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.
At Municipal Stadium before a game in 1975, our team photo: (Left to Right, front row): clubhouse manager Cy Buynak, trainer Jimmy Warfield, coach Harvey Haddix, coach Tom McCraw, president Ted Bonda, manager Frank Robinson, general manager Phil Seghi, traveling secretary Mike Seghi, coach Jeff Torborg, coach Dave Garcia, batboy; (second row) Fred Beene, John Lowenstein, Oscar Gamble, Ken Berry, Jackie Brown, Alan Ashby, Dave LaRoche, John Ellis, Tommy Smith, Fritz Peterson, Rick Manning, Frank Duffy, Duane Kuiper; (third row) Buddy Bell, George Hendrick, Ed Crosby, Dennis Eckersley, Jim Bibby, Boog Powell, Eric Raich, Charlie Spikes, Tom Buskey, Rico Carty, Roric Harrison.
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.
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.