In Scottsdale, Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson, in Palm Springs and San Diego—towns where the Boston Red Sox have played exhibitions this spring—the men who announce the lineups over the public address systems have been faced with the problem of pronouncing Yastrzemski. It is not an easy name to pronounce, but anyone who has mastered Kluszewski and Mazeroski should be able to make it. It has three syllables, accent on the second. Say Yuh-strem-skee. It is a name worth learning, for Carl Yastrzemski, a rookie with the Red Sox, is going to be a star.
Yastrzemski will play left field for the Red Sox this season. No one has come out and told him this, and for that matter his name isn't even on the roster, but it is typical of his quiet confidence that he is already thinking about housing in Boston this summer for his wife and infant daughter. Carl's father and mother share this confidence. Carl Sr. has calculated that it will take him about six hours to drive from his home on eastern Long Island to Fenway Park in Boston. Hattie Yastrzemski, looking at the Red Sox schedule, moaned when she discovered that the Sox will be in Kansas City in late June, for it means that Carl will miss his brother Richard's high school graduation in Bridgehampton.
The Yastrzemskis have a right to feel confident. Signed to a generous $100,000 bonus two years ago, Carl hit .377 at Raleigh in 1959 to lead the Carolina League by 54 points. Last year with Minneapolis, a Triple-A team, Carl hit .339, losing out on the American Association batting title in the final days of the season. Now, with Boston's greatest hero, Ted Williams, in retirement, left field at Fenway Park awaits him.
It is inevitable that Yastrzemski will be compared to Williams. Where Williams wore No. 9 for two decades, the Boston management has pointedly given Yastrzemski No. 8. Both men hit left-handed. There is no question that Yastrzemski, who has a good arm and can run quite fast, will be a better left fielder than Williams was. But it would be folly—and unfair to Yastrzemski—to expect him to hit like Williams. He is not nearly as big as Williams—only 5 feet 11 inches and 175 pounds—and though his strong arms and wrists give him some power he is not a pull hitter. Many of his good drives go straight to center field for outs.
April 3, 1961
But the Red Sox—and Ted Williams, who spent spring training with the team as a batting coach—would not dream of changing Yastrzemski's style. His swing is smooth, and the low line drives he hits are marvelous to see. Other players stop what they are doing to watch him take batting practice, the ultimate tribute.
"All Ted says to me is, 'Be quick,' and, 'Study the pitcher,'" Yastrzemski said recently. "I'll pass Ted going into the shower and he'll say, 'Be quick, be quick.' That's all."
Carl Yastrzemski, at 21, is not handsome, but his black hair, dark piercing eyes and bony nose give his face an alert, eager look. He is a farm boy. His father, only 43, grows potatoes on a 60-acre farm in Bridgehampton. In batting practice recently, after Carl laced two straight pitches to right field, a teammate sighed, "Man, those potato-picking wrists." Carl said nothing but later explained that he didn't actually pick potatoes. "I moved irrigation pipes and helped store bushel baskets of potatoes," he said.
It was hardly an accident that Carl became a ballplayer. His parents have always been crazy about the game. Carl Sr., a wiry little man with a leathery, weathered face, was a good semipro infielder, a hero in the summer leagues on Long Island. Hattie Yastrzemski, nee Skonieczny, watched every game and kept a scrap-book. When young Carl was 3 his father gave him a bat, which he dragged around behind him wherever he went. A photograph in the family album shows Carl at 4 being taught the proper batting stance by his father, who is dressed in a baseball uniform. Carl remembers long summer evenings, chores finished, supper over, playing catch with his father.
"He taught me the fundamentals," says Carl. "He told me only to swing at good pitches. But about the time I became a sophomore in high school he stopped. And that probably helped me more than anything. Sometimes you have to work things out for yourself."
When he was old enough Carl, too, played in the summer leagues, several times on the same team with his father. One year they had a family team, five Yastrzemskis and four Skoniecznys. Carl played shortstop, his father second base; in one game they hit back-to-back home runs. One summer a league in which Carl was playing folded. So that he could play, the Yastrzemskis drove him to another league 50 miles away every Tuesday and Saturday evening, never returning before midnight.
Carl was a senior in high school when the pro scouts started coming to see him. Almost all the major league clubs offered him a bonus to sign, but Carl decided to go to Notre Dame instead. In his freshman year he studied business management and learned how to play bridge. ("Is this what he's going to college for?" his mother asked.) He also was introduced by his roommate to Carol Casper, a pretty little blonde from Pittsburgh. Carl dated her for two years before they were married.
When Carl came home for Thanksgiving vacation in his sophomore year, the baseball scouts came around again, and this time Carl decided to sign. He wanted to play for an eastern team—Boston, Philadelphia or perhaps Cincinnati. Neither he nor his father cared much for the Yankees after Carl, having worked out with the team, was made to dress with the bat boys instead of the players, and Mr. Yastrzemski, hoping to see his son, was told he couldn't get in without a pass. In the end Carl chose Boston and a $100,000 bonus, largely because he felt the Sox men he met were the most considerate.
The Red Sox players kid Carl about his bonus. Some players call him Cash. One night the Red Sox ate dinner in a restaurant outside San Diego that was divided into two rooms. "Just the important players eat in this room," said the veteran Vic Wertz. Lou Clinton, a young outfielder, pointed to Yastrzemski. "Yeah," he said, "important players and the club owner." But as one member of the team said, "No one's going to ride him too hard. After all, he could make a lot of money for us all."
The Red Sox are paying Carl his bonus over a five-year period—"just around Christmas," Carl says. The money is banked in a joint account in the names of Carl and his father.
"I'm giving my father half the money," Carl says. "I only want enough to complete my education [he still goes to Notre Dame in the off season] and to put a down payment on a house. My father's healthy now, but someday he may need it.
"There's another reason, too. Too much money might spoil me. I want to keep driving hard. I want to be the very best player I can be."
"I can believe it," said a teammate recently. "Do you know what he did once last year? He played in a double-header and went 3 for 8. That's good enough for most people, but Carl went out after the second game and took extra batting practice."
There were five Yastrzemskis in Scottsdale this spring—Carl and his wife and his daughter and his father and his mother. The five of them lived together in a motel apartment near the ball park. Not a workout nor an exhibition game took place that did not find Mr. Yastrzemski, wearing his Red Sox cap, and Mrs. Yastrzemski watching from seats behind the Red Sox dugout. When the team made a trip recently to San Diego and Palm Springs, the parents went along. Carol Yastrzemski, who knows very little about baseball, stayed in Scottsdale with the baby. "I think Carol's beginning to understand the game," says Carl's mother.
"She'll never understand it," says Mr. Yastrzemski.
"I don't mind her not knowing about baseball," says Carl. "I don't like to talk about the game when I get home. It doesn't matter whether I get four hits or none. Once in a while it's fun to forget it."