Happy Birthday to Mike Hedlund, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1965 and 1968, and for the Kansas City Royals from 1969 to 1972. I faced him on August 21, 1971 at Municipal Stadium. We both pitched complete games, and we both gave up a lot of hits: ten by Mike and twelve by me. Mike have up a Home Run (to Ron Blomberg) and I gave up a Double (to Freddy Patek) and a Triple (to Lou Piniella). We were tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the eighth. Sweet Lou hit a one-out infield single to the third baseman, and made it to third of Jerry Kenney’s throwing error. Bob Oliver then singled to center and the Royals went ahead. In the top of the ninth, Mike got Felipe Alou (pinch hitting for Frank Baker), Jake Gibbs (pinch hitting for me) and Jerry out, 1-2-3, to win the game.
Happy Birthday to Sal Campisi, who pitched against the Yankees in his six-game American League career in 1971. Sal was a Brooklyn guy, so he had some fans at Yankee Stadium when he made his first appearance there as an American Leaguer for the Minnesota Twins, entering the game in relief of Bert Blyleven. He pitched for the Cardinals the two seasons before that.
When you play in New York, you never know what might happen: Happy Birthday to Eddie Leon, an infielder who played briefly – and I mean briefly – for the Yankees in 1975. I think it’s a really interesting story and worth the full read. Eddie started out with the Cleveland Indians, making his major league debut in 1968. He was The Tribe’s starting shortstop in 1970 and 1971; his bat was fine (he hit .261 in 1971) and he was strong defensively. When Frank Duffy won the shortstop job in 1972, Eddie became expendable and in early 1973 The Tribe traded him to Chicago for Walt “No Neck” Williams. He won the starting job in 1973, but lost it in 1974 to a young rookie named Bucky Dent. After the ’74 season, Eddie was traded to the Yankees for pitcher Cecil Upshaw, who had come to New York as part of the famous Fritz Peterson trade. The Yankees had intended to use him as a utility infielder in 1975 – part of a group that included Sandy Alomar at second, Jim Mason at short, and Fred Stanley as the other backup infielder. Eddie didn’t get much playing time as a Yankee. He sat on the bench for the first 22 games of the ’75 season. On May 4, 1975, Eddie finally made his debut wearing Pinstripes, against the Brewers at County Stadium. Mason came out of the game in the eighth inning for a pinch hitter (No-Neck, who by then had become a Yankee), and Bill Virdon sent Eddie in to play short for the bottom of the eighth. No balls were hit to him. No plays involved him. In the top of the ninth, with a runner on first and two outs, and the Brewers ahead 11-4, Virdon sent in Ed Herrmann to pinch hit. That was the first and last time Eddie Leon played for the Yankees. He was released the next day, and soon after the Yankees purchased Ed Brinkman’s contract from the Texas Rangers. Ed got Eddie’s uniform, #20.
I never got to play with Eddie. I was traded to Cleveland in 1974. But as a player, you remember stories like this one. Regardless of his playing time – one-half inning, no plate appearances, and no plays in the field – he is forever a New York Yankee and that means something.
Happy Birthday to Rocky Colavito, whom I believe never put any curse on the Cleveland Indians. Rocky was the first major leaguer I ever saw up close. It was in April of 1963. Dave Duncan and I were both prospects at the time and we were among a group of players invited to try out for the Kansas City Athletics. We went out to eat, and a group of Detroit Tigers who were in town came to the same place for dinner. Rocky was a Home Run hitting superstar in 1963 and was very recognizable, and I was in awe of him. I never stopped, largely because he earned it; Rocky had a .391 career batting average when I was the pitcher.
The first time I pitched to Rocky was on June 7, 1966 at Cleveland Stadium. Rocky hit a leadoff single to start the second inning. And I remember the fourth inning well, because I struck out the side, including Rocky and Leon Wagner. The Yankees won that game 7-2, the fourth win of my fledgling career, and I struck out nine batters.
Rocky became a Yankee at the end of his career. The Dodgers had released him around the 1968 All-Star break and the Yankees signed him a few days later. It was very cool when Rocky arrived in the clubhouse and put on the Pinstripes with #29 across his back. And he was a Bronx-born guy and felt very comfortable playing in New York. We were playing the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium and Rocky was in the lineup, playing Right Field and batting sixth. In his first At-Bat, he hit a deep fly ball that I thought might be a homer, but Del Unser caught it at the warning track. The next time he came to the plate was in the bottom of the fifth. The pitcher was Joe Coleman. It was still a scoreless game, but the Yankees had something going: Joe Pepitone hit a leadoff single, and moved to second on Andy Kosco’s hit. Rocky hit a Home Run, the 370th of his career and his first in Pinstripes. I was pitching the day Rocky hit the last Home Run of his great career, on September 24, 1968 against the Cleveland Indians.
The other story to tell when talking about Rocky as a Yankee was the time he pitched. He was 35-years-old and near the end of his career on August 25, 1968, the first game of a Sunday doubleheader against his old team, the Detroit Tigers. Future Yankee Pat Dobson was on the mound for the Tigers. s Ralph Houk was short on pitchers and was trying not to go to his closers until the end of the game. Detroit had taken a 5-0 lead when The Major pulled Steve Barber and turned to Rocky, who entered the game with one out and runners on first and second. Rocky got Al Kaline and Willie Horton out to end the inning. Rocky came back to pitch the fifth and sixth innings. He walked two in the fifth, but gave up no hits and no runs. In the sixth, he gave up a double to Al Kaline, who was left stranded; he even struck out Dick Tracewski.
But wait, there’s more. In the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees took the lead, 6-5, off Home Runs by Bill Robinson and Bobby Cox. Rocky walked and scored the go-ahead run on Jake Gibbs’ single. The Major brought in Dooley Womack and Lindy McDaniel to finish the game, and Rocky got the win. One hit, no runs, and a strikeout. And in the second game, Rocky played Right Field and hit a Home Run off Mickey Lolich; the Yankees won 5-4 and swept the doubleheader.
Happy Birthday to Bill Campbell, who for some of his fifteen years in the major leagues was one of the game’s dominant relief pitchers. I remember he was the first closer to test the free agent market after the 1976 season and Bill had a huge role in determining how owners would value relief pitchers moving forward. His stats the previous season in Minnesota were mind-boggling: he went 17-5 as a relief pitcher, plus 20 saves. He pitched 167 innings, had an ERA of 3.08 with 115 strikeouts. And by the way, in 1975 he was 4-5 with five 5 saves in 121 innings, so it is fair to say that Bill peaked at exactly the right moment in his career. Free agency was in its infancy at that point, and Bill was with a small market team. He signed a four-year deal with the Red Sox worth $1 million. Now I understand that in today’s baseball economy, that’s less than the major league minimum salary, but back then, it was huge money. Huge money. And the Red Sox gave him the same amount of money they had offered Charlie Finley to buy Rollie Fingers’ contract just a few months earlier – the one Bowie Kuhn cancelled. I once heard someone say that a year earlier, Bill was making $20,000 and asked Calvin Griffin for $30,000 and got turned down. So I remember Bill not just for what he accomplished on the field, but for the precedent he set in contact negotiations.
Happy Birthday to Gary Timberlake, who was originally drafted by the Yankees in 1966. The Yankees picked tenth in that draft. Jim Lyttle was their first round pick; Gary was their second round pick – 30th overall. He was a southpaw so when he was drafted during my rookie season, naturally I paid attention. I remember him having an especially good season with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees Class A team in 1968. The Yankees left him unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft and he was taken by the Seattle Pilots. He got called up to the majors in early summer, pitched two games, got sent back down, and never got called back. But he made it and he is remembered for doing that.
Happy Birthday to Claude Osteen, who spent eighteen years as a major league pitcher and won 196 career games. He is best known as a Dodgers pitcher who helped his team a World Series (1965) and two National League pennants. He was a 20-game winner twice, a three-time National League All-Star, and he struck out more than 100 batters ten times in his career. It is my loss that I never got to play in the same game as he did. He was predominately a NL pitcher. His time with the Senators came before my rookie year, and the times that we were in the same park during the 1975 season – his last – I never pitched in the same game he did. During the seven years that Claude was the Phillies pitching coach, three Philadelphia pitchers won the NL Cy Young Award.