Monday, January 21, 2008

Did Yaz Hit The Roof? An MLK Day Mystery

Occasionally you'll hear a conversation from the row behind you at Fenway Park that goes like this:

"Hey Sully, did anyone ever hit a ball over those retired numbers out on the face of the right field roof?"

"Aw, shu-wah, Sully II, Jodge Brett did it twice, and ah cahse, Teddy Bahlgame used to do it about every utha night, pal."

And you think to yourself, "nobody could ever reach that roof. If anyone ever had, surely we would have heard about it from some real source."

A few months ago, though, I read something on-line about Carl Yastrzemski once hitting the facade of the right field roof.

This dude, who claims to have been there, said:

the Sox tore into the Yankees to set a three game record of sixteen homeruns. Sixteen. Fan-tastic! One of them a Yaz bomb down the right field line off the facade. To this day it’s the highest home run I’ve ever seen. Ever.

And someone on this board said:

Carl Yastrzemski is the only person to ever hit the grandstand facade in RF - the ball was still going up when it hit. He just missed becoming the first to ever hit one out of Fenway to right.

The first guy says it was a high fly. The second guy says it was still going up, which would mean the ball would've probably gone at least 700 feet, so I tend to think that's bullshit. In fact, I didn't believe either person, as, again, how could this fact have avoided me? I asked some other big Sox fans who are older than I am, and they'd never heard of this either.

Based on the first description above, I knew it supposedly happened in the June '77 series, but I couldn't figure out which game it occurred in. And I couldn't find anything else about the homer, so I concentrated on measuring the distance to the roof on Google Maps, trying to figure out if it was even possible.

Let's start with the height of the roof. There have been changes to the roof over the years, but that facing where the retired numbers are is in the same spot it was in back in '77. ('76. '07.) And it's roughly 40 feet high. On Google Maps, it appears that the roof is about 430 feet away from home plate at the far left edge. It goes out to maybe 440 before jutting in to about 405 at the point where the roof deck ends, which is also where the positioning of the facing was seriously altered by the roof boxes later. (A direct line from home to these spots will give you different results--I took into consideration that the top of the Pesky Pole is about 18 horizontal feet southwest from its base. In other words, the camera is not directly above the park, so points 40 feet off the ground are above ground points several feet northeast of where they appear.) At that point, you're already in foul territory, but, of course, a ball hit down the line by a lefty would be curving around the pole. Depending on the path of the ball, you could hit a ball that wraps around the pole, travels less than 400 feet when it hits the roof (40 feet above the ground, though) well into foul territory. (Though how would the umps even tell if it was fair, as the ball would have gone way above the pole?) I guess if a ball is on the way down and it skims a 40-foot high point a little over 400 feet away, the true distance really wouldn't be too outrageous.

Finally, I found out more detailed info on the supposed home run. It took place on Sunday, June 19th, 1977. This was the third game of the series against the Yanks in which Billy Martin fought with Reggie Jackson in the dugout--that was the second game, NBC's Game of the Week. The Yaz roof-dong happened in the next game, and it capped off a three-game set of Red Sox domination.

Baseball Library says, of the 6/19/1977 game:

Yastrzemski's homer‚ served up by Dick Tidrow‚ is a towering drive down the RF line off the RF facade (to the right of the retired #'s) the only player to ever reach that height. No one else has ever come close to duplicating that feat.

The book Red Sox vs. Yankees says:

June 19 - An 11-1 rout gives Boston a three-game series sweep over the Yankees. Boston is paced by five home runs, including Carl Yastrzemski's 460-foot shot that is the only ball to ever reach the right field roof facade.

Okay, so it's a "towering drive" and it's "to the right" of the numbers. If it was measured at 460, then it probably hit a point well to the right, along the part of the roof that's at a 45-degree angle if you're facing it from home plate. Maybe at the 430 mark. So add the 30 or so feet more it would've traveled and you'd get 460. (On hit tracker, you'll see, for example, a high homer that hits a point 40 feet up at 430 feet from home will go about 30 more feet in horizontal distance. So I added 30 feet of height to the horizontal distance. Not totally scientific, but a good rough estimate.)

So maybe he really did hit it. But why isn't more made of this? Why is there no marker, no tribute, nothing, to commemorate something that happened once in history? Wasn't the game televised? It must've been on TV-38. (In general, where did all their archives go? NESN only seems to show their own or national broadcasts when they show classic games. Did WSBK even save their old broadcasts?) And more importantly, why did no newspapers cover this at the time? Okay, I don't know about all of them, but nothing comes up on a Google News search, which covers many papers.

I bought the New York Times article about the game, and it makes no mention of it. It says the Sox "peppered the screens and stands of the 65-year old park." Nothing about peppering a roof. And look at what they say about Yaz:

All the Red Sox hit, but Carl Yastrzemski, the crowd's favorite, outdid the rest. In the series, he had nine hits in 14 at bats with four homers and 10 runs batted in. "That's the way to do it, I guess," he said afterward, dragging on his post game cigarette and sipping what he described as a "cheap 1976 red wine" with ice. "Everybody on this team's playing up to their potential."

Notice there's no line that resembles anything like "Yaz hits fucking roof!" I mean, would you leave that out of your article? "If he'd hit one on top of the roof, I'd have mentioned it, but this, eh, just not as important as the type of wine he was drinking after the game. I'll have to include a note for the editor: 'Roof dong a no go--do not cut wine bit.'"

The Times also ran a blurb the next day about Yaz being player-of-the-week, and only mentions his four homers and .444 average.

On this page of the Red Sox' official site, they say, "Did you know...? No player has ever hit a home run over the right-field roof at Fenway Park." No mention of hitting the face of the roof. (They might want to change their wording, since with seats up there, no one ever will hit one over now. They should say "on to" at this point.) There's also no mention of it in the website's "history of Fenway" section. But scroll down to the last paragraph (which spells Smoky Joe Woods' name "Smokey"), and you'll find that on any given night, you might see things such as:

a catcher from New Hampshire hit[ting] a ball just fair past the left field foul pole into the cool October night.

No! It hit the pole!

Maybe I'll go to the library and check out the Globe's archives from '77.

Do any of you out there have any memories about this supposed incident?

No, Jere, but I'm sure I watched some or all of that game. I remember the season so well. Yaz was...well, HE WAS YAZ!
Giants vs. Pats...who'da thunk?
The Hartford Courant mentions the home run in the game story but gives no details.
As in, "mentions it the roof"? I found their article, "Bosox Bury Yanks," but without buying it I can't see beyond the first line. However, when I search " "bosox bury yanks" roof ", the article doesn't come up on the Google search.
I was at that particular game, with a great vantagepoint to view this Yaz HR, sitting on the 3rd base side of homeplate, looking right down the 1st base line. He DID hit the right field facade but it wasn't anywhere near the retired numbers. His HR was a real high blast that kept curving and went over the RF foul pole. Some of us thought the ball was a foul ball, but it certainly did hit the facade.
I have seen a video of this homer taken from the WSBK TV38 broadcast. The TV view loses sight of the ball until it hits something and falls back into the grandstand.
I'd love to see that video.
It's on this video:
If Yaz did hit the roof, it still in my opinion is not the longest ball hit inside the park that many have seen. David Ortiz in I believe 2007 hit a walk-off shot that landed halfway up section one at the railing where the grandstand ends and the space between it and the bleacher seats begin. A fan in the end row seat got a hand on it before it fell into the walkway. It was parallel to about the 25th row of bleachers. Since then, the longest i have seen is JD Drew's shot about 5 rows over the walkway in the bleachers over the split where the home team and vistor bullpen is located. The fence is 400' and his ball was 40 feet past that.
Here is a video of Drew's 460 ft shot. I'm looking for the one by Ortiz;
I remember that series and in particular, Yaz's HR. I lived in CT at the time and was watching the Yankee feed from NY. The HR DID hit off the façade of the roof! I also recall how silent Phil Rizzuto was, saying almost nothing when Yaz hit it and during when he was trotting around the bases. As far as longest HRs in Fenway, when is the last time anyone has hit one totally out of the park to the right of the flag pole in center? Rice and Yaz both hit ones out in that fashion back in the day.
The retired numbers were not placed on the facade until 1984, so those of you (plus the newspaper, inexplicably) who think you remember Yastrzemski hitting a ball "near the retired numbers" are having a false memory.
You're certainly right, but these instances of mentioning them could very well mean "the area where they are now." If they don't, terrible job by them.
The game account written by Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe includes this: "Yaz followed with a monstrous foul line wallop that struck the facing of the right field roof." Thomas Boswell wrote in the Washington Post "...the ball passed over the top of the foul pole 302 feet away and nearly 100 feet up. But the facade was perhaps six inches too high [to reach the Fenway roof]."
It's funny how ones memory changes. I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan and I was about 15 or 16. I do recall the ball hitting the facade, the only thing is I remember it occurring in Yankee Stadium.
I remember that game vividly. Lived in NW CT and was watching the game on a station out of NYC. Game was indeed at Fenway. Ball indeed hit off the facade of the roof in RF. Monster HR and the Yankees broadcasters were almost silent on the call because the Sox were crushing the Yanks that day.
SoCalRockMan--are you the same person as Ed T. above? Almost identical comment, I'm wondering if you didn't realize you already responded to this 4 years ago! Either way, thanks for your memory of this.
In response to the VHS mentioned above: I finally bought it! $5 shipped on ebay. Will watch and report back.
IT IS NOW ON YOUTUBE! I bought the video mentioned above and uploaded the clip. You do indeed see the ball ricochet down though it is barely off camera. It really could have been foul--was WAY higher than the pole and landed SO far to the right. Thanks to leftygolf1957 for the tip (which I waited more than SIX years to act upon).

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