I pitched in 355 major league baseball games over an 11-year career – 2,218 1/3 innings, I gave up 2,217 hits, 947 runs, 173 Home Runs, and I struck out 1,015 batters. I’m blessed by a multitude of memories. But when people ask me what game I remember most, there is nothing to think about. It was July 4, 1966, the second game of an Independence Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I was a 24-year-old rookie and a starting pitcher for the greatest sports team in the history of the planet. And as I took the mound for the start of the 8th inning, I was throwing a perfect game. I had retired the first 21 batters. I struck out Tommie Agee twice. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, put I had great stuff. In the first seven innings, home plate umpire Jim Odom had only called 13 balls.
We were playing the White Sox, the team I rooted for as a kid growing up in Chicago. My guys were making some great plays in the field. This was the day Ralph Houk ended his experiment of playing Tommy Tresh at third and Clete Boyer at sort. Thank god; Tommy and Clete were amazing. And the Yankee offense came through. I led off the third inning with a single to left off Juan Pizarro, and scored on Bobby Richardson’s double. Lou Clinton drove in Bobby and Dick Schofield to put us up 3-0. We scored two more runs in the fifth when Jake Gibbs drove in Lou and Clete Boyer.
There were some hairy moments, like in the fourth inning when Don Buford almost beat out a bunt. (Thank you, Clete Boyer!) and in the sixth when a relatively new Yankee, Dick Schofield, made an incredible back-handed stop at short that prevented Ken Berry from getting what should have been a bit.
So, to paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In the dugout, no one said anything, except for pitching coach Jim Turner (a Yankee legend, but not my favorite coach), who just told me to “relax.” Gene Freese led off the 8th with a shot to left field – deep left field – that was caught magnificently by Tommy. I had now retired 22 batters – five outs away from pitching the first perfect game since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. But no immortality for me; this is where the universe turned. Jerry Adair came to the plate – the same Jerry Adair who would have a .167 batting average against me. Jerry hits – maybe it’ better if I say taps – the ball about twenty feet up the third base side of the mound. I got it, and threw it high to Ray Baker at first base. E-1, a throwing error – my throwing error – and for the first time a White Sox player had reached first base. So no perfect game, but still a no-hitter. Everything’s gonna be fine.
The next batter was John Romano, the White Sox catcher. Before you ask, John would wind up with a .250 average against me – for those who don’t particularly enjoy math, that means he gets a hit one out of every four times. And this, my friends, would be one of them. John hit a single right up the middle. Nothing we could do about it. The no-hitter was off the table; now the Chisox have runners on first and second, and we still needed to win this game. Berry gets up and hits a double to left, and Adair scored. Al Weis, who pinch-ran for Romano, moved to third. Then Lee Elia hits a sacrifice fly to center; Weis scored (Yankees 5, White Sox 2). Next up was Bill Skowron, a true Yankee legend, who was pinch hitting. Moose hit a grounder to first baseman Ray Barker, who flipped it to me to get the third out in the most memorable inning of my life. I led off the ninth with a groundout — kudos to The Major, who didn’t pinch hit for me on this incredible day. The Yankees won – yeah, I know, that’s what matters – and I have one heck of a story to tell. Thank you for listening to it, and Happy Fourth of July.
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.
Fred Talbot came to the Yankees about two months into the 1966 season, when Dan Topping traded Gil Blanco (my old minor league teammate), Roger Repoz and Bill Stafford to the Kansas City Athletics for Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. I called him Zack – the story about why is in my book. His Yankee debut came on June 12, 1966 at Tiger Stadium, starting the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against Mickey Lolich. He had a lead before even taking the mound, after Elston Howard hit a three-run Home Run in the top of the first. Zack retired the side 1-2-3. In the second, Clete Boyer hit a leadoff Home Run, and after Lou Clinton flied out, Zack came up to hit for the first time in pinstripes. He singled to center, and that was it for Lolich, who was replaced by Orlaayndo Pena after just 1 1/3 innings. Zack went to second on Tom Tresh’s single, and scored on a single by Mickey Mantle. Let’s push the pause button for a moment: Zack is in pinstripes for the first time, throws a 1-2-3 inning, gets a hit off Mickey Lolich, and scores his first run as a Yankee on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle. Life is good. Or maybe in baseball you just have to savor the moment, because things can change quickly. If there is one thing I know, it’s that.
Zack takes the mound in the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead. He gives up a leadoff single to Al Kaline, who moves to second on Fred’s wild pitch and to third on Jim Northrup’s single. Bill Freehan hits a pop up in foul territory that Elston Howard caught, for one out. Then Gates Brown hits a single to right, with Kaline scoring the Tigers’ first run and Northrup moving to second. Zack got a little nervous with Northrup taking a big lead off second, and Larry Napp, the umpire at home plate, called a balk. Now Detroit had runners on second and third, with one out. But Zack settled down, and got Ray Oyler and pinch hitter Jerry Lumpe out to end the inning. With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Jake Wood, and then Norm Cash hit a two-run homer. Now it’s 6-3. The Yankees added a run in the fourth on Tresh’s Home Run.
The fourth would be it for Zack; Ralph Houk brought in Steve Hamilton to pitch after Brown singled and Oyler walked. He left his Yankee debut with a 7-3 lead. The Yankees wound up winning, but not easily. The final score was 12-10. For any 20-something year old, standing on the mound with Mickey Mantle is center and Ellie Howard behind the plate is a magical moment, and I’m glad my friend Zack had a strong showing.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to view last week’s tribute to Pedro Ramos.
Happy Birthday to me very good friend and teammate, Al Downing. I first met Sam – I always called him Sam, a story explained in my book – down in Fort Lauderdale in 1966 when I was incited to Spring Training as a rookie. He was less than a year older than me, but he had been in the major league since 1961, and he was always helpful to me. He even taught me his incredible change-up pitch – at least he tried; whether I ever really learned it is up to others to decide. I will always be grateful for the way he immediately reached out to me, even though at that point we were both trying to secure a starting pitcher slot. He is a good man.
As it turned out, Johnny Keane started the season with five starting pitchers: Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Friend, Sam and me. I remember Sam pitching a fantastic game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on May 20, 1966. That was the year the Twins won the American League Pennant, and lost the World Series to the Dodgers in 7 games. He struck out 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings, three of them to one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball, Harmon Killebrew. He struck out Zoilo Versalles, who won the MVP that year, and had two strikeouts against the always threatening Cesar Tovar. I remember Sam getting into a bid of trouble in the third inning, when pitcher Camilo Pascual got a one-out single and moved to third on Versalles’ single. Then Versalles stole second. Sam struck out Tovar and walked Tony Oliva to load the bases. Killebrew struck out looking, leaving three Twins on base. The Yankees scored two runs in the fifth after a double by Clete Boyer, a single by Elston Howard, and a triple by Roy White. Sam made us all a little nervous in the eighth when Tovar led off with a double and Killer drove him in with a single to center. Then he got Don Mincher and Andy Kosco out, and we had a 2-1 lead. With two outs in the ninth, Sam walked Bob Allison and Ralph Houk brought in Pedro Ramos to finish the game. He struck out Versalles to give Sam the win.
I missed Sam a lot when the Yankees traded him after the 1969 season to Oakland for Danny Cater. I never pitched against him in 1970 when the Yankees were playing the A’s or the Brewers (where he was traded in June). I consider that a stroke of good luck, since 1970 was the only year I won 20 games and going up against Sam would have lessened the odds of me doing that.
Nobody I played with is celebrating a birthday today, but I wanted to remember my Yankee teammate Bill Robinson, who passed away too young in 2007 after battling diabetes. Weaser would have been 72 today. I saw him for the first time in 1965 in a Florida Instructional League game when he was a Braves prospect and we played each other in West Palm Beach. I wrote in my book that I had never seen a player who looked as good as Bill did on the field. We became friends after the Yankees traded a legend, Clete Boyer, to Atlanta for Bill and a pitcher named Chi-Chi Olivo, who had played a couple of years in the majors, but was assigned to Syracuse. I never played against Weaser, because the Yankees were the only American League team he had ever played for. He won the James P. Dawson Memorial Award for the outstanding Yankee rookie in spring training. The reporters who covered the Yankee beat would vote every year. In 1967, Weaser got the votes of all but one reporter, who preferred Thad Tillotson. He got a gold watch. He was a good hitter and an exceptional man, and I miss him.
After writing about the Clete Boyer-for-Bill Robinson trade I started thinking about Chi-Chi Olivo, the other player in that deal. I knew Chi-Chi pitched for the Braves in the early 1960’s and his brother, Diomedes, was a pitcher for the Pirates because I followed pitchers closely in those days. Soon after the 1966 season ended, Chi-Chi was in an automobile accident and received a serious head injury. The trade happened about a month later. I met Chi-Chi at spring training, but never got to know him well. I remember the day he got cut, along with Joe Verbanic and Mike Ferraro. He was assigned to Syracuse and never made it back to the majors. Sadly, Chi-Chi passed away of liver disease in 1977 at age 48; Diomedes died of a heart attack a few months later.
One more story about that Jake Wood game in Detroit. The Dodgers traded the great Johnny Podres to the Tigers a few weeks before, and in the top of the seventh he came in to pitch. So here I am, still a Rookie, sitting on the bench after giving a Home Run, narrowing our lead to one run, and I was like “Holy Crap, that’s Johnny Podres.” It was the first time I had seen him pitch, and this guy was legendary. He was a southpaw who was the 1955 World Series MVP when the Dodgers beat the Yankees. Podres takes the mound and proceeds to retire six in a row: Clete Boyer, Hal Reniff, and Tom Tresh, followed by Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Wow! I’m a 24-year-old rookie and I’m pitching in the same game as Johnny Podres. That’s one of the many reasons I feel fully blessed by Baseball.