Tomorrow would be the 79th birthday of Yankee pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who died at the beginning of this year after a valiant fight with acute myelogenous leukemia. Bill had a great eleven year baseball career, spending eight years with the Red Sox, followed by the Tigers, Yankees and Giants. Aside from his statistical accomplishments that included a 20-game win season and three All-Star games (including one as the American League’s starting pitcher), Bill was also the last starting pitcher to face Satchel Paige, then 59-years-old and playing in one game for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965. Bill was also the last hitter Satchel ever struck out. I was a college student from Chicago in 1962 and listened on the radio as Bill threw a no-hitter against Early Wynn and my team at the time, the White Sox. And anyone who had ever thought about pitching knew about his 17-strikeout game against the Senators in 1961. He was popular in Boston – I think he grew up not far from Fenway Park – but baseball is baseball and after the 1966 season (and before the team became the improbable vault to the 1967 World Series), Bill was traded to Detroit for a handful of prospects.
After Bill became a Yankee, he told me about his own major league debut, against the Tigers in 1959 at Fenway, with all his family and friends watching. I can still hear him telling it. It was the first inning. He walked the first batter, and then gave up a single to Billy Martin. Now there were runners on first and third and Al Kaline was up; a run scored when Kaline hit into a fielder’s choice that Boston third baseman Frank Malzone bumbled. Now the bases were load and Bill got the next two batters out. Then Billy Martin stole home. That’s a heck of an introduction to MLB.
The first time I watched Bill pitch in person was on April 14, 1966. The weather in New York was so cold the day before that the game was postponed to a doubleheader – that’s how we played the second and third games of my rookie season. He pitched a complete game and struck out six (Roger Maris twice), and the Tigers won 5-2. He beat us again in June in a tough 4-3 loss; Bill actually came in relief, blew the save, and then got the win. I didn’t face him in any of the four games against the Yankees that’s season.
The Tigers released him ten games into the 1967 season, and the Yankees were able to sign him. His first game wearing the Pinstripes (#40) was on June 2, against the Tigers. He pitched the eighth and ninth innings, faced seven batters, and gave up one hit. In 33 games, he had a 2.33 ERA – and 56 strikeouts in 135 innings. He won the final game of that season with a complete game against the Athletics. The Yankees traded him to the Giants in June of 1968, who would be the Yankees closer until we got Sparky Lyle four years later. And for McDaniel, we got Lou Piniella, who would play a key role in ending the Horace Clarke Era and returning the Yankees to their glory. In a weird sort of way, the Yankees got Bill Monbouquette for free and turned him into Sweet Lou.
One thing the Yankees and Red Sox have in common is that they take care of their own. When Bill first got sick in 2007, the Red Sox launched a massive campaign to get fans to enter the National Marrow Donor Registry as a way of saving his life. He had a stem cell transplant and that gave him several more years.
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 former Yankee pitcher Eli Grba. I remember watching Eli pitch at Comiskey Park during the summer of 1959. For a teenager in Chicago, I will always remember that season because it was the first time in my life that the White Sox made it to the World Series. Chicago had a lot of second and third place teams in the 1950’s, but it was the Yankees who dominated. It was exciting because Casey Stengel’s Yankees were in town – Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek – and Eli, who was the Yankees starting pitcher. Eli was also from Chicago and this was his rookie season; I think it may have been his first appearance at Comiskey. I remember my first time pitching in Chicago, so I understand how nervous Eli must have been. And he was pitching against Early Wynn, who would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. One of the things I remember is how good Eli was. I think his first three innings were 1-2-3 innings. He got stars like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox out. And he got a hit of his own off of Early. I remember the White Sox won that day – Early was enjoying a resurgence and was pitching like he did when he was the star for the Cleveland Indians. But I also remember some cheers for Chicago’s favorite son, who pitched very well that day in front of his family, friends and fans.
Eli was originally signed by the Red Sox, but the Yankees got him in a trade for Bill Renna. He sacrificed a couple of years from his career to serve in the military and I thank him for his service. And he got to the World Series in 1960 after a fairly successful season for the Yankees. I remember watching one of his first games of that season when the Yankees were in town playing the White Sox. Early was again pitching for Chicago. This time, Eli was the winning pitcher. Later on that summer, Eli hit a Home Run off Early at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees left Eli unprotected in the 1962 expansion draft and the new California Angeles grabbed him. He struck out over 100 batters that year, for a club that finished eighth. Eli was the first Angel pitcher ever; he pitched opening day against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium and won the first game in team history. A complete game. He played in that historic first franchise game with Ken Aspromonte, who would later be my manager when I was traded to Cleveland. Years later, I heard that in his first appearance back at Yankee Stadium wearing an Angels uniform, Yogi hit a first inning single, followed by The Mick hitter a Home Run. That’s the way the Yankees are – competitive, no matter what.
Eli is my Facebook friend and he comments frequently on my posts remembering other ballplayers from our day. I appreciate that he reads my reminiscences, and hope that he will enjoy his 81st birthday and many, many more with good health and happiness.