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.
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.
Happy Birthday to Kerry Dineen, who played the outfield for the Yankees ever so briefly in 1975 and 1976. While I missed playing with Kerry on the Yankees, I remember him from my last spring training in Fort Lauderdale in 1974 and he was impressive. The Yankees were high on him as a prospect. He got called up for a few games in 1975 when Elliot Maddox got hurt, and – I looked it up – he hit .364 playing in seven games over a six day period. I don’t know why he didn’t get a September call-up. But in Cleveland, a week before I was traded to Texas, I paid attention to Kerry’s big game because my friend Thurman Munson was playing left field.
It’s a good story. The Yankees were on their way to George Steinbrenner’s first pennant. On May 20, 1976, the Yankees and the Red Sox had a brawl, and Mickey Rivers and Lou Piniella got hurt in the fight; with Maddox and Ron Blomberg already on the DL, it left Billy Martin with a shortage of outfielders to play the next day. The way I heard it, Kerry was actually taking batting practice in Syracuse when he got a call telling him that needed him in the Bronx in time for the 8 PM game. The Yankees started Roy White in center, Thurman in left, and Oscar Gamble in right. (Fran Healy was catching, in case you are wondering.) Billy used Rick Dempsey to pinch hit for Oscar, and Rick wound up playing right for a bit.
The Yankees were behind by a run going into the bottom of the ninth and they rallied. Otto Velez pinch hit for Jim Mason and hit leadoff double and came out of the game so Sandy Alomar could run for him. Successive sacrifice flies by Willie Randolph and Roy White brought Alomar home, tying the game at 4-4. Dempsey got a hit in the tenth and Billy put Kerry in to run for him.
In the bottom of the twelfth, Kerry came up to bat with two outs and runners on second and third. He did a walk-off single and the Yankees won 5-4. It was his moment, but it didn’t last. He played four games for the Yankees that spring and never wore pinstripes again. After the season was over, he was traded to the Phillies for some guy Sergio Ferrer. Anyone ever hear of him?
The other good story is that not long after Kerry got sent back to the minors in 1975, the Yankees brought up a promising young pitcher named Ron Guidry. Gator got Kerry’s uniform, #49.
Here’s a photo of Thurman Munson playing Left Field against the Red Sox on May 21, 1976. Thurman almost robbed Jim Rice of a Home Run; instead, it was a double. Thurman could do it all!