Happy Birthday to Cliff Johnson, whose clubhouse incident with Goose Gossage put the Yankees closer on the Disabled List for two months. George Steinbrenner traded him to the Cleveland Indians for Don Hood. After being told of the trade in the Yankees clubhouse, I was told Johnson said: “I didn’t like it here anyway.” Cliff played in the National League before coming to the Yankees and I never played against him. Frankly, I’m surprised Thurman Munson didn’t beat the crap out of him.
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 Rudy May, who was a strong rival pitcher in the American League. We just missed each other on the Yankees. I was traded to Cleveland in April, 1974 and the California Angels sold him to the Yankees a little more than a month later. Rudy played a key role in re-establishing the Yankee tradition in the George Steinbrenner Era; he won 15 games in 1975. But poor Rudy got traded in the middle of the 1976 season in a blockbuster deal: Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan went to the Baltimore Orioles for Ken Holtzman, Elrod Hendricks, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson and Jimmy Freeman.
The first time I ever faced Rudy, it was a real pitcher’s duel. It was May 6, 1969 at Anaheim Stadium. Each of us gave up just one hit in the first three innings. Billy Cowan hit a leadoff single in the top of the fourth and moved to second on Bobby Murcer’s hit. But then Rudy struck out Roy White and Joe Pepitone, and ended the inning with Frank Fernandez’s pop-up.
We took a 2-0 lead in the fifth when Rudy walked Bill Robinson with one out. I was the next batter, so that should have been out #2; I bunted, Bill got to second, and Rudy made a bad throw to Dick Stuart – so I was safe at first and Bill made it to third. Horace Clarke got us our second out with a pop up. I advanced to second when Rudy walked Billy. The next batter was Bobby, who singled on the first pitch. Bill scored, and then I scored on a weak throw from Jay Johnstone in center. But with runners at second and third, Rudy got Roy White out to end the inning. Rudy was pitching a great game with five strikeouts and no earned runs. Bill Rigney took him out in the ninth after he gave up a leadoff walk to Tommy Tresh, and Andy Messersmith finished the game.
The Angeles scared me in the bottom of the ninth. Bobby Knoop hit an infield single to lead of the inning, followed by another single from Bubba Morton. Lou Johnson laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt; with runners on second and third, Ralph Houk had me walk Jim Fregosi and pitch to Jay. Jay hit a grounder to first, and Joe was able to get the Jim out at second — but it was enough to score Bobby. Now I had a runners on second and third and the always threatening Rick Reichardt at bat. Rick has been turning up in my posts a lot lately – and almost always with bad news for me. But this time I got Rick out, and the Yankees won 2-1. A great game for Rudy, who was quickly impressing the entire American League.
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.
George M. Steinbrenner passed away five years ago today. He was the Yankee most responsible for ending the Horace Clarke Era and restoring the Yankee tradition of winning. I only had the chance to play for The Boss for just slightly more than one season before I was traded to the Indians – but my trade brought Chris Chambliss to New York and I can’t argue with the wisdom of that. The Boss believed that the Yankees were the greatest team in the history of the world and I look forward one day to making the trip to Cooperstown to see him inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. RIP George Steinbrenner.
Happy Birthday to Kerry Dineen, who played the outfield for the Yankees ever so briefly in 1975 and 1976. While I missed playing with Kerry on the Yankees, I remember him from my last spring training in Fort Lauderdale in 1974 and he was impressive. The Yankees were high on him as a prospect. He got called up for a few games in 1975 when Elliot Maddox got hurt, and – I looked it up – he hit .364 playing in seven games over a six day period. I don’t know why he didn’t get a September call-up. But in Cleveland, a week before I was traded to Texas, I paid attention to Kerry’s big game because my friend Thurman Munson was playing left field.
It’s a good story. The Yankees were on their way to George Steinbrenner’s first pennant. On May 20, 1976, the Yankees and the Red Sox had a brawl, and Mickey Rivers and Lou Piniella got hurt in the fight; with Maddox and Ron Blomberg already on the DL, it left Billy Martin with a shortage of outfielders to play the next day. The way I heard it, Kerry was actually taking batting practice in Syracuse when he got a call telling him that needed him in the Bronx in time for the 8 PM game. The Yankees started Roy White in center, Thurman in left, and Oscar Gamble in right. (Fran Healy was catching, in case you are wondering.) Billy used Rick Dempsey to pinch hit for Oscar, and Rick wound up playing right for a bit.
The Yankees were behind by a run going into the bottom of the ninth and they rallied. Otto Velez pinch hit for Jim Mason and hit leadoff double and came out of the game so Sandy Alomar could run for him. Successive sacrifice flies by Willie Randolph and Roy White brought Alomar home, tying the game at 4-4. Dempsey got a hit in the tenth and Billy put Kerry in to run for him.
In the bottom of the twelfth, Kerry came up to bat with two outs and runners on second and third. He did a walk-off single and the Yankees won 5-4. It was his moment, but it didn’t last. He played four games for the Yankees that spring and never wore pinstripes again. After the season was over, he was traded to the Phillies for some guy Sergio Ferrer. Anyone ever hear of him?
The other good story is that not long after Kerry got sent back to the minors in 1975, the Yankees brought up a promising young pitcher named Ron Guidry. Gator got Kerry’s uniform, #49.
Here’s a photo of Thurman Munson playing Left Field against the Red Sox on May 21, 1976. Thurman almost robbed Jim Rice of a Home Run; instead, it was a double. Thurman could do it all!
Writing about Don Mincher got me thinking about the Seattle Pilots, the expansion team that lasted just one year at Sick’s Stadium before going bankrupt moving and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers. A bunch of my teammates and friends wound up on the Pilots: Mike Hegan, Steve Whitaker, Mike Ferraro, John Kennedy, Steve Barber, Dooley Womack and Jim Bouton, whose time with the Pilots became the focus of his controversial best seller (and one of my favorite books), Ball Four. Two future teammates, Jack Aker and Fred Stanley came to the Yankees from the Pilots.
Steve Whitaker innocently played a role in the Yankees comeback: just two weeks before opening day, the Pilots made a trade with the Royals that sent a promising outfielder named Lou Piniella to Kansas City for Steve. Lou was the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year and Steve had to wear the weird Pilots cap and settle for just being a good guy. With closer Lindy McDaniel expendable because the Yankees got Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater, the Whitaker trade sort of set up the Piniella for McDaniel deal that made Lou my Yankee teammate for the start of the 1974 season. And my trade to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow helped create the winning George Steinbrenner Era. As I keep saying, the Yankees gave up a lot of talent for Chris and Dick, but they clearly got the best of that deal.