Among the guys I really enjoyed playing with was Dave LaRoche, who was traded to the Cleveland Indians during the 1975 Off-Season for another good pitcher, Milt Wilcox. The first time I saw him pitch was in his Yankee Stadium debut on July 19, 1970 when he was a rookie for the California Angels. He entered the game in relief in the eighth, taking over for Rudy May with a 5-2 lead. The first batter he faced was Horace Clarke, who grounded out. Then he struck out Bobby Murcer. In the ninth, he got Thurman Munson out. To me, getting Lemon and Tugboat out in your Yankee Stadium debut is a big deal. And that was Dave’s first major league save.
His Tribe debut was on April 12, 1975 in Milwaukee. It was the same day Dennis Eckersley made his major league debut. I was the starting pitcher that day, and I had nothing. Sometimes pitchers have days like that. I gave up a one-out walk to John Briggs, who reached third on Hank Aaron’s double. I intentionally walked the sometimes scary George Scott, and then Don Money hit an RBI single, scoring John. It could have been worse; I got the relay from Charlie Spikes in right and threw it to Johnny Ellis, the catcher, who tagged Hank out at home. Then it did get worse. Sixto Lezcano doubled, scoring George and moving Don to third. Charlie Moore, whom I wrote about on his birthday last month as being nearly impossible for me to get out, hit a two-run double. The Brewers led, 4-0. Frank Robinson pulled me in the bottom of the second after giving up a leadoff Home Run to Robin Yount and walking Bob Coluccio. Dave came in to pitch in the seventh – one of four pitchers the Tribe used that day – and he gave up no runs. But we lost, 6-5.
For a ballplayer, there are certain times in your career that you are part of history and don’t even know it. That’s what happened to me on April 12, 1975. I was the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and we were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee – the first game of the season for me. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. Jim Kern and Dave LaRoche pitched well in relief. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and runners on first and third, Frank brought in a rookie pitcher named Dennis Eckersley to make his MLB debut. Eck walked Don Money to load the bases, then proceeded to get Sixto Lezcano and Charlie Moore out. Eck pitched the eighth, gave up a leadoff hit to Pedro Garcia. Then he struck out Yount, followed by outs for Mike Hegan and John Briggs. The Tribe lost the game 6-5, but Eck’s major league debut was outstanding.
At Municipal Stadium before a game in 1975, our team photo: (Left to Right, front row): clubhouse manager Cy Buynak, trainer Jimmy Warfield, coach Harvey Haddix, coach Tom McCraw, president Ted Bonda, manager Frank Robinson, general manager Phil Seghi, traveling secretary Mike Seghi, coach Jeff Torborg, coach Dave Garcia, batboy; (second row) Fred Beene, John Lowenstein, Oscar Gamble, Ken Berry, Jackie Brown, Alan Ashby, Dave LaRoche, John Ellis, Tommy Smith, Fritz Peterson, Rick Manning, Frank Duffy, Duane Kuiper; (third row) Buddy Bell, George Hendrick, Ed Crosby, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Bibby, Boog Powell, Eric Raich, Charlie Spikes, Tom Buskey, Rico Carty, Roric Harrison.
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.
Happy Birthday to Hal Lanier, who was my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973. Hal came from a baseball family; I remember listening to Cubs games on the radio when I was a kid growing up in Chicago and Max Lanier was a pitcher for the Cardinals. The Yankees purchased Hal’s contract from the Giants a few weeks before 1972 spring training began, and I met him for the first time when he reported to Fort Lauderdale. During a road trip to Tampa, Hal took me to the racetrack and introduced me to his Dad. The first time we played together was on April 29, 1972 against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. I pitched eight innings, struck out four, and gave up two runs and six hits. But that wasn’t enough to stop Jim Kaat and Dave LaRoche, who combined for a four-hit shutout. Hal was 0-for-three. The 1972 season began miserably for me; I began the season 0-6 and didn’t win a game until May 21.
Hal was a smart guy, fun to be around. He was a good fielder, which helped because you didn’t keep him on the team for his bat. He hit .214 in 1972, with no Triples or Homers and just six RBIs. But there was one game during the summer when he drove in two runs against the Red Sox. If there was ever a time to be on, it was when you were playing Boston. His last game as a Yankee was on September 30, 1973. It was a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it was the last game of the season and we were facing the Tigers. As I talk about in my book, this was vintage “Horace Clarke Era” baseball; we were in 4th place in the AL East, 16 ½ games out of first. I was the Yankee starter; on the mound for Detroit was a September call-up named Fred Holdsworth. We took the lead in the second after Bobby Murcer scored on Otto Velez’s double, and held it until I have up a two-run homer to Marv Lane in the seventh. We regained the lead in the seventh off a leadoff homer by Duke Sims and a key RBI single by Celerino Sanchez. In the eighth, we added an insurance run when Hal Lanier hit an RBI double. I gave up hits to the first two batters in the ninth, Ike Brown and Tom Veryzer, and Ralph Houk brought Lindy McDaniel in to close. It was almost 42 years ago and this one is still a little painful to talk about. Lindy got clobbered and we went into the bottom of the ninth down 8-5. John Hiler, who was a pretty awesome closer, ended the game with a 1-2-3 inning.
The Yankees released him after the 1973 season, and he moved on the coaching and managing. He was the Houston Astros manager in the mid-1990’s. Hal is a half a year younger than me, and he’s still in baseball. I heard recently that he landed a gig as manager of an independent league team in Ottawa, Canada. They are lucky to have him.