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 me very good friend and teammate, Al Downing. I first met Sam – I always called him Sam, a story explained in my book – down in Fort Lauderdale in 1966 when I was incited to Spring Training as a rookie. He was less than a year older than me, but he had been in the major league since 1961, and he was always helpful to me. He even taught me his incredible change-up pitch – at least he tried; whether I ever really learned it is up to others to decide. I will always be grateful for the way he immediately reached out to me, even though at that point we were both trying to secure a starting pitcher slot. He is a good man.
As it turned out, Johnny Keane started the season with five starting pitchers: Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre, Bob Friend, Sam and me. I remember Sam pitching a fantastic game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on May 20, 1966. That was the year the Twins won the American League Pennant, and lost the World Series to the Dodgers in 7 games. He struck out 11 batters in 8 2/3 innings, three of them to one of the most fearsome hitters in baseball, Harmon Killebrew. He struck out Zoilo Versalles, who won the MVP that year, and had two strikeouts against the always threatening Cesar Tovar. I remember Sam getting into a bid of trouble in the third inning, when pitcher Camilo Pascual got a one-out single and moved to third on Versalles’ single. Then Versalles stole second. Sam struck out Tovar and walked Tony Oliva to load the bases. Killebrew struck out looking, leaving three Twins on base. The Yankees scored two runs in the fifth after a double by Clete Boyer, a single by Elston Howard, and a triple by Roy White. Sam made us all a little nervous in the eighth when Tovar led off with a double and Killer drove him in with a single to center. Then he got Don Mincher and Andy Kosco out, and we had a 2-1 lead. With two outs in the ninth, Sam walked Bob Allison and Ralph Houk brought in Pedro Ramos to finish the game. He struck out Versalles to give Sam the win.
I missed Sam a lot when the Yankees traded him after the 1969 season to Oakland for Danny Cater. I never pitched against him in 1970 when the Yankees were playing the A’s or the Brewers (where he was traded in June). I consider that a stroke of good luck, since 1970 was the only year I won 20 games and going up against Sam would have lessened the odds of me doing that.
My last day as a Yankee player – in my heart, I’ll always be a Yankee – was on April 25, 1974. The Royals were in town and we were playing a Thursday afternoon game at Shea Stadium. Steve Kline was pitching against Paul Splittorff, who had been a couple of years behind by at Arlington High School in the Chicago suburbs. It was the 18th game of the season and we were two games above .500, ½ game behind the 1st place Orioles (not that April stats matter). Steve gave up five runs off six hits and Bill Virdon replaced him with one out in the sixth with Freddy Beene. I came in for Freddy in the seventh to pitch the final three innings of the game. I gave up hits to Cookie Rojas and Amos Otis, but struck out Hal McRae looking to end the inning without too much damage. I had a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and took the mound in the ninth for what would be my last inning as a Yankee pitcher. Bobby Floyd led off with a walk, and Patek bunted to me, putting men on first and second. Rojas bunted, but I through it to Graig Nettles to force Floyd at third. Patek and Rojas advanced a base on my wild pitch. Virdon had me walk Otis and pitch to Big John Mayberry, who hit a grounder to first. Bill Sudakis tossed it to Jim Mason to force Otis at second, but Patek scored and Rojas moved to third. What I didn’t know at the time was that after nine seasons as a Yankee, I was about to face my last batter in pinstripes #19. It was Hal McRae. On a 1-2 count, he hit a fly to Walt Williams in right to end the inning. Kansas won 6-1. The next day, the Yankees announced that they had traded Steve, Freddy and me (coincidentally – and I mean it – all three pitchers from the most recent loss) – along with Tom Buskey – to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. And as a classic New York film character once said, this is the business we have chosen.
It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. The Yankees were a class organization and Gabe Paul told me he was trying to trade me. I wanted to pitch, and I was maybe the fifth man in what was then a four-man rotation – Mel Stottlemyre, Doc Medich, Pat Dobson and Steve Kline. My last start was April 11, the second game of a Sunday double header — ironically against Cleveland — and it didn’t go well. I gave up three runs on nine hits and got pulled in the fourth inning. Sudden Sam McDowell, who was battling me for the fifth starter spot, came in relief. Mr. Paul and the Indians GM, Phil Seghi, had been working on a trade for weeks. While I was pitching my last three innings, Mr. Paul worked out the deal. He really wanted Chambliss, and who can blame him.
If you want more information on the days leading up to the trade, legendary New York sportswriter Murray Chass wrote a column about it a few days earlier. I posted it to my website: https://fritzpetersondotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/chassapril1974.pdf
And in case you were wondering about Freddy Beene, who is my Facebook friend: the last batter he faced in a Yankee uniform was Bobby Floyd, and he struck him out.
From the moment the Yankees signed me in 1963, I knew playing for the greatest sports franchise in American history would be a daunting challenge. But last weekend’s Old Timer’s Day, with a proper tribute to Willie Randolph and Mel Stottlemyre, made me think back to my first Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium. It was 1966, I was a rookie pitcher, and already in awe of playing alongside greats like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris (just to name a few). But if there was ever a day of epiphany for me, it was that first Old Timer’s Day that summer. The Yankees celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1941 World Series win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the 25th anniversary of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
This was an incredibly amazing game, not just for the fans that packed the stadium, but for rookies like Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Dooley Womack and me. What the Yankee organization did that day was a two-inning game between the 1941 Yankees and the 1941 Dodgers. Joe McCarthy came back to manage the Yankee team, and Leo Durocher as the Dodgers skipper. So here I am, a 24-year-old kid, watching Red Rolfe and Lefty Gomez– who played alongside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Ruffing, Earle Combs and Bill Dickey – play. It was the first time I actually saw Joe DiMaggio live in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium. In case you’re wondering, DiMaggio hit a double off Whit Wyatt, scoring Phil Rizzuto from third. As DiMaggio famously said: “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
Mel, one of a kind! I couldn’t go in (to the Stadium). I was signing books in front of the Hard Rock Café yesterday while the Yankee Old Timers Day was happening inside the Stadium. When I heard that Mel made it to New York, I knew how it would go down at the end. I’m not going to watch a tape of Mel’s tender speech because I want to remember him like I last saw him 3 years ago at a card show in New Jersey. I love that guy, and always will. I will see you again at the real All Star game someday, Greenie, without your cane.
This book is a players inside look at the Horace Clarke Era, a low point in Yankee history when the New York Yankees couldn’t win a pennant despite having one of the best right handed/and left handed pitching combinations in the game of baseball, Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson. It begins with the day Fritz Peterson entered the Yankee clubhouse in the spring of 1966 and goes through the day he, and 3 teammates were traded to the Cleveland Indians. Some of the characters Fritz met were amazing, from Mickey Mantle down to a minor leaguer named Luke Lamboley. You will learn that the Yankees were a real family during those days, unlike todays business entities who take their own limo’s to the airports for road games.
Fritz Peterson will sign and personalize your book.