith remembers, he knew he was part of a quality group.
``You try to pick out some things about that season, and so many come to
mind,'' he says. ``I think about Yaz, Rico, Jim Lonborg, George Scott, Billy
Rohr, Gary Bell, Joe Foy. A lot of guys.''
Unlike his veteran colleagues, Smith was painfully aware of Williams's
``He did things to make you angry,'' says Smith. ``His feeling was that by
doing it, it would make you play better. The one thing I do credit him for is
that he helped us develop a kind of mental toughness that you need to play the
``He would not tolerate mistakes. It didn't take long for you to realize
that you couldn't afford to make them with him and still play. He stressed the
idea mistakes cost ballgames and winning teams just don't make mistakes.''
Although Boston had finished ninth the previous two seasons while losing
190 games in the process, Williams knew the Sox were spiced with winners,
according to Smith, and that it would be the manager's mandate to bring it out
of them. But the initial returns were meager as the club got off to a slow
``Finally, we came together on a 10-game road trip in July of that year,''
says Smith. ``All of a sudden, we discovered we could compete. Most of us in
the minor leagues, we were reminded, had never been on losing ball clubs.
``Under Williams, players had developed a winning attitude that enabled us
to compete with the other teams. That's all we focused on. Williams kept us
focused on winning.''
The grand finale
The 1967 pennant race went down to the final week, even past the final game
for the Red Sox. Although Petrocelli's game-ending catch of a popup that
Sunday afternoon sealed a 5-2 victory over the Twins and created ``pandemonium
on the field,'' in the immortal words of broadcaster Ned Martin, the Sox still
had to sweat out Detroit's doubleheader against the Angels, because a Tiger
victory in the nightcap would have forced a one-game Detroit-Boston playoff.
When California won, it set off a champagne shower in the Boston clubhouse,
where Yaz, still half in uniform, was at the center of the tumult --
fittingly, Smith recalls, for it was the Triple Crown accomplishmenmts of the
onetime petulant owner's pet that made the impossible come true.
``Even when comparing him to today's players, I have yet to see a season
like the one he had,'' says Smith. ``That whole year was dream-like, anyway,
considering what we did and what we accomplished.
``When you're talking about a superstar, you're talking about a person who
can make the people around him play better. No matter what the situation was,
he'd come through. We'd get ourselves into a situation that Yaz could win a
ballgame for us and he did.''
Being in the Opening Day lineup was only one of the indelible April
memories for Smith. He will never forget Rohr's major league debut against the
Yankees on April 14. Rohr hurled 8 2/3 no-hit innings before giving up a
single to Elston Howard, who ironically would be Boston's catcher in the World
Series. Yastrzemski made a highlight-reel catch in the ninth to keep the bid
alive. Bottom line: Boston 3, New York 0.
``That was such a dramatic performance,'' says Smith. ``We all know that
Billy's career went sour after that and he never came close to another one.
But it was typical of what went on that season. You had peaks and valleys. Don
McMahon was there at age 37. Ken Brett came along and at 18 wound up the
youngest pitcher ever to pitch in a World Series. Yaz, Rico, and myself hit
consecutive home runs in Game 6 in Boston.''
The miracle wasn't just happening on the field. It happened for the Fenway
``It was unbelievable,'' says Smith. ``People used to talk about the Boston
Garden and the 13,909 crowd each night. It became the same way with us in
1967. We knew there would be a chance we would have 29-30,000 every night in
little Fenway Park, which was unthinkable.
``They were coming to see a young team that was playing a winning brand of
baseball. You can't fool the East Coast fans. They knew the game. And what we
were giving them for a while was as close to what NL ball was like. For a
while, we were even stealing bases. That was Williams's input.''
The friendships developed along the way can never be recaptured, according
``Ellie brought his knowledge and his leadership and experience from having
played on all those winning teams with the Yankees,'' he says. ``What it did
was settle our pitching staff to the point they began to dominate and become
much more consistent. There was just an aura about him.
``As for Rico, he was a lot like me. A little temperamental. Very sensitive
to his performance because he wanted to do well. He took a lot of pride in his
job. He probably retired a lot sooner than he should have.
``There is no doubt in my mind that Jim [Lonborg] was one of the best
pitchers in the league at that time. He was dominating and feared and put up
the numbers to support that view. He kept us in ballgames and found a way to
win'' on his way to a 22-9 record and the Cy Young Award.
Later there would be much controversy punctuating Smith's Boston tenure.
``But,'' he says, ``I don't want to confuse that period with 1967. It was too
great an experience, and you don't want to spoil the memory.''