Happy Birthday to Mike Hedlund, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in 1965 and 1968, and for the Kansas City Royals from 1969 to 1972. I faced him on August 21, 1971 at Municipal Stadium. We both pitched complete games, and we both gave up a lot of hits: ten by Mike and twelve by me. Mike have up a Home Run (to Ron Blomberg) and I gave up a Double (to Freddy Patek) and a Triple (to Lou Piniella). We were tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the eighth. Sweet Lou hit a one-out infield single to the third baseman, and made it to third of Jerry Kenney’s throwing error. Bob Oliver then singled to center and the Royals went ahead. In the top of the ninth, Mike got Felipe Alou (pinch hitting for Frank Baker), Jake Gibbs (pinch hitting for me) and Jerry out, 1-2-3, to win the game.
Happy Birthday to Rocky Colavito, whom I believe never put any curse on the Cleveland Indians. Rocky was the first major leaguer I ever saw up close. It was in April of 1963. Dave Duncan and I were both prospects at the time and we were among a group of players invited to try out for the Kansas City Athletics. We went out to eat, and a group of Detroit Tigers who were in town came to the same place for dinner. Rocky was a Home Run hitting superstar in 1963 and was very recognizable, and I was in awe of him. I never stopped, largely because he earned it; Rocky had a .391 career batting average when I was the pitcher.
The first time I pitched to Rocky was on June 7, 1966 at Cleveland Stadium. Rocky hit a leadoff single to start the second inning. And I remember the fourth inning well, because I struck out the side, including Rocky and Leon Wagner. The Yankees won that game 7-2, the fourth win of my fledgling career, and I struck out nine batters.
Rocky became a Yankee at the end of his career. The Dodgers had released him around the 1968 All-Star break and the Yankees signed him a few days later. It was very cool when Rocky arrived in the clubhouse and put on the Pinstripes with #29 across his back. And he was a Bronx-born guy and felt very comfortable playing in New York. We were playing the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium and Rocky was in the lineup, playing Right Field and batting sixth. In his first At-Bat, he hit a deep fly ball that I thought might be a homer, but Del Unser caught it at the warning track. The next time he came to the plate was in the bottom of the fifth. The pitcher was Joe Coleman. It was still a scoreless game, but the Yankees had something going: Joe Pepitone hit a leadoff single, and moved to second on Andy Kosco’s hit. Rocky hit a Home Run, the 370th of his career and his first in Pinstripes. I was pitching the day Rocky hit the last Home Run of his great career, on September 24, 1968 against the Cleveland Indians.
The other story to tell when talking about Rocky as a Yankee was the time he pitched. He was 35-years-old and near the end of his career on August 25, 1968, the first game of a Sunday doubleheader against his old team, the Detroit Tigers. Future Yankee Pat Dobson was on the mound for the Tigers. s Ralph Houk was short on pitchers and was trying not to go to his closers until the end of the game. Detroit had taken a 5-0 lead when The Major pulled Steve Barber and turned to Rocky, who entered the game with one out and runners on first and second. Rocky got Al Kaline and Willie Horton out to end the inning. Rocky came back to pitch the fifth and sixth innings. He walked two in the fifth, but gave up no hits and no runs. In the sixth, he gave up a double to Al Kaline, who was left stranded; he even struck out Dick Tracewski.
But wait, there’s more. In the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees took the lead, 6-5, off Home Runs by Bill Robinson and Bobby Cox. Rocky walked and scored the go-ahead run on Jake Gibbs’ single. The Major brought in Dooley Womack and Lindy McDaniel to finish the game, and Rocky got the win. One hit, no runs, and a strikeout. And in the second game, Rocky played Right Field and hit a Home Run off Mickey Lolich; the Yankees won 5-4 and swept the doubleheader.
Happy Birthday to Jim Miles, a pitcher for the Washington Senators for three games in 1968 and ten in 1969. I pitched against Jim once, on April 15, 1969 at Yankee Stadium. Jim came in to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Joe Pepitone. Then he struck out Gene Michael. Bill Robinson reached first on Third Baseman Ken McMullen’s error. With runners on first and second, Jake Gibbs hit a grounder to Second Baseman Tim Cullen, forcing Bill at second. Now there were runners at first and second, two out, and I was the batter. I grounded out. The Yankee offense came through that day – Bobby Murcer and Joe Pepitone homered – and we won 8-2. It was my first win of the 1969 season.
Happy Birthday to former Yankee pitcher Andy Messersmith, who is 70 today. Bluto was a great pitcher, and his challenge to the reserve clause helped pave the way for ballplayers to determine their own destiny. I was gone by the time free agency came to be, but I sure remember Bluto as a dominating pitcher for the California Angels, and later for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was the Yankees starting pitcher on August 12, 1968, the first time Bluto pitched against the team he rooted for as a kid in Toms River, New Jersey. I gave up a run in the second, and we took the lead off Mickey Mantle’s two-run homer in the sixth. Rick Reichardt tied it up with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth. With the score still tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Houk brought in Lindy McDaniel to pitch after I surrendered two-out singles to Jim Fregosi and to Rick. In the ninth, Bill Robinson hit a leadoff double, and moved to third when Tommy Tresh bunted safely. With the score tied, no outs, and runners on first and third, Bill Rigney pulled starter George Brunet and brought Bluto in to pitch. Bluto have up an RBI single to Jake Gibbs, putting us ahead, 3-2. He got Bobby Cox to fly out to Don Mincher at first, and struck out Lindy. Then Roy White drove Tommy home with a single. That was it for Bluto. We won 5-2.
I pitched against him again during his first visit to Yankee Stadium two weeks later. It was a Monday night doubleheader and I started the first game against Dennis Bennett. We fell behind in the fourth when that Reichardt guy hit an RBI single for the first run of the game. I tied it up in the bottom of the inning when I hit a sacrifice fly to Rick in left, scoring Tommy. We took the lead in the sixth when Dick Howser hit a two-out double, scoring Bobby Cox. That’s when Andy came in to pitch. He got Bill Robinson out to end the inning. The Mick led off the seventh with a single, and moved to second on Heeba’s single. Andy Kosco bunted The Mick to third and Heeba to second. Bluto struck out Tommy, but then gave up a two-RBI double to Frank Fernandez. After walking Bobby intentionally, I got up to bad with two outs and runners on first and second. I belted a double past that Reichardt guy, scoring Frank and Bobby. We won 6-2.
In the second game, which I got to see most of — The Major didn’t believe in sending guys home early – starter Bill Harrelson loaded the bases and with two out, Andy came in to pitch again. Mickey Mantle came up to pinch hit for Charley Smith, and Bluto struck him out. We lost that game; Andy got the save.
Happy Birthday to Dick Simpson, an outfielder who was my teammate on the New York Yankees ever so briefly in 1969. Dick was involved in a bunch of trades involving some familiar names: he came up with the Angels organization and was traded to the Orioles for Norm Siebern; the Orioles traded him to the Reds as part of the Frank Robinson trade; the Reds sent him to the Cardinals for Alex Johnson; and the Cardinals dealt him and Hal Gilson to the Astros for Ron Davis. After the 1968 season, the Astros traded him to the Yankees for my friend Dooley Womack. Dick lasted a little more than a month in New York before he was traded to the Seattle Pilots for Jose Vidal. Later that year, he and my friend Steve Whitaker were traded to the Giants for Bobby Bolin. Dick was a key player in my second win of the 1969 season. It was April 24, 1969 and we were in Cleveland playing the Indians. He entered the game in the bottom of the fifth, replacing Jerry Kenney in the center. In the sixth, Tommy Tresh hit a leadoff infield single and moved to second when Juan Pizarro walked Jake Gibbs. I was the next batter and bunted to Max Alvis at third, who got me out but allowed Tommy and Jake to advance. Alvin Dark, The Tribe’s manager, called an intentional walk of Horace Clarke to load the bases and pitch to Dick. Dick hit a three-run double to left. Then he scored on Bobby Murcer’s Home Run. We won 11-3. I pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts.
Another bit of Dick Simpson trivia: he wore #9 for the Yankees, one of three to wear that number in between Roger Maris and Graig Nettles. The others were Steve Whitaker and Ron Woods.
I pitched in 355 major league baseball games over an 11-year career – 2,218 1/3 innings, I gave up 2,217 hits, 947 runs, 173 Home Runs, and I struck out 1,015 batters. I’m blessed by a multitude of memories. But when people ask me what game I remember most, there is nothing to think about. It was July 4, 1966, the second game of an Independence Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I was a 24-year-old rookie and a starting pitcher for the greatest sports team in the history of the planet. And as I took the mound for the start of the 8th inning, I was throwing a perfect game. I had retired the first 21 batters. I struck out Tommie Agee twice. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, put I had great stuff. In the first seven innings, home plate umpire Jim Odom had only called 13 balls.
We were playing the White Sox, the team I rooted for as a kid growing up in Chicago. My guys were making some great plays in the field. This was the day Ralph Houk ended his experiment of playing Tommy Tresh at third and Clete Boyer at sort. Thank god; Tommy and Clete were amazing. And the Yankee offense came through. I led off the third inning with a single to left off Juan Pizarro, and scored on Bobby Richardson’s double. Lou Clinton drove in Bobby and Dick Schofield to put us up 3-0. We scored two more runs in the fifth when Jake Gibbs drove in Lou and Clete Boyer.
There were some hairy moments, like in the fourth inning when Don Buford almost beat out a bunt. (Thank you, Clete Boyer!) and in the sixth when a relatively new Yankee, Dick Schofield, made an incredible back-handed stop at short that prevented Ken Berry from getting what should have been a bit.
So, to paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In the dugout, no one said anything, except for pitching coach Jim Turner (a Yankee legend, but not my favorite coach), who just told me to “relax.” Gene Freese led off the 8th with a shot to left field – deep left field – that was caught magnificently by Tommy. I had now retired 22 batters – five outs away from pitching the first perfect game since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. But no immortality for me; this is where the universe turned. Jerry Adair came to the plate – the same Jerry Adair who would have a .167 batting average against me. Jerry hits – maybe it’ better if I say taps – the ball about twenty feet up the third base side of the mound. I got it, and threw it high to Ray Baker at first base. E-1, a throwing error – my throwing error – and for the first time a White Sox player had reached first base. So no perfect game, but still a no-hitter. Everything’s gonna be fine.
The next batter was John Romano, the White Sox catcher. Before you ask, John would wind up with a .250 average against me – for those who don’t particularly enjoy math, that means he gets a hit one out of every four times. And this, my friends, would be one of them. John hit a single right up the middle. Nothing we could do about it. The no-hitter was off the table; now the Chisox have runners on first and second, and we still needed to win this game. Berry gets up and hits a double to left, and Adair scored. Al Weis, who pinch-ran for Romano, moved to third. Then Lee Elia hits a sacrifice fly to center; Weis scored (Yankees 5, White Sox 2). Next up was Bill Skowron, a true Yankee legend, who was pinch hitting. Moose hit a grounder to first baseman Ray Barker, who flipped it to me to get the third out in the most memorable inning of my life. I led off the ninth with a groundout — kudos to The Major, who didn’t pinch hit for me on this incredible day. The Yankees won – yeah, I know, that’s what matters – and I have one heck of a story to tell. Thank you for listening to it, and Happy Fourth of July.
Happy Birthday to my Yankee teammate, Ron Swoboda. Rocky was one of the smartest and nicest guys I ever met. He was, of course, a member of the 1969 Miracle Mets World Championship team. I got to know him in 1971 after he was traded to the Yankees from the Montreal Expos for Ron Woods. I remember his first game in pinstripes (he wore #14 in between Bobby Cox and Lou Piniella) on the day of his trade, June 25, 1971. The Yankees were playing the Washington Senators at Yankee Stadium. We scored three runs in the bottom of the first; Rocky came to bat with two outs and Felipe Alou on third; he hit a single to Elliot Maddox in center, scoring Alou. Nice when your first Yankee Stadium At-Bat is an RBI. He played in a game I pitched three days later, a tough 3-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians. Jake Gibbs got a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth, but unfortunately Rocky hit into a double play. But he made it up to me on August 2 in Cleveland when he hit an RBI single to score Johnny Ellis, helping the Yankees win. Rocky remained with the Yankees until 1973. Another game I remember was on July 28, 1971 in Chicago. I was pitching and the score was tied 3-3 going into the ninth. Rocky hit a two-out Home Run off Wilbur Wood to give us the lead. I left the game in the bottom of the ninth after walking Mike Andrews; Lindy McDaniel gave up a couple of hits and the White Sox beat us 5-4.