Tagged: Lou Clinton

The four times Frank Robinson almost became a Yankee

Frank RobinsonOne Hall of Famer that eluded the New York Yankees was Frank Robinson, despite repeated attempts to get him in pinstripes. As early as 1965, the Cincinnati Reds were shopping this superstar at winter meetings. My understanding was that the Reds owner thought Robby was an “old 30” and that his body would not withstand much more of a baseball career. He was anxious to trade him while the value remained high. There was talk that the Reds had offered him to the Astros for Jimmy Wynn and a relief pitcher named Claude Raymond, but that Houston turned them down. The Yankee deal I heard about – I had just finished by third year in the minor leagues at the time – was that the Yankees would send and Joe Pepitone to the Reds for Robby and pitcher Jim O’Toole. A couple of weeks later, the Yankees traded catcher Doc Edwards to the Cleveland Indians for Lou Clinton and that seemed to end their search for a power-hitting outfielder. Maybe it was a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. The Reds did trade Robby, to Baltimore for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Robby won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles.

After winning three AL pennants with Robby and the 1970 World Series, the Orioles put him on the trading block again. The Yankees tried to put a deal together. The problem, I was told, was that Harry Dalton wanted Mel Stottlemyre or me. Mel was the ace of the staff and I was the #2 pitcher coming off a 20-win season. Lee McPhail countered with Stan Bahnsen, and the Dalton wanted Steve Kline and Mike Kekich too. The Yankees were unwilling to decimate their pitching staff for one superstar outfielder.

Apparently the Mets were in a similar situation. The Orioles wanted Tom Seaver for Frank Robinson, straight up, and the Mets said no. The counter from Baltimore was at least two other pitchers from a list that included Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, and Gary Gentry – and they Danny Frisella. The Mets said no to that too.

Most players followed the winter meetings carefully, because you never knew what would happen and how it might affect your life. But the Yankees, still owned by CBS – the George Steinbrenner Era was still a few years away – didn’t do much after they traded Bill Robinson for Barry Moore. The Washington Senators offered Frank Howard for cash the Yankees didn’t have, and the Cleveland Indians were shopping star pitcher Sudden Sam McDowell, but they apparently wanted a lot of cash too. The Boss would have had them both in pinstripes.

In 1971, after losing the AL pennant to the Oakland A’s, the Orioles traded Robby to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a group of prospects that included future Yankee Doyle Alexander. The Orioles had Don Baylor and Terry Crowley coming up and wanted to give them more playing time. And Robby was making what was then a huge salary – about $125,000 – and they wanted to unload the expense. The Yankees had shown interest in him then, but they got busy making the “blockbuster deal” that sent Bahnsen to the White Sox for Rich McKinney and missed out. After the 1972 season, the Dodgers traded Robby to the California Angeles, in what really was a blockbuster trade: the Dodgers sent Robby and Bill Singer, an excellent pitcher, to the California Angeles for pitcher Andy Messersmith, Bobby Valentine and Ken McMullen.

After the Boss bought the Yankees and brought Gabe Paul over as the GM – and after Charlie Finley refused to allow the Yankees to hire Dick Williams as their manager — there was some serious talk about hiring Robby to become baseball’s first black manager. Mr. Paul had been GM in Cincinnati when Robby was the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, and was a huge Frank Robinson fan.

The fourth chance for the Yankees to see Frank Robinson in pinstripes came in June of 1974, when he was again on the trading block. Mr. Paul had been negotiating a deal with the Angels that I recall would have brought Robby and Rudy May to the Yankees for Roy White, Bill Sudakis and Dick Woodson. What I heard was that Robby’s contract gave him the right to veto a deal, and when the Yankees refused to pay about $35,000 in relocation expenses, Robby vetoed the trade. That was just a couple of days before I was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where Robby would soon become my teammate and my manager.

You can’t live life on a bunch of what ifs, like how my career would have been different if I has been pitching for a contending team like the Orioles. But I’ll tell you this: I met my soulmate while playing in New York, I got to play with Boog Powell anyway in Cleveland, and I wouldn’t trade my years with the Yankees for anything.

The game I remember most: July 4, 1966

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 great Ralph Houk reacts to John Romano breaking up my no-hitter in the 8th inning.

The great Ralph Houk reacts to John Romano breaking up my no-hitter in the 8th inning.

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.

Remembering Hal Reniff on his birthday

None of the men I played with are celebrating a birthday today, so I want to remember Hal Reniff, would have been 77 today. It was sad nearly eleven years ago when I learned of his passing. He was my teammate and fellow pitcher on the 1966 Yankees, my rookie season. Hal had a nice career and was especially fortunate to be a rookie on the 1961 World Championship club. In 1963, he led the team in saves and I remember as a first-year minor leaguer watching Porky throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the World Series. The first time we pitched in the same game was April 23, 1966 – my Yankee Stadium debut, my second major league game, and my first career loss. And that sure wasn’t Hal’s fault. It was an excruciatingly painful day for me.

The first batter I faced at Yankee Stadium was Luis Aparicio, who got on base with a single hit to me. Then he stole second. I struck out Curt Blefary and Frank Robinson, but then Brooks Robinson hit a single to center and his RBI put the Orioles in the lead. That rattled me a bit, and facing the massive Boog Powell, I threw a wild pitch that but Brooks on second. Thankfully Boog grounded out to Bobby Richardson. I settled down and threw 1-2-3 innings in the second and third.

The fourth inning really sucked. I walked Frank Robinson, who stole second and scored off Brooks Robinson’s single. Paul Blair, who was always an especially tough out for me, hit a two-out single to Mickey Mantle in center, moving Brooks to second. Andy Etchebarren hit another single to Mickey and Brooks scored. Now we’re down 3-0. The Orioles picked up another run in the fifth when Frank Robinson hit an RBI double.

The Yankees finally scored a run in the fifth when Clete Boyer hit a one-out Home Run off Dave McNally. With two outs and no one on base, Ralph Houk sent Hector Lopez in to hit for me. It didn’t help; Hector struck out. Porky came in to pitch in the sixth and faced three batters after Etchebarren hit into a double play; he had a 1-2-3 seventh inning. Elston Howard brought the score to 4-3 when he hit a double, scoring Mickey and Joe Pepitone. The Major sent Lou Clinton in to bat for Porky, and Dooley Womack came in to finish the game. We lost 4-3.

The Yankees sold Porky to the Mets about three months into the 1967 season. That was his last year in major league baseball.

Monument Monday: Fred Talbot

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.

My last At-Bat

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.