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On the night of September 18, with two weeks of the daffy American League baseball season remaining, the Boston Red Sox were one run behind, with only two outs left to them in Detroit's Tiger Stadium. That morning the Sox had left Boston bearing a disheartening three-game losing streak, and they now were involved in the first of eight consecutive road games, which many felt would cause Boston's "impossible dream" of the first Red Sox pennant in 21 years to go unfulfilled.
So it was one out in the top of the ninth, and Carl Yastrzemski was at bat. Under the ultimate pressure that baseball can produce, he hit a tremendous home run to tie the game. Boston went on to win the game and—with Yastrzemski batting .523 for the last two weeks of the season—the pennant that rewarded baseball dreamers everywhere. The home run was almost predictable, for nobody in sport in 1967 played any game with greater overall excellence, verve and dedication than Carl Yastrzemski, no one excited the imagination more and no one carried out the dramatic promise that is inherent in every competitive sport more completely.
It was not merely that Yastrzemski won baseball's rare Triple Crown, with a batting average of .326, 121 runs batted in and 44 home runs, and led the league in hits, total bases, runs scored and slugging percentage. People will remember him for providing the spark to a team that had entered the season as a 100-to-1 shot and that moved from ninth place to first in one year—and, more to the point, for galvanizing the American League, which had been so drab and dull for so many years, and leading it through the wildest pennant race major league baseball has ever had.
Probably the most valid tribute paid Yastrzemski came from Al Kaline of the Tigers when he was asked to compare the season Carl was having with the equally impressive one Frank Robinson had had a year earlier with the Baltimore Orioles. "Yastrzemski is the Most Valuable Player this year." Kaline said, "and he deserves it even more than Robinson did last season. When I say that, I am certainly not taking anything away from Frank. But he had a lot more help from his teammates when the Orioles won than Yastrzemski got from his teammates this year. Yastrzemski had such a fantastic year that he deserves everything he gets."
Late in August, when Boston seemed to be sagging, Carl was tired. After a 20-inning loss to New York in the second game of a doubleheader, Manager Dick Williams rested the obviously faltering Yastrzemski the next day. But with the score tied 1-1 in the late innings Carl came off the bench into the game, and in the 11th, despite a streak of 18 hitless times at bat, homered to give the Red Sox a victory they vitally needed. Five days later Williams again told Yastrzemski to rest, but Carl insisted on playing; he hit two home runs and a single and batted in four runs as the Sox won again.
In the final two games of the season Boston needed victories in both to win the pennant. Yastrzemski got seven hits in eight at bats in the two games, and the Red Sox won both of them and the American League championship. In the World Series against St. Louis, Carl batted .400 and made several excellent defensive plays in a losing cause. In the last game of the Series, with the Sox hopelessly behind, Yastrzemski came up in the ninth and singled sharply. The crowd in Boston stood and roared its acclaim, probably because, more than anyone else, Carl Yastrzemski still believed in the dream.
And Two to Remember: O. J. Simpson
In football no single play rivals the twisting run from scrimmage, and no individual quite measures up to the ballcarrier as a hero. Although few running backs manage to make yards without help from their blockers, they seem to be alone out there, searching for their daylight, sidestepping, breaking tackles and outsprinting defenders. Despite this, however, most of the really glamorous stars of the last five collegiate seasons have been quarterbacks or passers. They were the likes of George Mira at Miami and Terry Baker at Oregon State, or Roger Staubach at Navy and Joe Namath at Alabama, or Steve Spurrier at Florida and Gary Beban at UCLA.
But along came 1967 and with it something different—something that took you back to the thrilling days of Red Grange or Tom Harmon or Glenn Davis. That something was a runner to rate with football's best, a 6'1", 205-pound junior at Southern California named O. J. Simpson.
Suddenly the bomb in football was not a long spiral anymore. It was O.J. bolting through tackle or around end or just generally going thataway, all the while taking the Trojans toward a national championship. Simpson gained a stunning 1,415 yards from scrimmage for USC during the regular season, and he did it in spite of missing a game and a half because of an injury to his instep. That figure is fifth best in the entire history of major college play. More important, O.J.—whose nickname, Orange Juice, became part of the game's vernacular—was at his very best against USC's toughest opponents. He gained 158 yards against Texas, 190 against Michigan State, 235 against Washington, 150 against Notre Dame and 177 against UCLA in the showdown battle that ended with USC as No. 1 (left). And all of this against defenses specifically set to stop him.