Happy Birthday to Danny Walton, who was my teammate on the New York Yankees from 1971 to 1972. About two months into the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Frank Tepedino and Bobby Mitchell, once considered among the Yankees most promising prospects, to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Yankees viewed Danny as a potential power-hitting outfielder – he had 17 Home Runs the previous season — although they knew he struck out a lot. They wanted him as a right-handed pinch hitter. He hit just one Home Run for the Yankees (a solo shot off Dave McNally in a game the Orioles won 10-4. He also had knee problems that affected his career and played only five games for us before he was optioned to Syracuse to make room on the roster for a young up-and-comer named Ron Blomberg. He spent 1972 in AAA and the Yankees traded him to Baltimore for Rick Dempsey before he ever returned to pinstripes.
I say this respectfully, but as a pitcher I never really feared Danny Walton. The first time I saw him was on May 2, 1970 at Yankee Stadium and I struck him out twice in his first two at-bats. Then I walked him. A week later, we made our first trip to County Stadium in Milwaukee, where the Seattle Pilots had relocated after one year. The next time I pitched to Danny, I stuck him out three times in three at-bats. He didn’t get a hit off me until July. In all, I struck Danny out eleven times in twenty at-bats, and he had a lifetime .200 batting average against me, with no extra base hits and no RBI’s. But Danny got the best of me at the end: two of his four career hits off me came in the final two at-bats against me, when he was with the Minnesota Twins.
Danny missed a lot of time because of his bad knees, but he still put together a career that lasted (on and off) from 1968 to 1980, and I admire that.
Loyd Colson was drafted by the Yankees in 1967, their first pick in the 28th round. Of the 77 players the Yankees drafted that day, only five ever wore the pinstripes, and Loyd was one of them. Just making it to the major leagues is an extraordinarily tough task, and while Loyd’s career was short, he still made it. I’m sure he will never forget the thrill of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while he never made it back, our team was honored to have him there and grateful for his strong showing that day. So today’s installment of Monument Monday is dedicated to all the young players who made it to the major leagues, even if for only a short time, and I want to recognize their monumental achievements.
I met Loyd for the first time in February of 1970, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Lauderdale. He was one of nine new guys on the 40-man roster that the Yankees viewed as integral to regaining their past glory. The others were (if I remember this correctly) pitchers Larry Gowell (who had 217 strikeouts in 195 innings in the minors the year before), Terry Bongiovanni, Doug Hansen and Bill Olsen, outfielder Rusty Torres, and a trio of infielders – George Zeber, Mario Guerrero and Tim O’Connell. [One brief footnote to baseball history: one of the players cut to make room for these new prospects was Bobby Cox, who was our Third Baseman for two years.] Loyd had impressed the Yankees during his stint with the Kinston Eagles, the Yankees Carolina League AA team. He had 125 strikeouts in 120 innings, and a 1.73 ERA.
Going into spring training, there were fifteen guys competing for four open spots on the Yankee pitching staff. Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and I were expected to be three of the five starters, and Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton were going to be in the bullpen. There were six pitchers in contention to be the other starters: Bill Burbach, John Cumberland, Ron Klimkowski, Steve Kline, Joe Verbanic, and this guy named Mike Kekich, who had been traded from the Dodgers. Also in camp were Rob Grander, Dick Farrell (a veteran National League pitcher who was at the end of his career), Jerry Tirtle, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, Bongiovanni, Gowell, Hansen, Olsen and Colson. Yankee executives boasted that they had “pitching depth” heading into the 1970 season. I remember that I was excited. Entering my third major league season, I pitched the most pre-season innings of the Yankee pitchers and had a 1.55 ERA during spring training.
The four pitchers who made it on the 25-man roster were Burbach, Klimkowski, Verbanic, and Kekich. Verbanic had missed the entire 1969 season because of a shoulder injury. He started the season with the Yankees, but was gone in about a month, never to pitch in the major leagues again. He would eventually be replaced by Cumberland. Eventually Bile would lose his starting slot to Kline, who got called up in July.
So back to Loyd Colson. Loyd was impressive in spring training and sent to the Manchester Yankees, the AA team, to get some more experience. He gets called up to the Yankees in September of 1970. He’s wearing #49 on his back. I remember his one appearance. It was September 25, and we were playing the Detroit Tigers in a Friday twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. There were six games left in the season, and we were in second place in the American League East, thirteen games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Steve Kline was pitching against Mickey Lolich. After seven innings, we were losing 2-1. Dick McAuliffe had hit a solo homer and Elliot Maddox had an RBI double for Detroit; Ron Hansen hit a solo Home Run for us. Loyd entered the game in the top of the eighth, taking over for Gary Jones, who had left the game for a pinch hitter.
The first major league hitter Loyd faced was Tigers Second Baseman Dalton Jones, who it a fly ball to center that Bobby Mitchell caught for the first out. [For Yankee memorabilia collectors there is some significance to this, since Loyd and Bobby would share a Rookie Card in the 1971 TOPPS set. The next batter was Don Wert, who singled to Bobby in center. Gene Lamont, the Tigers catcher, then hit an RBI double. This was a tough debut for a pitcher and I recall being impressed by how Loyd settled down and struck out the next two batters, Maddox and Lolich.
In the top of the ninth, Colson led off the inning by striking out McAuliffe. He gave up an infield single to Mickey Stanley, and then retired Jim Northrup and the always threatening Norm Cash on flyballs. The Yankee offense threatened Lolich in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Lyttle hit a one-out single to center, and advanced to second when Gene Michael got on base due to Jones’ error. So with the tying run at first, The Major sends Roy White in to pinch hit for Loyd. Lolich struck Heeba out, and then won the game when Horace Clarke flied out to right.
So there it is, the history of Loyd Colson. Not a bad showing: 3 hits, one run, and three strikeouts (and zero At-Bats) in two innings as a pitcher for the greatest baseball team in history. He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1971, didn’t make the team, and got sent to Syracuse. He never had another opportunity to play in the majors, but he did have two good innings in pinstripes and all of us are grateful to him for that.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Happy Birthday to Charlie Moore, who played for the Milwaukee Brewers during my last four years in the major leagues. He was statistically the single toughest hitter I faced in eleven seasons as a pitcher. And the funny thing is the first time I saw him, as a 20-year-old late season call-up, I thought he would be easy. I was wrong.
It was September 25, 1973. We were away, I was at the end of a not so great 8-15 season, and the Yankees were three games under .500 and 17.5 game out of first — again, the whole “Horace Clarke Era” thing! Charlie made the third out in a 1-2-3 second inning with a fly ball to Otto Velez in right. In the fourth, I gave up successive singles to Dave May and George Scott. Then Don Money hit a shot to center; May scored and Scott went to third. Thurman Munson made a rare error and Money advanced to second. After Bobby Mitchell flied out to right – Scott wasn’t scoring on Velez’s arm – Ralph Houk gave me the signal to intentionally walk Charlie. Wilbur Howard hit a grounder to Fred Stanley at short, forcing Charlie out at second, but we didn’t get the DP; Scott scored, putting us behind 2-0 Brewers. I saw Charlie for the third time in the seventh when he tried to bunt on Thurman – bad idea. We scored one in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it, and Lindy McDaniel came in to relieve me in the bottom of the ninth. The Brewers won it in the 13th on Pedro Garcia’s RBI single.
Charlie Moore was going to be no problem, right?
The next time I saw Charlie Moore was on July 1, 1974. By this time, I had been traded to the Cleveland Indians and was starting the second game of a double header (remember those?) at Cleveland Stadium. He went 3-for-3 against me, two singles and a double. We beat the Brewers 9-3, but I couldn’t get Charlie out. I faced Charlie three times in 1975 and once more in 1976 (before the Rangers trade); he went 6-for-8, with a walk. I never struck him out, and the best I could do was get him to fly out to Rick Manning in center. Charlie went 9-for-13, with a career .692 average while batting against me. I looked it up and of the 525 different players who hit against me (more than twice), Charlie Moore has the highest career batting average of them all. How’s that for a little birthday trivia!