Happy Birthday to Bill Campbell, who for some of his fifteen years in the major leagues was one of the game’s dominant relief pitchers. I remember he was the first closer to test the free agent market after the 1976 season and Bill had a huge role in determining how owners would value relief pitchers moving forward. His stats the previous season in Minnesota were mind-boggling: he went 17-5 as a relief pitcher, plus 20 saves. He pitched 167 innings, had an ERA of 3.08 with 115 strikeouts. And by the way, in 1975 he was 4-5 with five 5 saves in 121 innings, so it is fair to say that Bill peaked at exactly the right moment in his career. Free agency was in its infancy at that point, and Bill was with a small market team. He signed a four-year deal with the Red Sox worth $1 million. Now I understand that in today’s baseball economy, that’s less than the major league minimum salary, but back then, it was huge money. Huge money. And the Red Sox gave him the same amount of money they had offered Charlie Finley to buy Rollie Fingers’ contract just a few months earlier – the one Bowie Kuhn cancelled. I once heard someone say that a year earlier, Bill was making $20,000 and asked Calvin Griffin for $30,000 and got turned down. So I remember Bill not just for what he accomplished on the field, but for the precedent he set in contact negotiations.
Happy 75th Birthday to Jack Aker, a wonderful guy with an amazing slider who was my Yankee teammate from 1969 to 1972. He spent a little time on the original Seattle Pilots team before the Yankees traded Fred Talbot to get him. I wrote a lot about him in my book, especially how he was a guy you wanted on your side in a fight. And in Ball Four, Jim Bouton talks about how Charlie Finley wanted to get rid of Jack, who was the A’s union rep, and that’s how he came to be left unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft. The Chief spent eleven seasons in the major leagues, all of them as a relief pitcher; he never started a game. One of the first times I saw The Chief pitch was in my rookie year, 1966, and the Yankees were in Kansas City to play the Athletics. He and Fred were on the same team then, and Fred got the win and Jack the save. I think Jack actually appeared in all three games of that series. Jack pitched in 38 games during the remainder of the 1969 season, with eight wins, 14 saves, and a 2.06 ERA.
A couple of weeks ago, on Dick Drago’s birthday, I wrote about one game I pitched with Jack Aker that had a huge effect on my life. It was August 25, 1970. Steve Kline pitched great for 7 1/3 innings and only let up one run – a seventh inning leadoff homer to Bob Oliver. After he gave up a hit in the eighth, and with a runner at second, Ralph Houk brought in Jack Aker to pitch to Amos Otis. Jack had a sore back and hadn’t pitched in about two weeks. He seemed to be doing fine, but after one pitch, the pain returned and he could not continue. Houk called me in to get the last two outs. Dick was pitching magnificently. He had given up a run in the second when Bobby Murcer doubled and Danny Cater drove him in, when he took the mound in the top of the ninth, we were tied, 1-1. Roy White singled, stole second, and advanced to third on Cater’s infield hit. Then Jim Lyttle drove him in with a single. I came in for the bottom of the ninth and gave up a leadoff walk to Oliver; the Major then brought in Lindy McDaniel to close, and the Yankees won 2-1. I got the win by pitching to four batters. An important win because I finished the season 20-11, but I only got the opportunity because poor Jack got hurt.