Happy Birthday to Dick Simpson, an outfielder who was my teammate on the New York Yankees ever so briefly in 1969. Dick was involved in a bunch of trades involving some familiar names: he came up with the Angels organization and was traded to the Orioles for Norm Siebern; the Orioles traded him to the Reds as part of the Frank Robinson trade; the Reds sent him to the Cardinals for Alex Johnson; and the Cardinals dealt him and Hal Gilson to the Astros for Ron Davis. After the 1968 season, the Astros traded him to the Yankees for my friend Dooley Womack. Dick lasted a little more than a month in New York before he was traded to the Seattle Pilots for Jose Vidal. Later that year, he and my friend Steve Whitaker were traded to the Giants for Bobby Bolin. Dick was a key player in my second win of the 1969 season. It was April 24, 1969 and we were in Cleveland playing the Indians. He entered the game in the bottom of the fifth, replacing Jerry Kenney in the center. In the sixth, Tommy Tresh hit a leadoff infield single and moved to second when Juan Pizarro walked Jake Gibbs. I was the next batter and bunted to Max Alvis at third, who got me out but allowed Tommy and Jake to advance. Alvin Dark, The Tribe’s manager, called an intentional walk of Horace Clarke to load the bases and pitch to Dick. Dick hit a three-run double to left. Then he scored on Bobby Murcer’s Home Run. We won 11-3. I pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts.
Another bit of Dick Simpson trivia: he wore #9 for the Yankees, one of three to wear that number in between Roger Maris and Graig Nettles. The others were Steve Whitaker and Ron Woods.
Steve Barber was a southpaw who amassed some strong numbers as a young pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles in the early 1960’s. He played during some of the Orioles lean years, before the emergence of future stars like Jim Palmer and Boog Powell and the trade for Frank Robinson. I was in college when I first started following him, and was honored to become his teammate several years later. He was a genuinely nice guy. The story I heard is that the Yankees saw him for the first time during a 1960 spring training game in Miami where he struck out Mickey Mantle three times. Steve had pitched AA ball in 1959 (his mentor was a young minor league manager named Earl Weaver), but he had such an impressive spring that he made the major league team. He went 10-7 in 27 starts for the Orioles in 1960, and really broke out in 1961 when he went 18-12, with 14 complete games and 150 strikeouts. In 1962, Steve was on active duty in the U.S. Army; the Army gave him weekend passes to pitch, and while he started just 19 games, he had a 9-6 record. His best year was in 1963, when he went 20-13 with 150 strikeouts and made the American League All-Star team. That turned out to be his career year; he was 9-13 in 1964, 15-10 in 1965, and 10-5 in 1966 (when he was again named to the AL All-Star team). Steve developed tendinitis in his elbow, which forced him to miss the All-Star game, and the World Series.
Steve was 4-9 in fifteen starts for Baltimore in 1967 when he was traded to the Yankees on July 4 for Ray Barker, some cash, and a player to be named later – eventually this would be two minor league prospects who never made the majors, Chester Trail and Daniel Brady. His first start in Pinstripes was on July 8, against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium; he gave up six runs in 3 1/3 innings and his old team went on to beat his new team, 12-5. I still remember the look on his face when Ralph Houk went out to the mound to take him out of the game. Unfortunately, in baseball not every story turns out well. He started seventeen games for the Yankees that season and went 6-9. He was 6-5 in nineteen starts in 1968. Clearly his best years were over. His elbow problems were not going away.
One of the things that always impressed me about Steve was his perseverance. As a former two-time All-Star and 20-game winner, he took a demotion to the minor leagues in 1968 and played for the Syracuse Chiefs. The Seattle Pilots took him in the 1969 expansion draft; he was 4-7 in sixteen starts for them. Released by the Brewers during 1970 spring training, Steve refused to give up. He cobbled together another five years in the majors (and at times, in the minors) for the Cubs, Braves, Angels and Giants. He had a nice career: 121-106, with 950 strikeouts.
I heard that in his later years, he volunteered driving a school bus for special needs kids. Not surprising, considering how good a person he was. I was saddened when I learned eight years ago that he had passed away and I’ll always appreciate the privilege of being his teammate.
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 Gary Waslewski, who pitched with me on the New York Yankees in 1970 and 1971. I started following Gary when he was called up by the Red Sox during the summer of 1967 after seven seasons in the minor leagues because I followed a lot of young pitchers, especially when they were pitching for your greatest rival. And I was glued to the television set on October 11, 1967 when he was picked to start Game 6 of the World Series. (I admit I was not rooting for him – I could never root for Boston to win anything!) With just 42 innings of major league experience in only 12 MLB games, Gary did just fine. Boston had a 3-2 lead when he left the mound in the top of the sixth inning after walking Roger Maris and Tim McCarver. The Red Sox beat the Cardinals 8-4, forcing the historic Game 7.
The first time I saw Gary pitch was on May 10, 1968 at Yankee Stadium. He pitched a complete game, striking out six, but the Yankees won 2-1. After that season, Boston traded him to the Cardinals for Dick Schofield; six months later, St. Louis sent him to the Expos for Mudcat Grant. The Yankees got him a little less than a year later for Dave McDonald. Joe Verbanic got optioned to Syracuse to make room for him. Gary’s first game in Pinstripes was on May 19, 1970 at Yankee Stadium. He came in relief for John Cumberland. A month later, he started a game against the Red Sox, pitched well, and the Yankees won 3-2.
The first time Gary came in to pitch in relief for me was on July 9, 1970 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. I had a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, but gave up three runs on singles by Bobby Grich, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and a double by Brooks Robinson. That’s when Ralph Houk took me out. Gary came in with two outs and a runner on second and got Davey Johnson to ground out. We took the lead in the top of the sixth when Marcelino Lopez walked Horace Clarke with the bases loaded, and then gave up an RBI single to Jerry Kenney. We beat the Orioles 7-5.
The Yankees released Gary at the end of Spring Training 1972 and he pitched for the Oakland A’s after that.
One Hall of Famer that eluded the New York Yankees was Frank Robinson, despite repeated attempts to get him in pinstripes. As early as 1965, the Cincinnati Reds were shopping this superstar at winter meetings. My understanding was that the Reds owner thought Robby was an “old 30” and that his body would not withstand much more of a baseball career. He was anxious to trade him while the value remained high. There was talk that the Reds had offered him to the Astros for Jimmy Wynn and a relief pitcher named Claude Raymond, but that Houston turned them down. The Yankee deal I heard about – I had just finished by third year in the minor leagues at the time – was that the Yankees would send and Joe Pepitone to the Reds for Robby and pitcher Jim O’Toole. A couple of weeks later, the Yankees traded catcher Doc Edwards to the Cleveland Indians for Lou Clinton and that seemed to end their search for a power-hitting outfielder. Maybe it was a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. The Reds did trade Robby, to Baltimore for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Robby won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles.
After winning three AL pennants with Robby and the 1970 World Series, the Orioles put him on the trading block again. The Yankees tried to put a deal together. The problem, I was told, was that Harry Dalton wanted Mel Stottlemyre or me. Mel was the ace of the staff and I was the #2 pitcher coming off a 20-win season. Lee McPhail countered with Stan Bahnsen, and the Dalton wanted Steve Kline and Mike Kekich too. The Yankees were unwilling to decimate their pitching staff for one superstar outfielder.
Apparently the Mets were in a similar situation. The Orioles wanted Tom Seaver for Frank Robinson, straight up, and the Mets said no. The counter from Baltimore was at least two other pitchers from a list that included Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, and Gary Gentry – and they Danny Frisella. The Mets said no to that too.
Most players followed the winter meetings carefully, because you never knew what would happen and how it might affect your life. But the Yankees, still owned by CBS – the George Steinbrenner Era was still a few years away – didn’t do much after they traded Bill Robinson for Barry Moore. The Washington Senators offered Frank Howard for cash the Yankees didn’t have, and the Cleveland Indians were shopping star pitcher Sudden Sam McDowell, but they apparently wanted a lot of cash too. The Boss would have had them both in pinstripes.
In 1971, after losing the AL pennant to the Oakland A’s, the Orioles traded Robby to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a group of prospects that included future Yankee Doyle Alexander. The Orioles had Don Baylor and Terry Crowley coming up and wanted to give them more playing time. And Robby was making what was then a huge salary – about $125,000 – and they wanted to unload the expense. The Yankees had shown interest in him then, but they got busy making the “blockbuster deal” that sent Bahnsen to the White Sox for Rich McKinney and missed out. After the 1972 season, the Dodgers traded Robby to the California Angeles, in what really was a blockbuster trade: the Dodgers sent Robby and Bill Singer, an excellent pitcher, to the California Angeles for pitcher Andy Messersmith, Bobby Valentine and Ken McMullen.
After the Boss bought the Yankees and brought Gabe Paul over as the GM – and after Charlie Finley refused to allow the Yankees to hire Dick Williams as their manager — there was some serious talk about hiring Robby to become baseball’s first black manager. Mr. Paul had been GM in Cincinnati when Robby was the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, and was a huge Frank Robinson fan.
The fourth chance for the Yankees to see Frank Robinson in pinstripes came in June of 1974, when he was again on the trading block. Mr. Paul had been negotiating a deal with the Angels that I recall would have brought Robby and Rudy May to the Yankees for Roy White, Bill Sudakis and Dick Woodson. What I heard was that Robby’s contract gave him the right to veto a deal, and when the Yankees refused to pay about $35,000 in relocation expenses, Robby vetoed the trade. That was just a couple of days before I was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where Robby would soon become my teammate and my manager.
You can’t live life on a bunch of what ifs, like how my career would have been different if I has been pitching for a contending team like the Orioles. But I’ll tell you this: I met my soulmate while playing in New York, I got to play with Boog Powell anyway in Cleveland, and I wouldn’t trade my years with the Yankees for anything.
Happy Birthday to Don Kessinger, a great shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I never played with Don, who spent nearly his entire career in the National League, but I came close. I had signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1977, but retired in May after my second shoulder surgery without every playing a game for them. Don was traded to the Sox in August, where he finished his excellent career.
Another great ballplayer, Deron Johnson, would have been 75 today. He died way too young of lung cancer in 1991. He came up through the Yankee organization, but got traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Bud Daley early in the 1961 season. He led the National League in RBI’s with 130 in 1965, batting fifth for the Cincinnati Reds and following Tommy Harper, Pete Rose, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. The first time I ever faced him was on May 29, 1973, when the Oakland A’s were playing at Yankee Stadium. I struck him out looking. But over the course of the next couple of years, Deron did just fine; he had a .313 lifetime average against me.
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.
You may remember Corbett Field in Tucson because some of the scenes from the movie Major League were filmed there. I was there on February 27, 1975, my first spring training with the Cleveland Indians, when I found out that Boog Powell was going to be my teammate. The Orioles traded him, along with pitcher Don Hood, for catcher Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer named Alvin McGrew. While I was sorry to see Dave go (the able Alan Ashby was waiting in the wings to become the starting catcher), I was excited to be playing on the same team as Boog. He was a fearsome, powerful hitter. I know this from experience – he had more RBI’s against me than any other major leaguer except Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair. He already had more than 300 career Home Runs before he came to Cleveland. In his first year with the Tribe, he hit 27 more homers, with 86 RBI’s and a .297 average. Outstanding!! I remember the first game I pitched with Boog on my side. It was April 12, 1975 at County Stadium in Milwaukee. He hit two Home Runs, with two walks and three RBI’s. I wasn’t quite so good. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. The Brewers beat us 6-5.