Larry Gowell was only with the Yankees for a brief time during the 1972 season, but that was enough for him to achieve a sort of immortality in the baseball history books. It was October 4, 1972 and we were at Yankee Stadium playing the Brewers. Larry was the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the third and smacked a double off Jim Lonborg that went past John Briggs in left. Larry was left stranded on second as the next three Yankees failed to drive him home. But the hit was historic because it was the last game of the season, and as it turned out, he was the last American League pitcher to get a hit before the Designated Hitter rule went into effect the following April. So Larry’s bat now has a place at Cooperstown.
Thanks to the leadership of CBS (sarcasm intended here), the Yankees got the #1 draft pick in 1967, the third year Amateur Draft. Larry was their first pick in the fourth round – Ron Blomberg was the #1 pick in the first round. The first time I saw Larry pitch was the first exhibition game of the 1970 season. He had a natural slider and his fast ball was as fast as any other Yankee in spring training. We were Pompano Beach playing the Washington Senators and Larry came in to pitch in the ninth inning. We were ahead, 6-5. I think he was a little nervous. His first batter was Del Unser and he hit him with the pitch. His second batter was a teenager named Jeff Burroughs, who hit a massive Home Run.
Larry spent the 1972 season with the West Haven Yankees, the Eastern League AA club that was being managed by the Bobby Cox, now a Hall of Fame manager. He was on fire and the Yankee pitchers were following him closely. In 26 games, he was 14-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 181 innings.
Larry was a September call-up at a time when the Yankees were in a four-way race for First Place in the AL East. He made his major league debut in the bottom of the sixth inning on September 21, at County Stadium. With the Brewers ahead 4-0, Ralph Houk had removed Freddy Beene the previous inning for a pinch hitter, Rusty Torres. Larry retired the first three major league batters he faced: John Briggs, Ollie Brown and Mike Ferraro. Then in the seventh, he did the same thing against Rick Auerbach, Jerry Bell (the pitcher), and Ron Theobald. With two outs, The Major took him out in the eighth so Felipe Alou could hit. Felipe singled, the beginning of a Yankee rally. He moved to second on Horace Clarke’s hit, and scored on Roy White’s hit. The Bobby Murcer hit an RBI single, reducing Milwaukee’s lead to one run. Unfortunately, Bloomie flied out to end the inning, leaving Roy and Bobby on base. The Brewers wound up beating us, 6-4, and we wasted a rare ninth inning homer by Bernie Allen.
October 4 was the last game of the season and we had lost four in a row, dropping us to 4th place, 6 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers. Since we were out of contention, The Major decided to give Larry the start. He pitched really, really well. He gave up his first major league hit in the second to Joe Lahoud, and Briggs hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Dave May, who had doubled. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, no outs and Jerry Kenney on first, The Major pulled Larry for a pinch hitter, Frank Tepedino. Larry had given up three hits, and had struck out six. It was an amazing demonstration of pitching for a rookie. We lost 1-0, as the Yankee bats were not coming through.
Larry was in contention for a major league roster spot in 1973. He was cut at the end of spring training, losing out to Casey Cox and Doc Medich. He didn’t make the team again in 1974; the new manager, Bill Virdon, seemed to judge him based on one bad tenth inning in an exhibition game against the Texas Rangers. A lot of the hype that spring was about Mike Pazik, a cocky southpaw from Holy Cross who wound up getting traded to the Twins for Dick Woodson. But Larry Gowell’s time as a MLB pitcher was indeed memorable and historic. I am glad to have known him.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
As long as people were willing to listen to me talk about my one career Triple 47 years ago today, I figured I could relay another memorable hit by one of my favorite pitchers: Sparky Lyle’s only extra base hit as a New York Yankee. It was June 3, 1972, a Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Freddy Beene started the game against Stan Bahnsen. We were down two runs going in to the top of the ninth, and Goose Gossage was on the mound as the White Sox closer. We tied the game, 10-10, after a single by Rusty Torres, a walk by Bobby Murcer, and singles by Roy White and Ron Blomberg. Goose, in a rare blown save, was gone after three batters. The Countess came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and had a 1-2-3 inning. He did the same thing in the tenth and eleventh innings. He gave up one hit in the twelfth, but Pat Kelly got stranded.
Bobby Murcer led off the top of the thirteenth with a single of Bart Johnson and advanced to second on Roy White’s walk. Bloomie hit a shot to Carlos May in left, but it wasn’t deep enough for Lemon to score. Then Thurman Munson hit a three-run Home Run. Jerry Kenney hit a grounder to short, but was safe at first because of Rich Morales’ throwing error. The second out of the inning came when Bernie Allen flew out to left.
So now the Yankees are up 13-10 and with two outs Ralph Houk kept Sparky in the game. He hit a double that went between Carlos and Jay Johnstone in center, scoring Kenney. He made it to second huffing and puffing, unaccustomed to running to first yet alone an extra base, but that huge smile, sort of like Tweetie Bird looking at Sylvester, is what I remember most. But that wasn’t the best part. Horace Clarke came up to bat and hit a single to center off the first pitch, and The Countess had to run from second to home. He made it, huffing and puffing again – this time I saw no smile. What I would give to watch him do that again!
Apparently unsatisfied with a five-run lead, the Yankee offense continued to rally. Rusty walked and Bobby Murcer hit a three-run Home Run. We went into the bottom of the thirteenth leading the White Sox, 18-10.
The Countess, maybe still a little tired from all that running, scared all of us just a little bit. He gave up a leadoff walk to Dick Allen, who moved to second off Jay’s groundout and to third on Bill Melton’s single. Chuck Brinkman, pinch hitting for the pitcher, singled to left, but Dick couldn’t score off Heeba. So Sparky had the bases loaded, one out, and I think he was still out of breath from all that running. But it was over quickly: Tom Egan hit into a double play. Sparky Lyle was the best!
Like most pitchers, I wasn’t much of a hitter. My career average was .159 – 82 hits, including 15 doubles, a triple, and two “historic” home runs (off Clyde Wright and Mike Cuellar). I actually hit well my rookie season, 1966: .224, which was four points higher than a right fielder named Lou Clinton, a very nice man who was nearing the end of his career. Of course my hitting career came to an end in 1973 when the AL adopted the Designated Hitter rule. I was fine with that; it made it a little tougher when #9 in the order was no longer a pitcher, but fans liked the idea of some veteran hitters staying on a bit longer and so did I. My last major league at-bat came on October 1, 1972, the first game of a Sunday double header against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium – my last start of the season because there was no post-season in the “Horace Clarke Era.” It was one of the most memorable games of my career – an 11-inning complete game! How many times has that happened?
Gaylord Perry was pitching for the Indians, and he was enjoying the best seasons of his career: 24-16, with a 1.92 ERA, 234 strikeouts, and winning the Cy Young Award. He also pitched a complete game – his 29th of the season. So I repeat my question: when was the last time two pitchers threw an 11-inning complete game in the same game?
This was not an inconsequential game. The Yankees began the day tied for 3rd in the AL East with the Orioles, while the Red Sox and Tigers were in a down-to-the-wire battle for first. We were five games out of first place, with five games remaining. We were eliminated from winning the division since Boston and Detroit had three games left against each other. But there was a scenario that could have had us in 2nd – not 4th, where we wound up – and that was worth trying for.
The Yankees scored in the fourth when Roy White scored on Bernie Allen’s ground rule double, and the Indians tied it in the fifth when Ray Fosse hit a leadoff Home Run against me. The game remained 1-1 until the top of the eleventh. Buddy Bell led off with a double to left, and moved to third on Jack Brohamer’s grounder to Ron Bloomberg at first. Chris Chambliss hit a sacrifice fly to Bobby Murcer in center; Bell scored, and we were down 2-1. I was supposed to lead off the bottom of the eleventh, but naturally Ralph Houk pinch hit for me. Frank Tepedino struck out looking. Then Horace Clarke filed out and Thurman Munson grounded out. We lost 2-1.
I don’t presume to know anything about baseball compared to Houk, who was one of the smartest baseball strategists I ever knew. But 43 years later, maybe it’s ok to wonder what he was thinking when he sent Tepedino, who was 0-8 as a September call up, to leadoff in the bottom of the eleventh, one run down. There were only two left-handed hitter on the bench: Tepedino and Johnny Callison, who was a .216 lifetime hitter against Perry but was hitting .280 vs. righties that season. Would it have been better to take his chances with Johnny Ellis, a right-handed hitter with a .294 average and a .270 average against right-handed pitchers that season? Or an experienced hitter, like Ron Swoboda? We will never know.
Anyway, there was a point to this post, and finally I’m getting to it. With the DH starting in 1973 – call it the Ron Bloomberg Lifetime of Fame Rule – this was the last time I would ever bat in a major league game. I popped up to shortstop Frank Duffy in the fourth, and struck out in the fifth — I was one of Perry’s eleven strikeouts that game. My final career At-Bat came in the eighth, with a ground out to second. As I said earlier, Teppie pinch hit for me in the eleventh and struck out. I think I could have done at least as well.