With the regular season winding down, and Miguel Cabrera closing in on baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years, I saw Tony Oliva at Target Field and asked the Twins legend what he remembers about that magical season for Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
“Forget about ‘67,” Oliva said, with a chuckle. “What about ‘66?”
“I don’t want to hear about ‘67,” Oliva said. “I put that out of my brain when we lost. We went to Boston to win one game, and we lost both.”
Yes, this was Boston’s Impossible Dream. One of the most famous pennant races in baseball history. Four teams slugging it out through the late summer -- Twins, Red Sox, Tigers and White Sox. The Twins entered a season-ending two-game series at Fenway Park, needing just one win, but Yastrzemski helped give Boston a sweep and the American League pennant.
Yastrzemski batted .326 with 44 home runs and 121 RBI. Harmon Killebrew also hit 44 home runs, but Yaz still gets credit for the Triple Crown.
“I think that was one of those dream years, when everything went perfect,” Oliva said.
But what about ‘66? Baseball had a Triple Crown winner that year, too, when Baltimore’s Frank Robinson batted .316 with 49 and 122 RBI.
Robinson ran away with the home run title (Killebrew was second with 39) and RBI title (Killebrew was second with 110). The biggest obstacle between Robinson and the Triple Crown was Tony O., who was a two-time reigning AL batting champ after batting .323 as a rookie in ‘64 and .321 in helping the Twins win the pennant in ‘65.
A check on Baseball-Reference.com, shows that Oliva went 4-for-4 on Sept. 11, in an 11-6 win over Robinson’s Orioles at Met Stadium. Oliva was batting .320, and Robinson was at .313 with three weeks remaining.
Oliva, now 74, said he got into a fender bender and suffered whiplash sometime right around then. Though he didn’t miss a game, his success waned. He finished the year batting .307 and tipped his hat to Robinson, the league’s MVP.
“Cabrera reminds me of Frank Robinson because Robinson was a righthanded hitter, and if you pitched him away, he could hit it out of the ballpark to right field,” Oliva said. “Cabrera is a dangerous hitter like that because you can’t pitch him inside or outside.”
No doubt, and looking back, you realize that facing Tony O. was no picnic for an opposing pitcher, either.