Larry Gowell was only with the Yankees for a brief time during the 1972 season, but that was enough for him to achieve a sort of immortality in the baseball history books. It was October 4, 1972 and we were at Yankee Stadium playing the Brewers. Larry was the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the third and smacked a double off Jim Lonborg that went past John Briggs in left. Larry was left stranded on second as the next three Yankees failed to drive him home. But the hit was historic because it was the last game of the season, and as it turned out, he was the last American League pitcher to get a hit before the Designated Hitter rule went into effect the following April. So Larry’s bat now has a place at Cooperstown.
Thanks to the leadership of CBS (sarcasm intended here), the Yankees got the #1 draft pick in 1967, the third year Amateur Draft. Larry was their first pick in the fourth round – Ron Blomberg was the #1 pick in the first round. The first time I saw Larry pitch was the first exhibition game of the 1970 season. He had a natural slider and his fast ball was as fast as any other Yankee in spring training. We were Pompano Beach playing the Washington Senators and Larry came in to pitch in the ninth inning. We were ahead, 6-5. I think he was a little nervous. His first batter was Del Unser and he hit him with the pitch. His second batter was a teenager named Jeff Burroughs, who hit a massive Home Run.
Larry spent the 1972 season with the West Haven Yankees, the Eastern League AA club that was being managed by the Bobby Cox, now a Hall of Fame manager. He was on fire and the Yankee pitchers were following him closely. In 26 games, he was 14-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 181 innings.
Larry was a September call-up at a time when the Yankees were in a four-way race for First Place in the AL East. He made his major league debut in the bottom of the sixth inning on September 21, at County Stadium. With the Brewers ahead 4-0, Ralph Houk had removed Freddy Beene the previous inning for a pinch hitter, Rusty Torres. Larry retired the first three major league batters he faced: John Briggs, Ollie Brown and Mike Ferraro. Then in the seventh, he did the same thing against Rick Auerbach, Jerry Bell (the pitcher), and Ron Theobald. With two outs, The Major took him out in the eighth so Felipe Alou could hit. Felipe singled, the beginning of a Yankee rally. He moved to second on Horace Clarke’s hit, and scored on Roy White’s hit. The Bobby Murcer hit an RBI single, reducing Milwaukee’s lead to one run. Unfortunately, Bloomie flied out to end the inning, leaving Roy and Bobby on base. The Brewers wound up beating us, 6-4, and we wasted a rare ninth inning homer by Bernie Allen.
October 4 was the last game of the season and we had lost four in a row, dropping us to 4th place, 6 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers. Since we were out of contention, The Major decided to give Larry the start. He pitched really, really well. He gave up his first major league hit in the second to Joe Lahoud, and Briggs hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Dave May, who had doubled. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, no outs and Jerry Kenney on first, The Major pulled Larry for a pinch hitter, Frank Tepedino. Larry had given up three hits, and had struck out six. It was an amazing demonstration of pitching for a rookie. We lost 1-0, as the Yankee bats were not coming through.
Larry was in contention for a major league roster spot in 1973. He was cut at the end of spring training, losing out to Casey Cox and Doc Medich. He didn’t make the team again in 1974; the new manager, Bill Virdon, seemed to judge him based on one bad tenth inning in an exhibition game against the Texas Rangers. A lot of the hype that spring was about Mike Pazik, a cocky southpaw from Holy Cross who wound up getting traded to the Twins for Dick Woodson. But Larry Gowell’s time as a MLB pitcher was indeed memorable and historic. I am glad to have known him.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
On Tuesday, I was all caught up in reminiscing about the 1970 All-Star game that I forgot to extend my best birthday wishes to Derrick May. I knew his father, Dave May, a good hitter (he had a .353 lifetime average against me) and genuinely nice guy who played in the major league from 1967 to 1968. Two away games I particularly remember were in 1973 against the Milwaukee Brewers. On July 29, he went 3-for-5 against me. One hit set up an inning where the Brewers scored two runs, and another was an RBI single. I pitched a complete game (Derrick, those were before your time!) but we lost, 7-2. The other was on September 25. Dave went 2-for-4. The Brewers won that game with Pedro Garcia’s walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 13th. All of us in baseball are proud of your Dad’s achievements, and yours.
And today is the birthday of David May Jr., now a scout for the Blue Jays. Happy Birthday!
Happy Birthday to Charlie Moore, who played for the Milwaukee Brewers during my last four years in the major leagues. He was statistically the single toughest hitter I faced in eleven seasons as a pitcher. And the funny thing is the first time I saw him, as a 20-year-old late season call-up, I thought he would be easy. I was wrong.
It was September 25, 1973. We were away, I was at the end of a not so great 8-15 season, and the Yankees were three games under .500 and 17.5 game out of first — again, the whole “Horace Clarke Era” thing! Charlie made the third out in a 1-2-3 second inning with a fly ball to Otto Velez in right. In the fourth, I gave up successive singles to Dave May and George Scott. Then Don Money hit a shot to center; May scored and Scott went to third. Thurman Munson made a rare error and Money advanced to second. After Bobby Mitchell flied out to right – Scott wasn’t scoring on Velez’s arm – Ralph Houk gave me the signal to intentionally walk Charlie. Wilbur Howard hit a grounder to Fred Stanley at short, forcing Charlie out at second, but we didn’t get the DP; Scott scored, putting us behind 2-0 Brewers. I saw Charlie for the third time in the seventh when he tried to bunt on Thurman – bad idea. We scored one in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it, and Lindy McDaniel came in to relieve me in the bottom of the ninth. The Brewers won it in the 13th on Pedro Garcia’s RBI single.
Charlie Moore was going to be no problem, right?
The next time I saw Charlie Moore was on July 1, 1974. By this time, I had been traded to the Cleveland Indians and was starting the second game of a double header (remember those?) at Cleveland Stadium. He went 3-for-3 against me, two singles and a double. We beat the Brewers 9-3, but I couldn’t get Charlie out. I faced Charlie three times in 1975 and once more in 1976 (before the Rangers trade); he went 6-for-8, with a walk. I never struck him out, and the best I could do was get him to fly out to Rick Manning in center. Charlie went 9-for-13, with a career .692 average while batting against me. I looked it up and of the 525 different players who hit against me (more than twice), Charlie Moore has the highest career batting average of them all. How’s that for a little birthday trivia!