Happy Birthday, José Santiago

Jose SantiagoHappy Birthday to José Santiago, who pitched for the Kansas City Athletics from 1963 to 1965, and the Boston Red Sox from 1966 to 1970. The first time I saw him pitch was in 1966, when the Red Sox were playing us at Yankee Stadium. Whitey Ford was pitching against Jim Lonborg. Boston took and, but the Yankees scored two runs in the fourth inning and Billy Herman brought Jose in to pitch. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Jose got the next three batters out.

Remembering Vada Pinson

VADA PINSONI will always remember Vada Pinson, who was one of the best hitters in the game during many of his eighteen years in the major leagues. I can still remember his double off Luis Arroyo in Game 2 of the 1961 World Series, while I was still in college. The first time I pitched to him was in 1970, after he moved to the American League in a trade to the Cleveland Indians. He got an RBI double off me in his first At-Bat. Lucky for me, the Yankee offense was alive that day and I got the win. Vada died young, of a stroke at age 57, nearly 20 years ago. Today would have been his birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mike Hedlund

Mike HedlundHappy 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, Sam Campisi

Sal CampisiHappy 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.

Happy Birthday, Eddie Leon

Eddie LeonWhen 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.

Monument Monday: Bill Monbouquette

Bill MonbouquetteTomorrow 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.