The Sounds of ’67

Today, October 1, is the 48th anniversary of one of the most memorable days of my life. On October 1, 1967, the Boston Red Sox achieved “The Impossible Dream” by beating the Minnesota Twins to capture the American League Pennant for the first time in 21 years and, more significantly, for the first time in my life. The entire season was unforgettable and back in 2002, in honor of the 35th anniversary of that incredible season, I wrote this piece for a now defunct magazine called Elysian Fields Quarterly. I’m glad to reprint it here. 

The Sounds of ’67

During the fall of 1967, when I was twelve years old, much of my life was defined by cadence, by the rising and falling rhythmic sounds that seemed to occupy so much of my life.

First, there was Latin. As a seventh-grader, a first-year student at Boston Latin School, I began to learn the basics of this language that would torment my classmates and me throughout our high school years. More often than not in that first year, Latin class meant chanting, in unison, the rudimentary structure of the language:

Amo, Amas, Amat (stifling a yawn), Amamus, Amatis, Amant

On and on, through declensions and conjugations, voices filling the halls of the old building on Avenue Louis Pasteur in that great part of Boston called the Fenway.

Then, there were bar mitzvah lessons. My teacher, Abraham Shindler, would stand by us (usually chewing on an apple), monitoring our progress as we, in our voices at various states of change, chanted the notes for the cantillation of the readings of the Prophets.

Mahpach Pashta, Zakef Katan (These meaningless Hebrew words sung repeatedly to learn the chanting.)

Over and over again, the sounds filling the school wing of our synagogue in Brookline at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. The rising and lowering voices preparing to chant the warnings of Jeremiah or the comforting words of Isaiah, but first trying to appreciate the cadence of the system that we would hear in our sleep for months and years after the big event.

And then there was also the cadence of WRKO radio. Whatever the norm with kids today, boys in those years began listening to Top 40 radio right around the time they were twelve. The rhythms of the voice of the radio “personalities”, the jingles, and, of course, the songs themselves, filled our ears and defined our era.

Sixty-Eight RKO (loud and then softly fading to)…Boston.

In 1967, however, there was one sound, one cadence that drowned all of the others out. We had heard these sounds before, but in the past they had rung hollow, meaningless in the long run, an exercise in futility. But, that year, the chants began to mean something.

We want a hit (emphasis here). We want a hit.”

We had chanted these words since we were little kids, barely old enough to see over the head of the person sitting in front of us, let alone see around the post we invariably found ourselves sitting behind at Fenway. They were part of the sound of growing up in Boston, but not until ’67 did they fill with melody and meaning.

Even the rhythmic clapping, so much a part of Fenway Park tradition began to take on new meaning. There weren’t as many empty seats, so you couldn’t bang the one next to yours quite as easily. But the sheer excitement of the people throughout the park made up for that. It was a season that no one who lived through the fall of 1967 in Boston (or maybe all of New England) will ever forget.

The voices of Ken Coleman, Ned Martin, and Mel Parnell on WHDH were heard in every store, on every car radio, on loudspeakers at bowling alleys and in movie theater lobbies. Baseball on the radio had always been a constant feature of a New England summer, but that year we were actually listening, not daydreaming. And who could forget the thrills of win after win by the Cardiac Kids.

Looking back over that magical season thirty-five years ago, we have only our memories to go by. But one aspect of those memories is alive today and still so very clear: the sound of the radio voices that seemed to have their own special music, their own unique cadence in that most magical of seasons.

I don’t know if we appreciated it then. I don’t know if it’s only in retrospect that the voices sound this way. But when I listen to the sounds of the season as captured on records and tapes, the voices of the Red Sox broadcasters strike me as musical- a religious chant that underscored every aspect of that season.

I’m sure that fans of any other  team would say the same about the broadcasts of their heroic years. But clip after clip after clip of recording from the Impossible Dream season provides accounts so musical, so rhythmic, so full of the cadence of miracles that their sound has never left me.

Ken Coleman in New York during Bill Rohr’s near no-hitter in his first major league start in April, calling Yaz’s great catch for the first out in the bottom of the ninth:

Yastrzemski is going hard, way back, way back (each time his voice rising)…and he dives (this word said with a “diving” voice) and makes a tremendous (voice breaking completely on that word) catch,”

Ned Martin calling Jose Tartabull’s throw from right field to catch Ken Berry trying to score the tying run in the ninth inning of an August game versus the White Sox:

Tartabull coming on, has a weak arm, here’s the throw, it is…(and here two voices are heard from the pressbox yelling “safe,safe” and then, after a slight pause, Martin continues seemingly to those press box voices rather than to us) out at home! He is out! Tartabull has thrown the runner out at the plate and the ball game is over.

Then, the game that will never be forgotten. The Red Sox come back to beat the Angels in the second game of a doubleheader. Trailing 8-0, they win 9-8. Ken Coleman:

Flyball to deep left-center field and it is…(voice rising in quiet disbelief) a home run (said with this great lilt in his voice. Then, you hear a fan near the press box come out with a cheer with its own rhythm, “woo, woo-woo-woo:” and the noise continues, ebbing away until all that is left is an eerie silence and a full ten seconds before Coleman continues) Jerry Adair has hit his second home run of the year and the Sox, who trailed eight-nothing, now lead in the eight inning nine to eight (with those words said slowly to convince the skeptics).

I remember that particular game for another reason: My father, a long-suffering Red Sox fan if there ever was one, pumping his fist (or whatever people did then) and saying in his own unique cadence, “They WON it, GOD DAMMIT, they WON it: when the ninth inning ended. It was the most positive expression I had ever heard him make about the Red Sox.

Finally, there were the last two games of the season. The two must-wins versus the Twins. Game one and Coleman says:

And Scott (emphasis) hits one deep into center field. This one is back (voice rising); this one is gone! (voice breaking.

One game to go.

The sixth inning, Sox have just tied it at 2-2 on a Yaz single when Ken Harrelson hits a grounder. Coleman:

High Chopper to Versalles, no chance(these words almost sung with an upward lilt as the ball comes toward the plate too late)…and a throw to the plate: safe. Jones scores and the Red Sox lead 3-2.

Then, with the crowd chanting: “We want an out! We want an out!” in the ninth inning, Ned Martin:

Looped toward shortstop. Petrocelli’s back, he’s got it. The Red Sox win! And it’s pandemonium on the field. Listen!

There are moments when broadcasters come up with great lines on the spot. There are those who prepare months for what they would say if their team won a championship. But, among all of those calls, Martin’s was brilliant.

That last word sums it up. “Listen”. In our house, we were watching the game on TV, but since I was a Ned Martin fan, we had the radio on for the final inning.

So when Martin said listen, that’s what we did. The sound of the crowd streaming on the field, accompanied by the noise of those long, red plastic air horns and the little kids screaming into their Red Sox megaphone popcorn holders was the most beautiful music a twelve-year-old child could ever hear.

I can still conjugate a verb or two in Latin. I can still chant my bar mitzvah haftarah by heart. I can still get pretty much the whole way through “Georgy Girl” and “Up, Up and Away”. But, though so many years have gone by, the sounds I remember most clearly from the summer of ’67 are the voices of Ned Martin and Ken Coleman.

“Listen” said Ned Martin. And I can still hear.

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