Happy Birthday to Don Kessinger, a great shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I never played with Don, who spent nearly his entire career in the National League, but I came close. I had signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1977, but retired in May after my second shoulder surgery without every playing a game for them. Don was traded to the Sox in August, where he finished his excellent career.
Another great ballplayer, Deron Johnson, would have been 75 today. He died way too young of lung cancer in 1991. He came up through the Yankee organization, but got traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Bud Daley early in the 1961 season. He led the National League in RBI’s with 130 in 1965, batting fifth for the Cincinnati Reds and following Tommy Harper, Pete Rose, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. The first time I ever faced him was on May 29, 1973, when the Oakland A’s were playing at Yankee Stadium. I struck him out looking. But over the course of the next couple of years, Deron did just fine; he had a .313 lifetime average against me.
I had 1,015 strikeouts during my eleven seasons as a Major League Baseball pitcher. The player I struck out most was Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson: 23 times between his rookie season (1967) and my final year (1976). Reggie had a .188 career batting average when I was on the mound. The first time I faced him, on June 28, 1967, he had been playing for the Kansas City Athletics for less than three weeks. I struck him out. Reggie’s didn’t play in Yankee Stadium until the next season and I faced him in his second game there, on April 16, 1968. He hit a Home Run off me, followed by two singles – each time advancing Bert Campanaris to third. The other game I remember was May 7, 1970 in Oakland. I struck Reggie out three times that game, before he hit a single off me. For trivia buffs, Reggie’s third and fourth career Home Runs came of Mel Stottlemyre and me.
Happy Birthday to my teammate, Hector Lopez, whose magnificent career as a major league baseball player crossed with mine for just one year. His final season came in 1966, my rookie year. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with this Yankee great. Headley started out, as many Yankees did, with the Kansas City Athletics. He came to New York in a 1959 trade and retired there seven years later. I met Headley for the first time during Spring Training 1966 in Fort Lauderdale.
The first game Hector and I played in together was on May 22, 1966, the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Yankee Stadium against the Minnesota Twins. I wasn’t pitching badly – I had only given up two hits before Tony Oliva tripled to lead off the fourth and Bob Allison hit a sacrifice fly to Mickey Mantle in center field, and we were losing 1-0. Elston Howard doubled to left to lead off the eighth and Hector Lopez pinch hit for me. Ralph Houk put Horace Clarke in to run for Ellie, and Hoss was able to get to second after Hector hit a deep shot to center. Hoss scored on Roy White’s single, tying the game. White advanced to second on Bobby Richardson’s hit, and scored on Joe Pepitone’s double to left. The Yankees won 2-1, my third career victory – in part thanks to Headley.
On August 4, 1966, we were playing the Angeles at Anaheim Stadium. I was pitching and Headley was playing Right Field. I remember the game because it was my worst performance of the season. I have up two runs and two hits in the bottom of the first. In the second, gave up a leadoff single to Buck Rodgers, who moved to second on Bobby Knoop’s single. They both advanced a base on Ed Kirkpatrick’s groundout. Then the pitcher, Marcelino Lopez, hit an infield single, with Rodgers scoring and Knoop moving to third. Jose Cardenal came to the plate with runners on first and third and one out and hit a triple to Headley in right field. Headley misplayed the ball, removing the option of getting Jose at third. Instead, two more runs scored. Jay hit an RBI single and I was gone after 1 1/3 innings, having given up six runs. So after Dooley Womack finishes the inning, Headley comes up to me in the dugout and apologizes for the play. Imagine that, this classic Yankee apologizing to a rookie who just pitched horribly. “Sorry, Peta,” he said. “I owe you one.” What a great guy!
A little Celerino Sanchez trivia: Chief came to the Yankees in an unusual trade between a MLB team and a club in the Mexican League. The process started in 1969 when the Yankees traded Al Downing and Frank Fernandez to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater and an obscure guy named Ossie Chavarria, a Panama-born career minor leaguer (1959-1973) who hit .208 in 124 games for the Kansas City Athletics during parts of 1966 and 1967. (Footnote: he hit .222 against me in four games my rookie year.) Ossie never got his pinstripes: he played all the infield positions for the Syracuse Chiefs, batted in the .250-.270 range, but the competition was tough in those days – the Yankees had Horace Clarke, Gene Michael, Jerry Kenney, Frank Baker and Ron Hansen ahead of him. The Yankees were in the market for a new third baseman, and the scouts had identified Chief as a potential star. So after the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Ossie to the Mexico City Tigers in the Mexican League for Chief. Chief, of course, didn’t pan out, and he returned to the Mexican League in time for the 1974 season. Sadly, Chief died young, of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. But for some reason – likely his name and his role as the transitional third baseman between Jerry Kenney/Rich McKinney and Graig Nettles – he is well remembered by the Yankee fans of the Horace Clarke Era.
Chief hit his only career Home Run at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1973 off of Baltimore’s Mickey Scott. He was a pinch hitter for the pinch hitter for the designated hitter. Jim Ray Hart started the game against Mike Cuellar, and Ron Bloomberg pinch hit for him when Bob Reynolds came in relief. When Earl Weaver replaced Reynolds with Scott, Ralph Houk sent Chief up. With Bobby Murcer on first, Sanchez hit a shot to left; Al Bumbry tried to grab it, but he could not. That was a great win because we were tied with Baltimore for second on that particular day. Yankees blanked the Orioles 8-0; rookie Doc Medich got the win.
Chief went hitless in his first two major league games; his first hit came at Yankee Stadium, off Mike Paul of the Texas Rangers. It was a two-out hit to left, with an RBI; Roy White scored. His last hit came in his final game as a New York Yankee, and as a major league baseball player. It was the final game of the 1973 season; I was on the mound against Detroit. He came in to the game as a seventh inning replacement for Graig Nettles; facing Fred Holdsworth, he hit a two-out, two-run single to center, driving in Otto Velez and Hal Lanier. And Chief could never touch Wilbur Wood; nine At-Bats in 1972 and 1973, he hit .000 off him.
Fred Talbot came to the Yankees about two months into the 1966 season, when Dan Topping traded Gil Blanco (my old minor league teammate), Roger Repoz and Bill Stafford to the Kansas City Athletics for Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. I called him Zack – the story about why is in my book. His Yankee debut came on June 12, 1966 at Tiger Stadium, starting the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against Mickey Lolich. He had a lead before even taking the mound, after Elston Howard hit a three-run Home Run in the top of the first. Zack retired the side 1-2-3. In the second, Clete Boyer hit a leadoff Home Run, and after Lou Clinton flied out, Zack came up to hit for the first time in pinstripes. He singled to center, and that was it for Lolich, who was replaced by Orlaayndo Pena after just 1 1/3 innings. Zack went to second on Tom Tresh’s single, and scored on a single by Mickey Mantle. Let’s push the pause button for a moment: Zack is in pinstripes for the first time, throws a 1-2-3 inning, gets a hit off Mickey Lolich, and scores his first run as a Yankee on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle. Life is good. Or maybe in baseball you just have to savor the moment, because things can change quickly. If there is one thing I know, it’s that.
Zack takes the mound in the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead. He gives up a leadoff single to Al Kaline, who moves to second on Fred’s wild pitch and to third on Jim Northrup’s single. Bill Freehan hits a pop up in foul territory that Elston Howard caught, for one out. Then Gates Brown hits a single to right, with Kaline scoring the Tigers’ first run and Northrup moving to second. Zack got a little nervous with Northrup taking a big lead off second, and Larry Napp, the umpire at home plate, called a balk. Now Detroit had runners on second and third, with one out. But Zack settled down, and got Ray Oyler and pinch hitter Jerry Lumpe out to end the inning. With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Jake Wood, and then Norm Cash hit a two-run homer. Now it’s 6-3. The Yankees added a run in the fourth on Tresh’s Home Run.
The fourth would be it for Zack; Ralph Houk brought in Steve Hamilton to pitch after Brown singled and Oyler walked. He left his Yankee debut with a 7-3 lead. The Yankees wound up winning, but not easily. The final score was 12-10. For any 20-something year old, standing on the mound with Mickey Mantle is center and Ellie Howard behind the plate is a magical moment, and I’m glad my friend Zack had a strong showing.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to view last week’s tribute to Pedro Ramos.