Tagged: Minnesota Twins

Happy Birthday, Tony Oliva

TONY OLIVAHappy Birthday to Tony Oliva, one of the best hitters I saw during my eleven years as a major league pitcher.  Tony played for the Minnesota Twins for his entire career, from 1962 to 1976.  He won the American League batting title three times, including his rookie year in 1964 (and was second or third four times).   He had a career .304 batting average.   Tony did especially well when I pitched: his batting average popped to .321, 18-for-36.  I only struck him out twice.

I faced Tony for the first time early in my rookie season.  It was May 12, 1966 at Metropolitan Stadium and I was throwing against veteran pitcher Camilo Pascual.  I got him out the first time I faced him, in a 1-2-3 first inning.  In the third inning, Earl Battey hit a leadoff single.  I struck out Bernie Allen.  Then Camilo hit a single to Mickey Mantle in center, moving Earl to second.  Cesar Tovar hit a single to essentially the same spot, and the Twins scored two runs.  Then Tony came up with and singled to Roger Maris in right, scoring Caesar.  We were down 3-0.  Ralph Houk yanked me the next inning, after giving up three singles and a run (and in my defense, two strikeouts).  We lost that game, 4-3.  It wasn’t until 1970 that I was able to stop him from hitting safely in a game I was pitching.

My trade to the Cleveland Indians

Fritz PetersonGeorge Steinbrenner tried to buy the Cleveland Indians in the early 1970’s, before he put together a deal for a little less than what Brett Gardner will make this year alone to buy the New York Yankees. The Boss was an Indians fan who grew to love the Yankees, the same way I developed a deep affection for my adopted team when I was traded to Cleveland in 1974. I was a proud member of the Tribe for nearly two seasons. I went to the Cleveland Indians during an especially tough time in my life and I will always have tremendous affection for the team and its fans, who made me feel welcome and rejuvenated.

When I got to the Indians, I could not wear #19 because that number belonged to the extraordinary Bob Feller, one of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball. So I got #30, which Gene Bearden wore during the Indians World Championship year of 1948. Gene went 20-7 that year, part of an amazing pitching staff of Feller and Bob Lemon. I remember being around 11-years-old growing up in Chicago and listening to the radio when Gene was pitching the White Sox. Later I switched to #16, which had been worn by another great pitcher, Hall of Famer Hal Newhouser. I focus on the uniform because that is a big deal to a player, and to me it represented the next chapter of my baseball career. I had been a Yankee since I was 21, and in MLB it was always pinstripes.

It was April 30, 1974, four days after the trade, and the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. This was my first start for my new team, and I admit I was a little nervous. Maybe it wasn’t being the new kid on the first day of school as it was the fear of pitching against Bert Blyleven, but anyway I was in a new uniform for the first time since trading in the Columbus Clippers jersey for pinstripes.

The first game I played for the Indians was on April 30, 1974, four days after the trade. It was a Tuesday night and we were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium. John Lowenstein, the leadoff hitter, made it to first on shortstop Luis Gomez’s error, and moved to second on Jack Brohammer’s single. John stole third, and scored when Jack stole second and moved to third on Randy Hundley’s throwing error. Oscar came up with two outs and singled to center, driving in Jack. So I took the mound as a first-time Indians pitcher with a 2-0 lead. Oscar went 2-for-4 in that game – he also hit a double and was intentionally walked in the fifth when the Yankees scored four more runs. I was pulled in the seventh after Danny Darwin hit his second Home Run of the day against me, and Freddy Beene, who came to Cleveland in the same deal as me, came in and settled everything down. I got my first win on the new team as Cleveland won 8-3.

Happy Birthday, Tom Tischinski

Tom TischinskiHappy Birthday to Tom Tischinski, who caught 82 games for the Minnesota Twins between 1969 and 1971.  I only faced Tom once, on August 19, 1970 at Metropolitan Stadium.  That was my All-Star year and I was working on my first (and only) 20-win season, so our 3-0 loss was a tough one.  The problem for me was that Jim Perry was also pitching, and 1970 was also the best season of his career – he won 24 games.  The Yankees couldn’t get anything going off the lesser known of the Perry Brothers; he pitched a four-hitter.  Tom was 0-for-3 against me that day, but two days later he hit the only Home Run off his career against future Yankee Casey Cox, then of the Washington Senators.

Happy Birthday, Al Downing

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.

A good player with big hair

I never pitched to Oscar Gamble.  He was in the National League for five years before being traded to Cleveland, and I joined him on the Indians in 1974.  We were both traded in 1976 – Oscar to the Yankees and me to the Rangers.  I didn’t pitch much against Cleveland in 1973, and when I did, Oscar wasn’t in the lineup.  He didn’t play in the game I threw against Cleveland in 1974, just before the trade.  And my career in Texas was over before the first series against the Yankees.  I liked Oscar immediately, probably because of how he helped me in my first game as an Indians pitcher.  It was April 30, 1974, four days after the trade, and the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins at Metropolitan Stadium.  This was my first start for my new team, and I admit I was a little nervous.  Maybe it wasn’t being the new kid on the first day of school as it was the fear of pitching against Bert Blyleven, but anyway I was in a new uniform for the first time since trading in the Columbus Clippers jersey for pinstripes.

John Lowenstein, the leadoff hitter, made it to first on shortstop Luis Gomez’s error, and moved to second on Jack Brohammer’s single.  John stole third, and scored when Jack stole second and moved to third on Randy Hundley’s throwing error.  Oscar came up with two outs and singled to center, driving in Jack.  So I took the mound as a first-time Indians pitcher with a 2-0 lead.  Oscar went 2-for-4 in that game – he also hit a double and was intentionally walked in the fifth when the Yankees scored four more runs.  I was pulled in the seventh after Danny Darwin hit his second Home Run of the day against me, and Freddy Beene, who came to Cleveland in the same deal as me, came in and settled everything down.  I got my first win on the new team as Cleveland won 8-3.

I can’t write about Oscar without mentioning his hair.  The massive afro that stuck out from beneath the Topps “Traded” card with the artist-enhanced Yankee cap in 1976 sort of defined Oscar Gamble to a generation of baseball fans.  A good player with big hair.