Tagged: Don Wert

Happy Birthday, Don Wert

Don WertHappy 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.

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.

Happy Birthday, Jake Wood

JakeWoodHappy 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.