Larry Gowell was only with the Yankees for a brief time during the 1972 season, but that was enough for him to achieve a sort of immortality in the baseball history books. It was October 4, 1972 and we were at Yankee Stadium playing the Brewers. Larry was the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the third and smacked a double off Jim Lonborg that went past John Briggs in left. Larry was left stranded on second as the next three Yankees failed to drive him home. But the hit was historic because it was the last game of the season, and as it turned out, he was the last American League pitcher to get a hit before the Designated Hitter rule went into effect the following April. So Larry’s bat now has a place at Cooperstown.
Thanks to the leadership of CBS (sarcasm intended here), the Yankees got the #1 draft pick in 1967, the third year Amateur Draft. Larry was their first pick in the fourth round – Ron Blomberg was the #1 pick in the first round. The first time I saw Larry pitch was the first exhibition game of the 1970 season. He had a natural slider and his fast ball was as fast as any other Yankee in spring training. We were Pompano Beach playing the Washington Senators and Larry came in to pitch in the ninth inning. We were ahead, 6-5. I think he was a little nervous. His first batter was Del Unser and he hit him with the pitch. His second batter was a teenager named Jeff Burroughs, who hit a massive Home Run.
Larry spent the 1972 season with the West Haven Yankees, the Eastern League AA club that was being managed by the Bobby Cox, now a Hall of Fame manager. He was on fire and the Yankee pitchers were following him closely. In 26 games, he was 14-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 181 innings.
Larry was a September call-up at a time when the Yankees were in a four-way race for First Place in the AL East. He made his major league debut in the bottom of the sixth inning on September 21, at County Stadium. With the Brewers ahead 4-0, Ralph Houk had removed Freddy Beene the previous inning for a pinch hitter, Rusty Torres. Larry retired the first three major league batters he faced: John Briggs, Ollie Brown and Mike Ferraro. Then in the seventh, he did the same thing against Rick Auerbach, Jerry Bell (the pitcher), and Ron Theobald. With two outs, The Major took him out in the eighth so Felipe Alou could hit. Felipe singled, the beginning of a Yankee rally. He moved to second on Horace Clarke’s hit, and scored on Roy White’s hit. The Bobby Murcer hit an RBI single, reducing Milwaukee’s lead to one run. Unfortunately, Bloomie flied out to end the inning, leaving Roy and Bobby on base. The Brewers wound up beating us, 6-4, and we wasted a rare ninth inning homer by Bernie Allen.
October 4 was the last game of the season and we had lost four in a row, dropping us to 4th place, 6 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers. Since we were out of contention, The Major decided to give Larry the start. He pitched really, really well. He gave up his first major league hit in the second to Joe Lahoud, and Briggs hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Dave May, who had doubled. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, no outs and Jerry Kenney on first, The Major pulled Larry for a pinch hitter, Frank Tepedino. Larry had given up three hits, and had struck out six. It was an amazing demonstration of pitching for a rookie. We lost 1-0, as the Yankee bats were not coming through.
Larry was in contention for a major league roster spot in 1973. He was cut at the end of spring training, losing out to Casey Cox and Doc Medich. He didn’t make the team again in 1974; the new manager, Bill Virdon, seemed to judge him based on one bad tenth inning in an exhibition game against the Texas Rangers. A lot of the hype that spring was about Mike Pazik, a cocky southpaw from Holy Cross who wound up getting traded to the Twins for Dick Woodson. But Larry Gowell’s time as a MLB pitcher was indeed memorable and historic. I am glad to have known him.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
At Municipal Stadium before a game in 1975, our team photo: (Left to Right, front row): clubhouse manager Cy Buynak, trainer Jimmy Warfield, coach Harvey Haddix, coach Tom McCraw, president Ted Bonda, manager Frank Robinson, general manager Phil Seghi, traveling secretary Mike Seghi, coach Jeff Torborg, coach Dave Garcia, batboy; (second row) Fred Beene, John Lowenstein, Oscar Gamble, Ken Berry, Jackie Brown, Alan Ashby, Dave LaRoche, John Ellis, Tommy Smith, Fritz Peterson, Rick Manning, Frank Duffy, Duane Kuiper; (third row) Buddy Bell, George Hendrick, Ed Crosby, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Bibby, Boog Powell, Eric Raich, Charlie Spikes, Tom Buskey, Rico Carty, Roric Harrison.
George Steinbrenner tried to buy the Cleveland Indians in the early 1970’s, before he put together a deal for a little less than what Brett Gardner will make this year alone to buy the New York Yankees. The Boss was an Indians fan who grew to love the Yankees, the same way I developed a deep affection for my adopted team when I was traded to Cleveland in 1974. I was a proud member of the Tribe for nearly two seasons. I went to the Cleveland Indians during an especially tough time in my life and I will always have tremendous affection for the team and its fans, who made me feel welcome and rejuvenated.
When I got to the Indians, I could not wear #19 because that number belonged to the extraordinary Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. So I got #30, which Gene Bearden wore during the Indians World Championship year of 1948. Gene went 20-7 that year, part of an amazing pitching staff of Feller and Bob Lemon. I remember being around 11-years-old growing up in Chicago and listening to the radio when Gene was pitching the White Sox. Later I switched to #16, which had been worn by another great pitcher, Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser. I focus on the uniform because that is a big deal to a player, and to me it represented the next chapter of my baseball career. I had been a Yankee since I was 21, and in MLB it was always pinstripes.
It was April 30, 1974, four days after the trade, and the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. This was my first start for my new team, and I admit I was a little nervous. Maybe it wasn’t being the new kid on the first day of school as it was the fear of pitching against Bert Blyleven, but anyway I was in a new uniform for the first time since trading in the Columbus Clippers jersey for pinstripes.
The first game I played for the Indians was on April 30, 1974, four days after the trade. It was a Tuesday night and we were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. John Lowenstein, the leadoff hitter, made it to first on shortstop Luis Gomez’s error, and moved to second on Jack Brohammer’s single. John stole third, and scored when Jack stole second and moved to third on Randy Hundley’s throwing error. Oscar came up with two outs and singled to center, driving in Jack. So I took the mound as a first-time Indians pitcher with a 2-0 lead. Oscar went 2-for-4 in that game – he also hit a double and was intentionally walked in the fifth when the Yankees scored four more runs. I was pulled in the seventh after Danny Darwin hit his second Home Run of the day against me, and Freddy Beene, who came to Cleveland in the same deal as me, came in and settled everything down. I got my first win on the new team as Cleveland won 8-3.
As long as people were willing to listen to me talk about my one career Triple 47 years ago today, I figured I could relay another memorable hit by one of my favorite pitchers: Sparky Lyle’s only extra base hit as a New York Yankee. It was June 3, 1972, a Saturday afternoon in Chicago. Freddy Beene started the game against Stan Bahnsen. We were down two runs going in to the top of the ninth, and Goose Gossage was on the mound as the White Sox closer. We tied the game, 10-10, after a single by Rusty Torres, a walk by Bobby Murcer, and singles by Roy White and Ron Blomberg. Goose, in a rare blown save, was gone after three batters. The Countess came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and had a 1-2-3 inning. He did the same thing in the tenth and eleventh innings. He gave up one hit in the twelfth, but Pat Kelly got stranded.
Bobby Murcer led off the top of the thirteenth with a single of Bart Johnson and advanced to second on Roy White’s walk. Bloomie hit a shot to Carlos May in left, but it wasn’t deep enough for Lemon to score. Then Thurman Munson hit a three-run Home Run. Jerry Kenney hit a grounder to short, but was safe at first because of Rich Morales’ throwing error. The second out of the inning came when Bernie Allen flew out to left.
So now the Yankees are up 13-10 and with two outs Ralph Houk kept Sparky in the game. He hit a double that went between Carlos and Jay Johnstone in center, scoring Kenney. He made it to second huffing and puffing, unaccustomed to running to first yet alone an extra base, but that huge smile, sort of like Tweetie Bird looking at Sylvester, is what I remember most. But that wasn’t the best part. Horace Clarke came up to bat and hit a single to center off the first pitch, and The Countess had to run from second to home. He made it, huffing and puffing again – this time I saw no smile. What I would give to watch him do that again!
Apparently unsatisfied with a five-run lead, the Yankee offense continued to rally. Rusty walked and Bobby Murcer hit a three-run Home Run. We went into the bottom of the thirteenth leading the White Sox, 18-10.
The Countess, maybe still a little tired from all that running, scared all of us just a little bit. He gave up a leadoff walk to Dick Allen, who moved to second off Jay’s groundout and to third on Bill Melton’s single. Chuck Brinkman, pinch hitting for the pitcher, singled to left, but Dick couldn’t score off Heeba. So Sparky had the bases loaded, one out, and I think he was still out of breath from all that running. But it was over quickly: Tom Egan hit into a double play. Sparky Lyle was the best!
Happy Birthday to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball. I never got to play with Goose on the Yankees, and as a starting pitcher that was my loss. No disrespect to Lindy McDaniel, but history would be treating me just a little better if I had Goose on my side. The guy was incredible. Goose’s rookie year was Sparky Lyle’s first in pinstripes. They went up against each other on two consecutive days.
Goose’s first game against the Yankees was during his rookie season of 1972. The Yankees were in Chicago and this was the first time Goose was facing us. The date was June 3, 1972. It started as a matchup between Stan Bahnsen, who had been dealt to Chicago in that crappy-for-us Rich McKinney deal, and Freddie Beene. This was one of the highest scoring games I can remember – we won 18-10. Goose entered the game at the start of the seventh, and the Yankees were losing 10-8. He was impressive – a 1-2-3 inning, getting Ron Bloomberg, Thurman Munson and Jerry Kenney out. And he was just as impressive in the eighth, getting Bernie Allen, Felipe Alou and Horace Clarke out – another 1-2-3 inning.
So Goose comes out for the top of the ninth, protecting a 10-8 lead. He gave up singles to the first three batters: Rusty Torres, Bobby Murcer and Roy White, who drove in Rusty. 10-9, runners at first and second, no outs, and Bloomie is up. Chuck Tanner pulled Goose for Steve Kealy, who gave up an RBI single. The score remained tied until the top of the 13th, when the Yankees had an extraordinary inning: Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer both hit a three-run homers: The other RBI’s came from two unlikely sources: Horace Clarke and Sparky, who drove in a run with a beautiful double to left. Sparky pitched five innings, holding the Chisox to just three hits for the win.
The next day, Goose came in to relieve Dave Lemonds in the sixth inning. The White Sox were ahead 2-1, but Lemonds got in some trouble. With runners on first and second, Roy White hit an RBI single to tie the game. Tanner pulled Lemonds and Goose got Felipe to hit into a double play. But with Bobby on third, Goose threw a wild pitch and the Yankees were now up 3-2. In the seventh, Goose faced an unusual offensive threat: Hal Lanier, who singled to right, stole second, and go to third of another wild pitch. Then Gene Michael laid down an absolutely beautiful bunt and Hal scored.
The White Sox came up in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees starter – some guy named Kekich – was three outs away from a complete game. With one out, he walked Bill Melton and then gave up a hit to Mike Andrews. With runners on first and second, Ralph Houk pulled Mike and brought in Sparky to close. Then Tanner put Jorge Orta in to run for Andrews, and pulled the next batter, shortstop Rich Morales, for a pinch hitter, Dick Allen. Allen belted a Home Run over the left field fence. The White Sox won, 5-3, and another rookie, Cy Acosta, got the win.
Goose got his first win against the Yankees on August 22, 1972, a 5-4 game in Chicago. The losing pitcher? That would be me.
I never pitched to Oscar Gamble. He was in the National League for five years before being traded to Cleveland, and I joined him on the Indians in 1974. We were both traded in 1976 – Oscar to the Yankees and me to the Rangers. I didn’t pitch much against Cleveland in 1973, and when I did, Oscar wasn’t in the lineup. He didn’t play in the game I threw against Cleveland in 1974, just before the trade. And my career in Texas was over before the first series against the Yankees. I liked Oscar immediately, probably because of how he helped me in my first game as an Indians pitcher. It was April 30, 1974, four days after the trade, and the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. This was my first start for my new team, and I admit I was a little nervous. Maybe it wasn’t being the new kid on the first day of school as it was the fear of pitching against Bert Blyleven, but anyway I was in a new uniform for the first time since trading in the Columbus Clippers jersey for pinstripes.
John Lowenstein, the leadoff hitter, made it to first on shortstop Luis Gomez’s error, and moved to second on Jack Brohammer’s single. John stole third, and scored when Jack stole second and moved to third on Randy Hundley’s throwing error. Oscar came up with two outs and singled to center, driving in Jack. So I took the mound as a first-time Indians pitcher with a 2-0 lead. Oscar went 2-for-4 in that game – he also hit a double and was intentionally walked in the fifth when the Yankees scored four more runs. I was pulled in the seventh after Danny Darwin hit his second Home Run of the day against me, and Freddy Beene, who came to Cleveland in the same deal as me, came in and settled everything down. I got my first win on the new team as Cleveland won 8-3.
I can’t write about Oscar without mentioning his hair. The massive afro that stuck out from beneath the Topps “Traded” card with the artist-enhanced Yankee cap in 1976 sort of defined Oscar Gamble to a generation of baseball fans. A good player with big hair.
I enjoy how easy it is to go off on a tangent when talking about Yankee history. In referencing Bill Robinson’s win of the 1967 James P. Dawson Award for the outstanding Yankee rookie in spring training, I thought about my own rookie year. The 1966 award went to Roy White, who deserved it. Just like I recollect games and the pitches I throw, I remember the number of votes I got. I’m going to keep the number to myself, but I will let you know there were 9 reporters who voted, Heeba got 7 votes and Bobby Murcer got two.
I was proud of Heeba and Weaser on getting the award, which continues to be considered quite prestigious in the Yankee world. I felt especially good when Mike Ferraro won it in 1968 because I knew how hard Stump took being cut from the team the year before. Jerry Kenney, my teammate at the AA Shelby Yankees, shared the award in 1969, and Johnny Ellis (not Thurman Munson) got it in 1970. The reporters sort of validated my Horace Clark Era theory in 1971 when they declined to give the award to anyone. Rusty Torres won in 1972, Otto Velez in 1973, and Tom Buskey in 1974 – a few weeks before he was traded to the Indians along with Steve Kline, Freddy Beene and me. Bluto died way too young in a car accident; he was 51.