Happy Birthday to my Yankee teammate, Jerry Kenney. I called Jerry “Lobo,” a nickname given to him by Horace Clarke; he was the Yankees regular third baseman from 1969 to 1972. We first met way back in 1964 as minor league teammates on the Shelby (North Carolina) Yankees in the Western Carolinas League (Class A). Lobo made his major league debut on September 5, 1967 at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, I remember the game well. I started against the White Sox, and gave up three runs in the first inning. I had nothing, absolutely nothing. Ralph Houk pulled me in the second after giving up two hits and (accidentally, really) hitting Tommy McCraw with a pitch. With the Yankees losing 5-3, Lobo led off the bottom of the ninth as a pinch hitter for Ruben Amaro and Bob Locker struck him out. But that had to be an exciting night for Jerry, who will always be able to say that he played in his first major league game with Mickey Mantle. #7 came in to pinch hit for Jim Bouton (who replaced me) in the bottom of the second and hit a double, driving in the Yankees third run.
My best memory of Lobo was on September 30, 1970 at Fenway Park. It was the last game of the season and I was going for my 20th win. In my book, I described asking Houk to play someone else at third; I’m sure glad The Major didn’t take player requests. In the fourth, he hit a two-run single to center, driving in Frank Tepedino and Jim Lyttle. The Yankees won 4-3, and I won 20 games for the only time in my career.
Lobo got dealt to the Indians in 1972, in what would be a monumental deal for the Yankees comeback. The Yankees sent him, along with Johnny Ellis, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres, to Cleveland for Craig Nettles and Jerry Moses.
Happy Birthday to Rico Petrocelli, born in Brooklyn 72 years ago today. Even though I joined the Yankees as a rookie at the start of the 1966 season, Ralph Houk didn’t use me against the Red Sox until September 24, a match-up between an 8th place team and a 10th place team at Yankee Stadium. I looked it up and attendance that night was 5,897. This was the first time I faced Rico and got him out four times – three of them on infield pop ups. This was a real unexciting pitchers dual between me and Jim Lonborg (who would win the AL Cy Young Award the next season. I gave up six hits – three of them to Reggie Smith – no runs, and struck out seven. Jim pitched a four-hitter, giving up one run after giving up hits to Mike Hegan and Horace Clarke, with Bobby Murcer driving in the one run of the game with a ground out to second. The other memorable moment was that I hit a ground-rule double in the bottom of the eighth.
Some fans mark the genesis of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry to the Babe Ruth trade, but for this kid from the suburbs of Chicago, it began on Wednesday, June 21, 1967 during a tough 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. Tempers were flaring. Our pitcher was Thad Tillotson and in the second inning he beaned Joe Foy, who had hit a Grand Slam Home Run against us the previous day, in the head. That was after he threw a pair of brush-back pitches at him. The next inning, Longborg beaned Tillotson, and players from both teams cleared their benches in defense of our teammates. It got exponentially worse when a verbal argument between Rico and Joe Pepitone turned into a real fight. I remember that Rico’s brother was working at Yankee Stadium as a security guard and he ran out on the field to help his brother. That was the year the Red Sox came from behind to win the American League pennant in what was called “The Impossible Dream.”
I didn’t know Rico well, but he was probably no Fritz Peterson fan: he went 9-for-54 against me, a career .167 average.
Happy Birthday to Don Mincher, who was a strong hitter and would be more widely known had he played for contending teams during a long and highly regarded baseball career. One bit of trivia to start: Don was the starting first baseman in the first game of the Seattle Pilots in 1969, along onetime Yankees Steve Whitaker and Mike Hegan. (I never got any starts against the Pilots that historic season.) I faced Don several times during my career and generally did fine against him; I looked up his average and he hit about 50 points less against me than he did against others. The game I remember was against the California Angels on April 28, 1967, before a scant crowd at Yankee Stadium. In the second, my friend Rick Reichardt hit a single to a shortstop named John Kennedy. Jose Cardenal walked, moving Rick to second. Then Don comes up and hits a three-run homer. I don’t think I even turned around; I knew it was gone when I heard the sound of the ball hitting the bat. I gave up 173 Home Runs during my career, and pitchers don’t forget any of them. I gave up another run that inning, putting the Angels ahead 4-1. I made it through the next three innings fine, and in the fifth Horace Clarke pinch hit for me. The Yankees won the game 5-4, with Steve Whitaker carrying the team with an RBI single and a Home Run. Tom Tresh homered, and the Yankees went ahead in the eighth when Charley Smith scored on Elston Howard’s sacrifice fly. Dooley Womack got the win, and I got to enjoy serving up one of Don Mincher’s 200th career Home Runs.
I’m going to try something called Monument Monday, as a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career.
One of the greatest things about being a young ballplayer is that sometimes you get to actually play on a team with some of the guys you followed as a kid. Pedro Ramos was a good pitcher and would have done better if he had played for a better team. But the Washington Senators of the mid-to-late 1950’s finished last in the American League for four of the six years he played there, so his stats don’t really do the man justice. He was in Cleveland for two years (another bottom half AL club) and came to the Yankees during the 1964 Pennant race. Always a starter, the Yankees used him in relief; I hesitate to call him a closer, because pitchers threw more complete games than they do today. During my rookie year, 1966, Pedro pitched in 52 games – pretty amazing for one guy to pitch almost 1/3 of the games — had a 3.61 ERA and struck out 58 batters in 89 innings.
I think the first time he relieved me on the mound was on May 22, 1966, the second game of a double header against his old team the Minnesota Twins, at Yankee Stadium. I wasn’t pitching badly – I had only given up two hits before Tony Oliva tripled to lead off the 4th and Bob Allison hit a sacrifice fly to Mickey Mantle in CF, and we were losing 1-0. Elston Howard doubled to left to lead off the 8th and Hector Lopez pinch hit for me. Ralph Houk put Horace Clarke in to run for Ellie, and Hoss was able to get to second after Hector hit a deep shot to center. Hoss scored on Roy White’s single, tying the game. White advanced to second on Bobby Richardson’s hit, and scored on Joe Pepitone’s double to left.
Pedro came in to pitch the 9th, got Rich Rollins to ground out, and struck out Sandy Valdespino and Russ Nixon. That was my third career win, a 2-1 victory over the Twins, and I’ll always be grateful for Pedro for that and for his friendship.