The Impossible Dream: Lonborg Recalls His 'Finest Hour'

Download Audio
Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg is lifted by his teammates following their 5-3 victory over the Twins at Fenway Park, Oct. 1, 1967. (AP)
Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg is lifted by his teammates following their 5-3 victory over the Twins at Fenway Park, Oct. 1, 1967. (AP)

I'm sitting in a dentist's office in Hanover. The Red Sox game is playing in the background. In the foreground is 6-foot-5, trim, 70-year-old Jim Lonborg.

He's the only dentist in America who has won the Cy Young Award. Forty-five years ago, he drilled, capped and crowned the American League in one of the greatest years and greatest moments in the history of Fenway Park.

The 1967 season shook the life back into the mausoleum that Fenway had become. The team and the city itself had gone to seed since the World Series in 1946. It was a country club that kept out blacks and Latinos and the team grew slow and porous on the field and pitiful on the mound. Part of the change came in 1965 with rookie Lonborg, a pre-med student from Stanford and the Pacific Coast League.

Jim Lonborg now works as a dentist in Massachusetts. (David Boeri/WBUR)
Jim Lonborg now works as a dentist in Hanover, Mass. (David Boeri/WBUR)

"When you walk down Brookline Avenue as a kid from California, you don't see anything that looks like a ballpark," Lonborg said. "All you see is brick buildings."

On Yawkey Way, he entered under the sign that says Fenway and down into the dark.

"You see these doorways that offer light and I just went toward the light, got up the ramp, and walked into the Green Monster," Lonborg said. "It was like one of those 'Oh my God' moments."

In 1966, the Sox finished in ninth place. But largely unnoticed as they played to empty stands was their strong winning record in the second half of the season. By 1967 they had a collection of talented black and Latino players: George Scott, Reggie Smith, Joe Foy, Jose Santiago, Jose Tartabull and Elston Howard. The music of the season, like Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," comes back to me.

With Carl Yastrzemski having one of the greatest seasons of all time, the Sox soared toward first place with a 10-game winning streak in July 1967. The Sox were high and so were their fans.

Lonborg — mild-mannered, calm, "Gentleman Jim," a .500 pitcher before 1967 — was on fire. He had learned the wisdom of the Green Monster from his pitching coach.

"He said that wall is going to help you over the course of your career here as much as it's going to hurt you," Lonborg recalled.

There will be times when the wall will keep a line drive from becoming a home run and times when the wind will blow a pop-up over the wall.

"To me, that put everything in perspective," Lonborg said. "The wall taketh away and the wall giveth back."

Lonborg's gift from God was a wicked sinker. It created a lot of ground balls, but when it didn't sink, it became a "meatball". High above left fielder Yastrzemski, the Monster welcomed meatballs.

"Sometimes the ball would be hit so hard that Carl would just drop his head and we used to get on him and ask him to just please take a little run after it," Lonborg said. "Don't make it look so obvious that it was hit that far out of Fenway Park."

At the start of the season the odds against the Sox were 100-1. Now they were contending in the closest pennant race in history. Fenway was filling with fans once again.

It was the summer of the Impossible Dream, the Summer of Love, and the summer when the smell of marijuana came to the center field bleachers.

Sunday, Oct. 1, 1967

The last day of the regular season. The Sox are tied for first with the Twins, but the Twins are up 2-0 in the seventh.

"It was the biggest day of my life, and I was ready for it because I had something to prove," Lonborg said.

And he bunts one down to third base. Got to hurry. Longborg gets himself another base hit. 

"Historically, it was my finest hour. Was something that kids dream about their whole lives."

Jim Lonborg

As Fenway went into a frenzy, the next two batters singled,

And would you believe the bases loaded and who is the hitter? Carl Yastrzemski. The fans are going wild. ... Yastrzemski base hit out into center field. That will score two runs. 

Lonborg scored, then Jerry Adair. They scored five runs in all. And after fighting off trouble in the eighth, Lonborg took the mound and the lead, and what the future dentist called "the control of his subconscious" into the ninth.

Rich Rollins is going to bat now. Rich Rollins, the last hope for the Twins

Lonborg won 22 games in the regular season. He'd pitch a one-hitter and then a three-hitter in the World Series against the Cardinals. He'd pitch in the seventh game on two days rest. But that game against the Twins...

"Historically, it was my finest hour," Lonborg said. He went on to describe the final pitch of that game. "I dropped down and threw him kind of a sidearm running fastball, and I got right in on his hands."

Little soft pop up. Petrocelli will take it. He does. The ballgame is over. They've waited since 1946. They're just mobbing Jim Lonborg and what a day this is.

"It was something that kids dream about their whole lives," Lonborg said.

Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg in the second World Series game against the Cardinals on Oct.5, 1967 at Fenway Park (AP)
Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg in the second World Series game against the Cardinals on Oct.5, 1967 at Fenway Park (AP)

Fans got his T-shirt, his sweatshirt, part of his shoes, as well as the Fenway sod, and the numbers off the scoreboard.

Lonborg remembers a father who had warned his sons not to run on the field, then changed his mind.

"And he sees all the fans, everyone around him is going on the field and he looks at his sons and says, 'Oh, what the hell. How often is this going to happen?' " Lonborg said. "So he runs on the field with his kids."

In the World Series, Lonborg and the Sox would lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh game. The Boston Globe headline the next day read: "The Slipper Wouldn't Fit."

But for Fenway, winning the 1967 pennant was one of the greatest days ever.

This program aired on April 19, 2012.

Headshot of David Boeri

David Boeri Senior Reporter
Now retired, David Boeri was a senior reporter at WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live