Happy Birthday to former Yankee pitcher Eli Grba. I remember watching Eli pitch at Comiskey Park during the summer of 1959. For a teenager in Chicago, I will always remember that season because it was the first time in my life that the White Sox made it to the World Series. Chicago had a lot of second and third place teams in the 1950’s, but it was the Yankees who dominated. It was exciting because Casey Stengel’s Yankees were in town – Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek – and Eli, who was the Yankees starting pitcher. Eli was also from Chicago and this was his rookie season; I think it may have been his first appearance at Comiskey. I remember my first time pitching in Chicago, so I understand how nervous Eli must have been. And he was pitching against Early Wynn, who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. One of the things I remember is how good Eli was. I think his first three innings were 1-2-3 innings. He got stars like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox out. And he got a hit of his own off of Early. I remember the White Sox won that day – Early was enjoying a resurgence and was pitching like he did when he was the star for the Cleveland Indians. But I also remember some cheers for Chicago’s favorite son, who pitched very well that day in front of his family, friends and fans.
Eli was originally signed by the Red Sox, but the Yankees got him in a trade for Bill Renna. He sacrificed a couple of years from his career to serve in the military and I thank him for his service. And he got to the World Series in 1960 after a fairly successful season for the Yankees. I remember watching one of his first games of that season when the Yankees were in town playing the White Sox. Early was again pitching for Chicago. This time, Eli was the winning pitcher. Later on that summer, Eli hit a Home Run off Early at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees left Eli unprotected in the 1962 expansion draft and the new California Angeles grabbed him. He struck out over 100 batters that year, for a club that finished eighth. Eli was the first Angel pitcher ever; he pitched opening day against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium and won the first game in team history. A complete game. He played in that historic first franchise game with Ken Aspromonte, who would later be my manager when I was traded to Cleveland. Years later, I heard that in his first appearance back at Yankee Stadium wearing an Angels uniform, Yogi hit a first inning single, followed by The Mick hitter a Home Run. That’s the way the Yankees are – competitive, no matter what.
Eli is my Facebook friend and he comments frequently on my posts remembering other ballplayers from our day. I appreciate that he reads my reminiscences, and hope that he will enjoy his 81st birthday and many, many more with good health and happiness.
Happy 75th Birthday to Roger Repoz, my teammate on the Yankees during my rookie season of 1966. Roger had his major league debut with the Yankees in 1964 as a September call-up, and played half a season with them in 1965. I remember one particular day that he was on fire: we were playing a double header against the Athletics in Kansas City and with Mickey Mantle out, Roger played Center Field for both games. He went 2-for-4 in each game, with a total of three RBI’s. A few days later, we were in Detroit and I was pitching. In the top of the first, Denny McClain started off the game by striking out Roy White; then he walked the next three batters – Bobby Richardson, Tommy Tresh and Joe Pepitone — three walks in a row, certainly a rare occurrence for this mighty pitcher. Then Roger Maris drove in Bobby, and with the bases still loaded, Roger drove in Tommy. That gave me a two-run lead before I ever took the mound. But like I said, Denny was a mighty pitcher. He didn’t give up any more hits for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I did, and we lost 7-2. I got to see the harsh realities of a baseball life for the first time on June 10, 1966 when the Yankees traded Roger, along with Gil Blanco and Bill Stafford, to Kansas City for Billy Bryan and Fred Talbot. It was the first trade since I joined the club. It was nice to get to know Roger, even for a brief time, and it was always nice when I saw him over the next six years when our teams played each other – and not just because he was 0-for-8 against me!
Happy Birthday to Don Lock, an outfielder who came up through the Yankee farm system and played MLB for the Senators, Phillies and Red Sox in the 1960’s. The Yankees traded him to the Senators in 1962 for Dale Long and he made his MLB for Washington that season. I faced Don twice in my career, both times in my rookie season. On July 8, 1966, we were playing the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I remember the game largely because of how badly it started. It was also the day I learned what a great baseball mind Gil Hodges, the Senators’ manager, had. Fred Valentine led off the first inning with a bunt to me and made it safely to first. Then Ken Hamlin bunted again to me; I got him out at first but now had a runner on second. I’m already in a jam. Ken Harrelson hit an RBI double, followed by Frank Howard’s RBI triple. Don was the next batter; I got him and Ken McMullen out.
The second inning went poorly too. Ed Brinkman singled and moved to second when I walked Jim Hannan, the pitcher; he scored on Hamlin’s double. Hannan scored when I threw a wild pitch. Now we are down 4-0. Lock came up again the third inning and singled to Joe Pepitone in right. With two outs, Don took a big lead off first and I picked him off – threw it to Ray Barker at first, who threw it to Bobby Richardson at second, and then back to Ray, who easily tagged Don to end the inning. The Yankees came back, incrementally, starting with Mickey Mantle’s Home Run in the bottom of the third. We won the game 8-5. I pitched a complete game for the eighth win of my fledgling baseball career.
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.
I pitched in 355 major league baseball games over an 11-year career – 2,218 1/3 innings, I gave up 2,217 hits, 947 runs, 173 Home Runs, and I struck out 1,015 batters. I’m blessed by a multitude of memories. But when people ask me what game I remember most, there is nothing to think about. It was July 4, 1966, the second game of an Independence Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I was a 24-year-old rookie and a starting pitcher for the greatest sports team in the history of the planet. And as I took the mound for the start of the 8th inning, I was throwing a perfect game. I had retired the first 21 batters. I struck out Tommie Agee twice. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, put I had great stuff. In the first seven innings, home plate umpire Jim Odom had only called 13 balls.
We were playing the White Sox, the team I rooted for as a kid growing up in Chicago. My guys were making some great plays in the field. This was the day Ralph Houk ended his experiment of playing Tommy Tresh at third and Clete Boyer at sort. Thank god; Tommy and Clete were amazing. And the Yankee offense came through. I led off the third inning with a single to left off Juan Pizarro, and scored on Bobby Richardson’s double. Lou Clinton drove in Bobby and Dick Schofield to put us up 3-0. We scored two more runs in the fifth when Jake Gibbs drove in Lou and Clete Boyer.
There were some hairy moments, like in the fourth inning when Don Buford almost beat out a bunt. (Thank you, Clete Boyer!) and in the sixth when a relatively new Yankee, Dick Schofield, made an incredible back-handed stop at short that prevented Ken Berry from getting what should have been a bit.
So, to paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In the dugout, no one said anything, except for pitching coach Jim Turner (a Yankee legend, but not my favorite coach), who just told me to “relax.” Gene Freese led off the 8th with a shot to left field – deep left field – that was caught magnificently by Tommy. I had now retired 22 batters – five outs away from pitching the first perfect game since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. But no immortality for me; this is where the universe turned. Jerry Adair came to the plate – the same Jerry Adair who would have a .167 batting average against me. Jerry hits – maybe it’ better if I say taps – the ball about twenty feet up the third base side of the mound. I got it, and threw it high to Ray Baker at first base. E-1, a throwing error – my throwing error – and for the first time a White Sox player had reached first base. So no perfect game, but still a no-hitter. Everything’s gonna be fine.
The next batter was John Romano, the White Sox catcher. Before you ask, John would wind up with a .250 average against me – for those who don’t particularly enjoy math, that means he gets a hit one out of every four times. And this, my friends, would be one of them. John hit a single right up the middle. Nothing we could do about it. The no-hitter was off the table; now the Chisox have runners on first and second, and we still needed to win this game. Berry gets up and hits a double to left, and Adair scored. Al Weis, who pinch-ran for Romano, moved to third. Then Lee Elia hits a sacrifice fly to center; Weis scored (Yankees 5, White Sox 2). Next up was Bill Skowron, a true Yankee legend, who was pinch hitting. Moose hit a grounder to first baseman Ray Barker, who flipped it to me to get the third out in the most memorable inning of my life. I led off the ninth with a groundout — kudos to The Major, who didn’t pinch hit for me on this incredible day. The Yankees won – yeah, I know, that’s what matters – and I have one heck of a story to tell. Thank you for listening to it, and Happy Fourth of July.
Happy Birthday to Casey Cox, my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973. We were part of the Class of 1966 of American League pitchers making their major league debut; he was with the Washington Senators. The first time we pitched against each other was on July 8, 1966 at Yankee Stadium, the second game of a twilight doubleheader. This wasn’t exactly a battle of the titans; it was a match up of two fairly crappy teams; the ’72 Yankees were in 8th place, 19 ½ games out, and the Senators were in 9th, 21 ½ games out.
I had given up two runs in the first (including a double to Ken Harrelson and a triple to Frank Howard) and two more in the second. We picked up three runs in the third off Mickey Mantle’s Home Run, doubles by Joe Pepitone and Ray Barker, and a single by Horace Clarke. Casey relieved Joe Hannan in the fifth inning after Mickey singled to left and Hector Lopez (pinch running for Mickey) moved to third on Joe Pepitone’s single. Elston Howard came to bat and hit into a double play, but Hector scored and the game was tied 4-4. With two outs, Ray hit a deep shot to center – for a moment I thought it was going out – but Don Lock caught it and the inning was over. Casey pitched again in the sixth, a 1-2-3 inning. I came up with two outs and Casey struck me out – not an amazing accomplishment, but memorable to me nonetheless since it was a tie game. I’m glad Ralph Houk didn’t pinch hit for me.
The top of the seventh was no good for me. Paul Casanova led off with a single, and moved to second on a beautiful sacrifice bunt by Ed Brinkman. Gil Hodges, the Senators manager, pulled Casey so that Bob Saverine could pinch hit. Good move. Bob singled to center and Paul scored and we’re now losing 5-4. But my team continued to come through. The new Washington pitcher, Dick Bosman, walked Tom Tresh; Bobby Richardson got to first base on a fielding error by Brinkman, the shortstop, with Tommy moving to second. Hector executed a pretty good sacrifice bunt, moving Tommy to third and Bobby to second. Hodges called for an intentional walk to Pepitone, loading the bases. Elston Howard popped up to first; then Ray Barker hit a two-out single, with Tommy and Bobby scoring. Now we’re ahead 6-5. We scored one more run in the eighth when Clete Boyer hit a leadoff triple and later scored. Dick Bosman got the loss and I was now 8-5, with another complete game but just two strikeouts.
Casey came to the Yankees on August 31, 1973 in a trade for Jim Roland, ending Jim’s four-month career in pinstripes. He was a very good guy who had the misfortune of pitching for some bad teams – he originally signed with the Reds; timing is everything in baseball. I’m sorry to report that the Yankees lost all five games Casey pitched in, including an excruciating loss in a game I pitched against the Red Sox; the loss was entirely on me, not Casey. In 1974, Casey pitched in one game – he entered in the sixth, with the Red Sox ahead 12-5, and gave up three runs in three innings. The Yankees released him soon after that, and he never pitched in the major leagues again.
A few more things about the baseball career of Casey Cox: he was managed by three baseball greats – Gil Hodges, Ted Williams and Ralph Houk; he had his career year in 1969 when he was 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA, making 13 starts in 52 games; and some excellent hitters like Carlton Fisk and Rod Carew had .143 career batting averages against him.
The other thing I think about when I remember Casey Cox is that he wore #29 and if you follow Yankee history, you know that there is not much longevity associated with guys who wear #29 on the back of their pinstripes. Of the 55 Yankees who have worn #29, the only one to last more than a few seasons were Francisco Cervelli, Mike Stanton, Gerald Williams, Catfish Hunter, and Charlie Silvera. Casey originally wore #39, but he wanted #29, which was his number on the Senators and the Rangers. That switch came about because Sudden Sam McDowell, who was #39, wanted #48. Before Sudden Sam, the number was worn by a succession of one-season guys: Wade Blasingame (1972), Jim Hardin (1971), Mike McCormick (1970), Rocky Colavito (1968), Bill Henry (1966), Bobby Tiefenauer (1965), Mike Jurewicz (1965), Tom Metcalf (1963), Hal Brown (1962), Earl Torgeson (1961), Duke Maas (1961), and Hal Stowe (1960). After Casey was traded, #29 was assigned to Tom Buskey, who wore it from April 1973 until April 1974, when he and I were traded to Cleveland; and then Dick Woodson for the rest of that season. Then Catfish came in 1975. Later came short-term Yankees like Dave Collins, Paul Zuvella, Al Holland, Luis Aquayo, Dave LaPoint, Mike Humphreys, Ricky Bones, Bubba Trammel, Tony Clark, Tim Redding, Felix Escalona, Octavio Dotel, Kei Igawa, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Anthony Claggett, and Rafael Soriano. So the best I can say is Good Luck to David Carpenter.
I’m going to try something called Monument Monday, as a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career.
One of the greatest things about being a young ballplayer is that sometimes you get to actually play on a team with some of the guys you followed as a kid. Pedro Ramos was a good pitcher and would have done better if he had played for a better team. But the Washington Senators of the mid-to-late 1950’s finished last in the American League for four of the six years he played there, so his stats don’t really do the man justice. He was in Cleveland for two years (another bottom half AL club) and came to the Yankees during the 1964 Pennant race. Always a starter, the Yankees used him in relief; I hesitate to call him a closer, because pitchers threw more complete games than they do today. During my rookie year, 1966, Pedro pitched in 52 games – pretty amazing for one guy to pitch almost 1/3 of the games — had a 3.61 ERA and struck out 58 batters in 89 innings.
I think the first time he relieved me on the mound was on May 22, 1966, the second game of a double header against his old team the Minnesota Twins, at Yankee Stadium. I wasn’t pitching badly – I had only given up two hits before Tony Oliva tripled to lead off the 4th and Bob Allison hit a sacrifice fly to Mickey Mantle in CF, and we were losing 1-0. Elston Howard doubled to left to lead off the 8th and Hector Lopez pinch hit for me. Ralph Houk put Horace Clarke in to run for Ellie, and Hoss was able to get to second after Hector hit a deep shot to center. Hoss scored on Roy White’s single, tying the game. White advanced to second on Bobby Richardson’s hit, and scored on Joe Pepitone’s double to left.
Pedro came in to pitch the 9th, got Rich Rollins to ground out, and struck out Sandy Valdespino and Russ Nixon. That was my third career win, a 2-1 victory over the Twins, and I’ll always be grateful for Pedro for that and for his friendship.