Press Pass: Jim Lonborg 5-8-20

Q: What Was the Mindset of the Team When You Lost Game Seven of the 1967 World Series?

A: “A Lot of Us Felt That the World Series Was Anti-Climatic…To Win the Last Game of the Season and to Celebrate on the Field with the People of Boston Was Just So Cool!”

In a fascinating interview with Chris Ryan, former Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg tells about why the 1967 season was so special. Lonborg was the ace of that Red Sox team which came from 9 games back to win the pennant what is frequently referred to as “The Impossible Dream Season.” By all accounts, 1967 was “Gentleman Jim” Lonborg’s best season in his 15-year major league career. He was an All Star, had 22 wins, led the league in strike outs, and won the Cy Young Award.

In the interview, Lonborg discusses how the 1967 was a turning point in popularity for the Red Sox. He feels that things started to turn around in the second half of the 1966 season when the team played well and began to gel. A fiery, new manager, Dick Williams, was hired, and the team responded well to his leadership. Following suggestions from the team, Lonborg played winterball in Venezuela and worked on developing confidence in his breaking pitch. Then he returned to California and improved his core muscles by doing a lot of skiing—something that will be a future problem in his career. Before the 1967 season began, Jim Lonborg was physically and mentally ready to have the best year of his career.

His teammate, Hall of Famer and Red Sox legend, Carl Yastrzemski won the MVP in 1967. Lonborg details how Yaz worked hard before and during the season to improve in all aspects of the game. Captain Carl was one of the first players to work in the off season with a personal trainer. Yastrzemski worked before and after games with Red Sox coaches to work on his hitting, defense, and base running. Jim Lonborg also gives credit to the Red Sox front office in putting together a talented team and for making key acquisitions and trades during the pennant race.
A turning point in the season, in Jim Lonborg’s opinion, was when the team was greeted by thousands of fans at Logan Airport when they returned from winning all ten games in a road trip. He feels that the team began to believe in themselves after that and the momentum began to build.

In 1967, there were no playoffs. To be in the World Series, the Red Sox would have to beat several talented teams—the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Minnesota Twins. The season came down to a weekend series with the Twins which were led by one of best sluggers of that era, Harmon Killebrew. Lonborg describes the drama of that heated pennant race with him pitching on a Sunday on the last day of the regular season. A teammate suggested that Jim sleep in a quiet hotel near Fenway on the night before the big game instead of Lonborg’s terribly busy bachelor pad. Jim describes how they came from being behind 2 runs in the sixth inning against Dean Chance, the ace of the Twins staff. Lonborg started a two-run rally by bunting for a hit. The Red Sox went on to win the game and played in the World Series for the first time since 1946.

In the World Series, the Red Sox would face a St. Louis Cardinals team which was loaded with talent and featured Hall of Fame pitchers, Bob Gibson, and Steve Carlton. The series went seven games with Jim Lonborg starting 3 games. He won game two, pitching a one hit shut out and won game five, a three hitter, with the Red Sox winning 3-1. Lonborg, on only two days rest, was asked by Red Sox Manager Dick Williams to face one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history, Bob Gibson. Unfortunately, there was no Hollywood ending for game 7 of the 1967 World Series. The Red Sox lost 7-2.

Jim Lonborg also discusses how his career with the Red Sox soured when he severely injured his knee in a skiing accident in the winter of 1967. He tore his ACL-Anterior Cruciate Ligament at a time when orthopedists didn’t really know how to surgically repair the damage or how to rehabilitate the injury. It took Lonborg several years to figure out how to pitch effectively with a bad knee; but, by then, he was pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies. The interview included a comparison of training, conditioning, and medical treatment in the 1960s and today.

Chris Ryan and Jim Lonborg also discuss how baseball has become such a big business with players making huge salaries and teams being worth billions. They talk about how television and widespread marketing has changed the game. In 1967, Jim Lonborg’s salary was $18,000. The Red Sox are paying Chris Sale $30 million.