Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who passed away in 2002, may be one of the best knuckleballers in baseball history. Today would have been his 93rd birthday. His career spanned from 1952 until 1972; he was just a few weeks short of his 50th birthday when he pitched in his last MLB game. I had certainly followed his career – he won 12 games with the 1954 Giants, and he had spent six years with the White Sox, my hometown team. I hit against him only once: it was July 11, 1968 at County Stadium in Chicago. He entered the game in relief of Gary Peters in the top of the fifth, with the Yankees leading the White Sox 3-1. He struck me out, but I still got the win. The first time we pitched in the same game was on June 26, 1966 – my rookie season. The Yankees had a 2-0 lead and Hoyt came in relief of Joe Horlen to pitch the bottom of the eighth. He retired Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone rather quickly. I like to think I pitched well: a complete game, five strikeouts, and the first shutout of my career. So of course, I will always remember that game.
Happy Birthday to Pete Ward, my teammate on the Yankees in 1970. Pete came up through the Orioles organization and made his MLB debut with them in 1962. In early 1963, the Orioles traded him – along with future Yankee Ron Hansen, Hoyt Wilhelm and Dave Nicholson to the White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith. I remember the trade well because this was the winter before I signed with the Yankees and was still a college student rooting for the White Sox. I couldn’t believe they had traded Aparicio. Six years and 96 Home Runs later, Chicago traded Wagon to the Yankees for Mickey Scott. He was going to be the new First Baseman, after the Yankees traded Joe Pepitone to Houston for Curt Blefary, but the Yankees wound up going with Danny Cater. The Yankees purchased Ron Hansen’s contract from the White Sox a few weeks later, thinking he could be the answer for their Third Base problem. I wrote a lot about Wagon in my book, including the time he hit a Home Run off Nolan Ryan during the Mayor’s Trophy Game against the Mets the season after they won the World Series. I never had much trouble with Wagon: he had a career .190 average against me. One game he did very well in was on July 16, 1970, the second game of a Twi-Night Doubleheader at Yankee Stadium against the Oakland A’s. The Yankees won 4-1 and Wagon drove in three of the runs off of starter Diego Segui. The first was a single that scored Roy White and the second was a double that scored Roy and Curt.