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.
One more story about that Jake Wood game in Detroit. The Dodgers traded the great Johnny Podres to the Tigers a few weeks before, and in the top of the seventh he came in to pitch. So here I am, still a Rookie, sitting on the bench after giving a Home Run, narrowing our lead to one run, and I was like “Holy Crap, that’s Johnny Podres.” It was the first time I had seen him pitch, and this guy was legendary. He was a southpaw who was the 1955 World Series MVP when the Dodgers beat the Yankees. Podres takes the mound and proceeds to retire six in a row: Clete Boyer, Hal Reniff, and Tom Tresh, followed by Bobby Richardson, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Wow! I’m a 24-year-old rookie and I’m pitching in the same game as Johnny Podres. That’s one of the many reasons I feel fully blessed by Baseball.
Happy Birthday to former Detroit Tigers infielder Jake Wood. I faced Jake for the first time during my rookie season, and I remember the game well – mostly because of how badly it started. It was June 11, 1966 and it was my second time pitching in Tiger Stadium. (Let me start by saying that the first time was a disaster. I gave up four runs in six innings and lost the game to Denny McClain.) Before I even took the mound, my teammates came through. Tom Tresh led off with a walk and stole second on Bill Freehan – and that was no easy task. Bobby Richardson signed, moving Tresh to third. Tresh scored on a Roger Maris groundout, and Richardson scored on Joe Pepitone’s single to center. The lead narrowed quickly. After I walked the leadoff batter, Don Wert, I faced Jake Wood and hit him with the pitch. Don Demeter drove him home with a single. I struck Wood out in the third, a 1-2-3 inning for us. The Tigers tied it up in the fifth with a Dick McAuliffe leadoff Home Run. Wert singled, and Wood bunted to third moving Wert to second. Luckily Norm Cash, who could be frightening at the plate, grounded out. My lead increased when Elston Howard hit a two-run Home Run. Don Demeter hit a one-out homer in the sixth and Ralph Houk too me out. The Yankees won, 6-3, thanks to some outstanding relief pitching from Hal Reniff, and I got the win.