Red Sox Memories: “Tartabull Throw” of the Impossible Dream
By Rick McNair
A reflection back on memories of a season that forever changed Red Sox history.. A season of little things that became big ones such as “Tartabull’s Throw.”
The current Boston Red Sox edition is in a state of turmoil with structural issues, most notably the sudden departure of manager Alex Cora. This falls on the heels of the less sudden departure of Dave Dombrowski whose tenure may have succeeded with a title but failed with a limited long-term vision. Then the confluence of payroll and the possible departure of a franchise player, but let’s look back into another era and a season that restructured the franchise.
Historians coin descriptive phrases such as a watershed to describe a significant turning point in history and the dramatic, heart palpitation, impossible dream 1967 Red Sox season became such a watershed for the local baseball team. As the years fade by the oral and written history – true, exaggerated, and occasionally false becomes etched in the collective consciousness of Red Sox fans. A history passed through to each generation caught in the emotional blender of being a Red Sox fan. My stage for 1967 began in 1953.
My original allegiance was to the Boston Braves who deserted me after one lone season of my actually paying reasonable attention to the structure of baseball. The Braves to Milwaukee and I went to the Red Sox just a few blocks away from abandoned Braves Field. The one common denominator from my recollections is the physical plant was not a significant upgrade from my ten-year-old perspective.
The Red Sox of the 1950s had an eclectic collection of good teams, but not great teams with a sprinkling of star players and a supporting class with questionable baseball credentials. Later when I dove into the world of baseball’s versions of TMZ or Kitty Kelly the term “25 cabs for 25 players” became the definitive summary of the clubhouse.
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The on the field product never coalesced sufficiently enough to offer a threat to the Yankees or whoever else suddenly had visions of dethroning the perpetual champions. For the Bostonians, when the hitting proved sufficient the pitching did not. Occasionally the opposite happened, but infrequently in the geological terms of baseball.
The Personal highlight of that period was a five-game sweep of the New York Yankees at Fenway Park in 1959 that dented the pennant chances of the Bombers. That, of course, was followed by five more seasons of watching the Yankees play in October. Then came the 1960s or at least the first part.
The good teams of the previous decade were now replaced by a series of dreadful collections. If it was a souffle, even Julia Child would not be able to stave off a collapse. Ted Williams was gone and replaced by Carl Yastrzemski, but the real legend of Yaz was a few seasons away. The sad part is hoping your starter gets shelled so Dick Raddatz can come in from the bullpen. Then came the revival. Sudden and shocking as youth matured and the Red Sox became relevant. And Red Sox fans have never looked back.
Baseball is often won or lost on the little things or the simple failure to execute properly tasks that are taught from little league on. Covering a base, hitting the cutoff man, or just paying due diligence to the minutia embedded within the game. The game-winning walk-off or a two-hit shutout is the wondrous accomplishments, but there are those little things and 1967 was a microcosm of little things.
“The Steal” brings back memories of Dave Roberts and his game and possibly series changing theft that became a catalyst for a sweep of the Yankees after the Red Sox were buried in 2004. In 1967 it was “The Throw” that resonates as a personal comparison – not as dramatic as the big stage event of Roberts, but singular to what happened all season long. This became known as the “Tartabull Throw” in honor of the great throw delivered by Jose Tartabull.
Tartabull was a journeyman outfielder and spare outfield part whose arm would never be close to a replica of Dwight Evans’s well-respected cannon. But for one precious time, Tartabull became a defensive legend forever etched in the annals of Red Sox history. Stationed in right-field as the result of unfortunate consequences.
The Red Sox were facing the White Sox in an ultra-thin four-team race for the ring. A slim one-half game lead late in a must-win (they all were) game. Tartabull was entrenched in right field with the Red Sox leading 4-3 with one out in the ninth and Ken Berry on third base awaiting rescue. That sets the stage for another dramatic entry into the legend of The Impossible Dream.
Pinch-hitter Duane Josephson hit a soft liner which Tartabull grabbed and managed the throw of a lifetime helped by catcher Elston Howard and Berry was out. Tartabull had received a significant upgrade in playing time over the absence of Tony Conigliaro who had suffered what eventually would migrate into a career-ending injury. If Conigliaro was stationed in right-field I doubt Chicago would have run the risk, but Tartabull’s arm was too tempting not to challenge.
"“If I make good throw and keep it low, I feel I throw him out,” said Tartabull. “Then I see the throw go high and I say to myself, ‘oh oh.’ Then I watch him jump for the ball and when I see the umpire call him out, I say, ‘atta boy.’ I caught the ball in the webbing of the glove and I have no chance to aim the throw.”- Jose Tartabull via SABR"
Tartabull had arrived in Boston from the Kansas City Royals as part of a trade that also grabbed John Wyatt who became the Boston Closer. Tartabull was from Cienfuegos, Cuba and played nine seasons in the majors hitting just .261 with a pair of home runs in 749 games, but the power outage ended in a different way.
Jose’s son Danny Tartabull slammed a career 262 home runs as a right-handed power hitter for several teams that included three seasons of 30+ home runs. As far as Danny and Fenway Park his memories may not have been as joyous with a .229 career average and eight home runs, but he did get to play in right-field at Fenway just like dad Jose.
The last point is if on October 1st, Dean Chance outmatched Jim Lonborg and the Red Sox were replaced by the Twins in the World Series what would have happened? I doubt defeat would have neutered the energized feeling that reverberated throughout New England that wonderous season. The die had been cast as fans returned and the team may have delayed the dismissal of the curse a few more decades, but the rebirth was in motion and continues unabated.