Carl Yastrzemski graduated from Bridgehampton High School in 1957. Last November, he was inducted into the school’s first Hall of Fame.
“It was easier to get into Cooperstown,’’ the Hall of Famer joked during a phone interview from South Florida, where he spends the winter before returning to Massachusetts. “But it was a really special time for me.’’
William Stavropoulos, Yastrzemski’s high school teammate and longtime friend, said, “It was an idyllic time to grow up in Bridgehampton. Eighteen in our graduating class. We played all the sports, did all the plays. It was kind of a special time. In the ’50s, small school, everyone was important.’’
Bridgehampton also was loaded with Red Sox fans. “Sometimes you only got TV channels from New England,’’ Stavropoulos said. “So you got a lot of New England news, Red Sox news.’’
Stavropoulos, the former chairman and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company, is founder and president of the Class A Great Lakes Loons, a Dodgers affiliate in Michigan. He reveled in Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown season of 1967, though Yaz rarely discussed it. “He is not one to be pointing at himself a lot,’’ Stavropoulos said. “I don’t think he likes to dwell in his own fame.’’
Yastrzemski, 77, didn’t attend his high school Hall of Fame ceremony. “He told me at the time he had a doctor’s appointment and wasn’t going to be able to make it,’’ said Jean Smith, Yastrzemski’s cousin. “People wonder why he doesn’t come out here. The reason is he doesn’t like to travel. He just goes to Florida.’’
Yastrzemski was last on Long Island in 2006 to attend the funeral of his father, Carl Sr.
“He’s a homebody, he loves his house,’’ Smith said, “Even in high school, he was not one to go out and hang out at parties. He was quiet. He was focused on his baseball.’’
And basketball, in which he scored a conference-record 628 points in his senior year. He hit .650 in baseball and pitched a no-hitter in the Suffolk Class B championship.
Bridgehampton athletic director Michael Miller said if anyone did not know what Yastrzemski meant to the school, they do now. “His plaque, his jersey’s up on the wall,’’ he said.
Shortly after he retired following the 1983 season, Yastrzemski visited his old haunts and was mobbed. “That’s the trouble. That’s why he doesn’t come back here,’’ said Regina Falkowski, his 92-year-old aunt. “They want his autograph or picture. He doesn’t want that. He gets tired of it. He was doing that all his life when he played baseball.’’
Yastrzemski’s Long Island was largely based on the East End, where throughout his school years he worked on the family’s 70-acre potato farm a few miles from his modest home on School Street. He and his cousins would hit bushels of rocks, pretending they were baseballs. Every night during the winter, he would take a thousand swings at a ball hung from the ceiling of his home’s unheated garage.
A round trip to play baseball with his dad — who at nearly 40 hit .480 in the semi-pro league for the Lake Ronkonkoma Cardinals — was more than 90 miles. And to watch major league games, his family traveled more than 90 miles each way to see the Yankees, Dodgers or Giants.
He was a big fan of the Yankees, and after he graduated from high school, they had the first shot to sign him. “We had a set figure in mind. It was a six-figure bonus. They wouldn’t go that high,’’ he said.
Yastrzemski instead accepted a partial scholarship for baseball and basketball from Notre Dame but wasn’t there long enough to play. He had his mind set on professional baseball, and in 1958, during his freshman year, he accepted the Red Sox’s offer of a $108,000 signing bonus plus the remainder of his college tuition. (Yastrzemski said he earned a business degree at Merrimack College in 1966.) In 1961, at 21, Yastrzemski started his 23-year career with the Red Sox.
Yastrzemski was the only Long Islander in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown until former Kings Park High School star Craig Biggio of the Astros joined him in 2015. “I would love to meet him,’’ Biggio said. “He’s definitely one of those guys on the bucket list that you would love to meet coming from Long Island and obviously being one of the best baseball players of all time.’’
Biggio won the 1983 Hansen Award as Suffolk’s best football player but not Newsday’s Yastrzemski Award, which was first presented to Suffolk’s best baseball player in 1968, the year after Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown. “No, I did not receive that,’’ Biggio said, laughing. (In Biggio’s senior year, East Islip’s Ron Witmeyer won the first of his two straight Yaz Awards.)
Though he rarely returns, Yastrzemski has fond memories of Bridgehampton. saying, “I grew up there, played high school sports there, I enjoyed it there.’’
Carl Yastrzemski’s baseball career from Bridgehampton High School to Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer will be the subject of a summer-long exhibit at the Bridgehampton Museum.
Photographs, magazines, old newspapers and artifacts will highlight the exhibit, which will also trace the origins of baseball in the hamlet. The exhibit is scheduled to begin Memorial Day weekend and run through the World Series, curator Julie Greene said. “I’ve been waiting for 2017, of the 50th anniversary of his Triple Crown,’’ said Greene, who was born in 1967 and grew up a Red Sox fan in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Greene added, “I hope to have author readings, a baseball card appraisal, a town ball, which is an early 20th century game re-enactment.’’ Greene also hopes to organize a bus trip to a Red-Sox Yankees game in Boston or at Yankee Stadium.
The museum is located at 2539-A Montauk highway. The exhibit will be open weekdays 10 a.m-3 p.m. Weekend events are still being being planned. Admission is free, but a donation is suggested. For further information call 631-613-6730.