Ron Klimkowski was one of my favorite Yankees. He was warm and friendly all the time. We called him Bela, because we thought he looked like the Count Dracula actor, Bela Lugosi. In my book, I wrote a lot about him on a personal level. But he had some talent as a pitcher also, and was proud of his Yankee alumni status until he died of heart failure at the young age of 65 in 2009. Bela was part of two important trades involving Yankee veterans: originally signed by the Red Sox, he was the Player-To-Be-Named-Later in the trade that sent Elston Howard to Boston for the 1967 pennant race and World Series. Four years later, the Yankees sent him to Oakland, along with Rob Gardner, for Felipe Alou. Bela was from New York and New Jersey and he loved being a Yankee, so he signed with the Yankees after the A’s released him thirteen months later.
I remember Bela’s major league debut. It was September 15, 1969. He was a September call-up from Syracuse. The Yankees were home against the Detroit Tigers, and Stan Bahnsen was pitching against Denny McClain, who was again dominating the American League. It was still a little weird seeing Tommy Tresh in a Tiger uniform, even though his trade for Ron Woods had happened a couple of months before. Ralph Houk pinch hit for Stan in the bottom of the sixth, and Bela arrived on the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound for the first time in the top of the seventh. We were down 2-0. The first MLB batter he faced was Cesar Gutierrez, who had come in to replace Tommy at Shortstop in the first inning. Cesar grounded out to Jerry Kenney at shortstop, providing Bela with his first major league out. He quickly got five more: Jim Northrup and Al Kaline, then Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Tommy Matchick in the eighth. He gave up a hit, his first, to Bill Freehan in the ninth, but then retired Dick Wert, Denny and Cesar, consecutively. So Bela was off to a great start: three scoreless innings, facing ten batters, and giving up one hit. The problem for Bela, not his fault, was that Denny gave up just two hits the entire game, and scored his 23rd win of the season.
On September 24, The Major decided to start Bela, who pitched magnificently against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Maybe Bela just wanted to show Tom Yawkey what he gave up. He pitched nine full innings, giving up no runs and just three hits. The problem for Bela, again not his fault, is that the Yankees couldn’t get anything going offensively. In the top of the tenth, with runners on first and second and one out, The Major sent Frank Tepedino up to hit for Bela. No doubt the right move. Unfortunately, Teppie flied out. Then Horace Clarke popped up to second to end the inning. Jack Aker and Lindy McDaniel threw scoreless tenth and eleventh innings, respectively. And no runs were scored off of Stan Bahnsen in the twelfth and thirteenth. Of course the Yankees couldn’t score off the Bosox reliever, Sonny Siebert, who gave up just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.
George Scott hit a leadoff infield single off Stan in the bottom of the fourteenth; Scott got to second of a well-executed bunt by Tom Satriano. Stan walked Dalton Jones, who came in to pinch hit for Sonny.. Then Mike Andrews doubled to left, scoring George. As you can imagine, it’s extraordinarily painful to lose a 1-0 game to Boston in the fourteenth inning. What was worse was that this was the best game of Ron Klimkowski’s baseball career.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Happy Birthday to Mike Andrews, who enjoyed a nice career as the Second Baseman for the Boston Red Sox and Chicago White Sox during the time that I was pitching for the Yankees. Mike hit .308 against me during his eight years in Major League Baseball. He had 11 RBI’s off me, more than any other pitcher he faced. Of all the hitters I faced during my eleven seasons as an American League pitcher, only six of them hit more RBI’ off me than Mike: Brooks Robinson, Paul Blair, Boog Powell, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline and Bob Oliver.
The first time I faced Mike was on September 24, 1966 – less than a week after he was called up from the minors. It was his third major league game, the second at Yankee Stadium. I wrote about this game recently on Rico Petrocelli’s birthday. Mike went 1-for-3 off me that day, with a one-out single to left. He got left on base. Even though I joined the Yankees as a rookie at the start of the 1966 season, this was the first time I had faced our bitter rival, the Red Sox. This was a real unexciting pitchers dual between me and Jim Lonborg (who would win the AL Cy Young Award the next season. I gave up six hits – three of them to Reggie Smith – no runs, and struck out seven. Jim pitched a four-hitter, giving up one run after giving up hits to Mike Hegan and Horace Clarke, with Bobby Murcer driving in the one run of the game with a ground out to second. The other memorable moment was that I hit a ground-rule double in the bottom of the eighth.
After his career ended, Mike went on to have a remarkable second act as Chairman of the Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where he has worked to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for cancer research and treatment. What Mike has accomplished in his life is truly incredible, and he is a hero to everyone associated with the game of baseball.
Steve Hamilton is still remembered for his Folly Floater pitch, and his Yankee teammates will never forget the time he swallowed some of his chewing tobacco and threw up on the mount. Abby came to the Yankees in a 1963 trade with the Washington Senators, so he was there when I made the team in 1966. We met at spring training. We were Yankee pitchers together until the last month of the 1970 season, when the let him go and the White Sox claimed him off the waiver list. We had fun together, were friends off the field, and stayed in touch until he passed away of colon cancer at the young age of 63. One of the coolest facts about Abby is that he also played in the NBA for two or three years; I think only two guys have ever played in both a World Series and in the NBA finals. The dude was 6’6. I remember that Carl Yastrzemski couldn’t hit Abby; he had a career .143 batting average against him. If I had to pick one guy to get out, it would have been the best player for our biggest rival.
There was one game in 1970 against the Red Sox that I remember well because I was the starting pitcher. It was June 21 at Fenway Park. We were in 2nd place in the AL East, 3 game behind the Orioles, and I was having the best season of my career – soon afterwards, I would be named for the first (and only) time to the American League All-Star team. The game started off well enough, a 1-2-3 first inning. But in the bottom of the second, I wasn’t throwing well. Tony Conigliaro led off with a single, and moved to third on a one-out single by George Scott. I struck Billy Conigliaro out, but then Jerry Moses hit an RBI single. Then George scored on a single by the Red Sox pitcher, Gary Peters. Jerry scored off a single by Mike Andrews. We were down 3-1. Yaz led off the third with a single and Ralph Houk had enough. I was out, Ron Klimkowski was in. The lead bounced back and forth a few times. The Major pulled Ron in the sixth for Abby, who walked Yaz; then Jack Aker came in to pitch. Long story short, Yankees won 14-10 in an 11-inning game. Bobby Murcer led us to victory, robbing Yaz of a Home Run in the eighth with an incredible catch, and a key double in the top of the eleventh.
(OK, I have to make a full disclosure here: You may be wondering why I wrote about a game where Abby pitched to one batter and walked him in a post about Abby. I started writing about the 6/21/70 Red Sox game because I thought it was the one Abby won for us. But I had it wrong. But I figured any story that ends with Bobby Murcer robbing Carl Yastrzemski of a Home Run, followed by an extra-inning RBI double ought not become the victim of the delete key. Fair enough?)
Here are the ones I should have led with: two 1970 games against the Brewers at Yankee Stadium. On May 2, I started the game and had a 4-0 lead going into the sixth inning. John Kennedy, a former Yankee, led off with a single to center. I struck out Rich Rollins, walked Tommy Harper, and John scored on Ted Kubiak’s single. I struck out Ted Savage; then Kubiak stole second and Tommy stole third. I walked Danny Walton, loading the bases. Mike Hershberger hit a two-run single to center, and The Major brought in Lindy McDaniel to pitch. I left the game with a 4-3 lead. Milwaukee scored two runs off Lindy and Jack Aker in the eighth, putting them ahead 5-4. Jerry McNertney hit a leadoff homer against Joe Verbanic in the ninth (6-4) and then loaded the bases with two walks and a single. The Major brought in Abby, who struck out the next two batters to end the inning. This game ends the way I like them to end: Bobby Murcer hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and with runners on first and second, Thurman Munson hit a walk-off single to win the game. Abby got the win.
The next day, May 3, the first game of a Sunday afternoon doubleheader, starter Bill Burbach and reliever Ron Klimkowski gave up a combined 5 runs in the first three innings. The lead bounced back and forth for a while and in the sixth, with the Brewers ahead 6-5, Abby came in to pitch. He gave up another run after Kennedy doubled, Bob Meyer bunted him to third, and Tommy Harper got an RBI sacrifice fly. The Yankee offense came through for Abby in the bottom of the sixth Bobby Murcer led off with a single, but got forced at second by Roy White’s ground out. Heeba scored on Danny Cater’s single to left. Then Thurman Munson came in as a pinch hitter for Jake Gibbs and tripled, scoring Danny. That was followed by Gene Michael’s double, scoring Tugboat. Abby ended the inning with a pop up to the shortstop, nut the Yankees now had an 8-7 lead.
I think this part is important: the fact that The Major let Abby hit with a runner on second and a one-run lead is a testament to Abby’s pitching. He was doing well, and they weren’t going to risk taking him out. Abby did not disappoint: he got out of the seventh unbruised, with just one base runner on a walk; he had a 1-2-3 eighth. And he won the game in the ninth with another 1-2-3 inning. It was great pitching – for the second time in two days.
Watch Abby’s Folly Floater: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFvp7kMraAw
Happy Birthday to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball. I never got to play with Goose on the Yankees, and as a starting pitcher that was my loss. No disrespect to Lindy McDaniel, but history would be treating me just a little better if I had Goose on my side. The guy was incredible. Goose’s rookie year was Sparky Lyle’s first in pinstripes. They went up against each other on two consecutive days.
Goose’s first game against the Yankees was during his rookie season of 1972. The Yankees were in Chicago and this was the first time Goose was facing us. The date was June 3, 1972. It started as a matchup between Stan Bahnsen, who had been dealt to Chicago in that crappy-for-us Rich McKinney deal, and Freddie Beene. This was one of the highest scoring games I can remember – we won 18-10. Goose entered the game at the start of the seventh, and the Yankees were losing 10-8. He was impressive – a 1-2-3 inning, getting Ron Bloomberg, Thurman Munson and Jerry Kenney out. And he was just as impressive in the eighth, getting Bernie Allen, Felipe Alou and Horace Clarke out – another 1-2-3 inning.
So Goose comes out for the top of the ninth, protecting a 10-8 lead. He gave up singles to the first three batters: Rusty Torres, Bobby Murcer and Roy White, who drove in Rusty. 10-9, runners at first and second, no outs, and Bloomie is up. Chuck Tanner pulled Goose for Steve Kealy, who gave up an RBI single. The score remained tied until the top of the 13th, when the Yankees had an extraordinary inning: Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer both hit a three-run homers: The other RBI’s came from two unlikely sources: Horace Clarke and Sparky, who drove in a run with a beautiful double to left. Sparky pitched five innings, holding the Chisox to just three hits for the win.
The next day, Goose came in to relieve Dave Lemonds in the sixth inning. The White Sox were ahead 2-1, but Lemonds got in some trouble. With runners on first and second, Roy White hit an RBI single to tie the game. Tanner pulled Lemonds and Goose got Felipe to hit into a double play. But with Bobby on third, Goose threw a wild pitch and the Yankees were now up 3-2. In the seventh, Goose faced an unusual offensive threat: Hal Lanier, who singled to right, stole second, and go to third of another wild pitch. Then Gene Michael laid down an absolutely beautiful bunt and Hal scored.
The White Sox came up in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees starter – some guy named Kekich – was three outs away from a complete game. With one out, he walked Bill Melton and then gave up a hit to Mike Andrews. With runners on first and second, Ralph Houk pulled Mike and brought in Sparky to close. Then Tanner put Jorge Orta in to run for Andrews, and pulled the next batter, shortstop Rich Morales, for a pinch hitter, Dick Allen. Allen belted a Home Run over the left field fence. The White Sox won, 5-3, and another rookie, Cy Acosta, got the win.
Goose got his first win against the Yankees on August 22, 1972, a 5-4 game in Chicago. The losing pitcher? That would be me.
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.