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.
I am celebrating an important anniversary today: 47 years ago today, I hit my first and only Triple as a Major League Baseball player. As a guy with a .159 career average, I will never forget that particular extra base hit. The Yankees were playing the White Sox in my old hometown of Chicago, and I was pitching against Gary Peters. We were both awful teams: the Yankees were in 8th place and the Chisox were in 9th. I was leading off the top of the third, and we were down one run. I had walked Buddy Bradford, who scored when Tim Cullen hit a grounder to Tom Tresh at shortstop and threw the ball to First Baseman Mickey Mantle, who missed it. Mickey was a magnificent player and one of the most wonderful men I ever played with, but this was the final season of his extraordinary career and he could no longer run. By the time he got to the ball, Buddy has scored. Cullen had a 2-1 count on me and he threw me a fastball that I clobbered (maybe clobber is an exaggeration, but I’m 73-years-old and it’s my story) to a beautiful spot between Bradford in center and Walt Williams in right. No neck made an incredible throw but I made it to third, albeit narrowly –Sandy Alomar, the White Sox Third Baseman, was a little surprised by that. Here’s the part my teammates enjoyed most: Horace Clarke tried to sacrifice with a fly ball to Tommy Davis in Left Field. Tommy caught the ball and threw it home, and Duane Josephson tagged me a little before I reached home plate. I was out. But that, my friends, is the historic story of my one and only Triple – but not the only time I got thrown out at the plate. More importantly, I think I pitched well: 8 2/3 innings, and the Yankees won 5-4.
(Quick note: I enjoyed playing with No Neck for a brief time when he joined the Yankees in 1974, and I have always been disappointed that I never got to play alongside Sandy, who came to New York shortly after the Yankees traded me to Cleveland.)
Happy Birthday to Bill Melton, who was a power-hitting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox while I was pitching for the New York Yankees. Some called him Beltin’ Bill because he hit 160 Home Runs in a short ten-year career that prematurely ended due to injury. He hit 33 Home Runs with 95 RBI’s in 1970, his second full major league season, and 33 Home Runs (best in the American League). Between 1968 and 1976, we played in 22 games together. He went 18-for-30, a career average of .300 – and after Paul Blair, no one hit more Home Runs off me that Bill Melton.
One game that comes to mind against Bill and the White Sox was on August 26, 1969, a weeknight game at Yankee Stadium. I was facing a very tough pitcher in Tommy John. We got off to a good start when Tommy gave up a second inning two-run Home Run to our catcher, Frank Fernandez. Tommy and I were pitching nicely; each of us got into jams a few times, but we both pitched our way out of them. By the time Chisox manager Al Lopez pulled him for a pinch runner in the top of the ninth, Tommy had not let more Yankees score. I was also pitching a shutout as I entered the ninth. Ron Hansen (my future teammate), hitting for Tommy, led off with a single to left. Gene Michael’s fielding error let Walt Williams (also my future teammate) reach first and Tommy McCraw (running for Ron) move to second. Luis Aparicio bunted to Bobby Cox at third, moving Tommy to third and No Neck to second. I got a second out when Don Pavletich popped up to Ron Woods in center. Then Beltin’ Bill comes up and hits a double past Roy White in left, scoring Tommy and No Neck and tying the game up 2-2. Ralph Houk had enough of me and brought in Lindy McDaniel to get the third out.
Wilbur Wood came in to pitch in the bottom of the ninth and retired the Yankees 1-2-3. Lindy pitched the top of the tenth in what was clearly a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. Stick made another error at shortstop, putting Ken Berry on first. Then Bobby Cox committed a throwing error, putting Ken on third and Bobby Knopp on first. Frank Fernandez let a ball get by him and Bobby advanced to second. Then Pete Ward (yet another future teammate) hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Berry and giving the White Sox a 3-2 lead.
The Yankees rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but they couldn’t get the job done. Gary Bell, now pitching for the White Sox, gave up a leadoff walk to Roy White. Then he walked Fernandez, advancing Heeba to second; Lopez switched pitchers (now Danny Lazar); The Major put Jerry Kenney in to run for Julio Big Head. Bobby Murcer bunted – well, as usual – to the Birthday Boy at third, with Heeba and Lobo each advancing a base. Lazar intentionally walks Ron Woods. Now Danny Murphy comes in to pitch. Batting for Cox, Jimmie Hall hit popped up to Aparicio at short. With two outs, bases loaded, and down 3-2, The Major puts Jake Gibbs in to hit for Len Boehmer. Giblets struck out looking, ending the game with a painful loss for the entire team.
One last story – quickly, I promise: the last time I ever faced Bill Melton was on May 9, 1976 at Anaheim Stadium. We were both at the ends of our careers – Bill with the Angels, me with the Indians (not long before my trade to the Rangers). Birthday Boy came up in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and Cleveland ahead 2-0 and hits a single to center.
Happy Birthday to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball. I never got to play with Goose on the Yankees, and as a starting pitcher that was my loss. No disrespect to Lindy McDaniel, but history would be treating me just a little better if I had Goose on my side. The guy was incredible. Goose’s rookie year was Sparky Lyle’s first in pinstripes. They went up against each other on two consecutive days.
Goose’s first game against the Yankees was during his rookie season of 1972. The Yankees were in Chicago and this was the first time Goose was facing us. The date was June 3, 1972. It started as a matchup between Stan Bahnsen, who had been dealt to Chicago in that crappy-for-us Rich McKinney deal, and Freddie Beene. This was one of the highest scoring games I can remember – we won 18-10. Goose entered the game at the start of the seventh, and the Yankees were losing 10-8. He was impressive – a 1-2-3 inning, getting Ron Bloomberg, Thurman Munson and Jerry Kenney out. And he was just as impressive in the eighth, getting Bernie Allen, Felipe Alou and Horace Clarke out – another 1-2-3 inning.
So Goose comes out for the top of the ninth, protecting a 10-8 lead. He gave up singles to the first three batters: Rusty Torres, Bobby Murcer and Roy White, who drove in Rusty. 10-9, runners at first and second, no outs, and Bloomie is up. Chuck Tanner pulled Goose for Steve Kealy, who gave up an RBI single. The score remained tied until the top of the 13th, when the Yankees had an extraordinary inning: Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer both hit a three-run homers: The other RBI’s came from two unlikely sources: Horace Clarke and Sparky, who drove in a run with a beautiful double to left. Sparky pitched five innings, holding the Chisox to just three hits for the win.
The next day, Goose came in to relieve Dave Lemonds in the sixth inning. The White Sox were ahead 2-1, but Lemonds got in some trouble. With runners on first and second, Roy White hit an RBI single to tie the game. Tanner pulled Lemonds and Goose got Felipe to hit into a double play. But with Bobby on third, Goose threw a wild pitch and the Yankees were now up 3-2. In the seventh, Goose faced an unusual offensive threat: Hal Lanier, who singled to right, stole second, and go to third of another wild pitch. Then Gene Michael laid down an absolutely beautiful bunt and Hal scored.
The White Sox came up in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees starter – some guy named Kekich – was three outs away from a complete game. With one out, he walked Bill Melton and then gave up a hit to Mike Andrews. With runners on first and second, Ralph Houk pulled Mike and brought in Sparky to close. Then Tanner put Jorge Orta in to run for Andrews, and pulled the next batter, shortstop Rich Morales, for a pinch hitter, Dick Allen. Allen belted a Home Run over the left field fence. The White Sox won, 5-3, and another rookie, Cy Acosta, got the win.
Goose got his first win against the Yankees on August 22, 1972, a 5-4 game in Chicago. The losing pitcher? That would be me.
Happy Birthday to my Yankee teammate, Jerry Kenney. I called Jerry “Lobo,” a nickname given to him by Horace Clarke; he was the Yankees regular third baseman from 1969 to 1972. We first met way back in 1964 as minor league teammates on the Shelby (North Carolina) Yankees in the Western Carolinas League (Class A). Lobo made his major league debut on September 5, 1967 at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, I remember the game well. I started against the White Sox, and gave up three runs in the first inning. I had nothing, absolutely nothing. Ralph Houk pulled me in the second after giving up two hits and (accidentally, really) hitting Tommy McCraw with a pitch. With the Yankees losing 5-3, Lobo led off the bottom of the ninth as a pinch hitter for Ruben Amaro and Bob Locker struck him out. But that had to be an exciting night for Jerry, who will always be able to say that he played in his first major league game with Mickey Mantle. #7 came in to pinch hit for Jim Bouton (who replaced me) in the bottom of the second and hit a double, driving in the Yankees third run.
My best memory of Lobo was on September 30, 1970 at Fenway Park. It was the last game of the season and I was going for my 20th win. In my book, I described asking Houk to play someone else at third; I’m sure glad The Major didn’t take player requests. In the fourth, he hit a two-run single to center, driving in Frank Tepedino and Jim Lyttle. The Yankees won 4-3, and I won 20 games for the only time in my career.
Lobo got dealt to the Indians in 1972, in what would be a monumental deal for the Yankees comeback. The Yankees sent him, along with Johnny Ellis, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres, to Cleveland for Craig Nettles and Jerry Moses.