I read an article in the New York Times last night about the trade deadlines and it mentioned an old story of how Dan Topping and Tom Yawkey met for drinks at Toots Shor’s in 1947 and agreed to trade Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams. Both owners believed their home park would be better for the other hitter. The deal fell through the next morning when the Red Sox insisted that Yogi Berra be added to the trade.
I never had the privilege of meeting Roger Miller, a pitcher who was called up by the Brewers in September of 1974 at age twenty and pitched in two games, both against the Red Sox. He died very, very young, at age 39, in a welding accident for a job that followed his baseball career. I thought it would be nice if baseball fans remembered his life on what would have been Roger’s 61st birthday.
Billy Pierce was my favorite ballplayer as a kid growing up in Chicago and I was incredibly saddened today to learn of his passing. He was 88. Billy began his career with the Tigers in 1945, and was traded to the White Sox after the 1948 season. So from the time I was seven-years-old, his southpaw was my idol. He was a seven-time American League All-Star, and after playing his last three seasons with the Giants, he retired in 1964 with a 211-169 record, with 1,999 strikeouts. I can’t even begin to the count the number of those games I saw at Comiskey, listened to on the radio or watched on television. He wore #19 for the White Sox, and when I became a Yankee, that’s the number I wanted to wear, as a tribute to my favorite guy. I got to know Billy over the years and there was never a time when I was not in awe of his presence. God Bless You, Billy Pierce, and RIP.
Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who passed away in 2002, may be one of the best knuckleballers in baseball history. Today would have been his 93rd birthday. His career spanned from 1952 until 1972; he was just a few weeks short of his 50th birthday when he pitched in his last MLB game. I had certainly followed his career – he won 12 games with the 1954 Giants, and he had spent six years with the White Sox, my hometown team. I hit against him only once: it was July 11, 1968 at County Stadium in Chicago. He entered the game in relief of Gary Peters in the top of the fifth, with the Yankees leading the White Sox 3-1. He struck me out, but I still got the win. The first time we pitched in the same game was on June 26, 1966 – my rookie season. The Yankees had a 2-0 lead and Hoyt came in relief of Joe Horlen to pitch the bottom of the eighth. He retired Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone rather quickly. I like to think I pitched well: a complete game, five strikeouts, and the first shutout of my career. So of course, I will always remember that game.
Today is the 32nd anniversary of the Pine Tar Incident, a legendary controversy involving George Brett on July 23, 1983. I don’t need to repeat what happened – anyone who reads my posts already knows the story. But it’s nice when all of us can take a moment and reflect on how much we love this game and how much joy it brings into our lives every day, on good days and on bad ones. And as we remember Pine Tar Day, please allow me to remember the two managers in that game, Billy Martin and Dick Howser, and say how brilliant they both were and how much I miss them.
In 1970, at the end of August, the Yankees announced that Mickey Mantle was returning to the team as a coach. It was a peculiar situation: the Yankees essentially platooned First Base coaches. Elston Howard would coach the first three innings, Mickey would coach the middle three, and then Elston would return for the final three. The Mick didn’t like the job, and he left after the 1970 season – never to appear in a uniform for a MLB game again. The Mick’s first game as a coach was on August 30, 1970 at Yankee Stadium. We were playing the Minnesota Twins and Bert Blyleven was pitching. Bobby Murcer led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk. When he got to first, he walked over to talk to The Mick, who jokingly pushed him away. All the Yankees got a real laugh watching that. Lemon stopped laughing seconds later when he was thrown out at second when Danny Cater hit into a double play. The Yankees won 5-2 on a well-pitched game by Steve Kline, and The Mick was, for a day anyhow, a good luck charm. And for those of you who are wondering, the Twins First Baseman in the photo is Rich Reese.
One Hall of Famer that eluded the New York Yankees was Frank Robinson, despite repeated attempts to get him in pinstripes. As early as 1965, the Cincinnati Reds were shopping this superstar at winter meetings. My understanding was that the Reds owner thought Robby was an “old 30” and that his body would not withstand much more of a baseball career. He was anxious to trade him while the value remained high. There was talk that the Reds had offered him to the Astros for Jimmy Wynn and a relief pitcher named Claude Raymond, but that Houston turned them down. The Yankee deal I heard about – I had just finished by third year in the minor leagues at the time – was that the Yankees would send and Joe Pepitone to the Reds for Robby and pitcher Jim O’Toole. A couple of weeks later, the Yankees traded catcher Doc Edwards to the Cleveland Indians for Lou Clinton and that seemed to end their search for a power-hitting outfielder. Maybe it was a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. The Reds did trade Robby, to Baltimore for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Robby won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles.
After winning three AL pennants with Robby and the 1970 World Series, the Orioles put him on the trading block again. The Yankees tried to put a deal together. The problem, I was told, was that Harry Dalton wanted Mel Stottlemyre or me. Mel was the ace of the staff and I was the #2 pitcher coming off a 20-win season. Lee McPhail countered with Stan Bahnsen, and the Dalton wanted Steve Kline and Mike Kekich too. The Yankees were unwilling to decimate their pitching staff for one superstar outfielder.
Apparently the Mets were in a similar situation. The Orioles wanted Tom Seaver for Frank Robinson, straight up, and the Mets said no. The counter from Baltimore was at least two other pitchers from a list that included Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, and Gary Gentry – and they Danny Frisella. The Mets said no to that too.
Most players followed the winter meetings carefully, because you never knew what would happen and how it might affect your life. But the Yankees, still owned by CBS – the George Steinbrenner Era was still a few years away – didn’t do much after they traded Bill Robinson for Barry Moore. The Washington Senators offered Frank Howard for cash the Yankees didn’t have, and the Cleveland Indians were shopping star pitcher Sudden Sam McDowell, but they apparently wanted a lot of cash too. The Boss would have had them both in pinstripes.
In 1971, after losing the AL pennant to the Oakland A’s, the Orioles traded Robby to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a group of prospects that included future Yankee Doyle Alexander. The Orioles had Don Baylor and Terry Crowley coming up and wanted to give them more playing time. And Robby was making what was then a huge salary – about $125,000 – and they wanted to unload the expense. The Yankees had shown interest in him then, but they got busy making the “blockbuster deal” that sent Bahnsen to the White Sox for Rich McKinney and missed out. After the 1972 season, the Dodgers traded Robby to the California Angeles, in what really was a blockbuster trade: the Dodgers sent Robby and Bill Singer, an excellent pitcher, to the California Angeles for pitcher Andy Messersmith, Bobby Valentine and Ken McMullen.
After the Boss bought the Yankees and brought Gabe Paul over as the GM – and after Charlie Finley refused to allow the Yankees to hire Dick Williams as their manager — there was some serious talk about hiring Robby to become baseball’s first black manager. Mr. Paul had been GM in Cincinnati when Robby was the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, and was a huge Frank Robinson fan.
The fourth chance for the Yankees to see Frank Robinson in pinstripes came in June of 1974, when he was again on the trading block. Mr. Paul had been negotiating a deal with the Angels that I recall would have brought Robby and Rudy May to the Yankees for Roy White, Bill Sudakis and Dick Woodson. What I heard was that Robby’s contract gave him the right to veto a deal, and when the Yankees refused to pay about $35,000 in relocation expenses, Robby vetoed the trade. That was just a couple of days before I was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where Robby would soon become my teammate and my manager.
You can’t live life on a bunch of what ifs, like how my career would have been different if I has been pitching for a contending team like the Orioles. But I’ll tell you this: I met my soulmate while playing in New York, I got to play with Boog Powell anyway in Cleveland, and I wouldn’t trade my years with the Yankees for anything.