On his birthday, remembering the life of Curt Blefary

I want to acknowledge the baseball career of Curt Blefary, the 1965 American League Rookie of the Year, and five years later, my teammate on the New York Yankees.  He died in 2001, at the age of 57 of complications brought on my years of heavy drinking.  He would have been 72 today.   He was a phenomenal, gifted baseball player and it makes me sad when I think of so many missed opportunities at stardom.  Poor guy had demons and never figured out how to deal with them.    I missed the chance to play with him in the minor leagues – Buff was a year ahead of me in the Yankee organization; I never quite understood how the team left him unprotected, allowing the Orioles to essentially steal him away.

As a pitcher, I faced Buff seven times during my first three seasons with the Yankees – including my major league debut in Baltimore on April 15, 1966.  Generally I did exceptionally well against him: he had a career average of .100 facing me, 2-for-20, and that was during his prime.  But there was one game I remember, on September 15, 1966, also in Baltimore, where he hit a leadoff Home Run off me in a game that we lost 5-4.

After the 1968 season, the Orioles had enough of Buff and traded him to the Astros in a deal that would have a monumental impact on the Orioles’ future – and on the rest of the American League; for Buff, the Orioles got Mike Cuellar.  Buff returned to the Yankee organization a year later when the Yankees sent Joe Pepitone to Houston for him.  But by then he was no longer the power hitter the Yankees coveted.  He hit .210 and was traded in May 1971 to the A’s for pitcher Rob Gardner.  Buff struggled with the A’s and with the Padres before his career ended in 1972, at age 29.

There was one game where Buff showed his true athletic abilities that I particularly remember.  It was June 2, 1970, a night game at Yankee Stadium against the Royals.   Danny Cater drew a one-out walk in the fourth, stole second off Ellie Rodriguez, and advanced to third off a single by Thurman Munson.  Buff drove Danny in with a sacrifice fly to Amos Otis is center.  Then in the eighth, he hit a two-out solo Home Run off Moe Drabowsky.   The Yankees won that game 3-2, with Buff having two of the RBI’s that night.  Every game was important, but as I am in the reminiscence phase of my life, I place a premium on 1970 wins since I had exactly 20 of them.  That was big deal for me, since I only had the one 20-win season – so I am eternally grateful to every Yankee who helped me get there.

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