Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
Carl Yastrzemski had one of the best nicknames in baseball. Yaz. In between the careers of Ted Williams and David Ortiz, he was the most popular player in Boston. He delighted the Red Sox Nation for 23 seasons. He was a Triple Crown winner, an MVP, a three-time batting champion, and an 18-time all-star. A first ballot Hall of Famer.
It’s been 36 years since Yaz donned the Red Sox uniform. He didn’t have the controversy of Williams surrounding him or the flair of Ortiz’s relationship with the fans and media. In his quiet sort of way, Yaz approached the game in a workman-like manner and produced big results. All the same, he’s been missed. He turned 80 years old last week.
But now there’s a new Yastrzemski in baseball, Yaz’s grandson Mike. He was drafted out of high school by his grandpa’s team, but he chose to play baseball at Vanderbilt instead. After being drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 14th round in 2013, he floundered somewhat in the minors for six seasons. He never really stood out, certainly not showing the potential of his grandfather.
The 28-year-old was traded to the San Francisco Giants during spring training this season. After hitting 12 home runs in his first 40 games for Triple-A Sacramento, he made his major-league debut with the San Francisco Giants on May 25. At the time, the Giants were seemingly on a path to repeat as the cellar dweller in the NL West, as they were nine games under .500.
Yastrzemski has responded with a break-out season and been a pleasant surprise in the Giants’ resurgence after the All-Star break. They are currently battling Arizona for second place, one game under .500, albeit 21 games behind division-leading Los Angeles.
His slash line with the Giants was .272/.320/.541 as of Saturday. He’s hit more home runs (17) in 73 games than he ever hit in a full season in the minors. Three of those came in a game on August 16 in the Giants 10-9 victory against the Arizona Diamondbacks. His grandfather’s only three-homer game during his lengthy career came in his 15th season, on May 19, 1976, at Detroit’s Tiger Stadium.
Yastrzemski’s baseball bloodlines also includes his father, also named Mike, who was a secondary phase draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in January 1984. His father spent five seasons in the minors, eventually reaching the Triple-A level with the Chicago White Sox organization but never getting a shot in the big leagues. Grandpa Yastrzemski is quick to point out that he stayed in the background while his son was the one who helped young Mike learn the game.
Yastrzemski is one of five current players in the majors whose grandfather also played in the majors. Others include Charlie Culberson (Leon Culberson), Rick Porcello (Sam Dente), Derek Dietrich (Steve Demeter), and Nolan Fontana (Lew Burdette).
Will he be as good as his grandfather? Probably not, although Yaz’s career started out rather modestly too, with a 266/.324/.396 slash line in his rookie season in 1961. It’s too early to tell though. Perhaps Mike will be a late-bloomer.
In any case, it’s good to hear the Yastrzemski name being announced in the starting lineup in big league stadiums again. We needed another Yaz.