Happy Birthday to Don Kessinger, a great shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I never played with Don, who spent nearly his entire career in the National League, but I came close. I had signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1977, but retired in May after my second shoulder surgery without every playing a game for them. Don was traded to the Sox in August, where he finished his excellent career.
Another great ballplayer, Deron Johnson, would have been 75 today. He died way too young of lung cancer in 1991. He came up through the Yankee organization, but got traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Bud Daley early in the 1961 season. He led the National League in RBI’s with 130 in 1965, batting fifth for the Cincinnati Reds and following Tommy Harper, Pete Rose, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. The first time I ever faced him was on May 29, 1973, when the Oakland A’s were playing at Yankee Stadium. I struck him out looking. But over the course of the next couple of years, Deron did just fine; he had a .313 lifetime average against me.
Happy 75th Birthday to Lee Elia, whose brief career as an infielder for both Chicago MLB teams is overshadowed by his time as the manager of the Cubs and a most memorable profanity-laced tirade directed at Chicago fans. Lee and I were rookies together in 1966. The first time I pitched to Lee was on May 28, 1966 at Yankee Stadium. He hit a single in the top of the second, moving Pete Ward to third – and Ward scored on Al Weis’ fielder’s choice. I proceeded to get Lee out the next twelve times I faced him that season. But on October 1, 1966, the last time Lee was At-Bat against me, he hit another single. Lee spent the next season in the minors, during which time the Cubs purchased his contract. He played briefly with the Cubbies in 1968, but that was the end of his major league career.
Lee was sort of Dallas Green’s protégé. The two met when they were minor leaguers in the Phillies organization, teammates on the Arkansas Travelers in the Pacific Coast League. Fergie Jenkins, Alex Johnson and Pat Corrales were also on that team. (Frank Lucchesi, who would be my manager in Texas twelve years later, was the manager.) I was in the minors at the same time, playing in North Carolina, and I remember hearing about this amazing farm team. Lee wound up coaching for Dallas in Philadelphia and then got hired by the Cubs when Dallas was the General Manager. He later joined Dallas in New York as a Yankees coach, and then had another shot as a major league manager in Philadelphia.
Happy Birthday to Bruce Kimm, who was a rookie catcher for the Detroit Tigers when I was playing my last season. Our careers crossed only so slightly, in one game at Tiger Stadium on May 14, 1976. He had made his major league debut ten days earlier, and one the day that I pitched, it was his second start. The Tigers had Bill Freehan and John Wockenfuss, and I’m not sure what happened to cause Detroit to call Bruce up – maybe it was because Bruce had become Mark Fidrych’s catcher of choice and The Bird was unhittable that year. I faced him for the first time in the second inning, with two outs, and he flied out to Duane Kuiper at second. His second at-bat came in the fifth, when he hit a leadoff single to left. The next batter up was Ron LeFlore, who singled, moving Bruce to third. Frank Robinson pulled me from the game. Tom Buskey won it in relief for the Indians. That was it. Within the next 35 days, I had been traded to the Texas Rangers, suffered an injury, and never played again. I looked it up and Bruce’s hit off me was the second of his career; the first came the night before off Rudy May at Yankee Stadium. As a Chicago native, I was pleased that someone I had played ball with got the chance to manage the Cubs, even for a brief time, as Bruce did in 2002.