A little Celerino Sanchez trivia: Chief came to the Yankees in an unusual trade between a MLB team and a club in the Mexican League. The process started in 1969 when the Yankees traded Al Downing and Frank Fernandez to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater and an obscure guy named Ossie Chavarria, a Panama-born career minor leaguer (1959-1973) who hit .208 in 124 games for the Kansas City Athletics during parts of 1966 and 1967. (Footnote: he hit .222 against me in four games my rookie year.) Ossie never got his pinstripes: he played all the infield positions for the Syracuse Chiefs, batted in the .250-.270 range, but the competition was tough in those days – the Yankees had Horace Clarke, Gene Michael, Jerry Kenney, Frank Baker and Ron Hansen ahead of him. The Yankees were in the market for a new third baseman, and the scouts had identified Chief as a potential star. So after the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Ossie to the Mexico City Tigers in the Mexican League for Chief. Chief, of course, didn’t pan out, and he returned to the Mexican League in time for the 1974 season. Sadly, Chief died young, of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. But for some reason – likely his name and his role as the transitional third baseman between Jerry Kenney/Rich McKinney and Graig Nettles – he is well remembered by the Yankee fans of the Horace Clarke Era.
Chief hit his only career Home Run at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1973 off of Baltimore’s Mickey Scott. He was a pinch hitter for the pinch hitter for the designated hitter. Jim Ray Hart started the game against Mike Cuellar, and Ron Bloomberg pinch hit for him when Bob Reynolds came in relief. When Earl Weaver replaced Reynolds with Scott, Ralph Houk sent Chief up. With Bobby Murcer on first, Sanchez hit a shot to left; Al Bumbry tried to grab it, but he could not. That was a great win because we were tied with Baltimore for second on that particular day. Yankees blanked the Orioles 8-0; rookie Doc Medich got the win.
Chief went hitless in his first two major league games; his first hit came at Yankee Stadium, off Mike Paul of the Texas Rangers. It was a two-out hit to left, with an RBI; Roy White scored. His last hit came in his final game as a New York Yankee, and as a major league baseball player. It was the final game of the 1973 season; I was on the mound against Detroit. He came in to the game as a seventh inning replacement for Graig Nettles; facing Fred Holdsworth, he hit a two-out, two-run single to center, driving in Otto Velez and Hal Lanier. And Chief could never touch Wilbur Wood; nine At-Bats in 1972 and 1973, he hit .000 off him.
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.
Happy Birthday to Hal Lanier, who was my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973. Hal came from a baseball family; I remember listening to Cubs games on the radio when I was a kid growing up in Chicago and Max Lanier was a pitcher for the Cardinals. The Yankees purchased Hal’s contract from the Giants a few weeks before 1972 spring training began, and I met him for the first time when he reported to Fort Lauderdale. During a road trip to Tampa, Hal took me to the racetrack and introduced me to his Dad. The first time we played together was on April 29, 1972 against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. I pitched eight innings, struck out four, and gave up two runs and six hits. But that wasn’t enough to stop Jim Kaat and Dave LaRoche, who combined for a four-hit shutout. Hal was 0-for-three. The 1972 season began miserably for me; I began the season 0-6 and didn’t win a game until May 21.
Hal was a smart guy, fun to be around. He was a good fielder, which helped because you didn’t keep him on the team for his bat. He hit .214 in 1972, with no Triples or Homers and just six RBIs. But there was one game during the summer when he drove in two runs against the Red Sox. If there was ever a time to be on, it was when you were playing Boston. His last game as a Yankee was on September 30, 1973. It was a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it was the last game of the season and we were facing the Tigers. As I talk about in my book, this was vintage “Horace Clarke Era” baseball; we were in 4th place in the AL East, 16 ½ games out of first. I was the Yankee starter; on the mound for Detroit was a September call-up named Fred Holdsworth. We took the lead in the second after Bobby Murcer scored on Otto Velez’s double, and held it until I have up a two-run homer to Marv Lane in the seventh. We regained the lead in the seventh off a leadoff homer by Duke Sims and a key RBI single by Celerino Sanchez. In the eighth, we added an insurance run when Hal Lanier hit an RBI double. I gave up hits to the first two batters in the ninth, Ike Brown and Tom Veryzer, and Ralph Houk brought Lindy McDaniel in to close. It was almost 42 years ago and this one is still a little painful to talk about. Lindy got clobbered and we went into the bottom of the ninth down 8-5. John Hiler, who was a pretty awesome closer, ended the game with a 1-2-3 inning.
The Yankees released him after the 1973 season, and he moved on the coaching and managing. He was the Houston Astros manager in the mid-1990’s. Hal is a half a year younger than me, and he’s still in baseball. I heard recently that he landed a gig as manager of an independent league team in Ottawa, Canada. They are lucky to have him.