Happy Birthday to George Lauzerique, who pitched for the A’s and the Brewers from 1967 to 1970. George had some cache because he had pitched a perfect game in the minor leagues. The first time I saw him pitch was on September 29, 1967 – his third major league game and his first at Yankee Stadium. It was the second game of a Twi-Night doubleheader on a Friday night, the last weekend of the season. I started for the Yankees and George was the starting pitcher for the Kansas City Athletics. In the top of the second, Joe Rudi and Rick Monday each hit grounders to me, which I threw to Mike Hegan to make the outs. But along the way, I hurt my ankle and had to leave the game after I walked Sal Bando. That was disappointing, especially because it was my game of the season and you hate to end on that kind of note. Fred Talbot came in relief and pitched beautifully, giving up just four hits. George was hugely impressive. He held the Yankees to five hits in seven innings, struck out five, and gave up just one run – a homer to Billy Bryan. It was an outstanding performance.
For a ballplayer, there are certain times in your career that you are part of history and don’t even know it. That’s what happened to me on April 12, 1975. I was the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and we were playing the Brewers in Milwaukee – the first game of the season for me. I gave up four runs in the first inning, and after Robin Yount led off the second with a homer, followed by a walk to Bob Coluccio, Frank Robinson took me out. Jim Kern and Dave LaRoche pitched well in relief. In the bottom of the seventh, with one out and runners on first and third, Frank brought in a rookie pitcher named Dennis Eckersley to make his MLB debut. Eck walked Don Money to load the bases, then proceeded to get Sixto Lezcano and Charlie Moore out. Eck pitched the eighth, gave up a leadoff hit to Pedro Garcia. Then he struck out Yount, followed by outs for Mike Hegan and John Briggs. The Tribe lost the game 6-5, but Eck’s major league debut was outstanding.
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.
Happy Birthday to Rico Petrocelli, born in Brooklyn 72 years ago today. Even though I joined the Yankees as a rookie at the start of the 1966 season, Ralph Houk didn’t use me against the Red Sox until September 24, a match-up between an 8th place team and a 10th place team at Yankee Stadium. I looked it up and attendance that night was 5,897. This was the first time I faced Rico and got him out four times – three of them on infield pop ups. 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.
Some fans mark the genesis of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry to the Babe Ruth trade, but for this kid from the suburbs of Chicago, it began on Wednesday, June 21, 1967 during a tough 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. Tempers were flaring. Our pitcher was Thad Tillotson and in the second inning he beaned Joe Foy, who had hit a Grand Slam Home Run against us the previous day, in the head. That was after he threw a pair of brush-back pitches at him. The next inning, Longborg beaned Tillotson, and players from both teams cleared their benches in defense of our teammates. It got exponentially worse when a verbal argument between Rico and Joe Pepitone turned into a real fight. I remember that Rico’s brother was working at Yankee Stadium as a security guard and he ran out on the field to help his brother. That was the year the Red Sox came from behind to win the American League pennant in what was called “The Impossible Dream.”
I didn’t know Rico well, but he was probably no Fritz Peterson fan: he went 9-for-54 against me, a career .167 average.
Writing about Don Mincher got me thinking about the Seattle Pilots, the expansion team that lasted just one year at Sick’s Stadium before going bankrupt moving and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers. A bunch of my teammates and friends wound up on the Pilots: Mike Hegan, Steve Whitaker, Mike Ferraro, John Kennedy, Steve Barber, Dooley Womack and Jim Bouton, whose time with the Pilots became the focus of his controversial best seller (and one of my favorite books), Ball Four. Two future teammates, Jack Aker and Fred Stanley came to the Yankees from the Pilots.
Steve Whitaker innocently played a role in the Yankees comeback: just two weeks before opening day, the Pilots made a trade with the Royals that sent a promising outfielder named Lou Piniella to Kansas City for Steve. Lou was the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year and Steve had to wear the weird Pilots cap and settle for just being a good guy. With closer Lindy McDaniel expendable because the Yankees got Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater, the Whitaker trade sort of set up the Piniella for McDaniel deal that made Lou my Yankee teammate for the start of the 1974 season. And my trade to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow helped create the winning George Steinbrenner Era. As I keep saying, the Yankees gave up a lot of talent for Chris and Dick, but they clearly got the best of that deal.
Happy Birthday to Don Mincher, who was a strong hitter and would be more widely known had he played for contending teams during a long and highly regarded baseball career. One bit of trivia to start: Don was the starting first baseman in the first game of the Seattle Pilots in 1969, along onetime Yankees Steve Whitaker and Mike Hegan. (I never got any starts against the Pilots that historic season.) I faced Don several times during my career and generally did fine against him; I looked up his average and he hit about 50 points less against me than he did against others. The game I remember was against the California Angels on April 28, 1967, before a scant crowd at Yankee Stadium. In the second, my friend Rick Reichardt hit a single to a shortstop named John Kennedy. Jose Cardenal walked, moving Rick to second. Then Don comes up and hits a three-run homer. I don’t think I even turned around; I knew it was gone when I heard the sound of the ball hitting the bat. I gave up 173 Home Runs during my career, and pitchers don’t forget any of them. I gave up another run that inning, putting the Angels ahead 4-1. I made it through the next three innings fine, and in the fifth Horace Clarke pinch hit for me. The Yankees won the game 5-4, with Steve Whitaker carrying the team with an RBI single and a Home Run. Tom Tresh homered, and the Yankees went ahead in the eighth when Charley Smith scored on Elston Howard’s sacrifice fly. Dooley Womack got the win, and I got to enjoy serving up one of Don Mincher’s 200th career Home Runs.