Happy 71st Birthday to Sparky, my friend and teammate and the best relief pitcher I ever played with. When the Yankees traded Danny Cater to the Red Sox for Sparky in March of 1972, it changed my life for the better. We hit it off immediately and had lots of fun together. Jim Turner, the Yankees pitching coach, once called our group “The Nursery” because of all the childish pranks we pulled, and we wore that as a badge of honor. I enjoyed every minute I played with The Count, and one of the reasons is that our team got significantly better because of his arrival.
I remember Sparky’s Pinstripe debut on April 19, 1972. We were ahead of the Brewers 3-0 in the top of the ninth. Mike Kekich had given up just two hits when Ron Theobold hit a two-out single, followed by John Briggs’ Home Run. Ralph Houk brought in The Count to pitch to George Scott, who grounded out on the second pitch. The first time he came to my rescue was on May 21, against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. I was off to a miserable start and was 0-6 so far that season. I went in to the top of the ninth with a 6-1 lead, and quickly have up successive singles to Duane Josephson, Rico Petrocelli and Phil Gagliano. With the bases loaded and two out, The Major brought The Count in to pitch, and I got my first win of the year.
Another memorable game from early in The Count’s Yankee career came in his second appearance for us, against the Oakland A’s on April 25, 1972. It was a pitcher’s duel between Sparky and Rollie Fingers. Steve Kline and Catfish Hunter were the starters and the game was tied 3-3 going into the ninth inning. Sparky had a 1-2-3 inning, followed by Rollie walking Rich McKinney and facing four batters. Sparky had a 1-2-3 tenth; Rollie had a little more trouble. He gave up a two-out walk to Bobby Murcer, who moved to second on Roy White’ single and got stranded there when Rollie got Felipe Alou out. In the eleventh, gave up a one-out hit to Joe Rudi and walked Reggie Jackson – then he struck out Sal Bando and Mike Epstein. With two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, The Major sent Ron Blomberg to the plate to pinch hit for Sparky. Bloomie walked, but then Rollie got Jerry Kenney out to end the inning. Mike Hegan hit an RBI double off Lindy McDaniel in the top of the twelfth, and Rollie had a 1-2-3 inning to get the win. It didn’t take long for our team to understand that the Era of Lindy McDaniel was over and there was a new fireman in town. One of my greatest regrets was that I wasn’t around for Sparky’s Cy Young season.
Happy All-Star Day! Today marks the 45th anniversary of my one appearance in the All-Star Game. I was honored to have been selected to the American League All-Star Team in 1970, and July 14, 1970 was one of the highlights of my career.
It’s the bottom of the ninth with the American League up 4-1 at Riverfront Stadium. Catfish Hunter entered the game to pitch and gave up a leadoff Home Run to Dick Dietz. Bud Harrelson then hit a single to left. Catfish got Cito Gaston to pop up, but then Joe Morgan hit a single to right, moving Bud to second. That’s when Earl Weaver walked to the mound and called me in to pitch. Weaver told me that I would be facing one of the greatest Home Run hitters of all-time, the legendary Willie McCovey. He said something like: “We’ll get him. I ain’t worried about him.” Easy for him to say! Bottom of the ninth, runners on first and second, one out, and our lead is now 4-2. And I’m facing Willie McCovey. Holy crap.
Now I’d like to tell the story this way: McCovey hits into a double play, Aparicio to Johnson to Yastrzemski, and the American League wins. But I can’t because things happened a bit differently.
McCovey hits a clean single to Amos Otis in center. Harrelson scores, and Morgan moves to third. Lead is now 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth And with the great Roberto Clemente coming up to pinch hit for Bob Gibson, Weaver walked back to the mound and called my friend Mel Stottlemyre in to pitch. Clemente hit an RBI sacrifice fly to center, tying the game 4-4. Then Mel struck out Pete Rose to end the inning. The rest of the story everyone knows: on Jim Hickman’s two-out, bottom of the twelfth single, Rose scored from second, barreling in to Ray Fosse at the plate. The National League won, 5-4 – but not without Ray suffering a serious injury that plagued the rest of his career. Another controversy Charlie Hustle has got to live with.
And so it goes into the record books: Fritz Peterson, 0 inning, 1 Hit, 1 Run, runners on the corners. But wow, I was there and it was amazing.
Happy Birthday to Willie Randolph, whose emergence as the Yankees regular second baseman marked the end of the Horace Clarke Era and the genesis of the George Steinbrenner Era that restored the Yankee Tradition of winning. I missed Willie by a year and a half. The Yankees traded me to Cleveland in April 1974, and Pittsburgh traded him to New York after the 1975 season. His rookie season was the first Yankee pennant since 1964, when I was a sophomore minor leaguer. His place in Yankee history is solid, and I’m pleased that the team chose to honor him last month. (Note: Don’t rush through this post, it has a tear-jerker ending.)
The first time I saw Willie up close was on May 18, 1976, a 4 ½ hour, 16-inning game at Cleveland stadium. I was pitching against Catfish Hunter, who gave up three hits and three runs in the top of the first. I faced Willie for the first time in the second inning, and he hit a two-out single to center. I got him out the next two At-Bats. We had a 6-1 lead in the top of the ninth. I gave up singles to the first two batters, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles, and that’s when Frank Robinson gave me the hook. Dave LaRoche entered in relief and struck out Otto Velez. Then Willie was up. He hit a single to left, loading the bases. Dave walked Rick Dempsey and gave up a two-run single to Sandy Alomar. After walking Roy White, Tom Buskey came in to pitch and promptly gave up a two-run single to Thurman Munson. That tied the score 6-6.
Sparky Lyle pitched six innings in relief, which explains why the Indians couldn’t get a seventh run. He was awesome, as he always was. In the 16th, Jim Kern gave up five runs – the fifth run was on a one-out RBI double to Willie.
I only pitched once more to Willie, on May 27, 1976 at Yankee Stadium, and he went 0-2 against me. In the fifth inning, I gave up a two-run Home Run to Mickey Rivers, and after giving up a single and wild pitch – and with the game tied 3-3, I was done.
What I didn’t know at the time was just how done I was. The next day the Indians traded me to the Texas Rangers for Ron Perzanowski. And within the next three weeks, a shoulder injury ended my baseball career.
So for me, 5/27/76 would be the last time on the mound for Yankee Stadium (not including an Old Timer’s Day). The last batter I would face there was Thurman Munson, my friend and my old catcher. That was fine by me.
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 wrote in my book that Andy Kosco looked exactly like Clark Kent in pinstripes. For ten years, he was an outfielder for the Twins, Brewers, Angels, Reds, Dodgers and Red Sox, and hopefully I won’t don’t sound arrogant when I say this, but I didn’t mind pitching to him. He had a .179 career batting average against me. There were a couple of times when I felt differently, like a leadoff double in Milwaukee that wound up costing me a run, or a sacrifice fly at Anaheim Stadium that drove in a run. And in 29 plate appearances, I was only able to strike him our once. The Twins sold Andy to Oakland after the 1967 season, and the following month he came to the Yankees under the Rule 5 Draft. His one season with the Yankees would have a historic meaning, at least to me. I remember he appeared in the first game I pitched of the 1968 season, against the A’s and Catfish Hunter at Yankee Stadium. Reggie Jackson homered off me, but I still had a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth when I gave up a leadoff single to Bert Campanaris, who moved to second on Reggie’s single. Ralph Houk took me out, and Dooley Womack came in relief. Campy wound up scoring when Sal Bando grounded out, and we lost the game in the ninth when Dooley gave up a two-run homer to a pinch hitter named Floyd Robinson. We lost 4-3. Andy achieved a small footnote in baseball history on September 28, 1968 when he replaced Mickey Mantle at first base after The Mick had his last major league at-bat. And Andy Kosco played a major role in my life on December 4, 1968 when the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers for a pitcher named Mike Kekich.
Thurman Munson got called up to the Yankees in August 1969, and his first game was on August 8, a Friday night, the second game of a twilight doubleheader against the Oakland A’s. Thurman was the catcher, giving Frank Fernandez a rest after the first game. Thurman batted eighth, and in his first major league at-bat came in the second inning; Catfish Hunter walked him. He grounded out Bert Campanaris in the fifth. By the seventh inning, the game remained scoreless in a pitching duel between Catfish and Al Downing. Gene Michael led off with an infield single, and Thurman hit a clean single to Tommy Reynolds in left – his first major league hit! Stick made it to third and Thurman advanced to second on Reynolds’ throw to Sal Bando. Stick and Thurman scored on a Horace Clarke single, and Hoss made it to third on Jerry Kenney’s hit. That’s when Hank Bauer, the A’s manager, pulled Catfish. Thurman’s second career hit came off Marcel Lachemann in the eighth. Bobby Murcer led off with a single. Jimmie Hall walked, and Stick made it to first on Lachemann’s error. So Thurman comes to the plate for his fourth big league plate appearance with the bases loaded and no outs. He hit a single to Reggie Jackson in right, and advances to second on Reggie’s throwing error. Thurman went 2-for-3 in his major league debut, with two RBI’s. And this Yankee fans will appreciate: on Thurman’s first RBI, Bobby Murcer scored!