Tagged: Dalton Jones

Monument Monday: Ron Klimkowski

RON KLIMKOWSKIRon Klimkowski was one of my favorite Yankees.  He was warm and friendly all the time.  We called him Bela, because we thought he looked like the Count Dracula actor, Bela Lugosi.  In my book, I wrote a lot about him on a personal level.  But he had some talent as a pitcher also, and was proud of his Yankee alumni status until he died of heart failure at the young age of 65 in 2009.  Bela was part of two important trades involving Yankee veterans: originally signed by the Red Sox, he was the Player-To-Be-Named-Later in the trade that sent Elston Howard to Boston for the 1967 pennant race and World Series.  Four years later, the Yankees sent him to Oakland, along with Rob Gardner, for Felipe Alou.  Bela was from New York and New Jersey and he loved being a Yankee, so he signed with the Yankees after the A’s released him thirteen months later.

I remember Bela’s major league debut.  It was September 15, 1969.  He was a September call-up from Syracuse.  The Yankees were home against the Detroit Tigers, and Stan Bahnsen was pitching against Denny McClain, who was again dominating the American League.  It was still a little weird seeing Tommy Tresh in a Tiger uniform, even though his trade for Ron Woods had happened a couple of months before.  Ralph Houk pinch hit for Stan in the bottom of the sixth, and Bela arrived on the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound for the first time in the top of the seventh.  We were down 2-0.  The first MLB batter he faced was Cesar Gutierrez, who had come in to replace Tommy at Shortstop in the first inning.  Cesar grounded out to Jerry Kenney at shortstop, providing Bela with his first major league out.  He quickly got five more: Jim Northrup and Al Kaline, then Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Tommy Matchick in the eighth.  He gave up a hit, his first, to Bill Freehan in the ninth, but then retired Dick Wert, Denny and Cesar, consecutively.  So Bela was off to a great start: three scoreless innings, facing ten batters, and giving up one hit.  The problem for Bela, not his fault, was that Denny gave up just two hits the entire game, and scored his 23rd win of the season.

On September 24, The Major decided to start Bela, who pitched magnificently against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  Maybe Bela just wanted to show Tom Yawkey what he gave up.  He pitched nine full innings, giving up no runs and just three hits.  The problem for Bela, again not his fault, is that the Yankees couldn’t get anything going offensively.  In the top of the tenth, with runners on first and second and one out, The Major sent Frank Tepedino up to  hit for Bela.  No doubt the right move.  Unfortunately, Teppie flied out.  Then Horace Clarke popped up to second to end the inning.  Jack Aker and Lindy McDaniel threw scoreless tenth and eleventh innings, respectively.  And no runs were scored off of Stan Bahnsen in the twelfth and thirteenth.  Of course the Yankees couldn’t score off the Bosox reliever, Sonny Siebert, who gave up just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.

George Scott hit a leadoff infield single off Stan in the bottom of the fourteenth; Scott got to second of a well-executed bunt by Tom Satriano.  Stan walked Dalton Jones, who came in to pinch hit for Sonny..  Then Mike Andrews doubled to left, scoring George.  As you can imagine, it’s extraordinarily painful to lose a 1-0 game to Boston in the fourteenth inning.  What was worse was that this was the best game of Ron Klimkowski’s baseball career.

Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers  I knew during my baseball career.  Click here to read my previous entries.

Monument Monday: Loyd Colson

Loyd ColsonLoyd Colson was drafted by the Yankees in 1967, their first pick in the 28th round.  Of the 77 players the Yankees drafted that day, only five ever wore the pinstripes, and Loyd was one of them.  Just making it to the major leagues is an extraordinarily tough task, and while Loyd’s career was short, he still made it. I’m sure he will never forget the thrill of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while he never made it back, our team was honored to have him there and grateful for his strong showing that day.  So today’s installment of Monument Monday is dedicated to all the young players who made it to the major leagues, even if for only a short time, and I want to recognize their monumental achievements.

I met Loyd for the first time in February of 1970, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Lauderdale.  He was one of nine new guys on the 40-man roster that the Yankees viewed as integral to regaining their past glory.  The others were (if I remember this correctly) pitchers Larry Gowell (who had 217 strikeouts in 195 innings in the minors the year before), Terry Bongiovanni, Doug Hansen and Bill Olsen, outfielder Rusty Torres, and a trio of infielders – George Zeber, Mario Guerrero and Tim O’Connell.  [One brief footnote to baseball history: one of the players cut to make room for these new prospects was Bobby Cox, who was our Third Baseman for two years.] Loyd had impressed the Yankees during his stint with the Kinston Eagles, the Yankees Carolina League AA team.  He had 125 strikeouts in 120 innings, and a 1.73 ERA.

Going into spring training, there were fifteen guys competing for four open spots on the Yankee pitching staff.  Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and I were expected to be three of the five starters, and Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton were going to be in the bullpen.  There were six pitchers in contention to be the other starters: Bill Burbach, John Cumberland, Ron Klimkowski, Steve Kline, Joe Verbanic, and this guy named Mike Kekich, who had been traded from the Dodgers.  Also in camp were Rob Grander, Dick Farrell (a veteran National League pitcher who was at the end of his career), Jerry Tirtle, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, Bongiovanni, Gowell, Hansen, Olsen and Colson.  Yankee executives boasted that they had “pitching depth” heading into the 1970 season.  I remember that I was excited.  Entering my third major league season, I pitched the most pre-season innings of the Yankee pitchers and had a 1.55 ERA during spring training.

The four pitchers who made it on the 25-man roster were Burbach, Klimkowski, Verbanic, and Kekich.  Verbanic had missed the entire 1969 season because of a shoulder injury.  He started the season with the Yankees, but was gone in about a month, never to pitch in the major leagues again.  He would eventually be replaced by Cumberland.  Eventually Bile would lose his starting slot to Kline, who got called up in July.

Loyd ColsonSo back to Loyd Colson. Loyd was impressive in spring training and sent to the Manchester Yankees, the AA team, to get some more experience.  He gets called up to the Yankees in September of 1970.  He’s wearing #49 on his back.  I remember his one appearance.  It was September 25, and we were playing the Detroit Tigers in a Friday twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.  There were six games left in the season, and we were in second place in the American League East, thirteen games behind the Baltimore Orioles.  Steve Kline was pitching against Mickey Lolich.  After seven innings, we were losing 2-1.  Dick McAuliffe had hit a solo homer and Elliot Maddox had an RBI double for Detroit; Ron Hansen hit a solo Home Run for us.  Loyd entered the game in the top of the eighth, taking over for Gary Jones, who had left the game for a pinch hitter.

The first major league hitter Loyd faced was Tigers Second Baseman Dalton Jones, who it a fly ball to center that Bobby Mitchell caught for the first out.  [For Yankee memorabilia collectors there is some significance to this, since Loyd and Bobby would share a Rookie Card in the 1971 TOPPS set.  The next batter was Don Wert, who singled to Bobby in center.  Gene Lamont, the Tigers catcher, then hit an RBI double.  This was a tough debut for a pitcher and I recall being impressed by how Loyd settled down and struck out the next two batters, Maddox and Lolich.

In the top of the ninth, Colson led off the inning by striking out McAuliffe.  He gave up an infield single to Mickey Stanley, and then retired Jim Northrup and the always threatening Norm Cash on flyballs.  The Yankee offense threatened Lolich in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Lyttle hit a one-out single to center, and advanced to second when Gene Michael got on base due to Jones’ error.  So with the tying run at first, The Major sends Roy White in to pinch hit for Loyd.  Lolich struck Heeba out, and then won the game when Horace Clarke flied out to right.

So there it is, the history of Loyd Colson.  Not a bad showing: 3 hits, one run, and three strikeouts (and zero At-Bats) in two innings as a pitcher for the greatest baseball team in history.  He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1971, didn’t make the team, and got sent to Syracuse.  He never had another opportunity to play in the majors, but he did have two good innings in pinstripes and all of us are grateful to him for that.

Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers  I knew during my baseball career.  Click here to read my previous entries.