The Baltimore Orioles were one of the toughest teams I ever played against. They won the World Series in 1966, my rookie year, the American League Pennant in 1969 (the first time there was a Divisional Series), the World Series in 1970, and the AL Pennant in 1971. They had an unreal team: Boog Powell at first, Davey Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, Brooks Robinson at third, Andy Etchebarren was the catcher, and they had Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford in the outfield. And they had great pitching – one year it was four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. So because they were so good in 1970, I feel compelled to recall one game between the Orioles and the Washington Senators that year – maybe just to embarrass my friend, Rick Reichert.
It was June 20, a Sunday afternoon at RFK, and it was Earl Weaver managing against Ted Williams. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the twelfth inning, with nothing more than a pair of walks, a pair of popups, and an error by Mike Epstein, the Orioles scored and took a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the twelfth, Jim French drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, Rick came up to the plate to pinch hit for Lee Maye. He hit a walk-off, two run homer and delivered a rare and excruciating loss to the first-place Orioles. It was an amazing moment.
I had to look up the details, but I remember the game. The Yankees had lost to the Red Sox more than an hour earlier. We were 2 ½ games out of first place at that point and we all stuck around the clubhouse to find out how the Orioles game was going.
Happy Birthday to Danny Walton, who was my teammate on the New York Yankees from 1971 to 1972. About two months into the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Frank Tepedino and Bobby Mitchell, once considered among the Yankees most promising prospects, to the Milwaukee Brewers. The Yankees viewed Danny as a potential power-hitting outfielder – he had 17 Home Runs the previous season — although they knew he struck out a lot. They wanted him as a right-handed pinch hitter. He hit just one Home Run for the Yankees (a solo shot off Dave McNally in a game the Orioles won 10-4. He also had knee problems that affected his career and played only five games for us before he was optioned to Syracuse to make room on the roster for a young up-and-comer named Ron Blomberg. He spent 1972 in AAA and the Yankees traded him to Baltimore for Rick Dempsey before he ever returned to pinstripes.
I say this respectfully, but as a pitcher I never really feared Danny Walton. The first time I saw him was on May 2, 1970 at Yankee Stadium and I struck him out twice in his first two at-bats. Then I walked him. A week later, we made our first trip to County Stadium in Milwaukee, where the Seattle Pilots had relocated after one year. The next time I pitched to Danny, I stuck him out three times in three at-bats. He didn’t get a hit off me until July. In all, I struck Danny out eleven times in twenty at-bats, and he had a lifetime .200 batting average against me, with no extra base hits and no RBI’s. But Danny got the best of me at the end: two of his four career hits off me came in the final two at-bats against me, when he was with the Minnesota Twins.
Danny missed a lot of time because of his bad knees, but he still put together a career that lasted (on and off) from 1968 to 1980, and I admire that.
None of the men I played with are celebrating a birthday today, so I want to remember Hal Reniff, would have been 77 today. It was sad nearly eleven years ago when I learned of his passing. He was my teammate and fellow pitcher on the 1966 Yankees, my rookie season. Hal had a nice career and was especially fortunate to be a rookie on the 1961 World Championship club. In 1963, he led the team in saves and I remember as a first-year minor leaguer watching Porky throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the World Series. The first time we pitched in the same game was April 23, 1966 – my Yankee Stadium debut, my second major league game, and my first career loss. And that sure wasn’t Hal’s fault. It was an excruciatingly painful day for me.
The first batter I faced at Yankee Stadium was Luis Aparicio, who got on base with a single hit to me. Then he stole second. I struck out Curt Blefary and Frank Robinson, but then Brooks Robinson hit a single to center and his RBI put the Orioles in the lead. That rattled me a bit, and facing the massive Boog Powell, I threw a wild pitch that but Brooks on second. Thankfully Boog grounded out to Bobby Richardson. I settled down and threw 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.
The fourth inning really sucked. I walked Frank Robinson, who stole second and scored off Brooks Robinson’s single. Paul Blair, who was always an especially tough out for me, hit a two-out single to Mickey Mantle in center, moving Brooks to second. Andy Etchebarren hit another single to Mickey and Brooks scored. Now we’re down 3-0. The Orioles picked up another run in the fifth when Frank Robinson hit an RBI double.
The Yankees finally scored a run in the fifth when Clete Boyer hit a one-out Home Run off Dave McNally. With two outs and no one on base, Ralph Houk sent Hector Lopez in to hit for me. It didn’t help; Hector struck out. Porky came in to pitch in the sixth and faced three batters after Etchebarren hit into a double play; he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Elston Howard brought the score to 4-3 when he hit a double, scoring Mickey and Joe Pepitone. The Major sent Lou Clinton in to bat for Porky, and Dooley Womack came in to finish the game. We lost 4-3.
The Yankees sold Porky to the Mets about three months into the 1967 season. That was his last year in major league baseball.