Happy Birthday to Rico Petrocelli, born in Brooklyn 72 years ago today. Even though I joined the Yankees as a rookie at the start of the 1966 season, Ralph Houk didn’t use me against the Red Sox until September 24, a match-up between an 8th place team and a 10th place team at Yankee Stadium. I looked it up and attendance that night was 5,897. This was the first time I faced Rico and got him out four times – three of them on infield pop ups. This was a real unexciting pitchers dual between me and Jim Lonborg (who would win the AL Cy Young Award the next season. I gave up six hits – three of them to Reggie Smith – no runs, and struck out seven. Jim pitched a four-hitter, giving up one run after giving up hits to Mike Hegan and Horace Clarke, with Bobby Murcer driving in the one run of the game with a ground out to second. The other memorable moment was that I hit a ground-rule double in the bottom of the eighth.
Some fans mark the genesis of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry to the Babe Ruth trade, but for this kid from the suburbs of Chicago, it began on Wednesday, June 21, 1967 during a tough 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. Tempers were flaring. Our pitcher was Thad Tillotson and in the second inning he beaned Joe Foy, who had hit a Grand Slam Home Run against us the previous day, in the head. That was after he threw a pair of brush-back pitches at him. The next inning, Longborg beaned Tillotson, and players from both teams cleared their benches in defense of our teammates. It got exponentially worse when a verbal argument between Rico and Joe Pepitone turned into a real fight. I remember that Rico’s brother was working at Yankee Stadium as a security guard and he ran out on the field to help his brother. That was the year the Red Sox came from behind to win the American League pennant in what was called “The Impossible Dream.”
I didn’t know Rico well, but he was probably no Fritz Peterson fan: he went 9-for-54 against me, a career .167 average.