I am celebrating an important anniversary today: 47 years ago today, I hit my first and only Triple as a Major League Baseball player. As a guy with a .159 career average, I will never forget that particular extra base hit. The Yankees were playing the White Sox in my old hometown of Chicago, and I was pitching against Gary Peters. We were both awful teams: the Yankees were in 8th place and the Chisox were in 9th. I was leading off the top of the third, and we were down one run. I had walked Buddy Bradford, who scored when Tim Cullen hit a grounder to Tom Tresh at shortstop and threw the ball to First Baseman Mickey Mantle, who missed it. Mickey was a magnificent player and one of the most wonderful men I ever played with, but this was the final season of his extraordinary career and he could no longer run. By the time he got to the ball, Buddy has scored. Cullen had a 2-1 count on me and he threw me a fastball that I clobbered (maybe clobber is an exaggeration, but I’m 73-years-old and it’s my story) to a beautiful spot between Bradford in center and Walt Williams in right. No neck made an incredible throw but I made it to third, albeit narrowly –Sandy Alomar, the White Sox Third Baseman, was a little surprised by that. Here’s the part my teammates enjoyed most: Horace Clarke tried to sacrifice with a fly ball to Tommy Davis in Left Field. Tommy caught the ball and threw it home, and Duane Josephson tagged me a little before I reached home plate. I was out. But that, my friends, is the historic story of my one and only Triple – but not the only time I got thrown out at the plate. More importantly, I think I pitched well: 8 2/3 innings, and the Yankees won 5-4.
(Quick note: I enjoyed playing with No Neck for a brief time when he joined the Yankees in 1974, and I have always been disappointed that I never got to play alongside Sandy, who came to New York shortly after the Yankees traded me to Cleveland.)
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 bit of Yankee trivia regarding the often overlooked job of bullpen coach. When I made the team in 1966, the beloved Jim Hegan was in his sixth season in the post. Shanty got pushed out in 1974, mostly because he was a Ralph Houk man and Bill Virdon wanted his buddy Mel Wright. Mel originally signed with the Yankees in 1950, but never wore pinstripes. Mel and Bill became close when they played for the same Yankee farm teams in the early 1950’s. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954, along with Virdon and another minor leaguer, Emil Tellinger, for future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. He was on Virdon’s staff with the Pirates, Astros and Expos too. And he died way too young at age 54. Sometimes coaches are the flotsam and jetsam of baseball, with their careers dependent upon who the manager is.
Over the coming days, I’ll write a little bit about the other Yankee coaches who were around during my time with the team: Loren Babe, Frank Crosetti, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Dick Howser, Mickey Mantle, Wally Moses and Jim Turner.
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.
Happy Birthday to my Yankee teammate, Jerry Kenney. I called Jerry “Lobo,” a nickname given to him by Horace Clarke; he was the Yankees regular third baseman from 1969 to 1972. We first met way back in 1964 as minor league teammates on the Shelby (North Carolina) Yankees in the Western Carolinas League (Class A). Lobo made his major league debut on September 5, 1967 at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, I remember the game well. I started against the White Sox, and gave up three runs in the first inning. I had nothing, absolutely nothing. Ralph Houk pulled me in the second after giving up two hits and (accidentally, really) hitting Tommy McCraw with a pitch. With the Yankees losing 5-3, Lobo led off the bottom of the ninth as a pinch hitter for Ruben Amaro and Bob Locker struck him out. But that had to be an exciting night for Jerry, who will always be able to say that he played in his first major league game with Mickey Mantle. #7 came in to pinch hit for Jim Bouton (who replaced me) in the bottom of the second and hit a double, driving in the Yankees third run.
My best memory of Lobo was on September 30, 1970 at Fenway Park. It was the last game of the season and I was going for my 20th win. In my book, I described asking Houk to play someone else at third; I’m sure glad The Major didn’t take player requests. In the fourth, he hit a two-run single to center, driving in Frank Tepedino and Jim Lyttle. The Yankees won 4-3, and I won 20 games for the only time in my career.
Lobo got dealt to the Indians in 1972, in what would be a monumental deal for the Yankees comeback. The Yankees sent him, along with Johnny Ellis, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres, to Cleveland for Craig Nettles and Jerry Moses.
I wrote in my book that Andy Kosco looked exactly like Clark Kent in pinstripes. For ten years, he was an outfielder for the Twins, Brewers, Angels, Reds, Dodgers and Red Sox, and hopefully I won’t don’t sound arrogant when I say this, but I didn’t mind pitching to him. He had a .179 career batting average against me. There were a couple of times when I felt differently, like a leadoff double in Milwaukee that wound up costing me a run, or a sacrifice fly at Anaheim Stadium that drove in a run. And in 29 plate appearances, I was only able to strike him our once. The Twins sold Andy to Oakland after the 1967 season, and the following month he came to the Yankees under the Rule 5 Draft. His one season with the Yankees would have a historic meaning, at least to me. I remember he appeared in the first game I pitched of the 1968 season, against the A’s and Catfish Hunter at Yankee Stadium. Reggie Jackson homered off me, but I still had a 3-1 lead in the top of the eighth when I gave up a leadoff single to Bert Campanaris, who moved to second on Reggie’s single. Ralph Houk took me out, and Dooley Womack came in relief. Campy wound up scoring when Sal Bando grounded out, and we lost the game in the ninth when Dooley gave up a two-run homer to a pinch hitter named Floyd Robinson. We lost 4-3. Andy achieved a small footnote in baseball history on September 28, 1968 when he replaced Mickey Mantle at first base after The Mick had his last major league at-bat. And Andy Kosco played a major role in my life on December 4, 1968 when the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers for a pitcher named Mike Kekich.
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.