On the other hand, it was the summer of race riots in urban centers like Detroit and Newark. On still another level, it was a summer of protests as the stalemate in Vietnam caused disillusionment among young and old alike.
In major-league baseball, 1967 marked one of the wildest American League pennant races as four teams battled for the flag until the final weekend of the season. The Boston Red Sox, who finished barely out of the cellar in 1966, was the surprising champion thanks to the Triple Crown season of Carl Yastrzemski and the pitching of Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg.
In the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals breezed to the pennant, winning by 10½ games over the San Francisco Giants. But they were extended to seven games in the World Series before finally outlasting a gritty Red Sox squad.
Thomas J. Whalen captures the excitement of the baseball season and provides ample context of the social and cultural change in the United States in his latest book, Spirit of ’67: The Cardiac Kids, El Birdos, and the World Series that Captivated America (Rowman & Littlefield; hardback; $35; 300 pages). Whalen, an associate professor of science at Boston University, is a Massachusetts native whose résumé is not limited to baseball. He has written about the Boston Celtics, the Red Sox, and John F. Kennedy.
Even though he grew up in Beverly, Massachusetts, as a Red Sox fan, Whalen employs an even-handed look at the 1967 baseball season. The Red Sox and Cardinals were an interesting study in contrasts, both in team personnel and its managers.
St. Louis was a veteran squad, a multi-cultural team led by Orlando Cepeda, the unanimous choice as the NL’s most valuable player. The Cardinals were diverse, with Cepeda, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood and Lou Brock meshing easily with southerners like Tim McCarver. When they gathered for spring training in 1967, the Cardinals “had a certain swagger in their step,” Whalen writes.
Guiding that swagger was manager Red Schoendienst, who was savvy enough to allow his veteran team — the core of the 1964 World Series champions was still basically intact — to excel without a lot of prodding.
Where the Cardinals had been enlightened, the Red Sox had the reputation of a country club, Whalen writes. That came down from the top, as owner Tom Yawkey treated his players well but never really held them — or his managers —accountable. The Red Sox also were the last team to integrate when Pumpsie Green made his debut in 1959.
Accountability smacked the Red Sox with a vengeance in 1967 when Dick Williams took over as manager. Williams, a no-nonsense perfectionist, lit a fire under the youthful Red Sox and used the best players at his disposal — black or white. That meant that blacks like Reggie Smith, George Scott and Elston Howard were just as important to the squad as Yastrzemski, Tony Conigliaro and Rico Petrocelli. Williams stressed fundamentals and eliminating mental mistakes. Most of all, Whalen writes, Williams commanded respect.
“The hell with grace,” Whalen quotes Williams. “I wanted wins. Isn’t that what the fans wanted?”
One player observed that Williams “was a Dale Carnegie dropout.” The manager may not have won many friends, but he influenced a lot of people on his baseball roster. He orchestrated what became known in baseball lore as “The Impossible Dream,” a nod to the song that was the most memorable tune from the 1965 Broadway musical, Man of La Mancha.
Whalen peppers his narrative with biographies about the key players for both teams. Stories about Roger Maris, Brock, Lonborg, Conigliaro and Scott give the reader a nice cross section of baseball talent and cultural diversity.
Whalen’s research is also stellar. In addition to drawing from his own books, he conducted interviews with Lonborg, McCarver, Petrocelli, Gary Waslewski and Gary Bell, among others. He also combed through 43 newspapers and periodicals, 17 Hall of Fame player and inductee clip files and 14 websites. His bibliography is diverse and extensive.
For a lover of baseball history — indeed, to any lover of history — Spirit of ’67 is a satisfying read. There are plenty of subplots to the season and to the news events of 1967, and Whalen pays equal attention to both.