A little Yankee trivia: Darrell Evans was drafted by the Yankees in 1966 as a 2nd Round pick, but did not sign. I remember he was not an easy get: at various points, the Cubs, Tigers and Phillies drafted him but couldn’t get him to ink his contract. Howdy Doody finally signed with the Kansas City Athletics, only to be picked up by the Braves in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft. He went on to enjoy a great baseball career that included 414 Home Runs. As a pitcher, I guess I am a little relieved that he enjoyed such a long career in the other league, so I never had to face him. The Home Run threat, combined with how often Howdy Doody would draw a walk, made him especially formidable.
Darrell got called up by the Braves about seven weeks into the 1971 season, replacing Clete Boyer as the regular Third Baseman. Imagine if he had signed with the Yankees. No doubt he would have won the starting 3B job over Jerry Kenney and later Celerino Sanchez. Howdy Doody might have changed the history of the Horace Clarke Era. But when reality sets in – and before you start cursing poor Dan Topping all over again – remember that if the Yankees had Darrell Evans at third, they might never have traded for Craig Nettles – and no Yankee fan can imagine life without Craig Nettles. So it was all for the best.
A little Celerino Sanchez trivia: Chief came to the Yankees in an unusual trade between a MLB team and a club in the Mexican League. The process started in 1969 when the Yankees traded Al Downing and Frank Fernandez to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater and an obscure guy named Ossie Chavarria, a Panama-born career minor leaguer (1959-1973) who hit .208 in 124 games for the Kansas City Athletics during parts of 1966 and 1967. (Footnote: he hit .222 against me in four games my rookie year.) Ossie never got his pinstripes: he played all the infield positions for the Syracuse Chiefs, batted in the .250-.270 range, but the competition was tough in those days – the Yankees had Horace Clarke, Gene Michael, Jerry Kenney, Frank Baker and Ron Hansen ahead of him. The Yankees were in the market for a new third baseman, and the scouts had identified Chief as a potential star. So after the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Ossie to the Mexico City Tigers in the Mexican League for Chief. Chief, of course, didn’t pan out, and he returned to the Mexican League in time for the 1974 season. Sadly, Chief died young, of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. But for some reason – likely his name and his role as the transitional third baseman between Jerry Kenney/Rich McKinney and Graig Nettles – he is well remembered by the Yankee fans of the Horace Clarke Era.
Chief hit his only career Home Run at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1973 off of Baltimore’s Mickey Scott. He was a pinch hitter for the pinch hitter for the designated hitter. Jim Ray Hart started the game against Mike Cuellar, and Ron Bloomberg pinch hit for him when Bob Reynolds came in relief. When Earl Weaver replaced Reynolds with Scott, Ralph Houk sent Chief up. With Bobby Murcer on first, Sanchez hit a shot to left; Al Bumbry tried to grab it, but he could not. That was a great win because we were tied with Baltimore for second on that particular day. Yankees blanked the Orioles 8-0; rookie Doc Medich got the win.
Chief went hitless in his first two major league games; his first hit came at Yankee Stadium, off Mike Paul of the Texas Rangers. It was a two-out hit to left, with an RBI; Roy White scored. His last hit came in his final game as a New York Yankee, and as a major league baseball player. It was the final game of the 1973 season; I was on the mound against Detroit. He came in to the game as a seventh inning replacement for Graig Nettles; facing Fred Holdsworth, he hit a two-out, two-run single to center, driving in Otto Velez and Hal Lanier. And Chief could never touch Wilbur Wood; nine At-Bats in 1972 and 1973, he hit .000 off him.
Happy Birthday to Hal Lanier, who was my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973. Hal came from a baseball family; I remember listening to Cubs games on the radio when I was a kid growing up in Chicago and Max Lanier was a pitcher for the Cardinals. The Yankees purchased Hal’s contract from the Giants a few weeks before 1972 spring training began, and I met him for the first time when he reported to Fort Lauderdale. During a road trip to Tampa, Hal took me to the racetrack and introduced me to his Dad. The first time we played together was on April 29, 1972 against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. I pitched eight innings, struck out four, and gave up two runs and six hits. But that wasn’t enough to stop Jim Kaat and Dave LaRoche, who combined for a four-hit shutout. Hal was 0-for-three. The 1972 season began miserably for me; I began the season 0-6 and didn’t win a game until May 21.
Hal was a smart guy, fun to be around. He was a good fielder, which helped because you didn’t keep him on the team for his bat. He hit .214 in 1972, with no Triples or Homers and just six RBIs. But there was one game during the summer when he drove in two runs against the Red Sox. If there was ever a time to be on, it was when you were playing Boston. His last game as a Yankee was on September 30, 1973. It was a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it was the last game of the season and we were facing the Tigers. As I talk about in my book, this was vintage “Horace Clarke Era” baseball; we were in 4th place in the AL East, 16 ½ games out of first. I was the Yankee starter; on the mound for Detroit was a September call-up named Fred Holdsworth. We took the lead in the second after Bobby Murcer scored on Otto Velez’s double, and held it until I have up a two-run homer to Marv Lane in the seventh. We regained the lead in the seventh off a leadoff homer by Duke Sims and a key RBI single by Celerino Sanchez. In the eighth, we added an insurance run when Hal Lanier hit an RBI double. I gave up hits to the first two batters in the ninth, Ike Brown and Tom Veryzer, and Ralph Houk brought Lindy McDaniel in to close. It was almost 42 years ago and this one is still a little painful to talk about. Lindy got clobbered and we went into the bottom of the ninth down 8-5. John Hiler, who was a pretty awesome closer, ended the game with a 1-2-3 inning.
The Yankees released him after the 1973 season, and he moved on the coaching and managing. He was the Houston Astros manager in the mid-1990’s. Hal is a half a year younger than me, and he’s still in baseball. I heard recently that he landed a gig as manager of an independent league team in Ottawa, Canada. They are lucky to have him.