Tomorrow would be the 79th birthday of Yankee pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who died at the beginning of this year after a valiant fight with acute myelogenous leukemia. Bill had a great eleven year baseball career, spending eight years with the Red Sox, followed by the Tigers, Yankees and Giants. Aside from his statistical accomplishments that included a 20-game win season and three All-Star games (including one as the American League’s starting pitcher), Bill was also the last starting pitcher to face Satchel Paige, then 59-years-old and playing in one game for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965. Bill was also the last hitter Satchel ever struck out. I was a college student from Chicago in 1962 and listened on the radio as Bill threw a no-hitter against Early Wynn and my team at the time, the White Sox. And anyone who had ever thought about pitching knew about his 17-strikeout game against the Senators in 1961. He was popular in Boston – I think he grew up not far from Fenway Park – but baseball is baseball and after the 1966 season (and before the team became the improbable vault to the 1967 World Series), Bill was traded to Detroit for a handful of prospects.
After Bill became a Yankee, he told me about his own major league debut, against the Tigers in 1959 at Fenway, with all his family and friends watching. I can still hear him telling it. It was the first inning. He walked the first batter, and then gave up a single to Billy Martin. Now there were runners on first and third and Al Kaline was up; a run scored when Kaline hit into a fielder’s choice that Boston third baseman Frank Malzone bumbled. Now the bases were load and Bill got the next two batters out. Then Billy Martin stole home. That’s a heck of an introduction to MLB.
The first time I watched Bill pitch in person was on April 14, 1966. The weather in New York was so cold the day before that the game was postponed to a doubleheader – that’s how we played the second and third games of my rookie season. He pitched a complete game and struck out six (Roger Maris twice), and the Tigers won 5-2. He beat us again in June in a tough 4-3 loss; Bill actually came in relief, blew the save, and then got the win. I didn’t face him in any of the four games against the Yankees that’s season.
The Tigers released him ten games into the 1967 season, and the Yankees were able to sign him. His first game wearing the Pinstripes (#40) was on June 2, against the Tigers. He pitched the eighth and ninth innings, faced seven batters, and gave up one hit. In 33 games, he had a 2.33 ERA – and 56 strikeouts in 135 innings. He won the final game of that season with a complete game against the Athletics. The Yankees traded him to the Giants in June of 1968, who would be the Yankees closer until we got Sparky Lyle four years later. And for McDaniel, we got Lou Piniella, who would play a key role in ending the Horace Clarke Era and returning the Yankees to their glory. In a weird sort of way, the Yankees got Bill Monbouquette for free and turned him into Sweet Lou.
One thing the Yankees and Red Sox have in common is that they take care of their own. When Bill first got sick in 2007, the Red Sox launched a massive campaign to get fans to enter the National Marrow Donor Registry as a way of saving his life. He had a stem cell transplant and that gave him several more years.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.