Happy Birthday to Gary Timberlake, who was originally drafted by the Yankees in 1966. The Yankees picked tenth in that draft. Jim Lyttle was their first round pick; Gary was their second round pick – 30th overall. He was a southpaw so when he was drafted during my rookie season, naturally I paid attention. I remember him having an especially good season with the Fort Lauderdale Yankees Class A team in 1968. The Yankees left him unprotected in the 1969 expansion draft and he was taken by the Seattle Pilots. He got called up to the majors in early summer, pitched two games, got sent back down, and never got called back. But he made it and he is remembered for doing that.
Loyd Colson was drafted by the Yankees in 1967, their first pick in the 28th round. Of the 77 players the Yankees drafted that day, only five ever wore the pinstripes, and Loyd was one of them. Just making it to the major leagues is an extraordinarily tough task, and while Loyd’s career was short, he still made it. I’m sure he will never forget the thrill of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while he never made it back, our team was honored to have him there and grateful for his strong showing that day. So today’s installment of Monument Monday is dedicated to all the young players who made it to the major leagues, even if for only a short time, and I want to recognize their monumental achievements.
I met Loyd for the first time in February of 1970, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Lauderdale. He was one of nine new guys on the 40-man roster that the Yankees viewed as integral to regaining their past glory. The others were (if I remember this correctly) pitchers Larry Gowell (who had 217 strikeouts in 195 innings in the minors the year before), Terry Bongiovanni, Doug Hansen and Bill Olsen, outfielder Rusty Torres, and a trio of infielders – George Zeber, Mario Guerrero and Tim O’Connell. [One brief footnote to baseball history: one of the players cut to make room for these new prospects was Bobby Cox, who was our Third Baseman for two years.] Loyd had impressed the Yankees during his stint with the Kinston Eagles, the Yankees Carolina League AA team. He had 125 strikeouts in 120 innings, and a 1.73 ERA.
Going into spring training, there were fifteen guys competing for four open spots on the Yankee pitching staff. Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and I were expected to be three of the five starters, and Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton were going to be in the bullpen. There were six pitchers in contention to be the other starters: Bill Burbach, John Cumberland, Ron Klimkowski, Steve Kline, Joe Verbanic, and this guy named Mike Kekich, who had been traded from the Dodgers. Also in camp were Rob Grander, Dick Farrell (a veteran National League pitcher who was at the end of his career), Jerry Tirtle, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, Bongiovanni, Gowell, Hansen, Olsen and Colson. Yankee executives boasted that they had “pitching depth” heading into the 1970 season. I remember that I was excited. Entering my third major league season, I pitched the most pre-season innings of the Yankee pitchers and had a 1.55 ERA during spring training.
The four pitchers who made it on the 25-man roster were Burbach, Klimkowski, Verbanic, and Kekich. Verbanic had missed the entire 1969 season because of a shoulder injury. He started the season with the Yankees, but was gone in about a month, never to pitch in the major leagues again. He would eventually be replaced by Cumberland. Eventually Bile would lose his starting slot to Kline, who got called up in July.
So back to Loyd Colson. Loyd was impressive in spring training and sent to the Manchester Yankees, the AA team, to get some more experience. He gets called up to the Yankees in September of 1970. He’s wearing #49 on his back. I remember his one appearance. It was September 25, and we were playing the Detroit Tigers in a Friday twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. There were six games left in the season, and we were in second place in the American League East, thirteen games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Steve Kline was pitching against Mickey Lolich. After seven innings, we were losing 2-1. Dick McAuliffe had hit a solo homer and Elliot Maddox had an RBI double for Detroit; Ron Hansen hit a solo Home Run for us. Loyd entered the game in the top of the eighth, taking over for Gary Jones, who had left the game for a pinch hitter.
The first major league hitter Loyd faced was Tigers Second Baseman Dalton Jones, who it a fly ball to center that Bobby Mitchell caught for the first out. [For Yankee memorabilia collectors there is some significance to this, since Loyd and Bobby would share a Rookie Card in the 1971 TOPPS set. The next batter was Don Wert, who singled to Bobby in center. Gene Lamont, the Tigers catcher, then hit an RBI double. This was a tough debut for a pitcher and I recall being impressed by how Loyd settled down and struck out the next two batters, Maddox and Lolich.
In the top of the ninth, Colson led off the inning by striking out McAuliffe. He gave up an infield single to Mickey Stanley, and then retired Jim Northrup and the always threatening Norm Cash on flyballs. The Yankee offense threatened Lolich in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Lyttle hit a one-out single to center, and advanced to second when Gene Michael got on base due to Jones’ error. So with the tying run at first, The Major sends Roy White in to pinch hit for Loyd. Lolich struck Heeba out, and then won the game when Horace Clarke flied out to right.
So there it is, the history of Loyd Colson. Not a bad showing: 3 hits, one run, and three strikeouts (and zero At-Bats) in two innings as a pitcher for the greatest baseball team in history. He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1971, didn’t make the team, and got sent to Syracuse. He never had another opportunity to play in the majors, but he did have two good innings in pinstripes and all of us are grateful to him for that.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
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 Dick Drago, who made his major league debut for the first Kansas City Royals team in 1969 and won 11 games as a right-handed pitcher. He got to play for manager Joe Gordon, a Hall of Fame second baseman and Yankee legend, and with guys like Jim Campanis, Bob Oliver, and the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year, Lou Piniella. My Yankee teammates who went to the Royals in the expansion draft included Jim Rooker, Ellie Rodriguez, and Steve Whitaker, who got traded to the Seattle Pilots two weeks before opening day for Piniella. I didn’t get to face Dick until August 25, 1970, and only for an inning. Steve Kline pitched great for 7 1/3 innings and only let up one run – a seventh inning leadoff homer to Bob Oliver. After he gave up a hit in the eighth, and with a runner at second, Ralph Houk brought in Jack Aker to pitch to Amos Otis. Jack had a sore back and hadn’t pitched in about two weeks. He seemed to be doing fine, but after one pitch, the pain returned and he could not continue. Houk called me in to get the last two outs. Dick was pitching magnificently. He had given up a run in the second when Bobby Murcer doubled and Danny Cater drove him in, when he took the mound in the top of the ninth, we were tied, 1-1. Roy White singled, stole second, and advanced to third on Cater’s infield hit. Then Jim Lyttle drove him in with a single. I came in for the bottom of the ninth and gave up a leadoff walk to Oliver; the Major then brought in Lindy McDaniel to close, and the Yankees won 2-1. So Dick, who threw a complete game (and was great) got the loss, and I got the win by pitching to four batters. A hugely important win, by the way, because I finished the season 20-11.