Lonborg gets his day in the sun
Sox pitcher speaks about Impossible Dream club, 2007 team
BOSTON -- No, Jim Lonborg's control didn't desert him on Saturday night at Fenway Park. Not quite.
Minutes after he delivered Game 2's ceremonial first pitch, wide of home plate, the 1967 American League Cy Young Award winner rifled through his pockets for the baseball.
"Was it inside?" Lonborg said. "I was just concerned about making sure it didn't bounce, because there were a few bets that I'd come home with a scuffed ball, as opposed to a clean ball."
Holding up the baseball, he said, "It's clean. No scuff marks."
Lonborg, whose healthy 6-foot-5 posture and thick head of white hair belies his 65 years, has nevertheless come a long way since he pitched the Impossible Dream Red Sox to an AL pennant. Forty years later, he's Dr. Lonborg, a practicing dentist in Scituate, Mass., after choosing to spend the early years of his retirement at Tufts University Dental School (he played at Stanford University in the early '60s).
The Red Sox have also changed.
The 1967 pennant winners, who lost Game 7 of the World Series against the Cardinals, overcame steep preseason odds -- just short of impossible, as the oddsmakers had them at 100-to-1 -- while thrilling their way to an AL title on the season's final day.
The '67 Sox were adolescent as comparisons go, averaging an incredible 25.4 years. Their oldest regular was Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski, who was 27.
"I would say Carl was the only guy that had a lot of service time on the ballclub," Lonborg said. "Everybody else was, you know, pretty fresh to the American League at that time."
The 2007 AL East champs, meanwhile, were given 10-to-1 preseason odds to go all the way and win the World Series. Their average age, led by veterans Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell, is 30.1 years.
Perhaps because of that experience, the 2007 Red Sox regulars soaked up 83.5 percent of the team's at-bats. In '67, manager Dick Williams rotated his lineups with abandon, giving his regulars just 67.9 percent of the team's at-bats.
"We used a multiple approach," Lonborg said. "We had a lot of different characters in those days that filled in different roles throughout the whole summer. ... We had a lot of different lineups."
There were other differences. The 1967 Red Sox made the World Series in spite of a lineup that hit .255, with a .320 on-base percentage and a .395 slugging percentage.
Yastrzemski, who hit .326, bolstered those figures considerably. And yet the Red Sox were hardly out of line in their era, which was ruled by dominant starting pitching.
Still, this year's Red Sox hit .279, with a .362 on-base percentage and a .444 slugging percentage, led by Ortiz, whose 1.066 on-base plus slugging percentage outpaced Yastrzemski's 1967 mark of 1.040. Meanwhile, their AL-best ERA of 3.87 was half a run worse than the '67 staff's 3.36 ERA.
It was different times. Back in 1967, starting pitchers warmed up before games at Fenway Park along the first- and third-base lines instead of the bullpen. There was no designated hitter, and the modern concept of a closer had yet to take root.
"I think that  was probably the spark that lit this fire that's like a bonfire right now," Lonborg said.
Even with the apparent similarities -- Yastrzemski's final month in 1967, which compares favorably with Ortiz's September in '07 -- Lonborg could still point to differences.
"When I think about it, I'm amazed at how often they pitched to Yaz in those days," Lonborg said. "Because now ... you see a lot of ballclubs pitching around Ortiz. That [final 1967] weekend against Minnesota, [the Twins] just kept going after [Yastrzemski]. And he went 7-for-8 in two games."
But in 1967, as now, a veteran Red Sox starting staff fell in line behind its young ace in his mid-20s.
"We were both overpowering pitchers," said Lonborg of the comparison to 2007 ace Josh Beckett. "You know, when our game was on, not too many people were going to take too many good swings. ... He's been healthy all year. He's been able to manage that [blister-prone] finger really well. And other than the fact that he's taken the ball every single start, there's some similarities between his year and my year."
At closer, the '67 Sox had John Wyatt, who posted a 2.60 ERA and 20 saves. Would the Impossible Dream -- a World Series title -- have come true if the '67 Sox had Jonathan Papelbon?
Doesn't matter, Lonborg said.
"The other team still had Bob Gibson," he said. "They get rid of him, [then] we could've made it. He was his own closer. You couldn't take him out of the game."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.