Tagged: Elston Howard

Remembering Tommie Agee

Tommie AgeeLet’s remember the life of Tommie Agee, who played enjoyed a wonderful twelve-year major league baseball career, most notably as a star of the 1969 World Champion Mets.   I hated the Mets, but not Tommie.  He was a great guy and an amazing ballplayer.  I liked and respected him a lot.  He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award with the White Sox in 1966 with 80% of the vote; if anyone cares, I was a rookie that year and received zero votes.  Chicago got him from the Indians in what now looks like a lopsided trade involving three teams: Cleveland sent him, Tommy John and John Romano to Chicago for Cam Carreon; the White Sox sent Fred Talbot, Mike Hershberger and Jim Landis to Kansas City, who in turn sent Rocky Colavito on a return trip to the Indians (who seemed unafraid of the Curse of Rocky Colavito.)

Tommie was a career .300 hitter against me.  The first time I saw him was at Yankee Stadium on May 28, 1966.  He was the leadoff batter in that game and he hit a first pitch single to Roger Repoz in right field.  He was taking huge leads off first and with Don Buford at At-Bat, Ralph Houk ordered a pitch out and Elston Howard picked him off.  All of my games are memorable to me, especially the ones from 1966, but this particular game always bothered me.  It had been raining since the third inning, and with the game tied, 2-2, after five full innings, the umpires called it for weather after a delay of nearly an hour.  Yankee fans were irate because a game called after that point technically invalidated their rain checks.  The club, sensing a possible public relations problem – Bob Fishel was good at that, as was Marty Appel after him – decided to honor the rain checks anyway.  But the game was if it never happened, at least statistically.  I still had to wait a few days to rest.

Anyway, back to Tommie.  He was a great ballplayer and a wonderful man.  I still think it‘s sort of cool that he and Cleon Jones were friends since they were kids and won a World Series as outfielders together.  He died in 2001 at age 58 of a heart attack; he would have been 74 today.  Baseball misses him.

Happy Birthday, Ray Culp

Ray CulpHappy Birthday to Ray Culp, who pitched for the Phillies, Cubs and Red Sox from 1963 to 1973. The first time I saw Ray pitch was in 1968, following his trade to Boston for Bill Schlesinger. On a Saturday night at Fenway Park, he threw a four-hit shutout, striking out ten Yankee batters. I came into the game in the bottom of the sixth, after Ralph Houk had pulled starter Fred Talbot for a pinch hitter. I have up one hit in the two innings I pitched – to Ellie Howard – before Steve Whitaker was put in to hit for me. Boston beat us, 4-0; that was Ray’s first American League win.

Monument Monday: Ron Klimkowski

RON KLIMKOWSKIRon 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, Hector Lopez

Hector LopezHappy Birthday to my teammate, Hector Lopez, whose magnificent career as a major league baseball player crossed with mine for just one year.  His final season came in 1966, my rookie year.  I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with this Yankee great.  Headley started out, as many Yankees did, with the Kansas City Athletics.  He came to New York in a 1959 trade and retired there seven years later.  I met Headley for the first time during Spring Training 1966 in Fort Lauderdale.

The first game Hector and I played in together was on May 22, 1966, the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium against the Minnesota Twins.    I wasn’t pitching badly – I had only given up two hits before Tony Oliva tripled to lead off the fourth and Bob Allison hit a sacrifice fly to Mickey Mantle in center field, and we were losing 1-0.  Elston Howard doubled to left to lead off the eighth and Hector Lopez pinch hit for me.  Ralph Houk put Horace Clarke in to run for Ellie, and Hoss was able to get to second after Hector hit a deep shot to center.  Hoss scored on Roy White’s single, tying the game.  White advanced to second on Bobby Richardson’s hit, and scored on Joe Pepitone’s double to left. The Yankees won 2-1, my third career victory – in part thanks to Headley.

On August 4, 1966, we were playing the Angeles at Anaheim Stadium.  I was pitching and Headley was playing Right Field.  I remember the game because it was my worst performance of the season.  I have up two runs and two hits in the bottom of the first.  In the second, gave up a leadoff single to Buck Rodgers, who moved to second on Bobby Knoop’s single. They both advanced a base on Ed Kirkpatrick’s groundout.  Then the pitcher, Marcelino Lopez, hit an infield single, with Rodgers scoring and Knoop moving to third.  Jose Cardenal came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out and hit a triple to Headley in right field.  Headley misplayed the ball, removing the option of getting Jose at third.  Instead, two more runs scored.  Jay hit an RBI single and I was gone after 1 1/3 innings, having given up six runs.  So after Dooley Womack finishes the inning, Headley comes up to me in the dugout and apologizes for the play.  Imagine that, this classic Yankee apologizing to a rookie who just pitched horribly.  “Sorry, Peta,” he said.  “I owe you one.”  What a great guy!

Happy Birthday, Casey Cox

Casey Cox Happy Birthday to Casey Cox, my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973.  We were part of the Class of 1966 of American League pitchers making their major league debut; he was with the Washington Senators.  The first time we pitched against each other was on July 8, 1966 at Yankee Stadium, the second game of a twilight doubleheader.  This wasn’t exactly a battle of the titans; it was a match up of two fairly crappy teams; the ’72 Yankees were in 8th place, 19 ½ games out, and the Senators were in 9th, 21 ½ games out.

I had given up two runs in the first (including a double to Ken Harrelson and a triple to Frank Howard) and two more in the second.  We picked up three runs in the third off Mickey Mantle’s Home Run, doubles by Joe Pepitone and Ray Barker, and a single by Horace Clarke.  Casey relieved Joe Hannan in the fifth inning after Mickey singled to left and Hector Lopez (pinch running for Mickey) moved to third on Joe Pepitone’s single.  Elston Howard came to bat and hit into a double play, but Hector scored and the game was tied 4-4.  With two outs, Ray hit a deep shot to center – for a moment I thought it was going out – but Don Lock caught it and the inning was over.  Casey pitched again in the sixth, a 1-2-3 inning.  I came up with two outs and Casey struck me out – not an amazing accomplishment, but memorable to me nonetheless since it was a tie game.  I’m glad Ralph Houk didn’t pinch hit for me.

The top of the seventh was no good for me.  Paul Casanova led off with a single, and moved to second on a beautiful sacrifice bunt by Ed Brinkman.  Gil Hodges, the Senators manager, pulled Casey so that Bob Saverine could pinch hit.  Good move.  Bob singled to center and Paul scored and we’re now losing 5-4.  But my team continued to come through.  The new Washington pitcher, Dick Bosman, walked Tom Tresh; Bobby Richardson got to first base on a fielding error by Brinkman, the shortstop, with Tommy moving to second.  Hector executed a pretty good sacrifice bunt, moving Tommy to third and Bobby to second.  Hodges called for an intentional walk to Pepitone, loading the bases.  Elston Howard popped up to first; then Ray Barker hit a two-out single, with Tommy and Bobby scoring.  Now we’re ahead 6-5.  We scored one more run in the eighth when Clete Boyer hit a leadoff triple and later scored.  Dick Bosman got the loss and I was now 8-5, with another complete game but just two strikeouts.

Casey came to the Yankees on August 31, 1973 in a trade for Jim Roland, ending Jim’s four-month career in pinstripes.  He was a very good guy who had the misfortune of pitching for some bad teams – he originally signed with the Reds; timing is everything in baseball.  I’m sorry to report that the Yankees lost all five games Casey pitched in, including an excruciating loss in a game I pitched against the Red Sox; the loss was entirely on me, not Casey.  In 1974, Casey pitched in one game – he entered in the sixth, with the Red Sox ahead 12-5, and gave up three runs in three innings.  The Yankees released him soon after that, and he never pitched in the major leagues again.

A few more things about the baseball career of Casey Cox: he was managed by three baseball greats – Gil Hodges, Ted Williams and Ralph Houk; he had his career year in 1969 when he was 12-7 with a 2.78 ERA, making 13 starts in 52 games; and some excellent hitters like Carlton Fisk and Rod Carew had .143 career batting averages against him.

The other thing I think about when I remember Casey Cox is that he wore #29 and if you follow Yankee history, you know that there is not much longevity associated with guys who wear #29 on the back of their pinstripes.  Of the 55 Yankees who have worn #29, the only one to last more than a few seasons were Francisco Cervelli, Mike Stanton, Gerald Williams, Catfish Hunter, and Charlie Silvera.  Casey originally wore #39, but he wanted #29, which was his number on the Senators and the Rangers.  That switch came about because Sudden Sam McDowell, who was #39, wanted #48.  Before Sudden Sam, the number was worn by a succession of one-season guys: Wade Blasingame (1972), Jim Hardin (1971), Mike McCormick (1970), Rocky Colavito (1968), Bill Henry (1966), Bobby Tiefenauer (1965), Mike Jurewicz (1965), Tom Metcalf (1963), Hal Brown (1962), Earl Torgeson (1961), Duke Maas (1961), and Hal Stowe (1960).  After Casey was traded, #29 was assigned to Tom Buskey, who wore it from April 1973 until April 1974, when he and I were traded to Cleveland; and then Dick Woodson for the rest of that season.  Then Catfish came in 1975.  Later came short-term Yankees like Dave Collins, Paul Zuvella, Al Holland, Luis Aquayo, Dave LaPoint, Mike Humphreys, Ricky Bones, Bubba Trammel, Tony Clark, Tim Redding, Felix Escalona, Octavio Dotel, Kei Igawa, Cody Ransom, Xavier Nady, Anthony Claggett, and Rafael Soriano.  So the best I can say is Good Luck to David Carpenter.

Yankees Bullpen Coach Mel Wright

Mel WrightA little bit of Yankee trivia regarding the often overlooked job of bullpen coach.  When I made the team in 1966, the beloved Jim Hegan was in his sixth season in the post.  Shanty got pushed out in 1974, mostly because he was a Ralph Houk man and Bill Virdon wanted his buddy Mel Wright.  Mel originally signed with the Yankees in 1950, but never wore pinstripes.  Mel and Bill became close when they played for the same Yankee farm teams in the early 1950’s. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954, along with Virdon and another minor leaguer, Emil Tellinger, for future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter.  He was on Virdon’s staff with the Pirates, Astros and Expos too.  And he died way too young at age 54.  Sometimes coaches are the flotsam and jetsam of baseball, with their careers dependent upon who the manager is.

Over the coming days, I’ll write a little bit about the other Yankee coaches who were around during my time with the team: Loren Babe, Frank Crosetti, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Dick Howser, Mickey Mantle, Wally Moses and Jim Turner.


Jim Hegan 1966

Remembering Hal Reniff on his birthday

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.

Monument Monday: Fred Talbot

Fred Talbot came to the Yankees about two months into the 1966 season, when Dan Topping traded Gil Blanco (my old minor league teammate), Roger Repoz and Bill Stafford to the Kansas City Athletics for Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. I called him Zack – the story about why is in my book.   His Yankee debut came on June 12, 1966 at Tiger Stadium, starting the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against Mickey Lolich.  He had a lead before even taking the mound, after Elston Howard hit a three-run Home Run in the top of the first.  Zack retired the side 1-2-3.  In the second, Clete Boyer hit a leadoff Home Run, and after Lou Clinton flied out, Zack came up to hit for the first time in pinstripes.  He singled to center, and that was it for Lolich, who was replaced by Orlaayndo Pena after just 1 1/3 innings.  Zack went to second on Tom Tresh’s single, and scored on a single by Mickey Mantle.  Let’s push the pause button for a moment: Zack is in pinstripes for the first time, throws a 1-2-3 inning, gets a hit off Mickey Lolich, and scores his first run as a Yankee on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle.  Life is good.  Or maybe in baseball you just have to savor the moment, because things can change quickly.  If there is one thing I know, it’s that.

Zack takes the mound in the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead.  He gives up a leadoff single to Al Kaline, who moves to second on Fred’s wild pitch and to third on Jim Northrup’s single.  Bill Freehan hits a pop up in foul territory that Elston Howard caught, for one out.  Then Gates Brown hits a single to right, with Kaline scoring the Tigers’ first run and Northrup moving to second.  Zack got a little nervous with Northrup taking a big lead off second, and Larry Napp, the umpire at home plate, called a balk.  Now Detroit had runners on second and third, with one out. But Zack settled down, and got Ray Oyler and pinch hitter Jerry Lumpe out to end the inning.  With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Jake Wood, and then Norm Cash hit a two-run homer.  Now it’s 6-3.  The Yankees added a run in the fourth on Tresh’s Home Run.

The fourth would be it for Zack; Ralph Houk brought in Steve Hamilton to pitch after Brown singled and Oyler walked.  He left his Yankee debut with a 7-3 lead.  The Yankees wound up winning, but not easily.  The final score was 12-10.  For any 20-something year old, standing on the mound with Mickey Mantle is center and Ellie Howard behind the plate is a magical moment, and I’m glad my friend Zack had a strong showing.

Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers  I knew during my baseball career.  Click here to view last week’s tribute to Pedro Ramos.

Happy Birthday, Al Downing

Happy Birthday to me very good friend and teammate, Al Downing.  I first met Sam – I always called him Sam, a story explained in my book – down in Fort Lauderdale in 1966 when I was incited to Spring Training as a rookie.  He was less than a year older than me, but he had been in the major league since 1961, and he was always helpful to me.  He even taught me his incredible change-up pitch – at least he tried; whether I ever really learned it is up to others to decide.  I will always be grateful for the way he immediately reached out to me, even though at that point we were both trying to secure a starting pitcher slot.  He is a good man.

As it turned out, Johnny Keane started the season with five starting pitchers: Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Friend, Sam and me.  I remember Sam pitching a fantastic game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on May 20, 1966.  That was the year the Twins won the American League Pennant, and lost the World Series to the Dodgers in 7 games.  He struck out 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings, three of them to one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball, Harmon Killebrew.  He struck out Zoilo Versalles, who won the MVP that year, and had two strikeouts against the always threatening Cesar Tovar.  I remember Sam getting into a bid of trouble in the third inning, when pitcher Camilo Pascual got a one-out single and moved to third on Versalles’ single.  Then Versalles stole second.  Sam struck out Tovar and walked Tony Oliva to load the bases.  Killebrew struck out looking, leaving three Twins on base.  The Yankees scored two runs in the fifth after a double by Clete Boyer, a single by Elston Howard, and a triple by Roy White. Sam made us all a little nervous in the eighth when Tovar led off with a double and Killer drove him in with a single to center.  Then he got Don Mincher and Andy Kosco out, and we had a 2-1 lead.  With two outs in the ninth, Sam walked Bob Allison and Ralph Houk brought in Pedro Ramos to finish the game.  He struck out Versalles to give Sam the win.

I missed Sam a lot when the Yankees traded him after the 1969 season to Oakland for Danny Cater.  I never pitched against him in 1970 when the Yankees were playing the A’s or the Brewers (where he was traded in June).  I consider that a stroke of good luck, since 1970 was the only year I won 20 games and going up against Sam would have lessened the odds of me doing that.

Elston Howard’s second act

Something a lot of people forget about the magnificent Elston Howard was that in 1967, after breaking up a kid’s no-hitter with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, and after the brawl and all the other stuff that went on between the two teams, Ellie got traded to the Red Sox in early August and helped Boston win the American League pennant that year. The Yankees got a player to be named later; it turned out to be a pitcher named Ron Klimkowski. I’m glad that Ellie got to play in one last World Series; he was the starting catcher for six of the games (and played in all seven), and in Game 5 he got a key hit and RBI. His 1961 teammate, Roger Maris, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In his first game at Yankee Stadium not in pinstripes, he got an RBI in a close game. I didn’t face Ellie until his last season in the major leagues, 1968. It was May 12, 1968 at Yankee Stadium, and Ralph Houk brought me in to pitch in the third inning after Bill Monbouquette had given up five runs in the first two innings, and three successive singles in the third. I faced Ellie in the fifth and he singled to center off me. Six days later at Fenway Park, the Major pulled Fred Talbot for a pinch hitter in the sixth and then I came in to pitch. I got the first two batters out, then Ellie came up to bat. He hit an infield single. So after two games, and two at-bats, Elston Howard retired with a 1.000 batting average against me. After he retired, he came the Yankee First Base coach. Sweetest guy ever.