Larry Gowell was only with the Yankees for a brief time during the 1972 season, but that was enough for him to achieve a sort of immortality in the baseball history books. It was October 4, 1972 and we were at Yankee Stadium playing the Brewers. Larry was the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the third and smacked a double off Jim Lonborg that went past John Briggs in left. Larry was left stranded on second as the next three Yankees failed to drive him home. But the hit was historic because it was the last game of the season, and as it turned out, he was the last American League pitcher to get a hit before the Designated Hitter rule went into effect the following April. So Larry’s bat now has a place at Cooperstown.
Thanks to the leadership of CBS (sarcasm intended here), the Yankees got the #1 draft pick in 1967, the third year Amateur Draft. Larry was their first pick in the fourth round – Ron Blomberg was the #1 pick in the first round. The first time I saw Larry pitch was the first exhibition game of the 1970 season. He had a natural slider and his fast ball was as fast as any other Yankee in spring training. We were Pompano Beach playing the Washington Senators and Larry came in to pitch in the ninth inning. We were ahead, 6-5. I think he was a little nervous. His first batter was Del Unser and he hit him with the pitch. His second batter was a teenager named Jeff Burroughs, who hit a massive Home Run.
Larry spent the 1972 season with the West Haven Yankees, the Eastern League AA club that was being managed by the Bobby Cox, now a Hall of Fame manager. He was on fire and the Yankee pitchers were following him closely. In 26 games, he was 14-6 with a 2.54 ERA and 171 strikeouts in 181 innings.
Larry was a September call-up at a time when the Yankees were in a four-way race for First Place in the AL East. He made his major league debut in the bottom of the sixth inning on September 21, at County Stadium. With the Brewers ahead 4-0, Ralph Houk had removed Freddy Beene the previous inning for a pinch hitter, Rusty Torres. Larry retired the first three major league batters he faced: John Briggs, Ollie Brown and Mike Ferraro. Then in the seventh, he did the same thing against Rick Auerbach, Jerry Bell (the pitcher), and Ron Theobald. With two outs, The Major took him out in the eighth so Felipe Alou could hit. Felipe singled, the beginning of a Yankee rally. He moved to second on Horace Clarke’s hit, and scored on Roy White’s hit. The Bobby Murcer hit an RBI single, reducing Milwaukee’s lead to one run. Unfortunately, Bloomie flied out to end the inning, leaving Roy and Bobby on base. The Brewers wound up beating us, 6-4, and we wasted a rare ninth inning homer by Bernie Allen.
October 4 was the last game of the season and we had lost four in a row, dropping us to 4th place, 6 ½ games behind the Detroit Tigers. Since we were out of contention, The Major decided to give Larry the start. He pitched really, really well. He gave up his first major league hit in the second to Joe Lahoud, and Briggs hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Dave May, who had doubled. With the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, no outs and Jerry Kenney on first, The Major pulled Larry for a pinch hitter, Frank Tepedino. Larry had given up three hits, and had struck out six. It was an amazing demonstration of pitching for a rookie. We lost 1-0, as the Yankee bats were not coming through.
Larry was in contention for a major league roster spot in 1973. He was cut at the end of spring training, losing out to Casey Cox and Doc Medich. He didn’t make the team again in 1974; the new manager, Bill Virdon, seemed to judge him based on one bad tenth inning in an exhibition game against the Texas Rangers. A lot of the hype that spring was about Mike Pazik, a cocky southpaw from Holy Cross who wound up getting traded to the Twins for Dick Woodson. But Larry Gowell’s time as a MLB pitcher was indeed memorable and historic. I am glad to have known him.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Happy 71st Birthday to Sparky, my friend and teammate and the best relief pitcher I ever played with. When the Yankees traded Danny Cater to the Red Sox for Sparky in March of 1972, it changed my life for the better. We hit it off immediately and had lots of fun together. Jim Turner, the Yankees pitching coach, once called our group “The Nursery” because of all the childish pranks we pulled, and we wore that as a badge of honor. I enjoyed every minute I played with The Count, and one of the reasons is that our team got significantly better because of his arrival.
I remember Sparky’s Pinstripe debut on April 19, 1972. We were ahead of the Brewers 3-0 in the top of the ninth. Mike Kekich had given up just two hits when Ron Theobold hit a two-out single, followed by John Briggs’ Home Run. Ralph Houk brought in The Count to pitch to George Scott, who grounded out on the second pitch. The first time he came to my rescue was on May 21, against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. I was off to a miserable start and was 0-6 so far that season. I went in to the top of the ninth with a 6-1 lead, and quickly have up successive singles to Duane Josephson, Rico Petrocelli and Phil Gagliano. With the bases loaded and two out, The Major brought The Count in to pitch, and I got my first win of the year.
Another memorable game from early in The Count’s Yankee career came in his second appearance for us, against the Oakland A’s on April 25, 1972. It was a pitcher’s duel between Sparky and Rollie Fingers. Steve Kline and Catfish Hunter were the starters and the game was tied 3-3 going into the ninth inning. Sparky had a 1-2-3 inning, followed by Rollie walking Rich McKinney and facing four batters. Sparky had a 1-2-3 tenth; Rollie had a little more trouble. He gave up a two-out walk to Bobby Murcer, who moved to second on Roy White’ single and got stranded there when Rollie got Felipe Alou out. In the eleventh, gave up a one-out hit to Joe Rudi and walked Reggie Jackson – then he struck out Sal Bando and Mike Epstein. With two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, The Major sent Ron Blomberg to the plate to pinch hit for Sparky. Bloomie walked, but then Rollie got Jerry Kenney out to end the inning. Mike Hegan hit an RBI double off Lindy McDaniel in the top of the twelfth, and Rollie had a 1-2-3 inning to get the win. It didn’t take long for our team to understand that the Era of Lindy McDaniel was over and there was a new fireman in town. One of my greatest regrets was that I wasn’t around for Sparky’s Cy Young season.
Among the guys I really enjoyed playing with was Dave LaRoche, who was traded to the Cleveland Indians during the 1975 Off-Season for another good pitcher, Milt Wilcox. The first time I saw him pitch was in his Yankee Stadium debut on July 19, 1970 when he was a rookie for the California Angels. He entered the game in relief in the eighth, taking over for Rudy May with a 5-2 lead. The first batter he faced was Horace Clarke, who grounded out. Then he struck out Bobby Murcer. In the ninth, he got Thurman Munson out. To me, getting Lemon and Tugboat out in your Yankee Stadium debut is a big deal. And that was Dave’s first major league save.
His Tribe debut was on April 12, 1975 in Milwaukee. It was the same day Dennis Eckersley made his major league debut. I was the starting pitcher that day, and I had nothing. Sometimes pitchers have days like that. I gave up a one-out walk to John Briggs, who reached third on Hank Aaron’s double. I intentionally walked the sometimes scary George Scott, and then Don Money hit an RBI single, scoring John. It could have been worse; I got the relay from Charlie Spikes in right and threw it to Johnny Ellis, the catcher, who tagged Hank out at home. Then it did get worse. Sixto Lezcano doubled, scoring George and moving Don to third. Charlie Moore, whom I wrote about on his birthday last month as being nearly impossible for me to get out, hit a two-run double. The Brewers led, 4-0. Frank Robinson pulled me in the bottom of the second after giving up a leadoff Home Run to Robin Yount and walking Bob Coluccio. Dave came in to pitch in the seventh – one of four pitchers the Tribe used that day – and he gave up no runs. But we lost, 6-5.
For a ballplayer, there are certain times in your career that you are part of history and don’t even know it. That’s what happened to me on April 12, 1975. I was the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and we were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee – the first game of the season for me. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. Jim Kern and Dave LaRoche pitched well in relief. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and runners on first and third, Frank brought in a rookie pitcher named Dennis Eckersley to make his MLB debut. Eck walked Don Money to load the bases, then proceeded to get Sixto Lezcano and Charlie Moore out. Eck pitched the eighth, gave up a leadoff hit to Pedro Garcia. Then he struck out Yount, followed by outs for Mike Hegan and John Briggs. The Tribe lost the game 6-5, but Eck’s major league debut was outstanding.