Happy 75th Birthday to Roger Repoz, my teammate on the Yankees during my rookie season of 1966. Roger had his major league debut with the Yankees in 1964 as a September call-up, and played half a season with them in 1965. I remember one particular day that he was on fire: we were playing a double header against the Athletics in Kansas City and with Mickey Mantle out, Roger played Center Field for both games. He went 2-for-4 in each game, with a total of three RBI’s. A few days later, we were in Detroit and I was pitching. In the top of the first, Denny McClain started off the game by striking out Roy White; then he walked the next three batters – Bobby Richardson, Tommy Tresh and Joe Pepitone — three walks in a row, certainly a rare occurrence for this mighty pitcher. Then Roger Maris drove in Bobby, and with the bases still loaded, Roger drove in Tommy. That gave me a two-run lead before I ever took the mound. But like I said, Denny was a mighty pitcher. He didn’t give up any more hits for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I did, and we lost 7-2. I got to see the harsh realities of a baseball life for the first time on June 10, 1966 when the Yankees traded Roger, along with Gil Blanco and Bill Stafford, to Kansas City for Billy Bryan and Fred Talbot. It was the first trade since I joined the club. It was nice to get to know Roger, even for a brief time, and it was always nice when I saw him over the next six years when our teams played each other – and not just because he was 0-for-8 against me!
Happy Birthday to Don Wert, a Third Baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers from 1963 to 1970 and for the Washington Senators in 1971. Don was an American League All-Star in 1968, the year the Tigers won the World Series. He was known as an excellent fielder, and an incredibly durable player who rarely missed a game. He was also a .333 career hitter against me. The first time I faced him was on May 17, 1966, my rookie season, and the Yankees were in Detroit; I was pitching against Denny McClain for the first time. Denny pitched a two-hitter, with 8 strikeouts. For a few years, he seemed unstoppable. Don was 0-for-1 in that first game, with a walk and an RBI sacrifice fly. I remember another game a few years later, also me vs. Denny that was an especially excruciating loss for all of us. In the top of the fifth, Don hit a two-out single to center. Then Denny got up to the plate and belted another single to center, scoring Don. The Tigers beat us that day, 3-2.
Ron 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.
Happy Birthday to Don Demeter, an 11-year MLB veteran who must have liked me because he had a lifetime batting average of .417 against me. He first showed his dominance over me at the plate early in my rookie season. It was May 17, 1966 and the Yankees were playing the Tigers in Detroit. We had a good first inning: Denny McClain walked three consecutive batters, and we scored two runs on a sacrifice fly by Roger Maris and a single by Roger Repoz. But that would be the end of the Yankee run production for the day; Denny settled down to pitch a two-hitter with eight strikeouts. After a Maris double and an intentional walk to Elston Howard in the fourth, no other Yankee would get on base.
As for me, I pitched okay for the first four innings, but let’s just say I was no Denny McClain. I had a 1-2-3 first, and after giving up a second inning double to Al Kaline, I got the next three guys out. The next two innings were fine. I gave up a fifth inning leadoff homer to Bill Freehan, followed by Ray Oyler’s double. Oyler scored on a sac fly, tying the game at 2-2. In the sixth, Norm Cash doubled, and then Don Demeter came up. He hit a powerful shot over the left field fence, putting the Tigers ahead, 4-2. Ray Barker pinch hit for me in the seventh. The Tigers won 7-2, putting my rookie record at 2-3. During our next series against Detroit, Don homered off me too, but this time the Yankee offense came through and we won 6-3.
Finally, Happy Birthday to Mike Stanley and Bob Shirley, who played for the Yankees long after I left — that means they’re much younger than me!
Happy Birthday to former Detroit Tigers infielder Jake Wood. I faced Jake for the first time during my rookie season, and I remember the game well – mostly because of how badly it started. It was June 11, 1966 and it was my second time pitching in Tiger Stadium. (Let me start by saying that the first time was a disaster. I gave up four runs in six innings and lost the game to Denny McClain.) Before I even took the mound, my teammates came through. Tom Tresh led off with a walk and stole second on Bill Freehan – and that was no easy task. Bobby Richardson signed, moving Tresh to third. Tresh scored on a Roger Maris groundout, and Richardson scored on Joe Pepitone’s single to center. The lead narrowed quickly. After I walked the leadoff batter, Don Wert, I faced Jake Wood and hit him with the pitch. Don Demeter drove him home with a single. I struck Wood out in the third, a 1-2-3 inning for us. The Tigers tied it up in the fifth with a Dick McAuliffe leadoff Home Run. Wert singled, and Wood bunted to third moving Wert to second. Luckily Norm Cash, who could be frightening at the plate, grounded out. My lead increased when Elston Howard hit a two-run Home Run. Don Demeter hit a one-out homer in the sixth and Ralph Houk too me out. The Yankees won, 6-3, thanks to some outstanding relief pitching from Hal Reniff, and I got the win.