My most infamous start for the Cleveland Indians came on June 4, 1974, a Tuesday night home game against the Texas Rangers – known in baseball history as “Ten Cent Beer Night.” I’ve posted a couple of videos that explain the whole thing – not baseball’s greatest moment. By the time things got really bad, I was gone. I lasted three innings that night. If I ever write a book on my time with The Tribe, I’ll be sure to dedicate a chapter to this one.
George Steinbrenner tried to buy the Cleveland Indians in the early 1970’s, before he put together a deal for a little less than what Brett Gardner will make this year alone to buy the New York Yankees. The Boss was an Indians fan who grew to love the Yankees, the same way I developed a deep affection for my adopted team when I was traded to Cleveland in 1974. I was a proud member of the Tribe for nearly two seasons. I went to the Cleveland Indians during an especially tough time in my life and I will always have tremendous affection for the team and its fans, who made me feel welcome and rejuvenated.
When I got to the Indians, I could not wear #19 because that number belonged to the extraordinary Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. So I got #30, which Gene Bearden wore during the Indians World Championship year of 1948. Gene went 20-7 that year, part of an amazing pitching staff of Feller and Bob Lemon. I remember being around 11-years-old growing up in Chicago and listening to the radio when Gene was pitching the White Sox. Later I switched to #16, which had been worn by another great pitcher, Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser. I focus on the uniform because that is a big deal to a player, and to me it represented the next chapter of my baseball career. I had been a Yankee since I was 21, and in MLB it was always pinstripes.
It was April 30, 1974, four days after the trade, and the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. This was my first start for my new team, and I admit I was a little nervous. Maybe it wasn’t being the new kid on the first day of school as it was the fear of pitching against Bert Blyleven, but anyway I was in a new uniform for the first time since trading in the Columbus Clippers jersey for pinstripes.
The first game I played for the Indians was on April 30, 1974, four days after the trade. It was a Tuesday night and we were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. John Lowenstein, the leadoff hitter, made it to first on shortstop Luis Gomez’s error, and moved to second on Jack Brohammer’s single. John stole third, and scored when Jack stole second and moved to third on Randy Hundley’s throwing error. Oscar came up with two outs and singled to center, driving in Jack. So I took the mound as a first-time Indians pitcher with a 2-0 lead. Oscar went 2-for-4 in that game – he also hit a double and was intentionally walked in the fifth when the Yankees scored four more runs. I was pulled in the seventh after Danny Darwin hit his second Home Run of the day against me, and Freddy Beene, who came to Cleveland in the same deal as me, came in and settled everything down. I got my first win on the new team as Cleveland won 8-3.
Happy Birthday to Jack Heidemann, an infielder for eight seasons in the 1970’s. We were teammates on the Cleveland Indians briefly in 1974. The Yankees traded me there on April 26, and Jack was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1. While our time was brief, it was an honor to play with him. He was a smart ballplayer and a genuinely nice guy. And he was among the large group of players who interrupted their careers to serve in the military, and on his birthday, I thank him for his service to our country.
Thinking about Jack, the game I remember most was one I watched from the bench. It was August 3, 1971, a night game in Cleveland. Jack was playing Shortstop. Bobby Murcer was on first, Thurman Munson on third, and Roy White came to the plate with one out. Heeba hits a ground ball to Eddie Leon, the Indians Second Baseman. Eddie made a horrible throw to Jack, which put him directly in front of Bobby Murcer, who was sliding into second. Jack suffered serious injuries to his knee and was out for the rest of the season. It was awful. And let me say this – we are all extremely competitive on the field for each play of every game, but none of us like it when a fellow ballplayer gets hurt the way Jack did.
Even though we were on the same team for about 35 days, Jack and I were on the field at the same time only once: May 24, 1974 at Cleveland Stadium. He came in as an eighth inning defensive replacement for John Lowenstein at Third Base, but had no opportunity to make a play. Still, as a pitcher, it was reassuring to know Jack had my back. He was an excellent infielder.
This one will test your baseball memory: Happy Birthday to Rich Hand, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers and California Angels during a four-year career that went from 1970 to 1973. Keep reading, since there is an obscure Yankee connection. I pitched against him once, on August 31, 1972 when the Rangers played us at Yankee Stadium. Rich had the misfortune of playing for some weak teams (I know what that’s like) and he had some promise. One year he had over 100 strikeouts. He was a nice guy and I don’t mean to embarrass him when I say that the Yankees played great that day – memorable because Horace Clarke hit a Home Run that day, and Bobby Murcer hit a three-run homer. Rich did strike me out once. I pitched a complete game, five hits, and seven strikeouts – bringing my record to a mediocre 14-13.
And for extreme Yankee trivia buffs: After four innings, Ted Williams, who was managing the Rangers, brought in Casey Cox to pitch. Casey gave up successive RBI doubles in the fifth to Horace Clarke and Bobby Murcer. Then he settled down and pitched 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh. I must have impressed Lee McPhail, because before the day was over, Casey was a Yankee – he came over to us in a trade for another pitcher, Jim Roland. Jim’s tenure with the Yankees lasted all of four months.
Happy Birthday to Hal McRae, who was an amazing hitter for the Kansas City Royals during the 1970’s and 1980’s. He had 2,091 career hits and a lifetime .290 batting average – the kind of solid player that often gets overlooked by visiting team fans. But take it from me, as a pitcher, I was always a little nervous when Hal came up to bat. I remember one game on August 27, 1974, when I was with the Cleveland Indians, Hal was especially tough on me. We were playing in Kansas City, and in the bottom of the second he hit an RBI double down the left field line. The last time I pitched to Hal was about two weeks before the Indians traded me to Texas. In the bottom of the sixth, I gave up a leadoff single to George Brett. Big John Mayberry hit a shot to right field that Charlie Spikes was able to catch. One away. Then Hal came up to bat. I struck him out, and then Alan Ashby was able to catch George stealing second. Inning over. It was nice to see Hal become a MLB manager, and to see Hal’s son, Brian, play major league baseball.
Happy Birthday to Willie Randolph, whose emergence as the Yankees regular second baseman marked the end of the Horace Clarke Era and the genesis of the George Steinbrenner Era that restored the Yankee Tradition of winning. I missed Willie by a year and a half. The Yankees traded me to Cleveland in April 1974, and Pittsburgh traded him to New York after the 1975 season. His rookie season was the first Yankee pennant since 1964, when I was a sophomore minor leaguer. His place in Yankee history is solid, and I’m pleased that the team chose to honor him last month. (Note: Don’t rush through this post, it has a tear-jerker ending.)
The first time I saw Willie up close was on May 18, 1976, a 4 ½ hour, 16-inning game at Cleveland stadium. I was pitching against Catfish Hunter, who gave up three hits and three runs in the top of the first. I faced Willie for the first time in the second inning, and he hit a two-out single to center. I got him out the next two At-Bats. We had a 6-1 lead in the top of the ninth. I gave up singles to the first two batters, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles, and that’s when Frank Robinson gave me the hook. Dave LaRoche entered in relief and struck out Otto Velez. Then Willie was up. He hit a single to left, loading the bases. Dave walked Rick Dempsey and gave up a two-run single to Sandy Alomar. After walking Roy White, Tom Buskey came in to pitch and promptly gave up a two-run single to Thurman Munson. That tied the score 6-6.
Sparky Lyle pitched six innings in relief, which explains why the Indians couldn’t get a seventh run. He was awesome, as he always was. In the 16th, Jim Kern gave up five runs – the fifth run was on a one-out RBI double to Willie.
I only pitched once more to Willie, on May 27, 1976 at Yankee Stadium, and he went 0-2 against me. In the fifth inning, I gave up a two-run Home Run to Mickey Rivers, and after giving up a single and wild pitch – and with the game tied 3-3, I was done.
What I didn’t know at the time was just how done I was. The next day the Indians traded me to the Texas Rangers for Ron Perzanowski. And within the next three weeks, a shoulder injury ended my baseball career.
So for me, 5/27/76 would be the last time on the mound for Yankee Stadium (not including an Old Timer’s Day). The last batter I would face there was Thurman Munson, my friend and my old catcher. That was fine by me.
Like most pitchers, I wasn’t much of a hitter. My career average was .159 – 82 hits, including 15 doubles, a triple, and two “historic” home runs (off Clyde Wright and Mike Cuellar). I actually hit well my rookie season, 1966: .224, which was four points higher than a right fielder named Lou Clinton, a very nice man who was nearing the end of his career. Of course my hitting career came to an end in 1973 when the AL adopted the Designated Hitter rule. I was fine with that; it made it a little tougher when #9 in the order was no longer a pitcher, but fans liked the idea of some veteran hitters staying on a bit longer and so did I. My last major league at-bat came on October 1, 1972, the first game of a Sunday double header against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium – my last start of the season because there was no post-season in the “Horace Clarke Era.” It was one of the most memorable games of my career – an 11-inning complete game! How many times has that happened?
Gaylord Perry was pitching for the Indians, and he was enjoying the best seasons of his career: 24-16, with a 1.92 ERA, 234 strikeouts, and winning the Cy Young Award. He also pitched a complete game – his 29th of the season. So I repeat my question: when was the last time two pitchers threw an 11-inning complete game in the same game?
This was not an inconsequential game. The Yankees began the day tied for 3rd in the AL East with the Orioles, while the Red Sox and Tigers were in a down-to-the-wire battle for first. We were five games out of first place, with five games remaining. We were eliminated from winning the division since Boston and Detroit had three games left against each other. But there was a scenario that could have had us in 2nd – not 4th, where we wound up – and that was worth trying for.
The Yankees scored in the fourth when Roy White scored on Bernie Allen’s ground rule double, and the Indians tied it in the fifth when Ray Fosse hit a leadoff Home Run against me. The game remained 1-1 until the top of the eleventh. Buddy Bell led off with a double to left, and moved to third on Jack Brohamer’s grounder to Ron Bloomberg at first. Chris Chambliss hit a sacrifice fly to Bobby Murcer in center; Bell scored, and we were down 2-1. I was supposed to lead off the bottom of the eleventh, but naturally Ralph Houk pinch hit for me. Frank Tepedino struck out looking. Then Horace Clarke filed out and Thurman Munson grounded out. We lost 2-1.
I don’t presume to know anything about baseball compared to Houk, who was one of the smartest baseball strategists I ever knew. But 43 years later, maybe it’s ok to wonder what he was thinking when he sent Tepedino, who was 0-8 as a September call up, to leadoff in the bottom of the eleventh, one run down. There were only two left-handed hitter on the bench: Tepedino and Johnny Callison, who was a .216 lifetime hitter against Perry but was hitting .280 vs. righties that season. Would it have been better to take his chances with Johnny Ellis, a right-handed hitter with a .294 average and a .270 average against right-handed pitchers that season? Or an experienced hitter, like Ron Swoboda? We will never know.
Anyway, there was a point to this post, and finally I’m getting to it. With the DH starting in 1973 – call it the Ron Bloomberg Lifetime of Fame Rule – this was the last time I would ever bat in a major league game. I popped up to shortstop Frank Duffy in the fourth, and struck out in the fifth — I was one of Perry’s eleven strikeouts that game. My final career At-Bat came in the eighth, with a ground out to second. As I said earlier, Teppie pinch hit for me in the eleventh and struck out. I think I could have done at least as well.