Steve Sluss is a lifetime Boston Red Sox fan. Over the years, he has collected a few items of memorabilia but recently attained the ultimate prize, an authentically autographed baseball from his favorite all-time Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski.
“I just love the game of baseball, always have and always will,” the Bastian native said last week. “I try to go to as many games as I can although most are around here locally. I attended 33 of the 34 Bluefield Blue Jays home games last summer. I also like to watch our Bland County Bears play.”
By attending games, that’s where this story began. Sluss said he became friends with Wayne Gillespie, who works at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Each summer evening that the Blue Jays were at home, the two shared the box seats that the local newspaper has at Bluefield’s Bowen Field.
“We became friends and could sit and watch and talk baseball forever,” Sluss said. “One night this man came walking by, saw us sitting there, and stopped to chat with us. He said his son was a shortstop for the Pulaski Yankees, the Blue Jays’ opponent that night. We hit it off right from the start, especially when he noticed I had on a Red Sox hat and shirt.”
The man, Bill Burt, is the executive sports editor for the Eagle Tribune located in North Andover, Massachusetts. In the course of conversation, he asked Sluss if the Red Sox was his favorite team and who his favorite player is.
“I said yes and I always loved Carl Yastrzemski.” Sluss said. “He told me he knew Yaz, was good friends with him, and they actually lived on the same street. He told me that he would be seeing Yaz in the coming days because a local kid in the Boston area asked him to get a glove signed. I asked him if he could get me a baseball signed and he said he was sure he could.”
Sluss noted that he asked Burt to get it signed personally to him but really thought no more about it until getting a package in the mail some time later. Inside was a personally autographed baseball from the famous Hall of Fame leftfielder that played for Boston’s Red Sox his entire major league career of 23 years that ended with a batting average of .285 with 3,419 hits, 452 home runs, and 1.844 RBIs.
He hit 44 homers and drove in 121 runs in 1967, both career highs. His 452 home runs rank 39th all-time behind Barry Bonds’ 762.
According to one Internet bio, Yastrzemski is now 79 years old. He attended high school at Bridgehampton, New York, before attending college at Merrimack College in North Andover and University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
He debuted with the Red Sox on April 11, 1961, and his final game was October 2, 1983. He was inducted into the major league baseball Hall of Fame in 1989, being voted in on 423 of 447 ballots by the BBWAA (Baseball Writers Association of America). He appeared in two World Series but never won a championship. He also appeared in 18 All-Star games and won seven Gold Glove awards.
Sluss talked about how thrilled he was in 2004 when the Red Sox broke a drought of 86 years by winning the World Series. They have since won in 2007, 2013, and this past fall in 2018.
“I was the happiest man around when they won in 2004, couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Many may not remember or even know but that year, Boston was down three games to none in the ALCS but came back to beat the Yankees four straight to go to the series. Then they swept the Cardinals 4-0, making eight straight postseason wins to break the Curse of the Bambino.”
The famous curse was a superstition that many believe led to the 86-year drought of winning the World Series between 1918 and 2004. It all started when the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1920, two years after Ruth, also known as the Bambino and one of baseball’s finest hitters, helped Boston win the 1918 championship.
Some fans took the curse seriously while most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The famed rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees make it one of MLB’s most heated rivalries even to this very day.