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2012 Year in Review.. November...Petrocelli and 1967

POSTED December 31, 2012
BY Rick Wilson
Twitter: @scribewilson


 

Petrocelli and 1967

“It’s looped towards shortstop, Petrocelli’s back, he’s got it.

The Red Sox win and there’s pandemonium on the field”

Ken Coleman

 

           

            The final out of the 1967 regular season and Rico Petrocelli was there. He’s still there 45 years later. Even with two long-awaited World Series title in tow since then, you don’t forget 1967. It is a season seared in the hearts of memories of New England – the Impossible Dream season.

            The season when the 100-1 shot paid off. The season that went down to the final day when one percentage point separated the four top teams. Rico remembers. You want to make Rico smile, ask him about 1967. It’s a grin almost a half century old now that doesn’t get old.

            And not because it was Rico’s only moment, his 15 minutes of fame. The Red Sox Brooklyn-born shortstop was no one-hit wonder. He played for 13 seasons (1963-76) and posted some very respectable career numbers – (.251, 210 HR, 773 RBI).  

            A two-time All-Star, Rico hit 40 home runs ( a record for shortstops at the time) and drove in 97 in 1969 and followed that season up with a 29 HR, 103 RBI campaign in 1970.  Petrocelli could play.

            Rico had himself a career. In the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds he hit .308. He was on deck when Bernie Carbo’s three-run home run kept the New England midnight oil burning in Game 6 of the series and watched from the dugout when Carlton Fiske immortalized himself forever virtually willing his shot to left to stay fair and give the Red Sox the win in what many call the greatest World Series game ever.

            Still it is 1967 that beckons when I think of Rico. My Oriole attachment is well-known but like every other kid in New England and adult for that matter I was drawn in by 1967, the improbability and magic of it all.

            I can tell you where I was and who I was with that afternoon when the Red Sox clinched the pennant – at friends Mike and Tim Ingham’s house with my brother Gary in a house on Elm Street in Thomaston. I can tell you my rapture was as big as it gets for a 10-year old.

            I had a chance to sit down with Rico for a couple of minutes Saturday night at the Winvian Resort in Morris at fundraiser held by the Torrington Titans. It took about 20 seconds to go back 45 years and less than that for that big smile to grace Rico’s face. He was 24 again in a season that never will get old.

            “I feel so fortunate, I have so many good memories about (1967),” said Petrocelli. “It brought people back to baseball in New England.”

            He chuckled about catching the final out – “It’s my claim to fame,” he laughed.

            Hardly. But the catch was the culmination of a tension-soaked two days which had an entire region on nervous overload. Including the Red Sox. The Red Sox needed to beat the Minnesota Twins twice or the dream was done.

            “We were so excited to go the ballpark,” said Petrocelli. “We couldn’t wait and you were lucky if you got a good night’s sleep. Even if we didn’t win it would have been a successful season. We hadn’t been in this position before.”

            Boston won the first game but in the final game they were down, 2-0. Then, came an inning for the ages against Dean Chance. Five runs, four hits, an error a couple of wild pitches all started by pitcher Jim Longborg’s bunt single.”

            “Everytime we got a man on it was okay, here we go,” said Petrocelli. “We had come back all year. We had had a tough time with Minnesota, we knew how good they were. We couldn’t wait.”

            Rico caught the final out but it didn’t end there. Detroit was playing a doubleheader and had won the first game. If they won the second game there would be a playoff.

            “We went in to the clubhouse. We all had to wait for the Tigers’ game,” said Petrocelli. “As soon as we heard the third out, there was pandemonium. (Owner) Mr. Yawkey was there, (GM) Dick O’Connell was there. Pandemonium.”

            The season didn’t end there. The high-powered St. Louis Cardinals waited with Bob Gibson and Lou Brock and Curt Flood and the rest of the gang.

            “We knew we would have a tough time with Gibson but they thought they were going to win in four straight,” said Petrocelli. “No one expected us to win. But, we had a surprise for the Cardinals.”

            In Game 6, Rico belted two home runs. The Red Sox fell in seven games but there had been a battle here.

            This season was as much about Carl Yastrzemski as much as anybody. No. 8 won the Triple Crown and as Coleman so eloquently said, “If you’ve just turned on your radio, it’s happened again. Carl Yastrzemski has hit a three-run home run.”

            “He hit shots up the middle, drove in runs, threw runners out,” said Petrocelli with another big smile. ‘He was the leader.”

            The smile quickly disappeared when I asked Rico about Tony Conigliaro who was hit in the eye by Jack Hamilton and was never the same again. The youngest man in the American League to ever reach 100 home runs was carried off the field on stretcher in a gruesome episode.

            “I have seen a lot of players hit. I saw players hit in the mouth and elsewhere but I never saw anything like that,” remembered Petrocelli drawing a ring around his eye with his hand. He came back and had a good year but he had a hole in his eye and later on he has the heart attack.”

            Rico fast-forwarded to the 1975 season and talked about the Red Sox best outfield ever – Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans. Like the Cardinals he said the Reds, “were another team that thought they were going to beat us in four in a row.”

            It took the Reds seven games and they had to overcome a 3-0 deficit in Game 7 to get there.

            Rico, who lives in New Hampshire, goes down to Spring Training when not working with a marketing company in N.H. and doing some public speaking and making appearances for the Red Sox.

            He knows it has been a blast. “

            “I feel so fortunate to have played especially those two years, (1967, 1975). “For 13 years there was never a dull moment no matter how we finished there was always something going on.”

            Wherever Rico goes and whatever he does he’s never far from 1967. Neither was I Saturday night and it was a pleasure.” 

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