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 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.
I never cared for the Mets, and I put that in a way that tempers my real feelings because this is a family-friendly website. If you played for the Yankees during the Horace Clarke Era as I did, watching the other New York team win a World Series in 1969 and a pennant in 1973, the Mets were the evil empire. But as a fan, I could not help but root for Steven Matz, the Southpaw who excited the entire baseball family on Sunday with his amazing major league debut. He gave up just two runs in 7 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts and just three walks. And I can’t remember a rookie pitcher with a better day at the plate: 3-for-3 with four RBI’s. Simply incredible, and I tip my hat to this young and exciting new pitcher – even a Mets pitcher.
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.
Like most pitchers, I wasn’t much of a hitter. My career average was .159 – 82 hits, including 15 doubles, a triple, and two “historic” home runs (off Clyde Wright and Mike Cuellar). I actually hit well my rookie season, 1966: .224, which was four points higher than a right fielder named Lou Clinton, a very nice man who was nearing the end of his career. Of course my hitting career came to an end in 1973 when the AL adopted the Designated Hitter rule. I was fine with that; it made it a little tougher when #9 in the order was no longer a pitcher, but fans liked the idea of some veteran hitters staying on a bit longer and so did I. My last major league at-bat came on October 1, 1972, the first game of a Sunday double header against the Cleveland Indians at Yankee Stadium – my last start of the season because there was no post-season in the “Horace Clarke Era.” It was one of the most memorable games of my career – an 11-inning complete game! How many times has that happened?
Gaylord Perry was pitching for the Indians, and he was enjoying the best seasons of his career: 24-16, with a 1.92 ERA, 234 strikeouts, and winning the Cy Young Award. He also pitched a complete game – his 29th of the season. So I repeat my question: when was the last time two pitchers threw an 11-inning complete game in the same game?
This was not an inconsequential game. The Yankees began the day tied for 3rd in the AL East with the Orioles, while the Red Sox and Tigers were in a down-to-the-wire battle for first. We were five games out of first place, with five games remaining. We were eliminated from winning the division since Boston and Detroit had three games left against each other. But there was a scenario that could have had us in 2nd – not 4th, where we wound up – and that was worth trying for.
The Yankees scored in the fourth when Roy White scored on Bernie Allen’s ground rule double, and the Indians tied it in the fifth when Ray Fosse hit a leadoff Home Run against me. The game remained 1-1 until the top of the eleventh. Buddy Bell led off with a double to left, and moved to third on Jack Brohamer’s grounder to Ron Bloomberg at first. Chris Chambliss hit a sacrifice fly to Bobby Murcer in center; Bell scored, and we were down 2-1. I was supposed to lead off the bottom of the eleventh, but naturally Ralph Houk pinch hit for me. Frank Tepedino struck out looking. Then Horace Clarke filed out and Thurman Munson grounded out. We lost 2-1.
I don’t presume to know anything about baseball compared to Houk, who was one of the smartest baseball strategists I ever knew. But 43 years later, maybe it’s ok to wonder what he was thinking when he sent Tepedino, who was 0-8 as a September call up, to leadoff in the bottom of the eleventh, one run down. There were only two left-handed hitter on the bench: Tepedino and Johnny Callison, who was a .216 lifetime hitter against Perry but was hitting .280 vs. righties that season. Would it have been better to take his chances with Johnny Ellis, a right-handed hitter with a .294 average and a .270 average against right-handed pitchers that season? Or an experienced hitter, like Ron Swoboda? We will never know.
Anyway, there was a point to this post, and finally I’m getting to it. With the DH starting in 1973 – call it the Ron Bloomberg Lifetime of Fame Rule – this was the last time I would ever bat in a major league game. I popped up to shortstop Frank Duffy in the fourth, and struck out in the fifth — I was one of Perry’s eleven strikeouts that game. My final career At-Bat came in the eighth, with a ground out to second. As I said earlier, Teppie pinch hit for me in the eleventh and struck out. I think I could have done at least as well.
Happy Birthday to Charlie Moore, who played for the Milwaukee Brewers during my last four years in the major leagues. He was statistically the single toughest hitter I faced in eleven seasons as a pitcher. And the funny thing is the first time I saw him, as a 20-year-old late season call-up, I thought he would be easy. I was wrong.
It was September 25, 1973. We were away, I was at the end of a not so great 8-15 season, and the Yankees were three games under .500 and 17.5 game out of first — again, the whole “Horace Clarke Era” thing! Charlie made the third out in a 1-2-3 second inning with a fly ball to Otto Velez in right. In the fourth, I gave up successive singles to Dave May and George Scott. Then Don Money hit a shot to center; May scored and Scott went to third. Thurman Munson made a rare error and Money advanced to second. After Bobby Mitchell flied out to right – Scott wasn’t scoring on Velez’s arm – Ralph Houk gave me the signal to intentionally walk Charlie. Wilbur Howard hit a grounder to Fred Stanley at short, forcing Charlie out at second, but we didn’t get the DP; Scott scored, putting us behind 2-0 Brewers. I saw Charlie for the third time in the seventh when he tried to bunt on Thurman – bad idea. We scored one in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it, and Lindy McDaniel came in to relieve me in the bottom of the ninth. The Brewers won it in the 13th on Pedro Garcia’s RBI single.
Charlie Moore was going to be no problem, right?
The next time I saw Charlie Moore was on July 1, 1974. By this time, I had been traded to the Cleveland Indians and was starting the second game of a double header (remember those?) at Cleveland Stadium. He went 3-for-3 against me, two singles and a double. We beat the Brewers 9-3, but I couldn’t get Charlie out. I faced Charlie three times in 1975 and once more in 1976 (before the Rangers trade); he went 6-for-8, with a walk. I never struck him out, and the best I could do was get him to fly out to Rick Manning in center. Charlie went 9-for-13, with a career .692 average while batting against me. I looked it up and of the 525 different players who hit against me (more than twice), Charlie Moore has the highest career batting average of them all. How’s that for a little birthday trivia!
Today is the best day of the year – Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium. I’ll be signing copies of my new book, When the Yankees Were on the Fritz: Revisiting the “Horace Clarke Era” in front of Yankee Stadium on Saturday from 2-4 PM, and on Sunday 10AM-Noon (by the Hard Rock Café at Gate 6). I’ll be at the greatest sports bar in the Bronx, Yankee Tavern (72 E.161st Street) from 4:15-6:30 PM on Saturday, and from 12:15-1:15 PM on Sunday. Please try to stop by — it would be great to see you.