It takes one to know one: Yaz extols Rice
Carl Yastrzemski is the greatest living Red Sox player, a title he assumed when Ted Williams died in the summer of 2002.
Yaz almost died himself last summer, but he survived a heart event and six-hour triple-bypass surgery, and yesterday he was in the mood to talk about his recovery and some of the nice things Jim Rice said about him Monday.
Rice's election to the Hall of Fame put an exclamation point on Boston's half-century of Hall of Fame left fielders. Yaz picked up the torch from Teddy Ballgame in 1961, turned it over to Rice in 1975, and now the trio will be appropriately immortalized in Cooperstown.
"I don't think any other team can say that," said Yastrzemski, speaking over the phone from Florida. "It's unbelievable. And it makes me happy that we all played our entire career for the Red Sox."
Truly amazing. Williams was a rookie in 1939. He retired in 1960 and Yaz was there to take over left in 1961. Yaz was the Red Sox captain when Jim Ed Rice came up from Pawtucket in September of 1974. Captain Carl happily ceded the left-field turf to Rice in the spring of '75.
"Most of all, my hat goes off to Carl Yastrzemski, because if Yaz had told Zim at that time, 'I'm still playing left field, I don't want to go to first base,' I would have been sitting on the bench," remembered Rice. "But Yaz came out in left field and said, 'Jimmy, I'm going to show you how to play left field.' Yaz took two balls off the left-field wall and said I could have it."
"It was very simple," said Yastrzemski, the maestro of the Monster. "You wanted to have his bat in the lineup. I just talked to him about the Wall. It had just been converted from tin to fiberglass and the bounces were more true. I give Jimmy credit. He worked hard out there. And Johnny Pesky hit him a lot of balls. Pesky did a lot for him."
There was even the transfer of a fielder's mitt.
"Yaz played with only one outfield glove and I have it at my home," said Rice. "He asked for it one day and I said, 'I can't give it back, it's mine.' "
Yastrzemski has a different story.
"Yes, I gave him a glove, but it was one of the ones I hadn't broken in yet," he said. "I used the same outfielder's glove my whole career and I've got it at home. You could say it's pretty well broken in. It's probably only half of the size of the ones they use today.
"I'll say this about Jimmy: He was overdue for the Hall of Fame. I couldn't understand that. One of the greatest things I remember about him came when Don Zimmer was manager, probably in 1977 or '78. We had played a game and I went into Zim's office and he'd already started to make out the lineup card for the next day.
"There were only two names on his card: my name and Jim Rice. Zim said, 'You two go to the post every day, so I put your names in there the night before.' I took that as a tremendous compliment."
Yaz is rarely seen around town. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the first game of the 2007 World Series, but he endured a scare last Aug. 19 when he underwent emergency surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"It crossed my mind that that might have been it," said the beloved outfielder, now 69. "It really was not a pleasant thing to go through. I was like, 'Can't I just take some medicine?' Then came the six-hour surgery. Lucky for me, I was in a great hospital and had a great doctor."
The scare gave Yaz a chance to feel the love from legions of friends and citizens of Red Sox Nation.
"There were a couple of thousand get-well cards sent to Mass. General and a couple of hundred Mass cards and prayer cards," he said. "It was unbelievable. I felt great about that, I really did. I heard from a lot of people I hadn't heard from in a long time."
Now he's playing golf every other day and working out three times a week. He still fishes every chance he gets and he's keeping a close eye on two of his ballplaying grandsons, one in college and one on the way.
Next month, Yaz plans to be in Fort Myers, Fla., working with young hitters in the Red Sox minor league camp.
He's even quit smoking. That's like Bill O'Reilly quitting talking.
"I feel great," said Yaz.
Maybe we'll see him back at Fenway this summer. Hopefully, he'll come around when Rice's No. 14 goes up on the right-field facade alongside Ted's No. 9 and Yaz's No. 8. They are forever linked, in Cooperstown, in bronze, and in our memory.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at email@example.com.