Happy Birthday to Willie Randolph, whose emergence as the Yankees regular second baseman marked the end of the Horace Clarke Era and the genesis of the George Steinbrenner Era that restored the Yankee Tradition of winning. I missed Willie by a year and a half. The Yankees traded me to Cleveland in April 1974, and Pittsburgh traded him to New York after the 1975 season. His rookie season was the first Yankee pennant since 1964, when I was a sophomore minor leaguer. His place in Yankee history is solid, and I’m pleased that the team chose to honor him last month. (Note: Don’t rush through this post, it has a tear-jerker ending.)
The first time I saw Willie up close was on May 18, 1976, a 4 ½ hour, 16-inning game at Cleveland stadium. I was pitching against Catfish Hunter, who gave up three hits and three runs in the top of the first. I faced Willie for the first time in the second inning, and he hit a two-out single to center. I got him out the next two At-Bats. We had a 6-1 lead in the top of the ninth. I gave up singles to the first two batters, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles, and that’s when Frank Robinson gave me the hook. Dave LaRoche entered in relief and struck out Otto Velez. Then Willie was up. He hit a single to left, loading the bases. Dave walked Rick Dempsey and gave up a two-run single to Sandy Alomar. After walking Roy White, Tom Buskey came in to pitch and promptly gave up a two-run single to Thurman Munson. That tied the score 6-6.
Sparky Lyle pitched six innings in relief, which explains why the Indians couldn’t get a seventh run. He was awesome, as he always was. In the 16th, Jim Kern gave up five runs – the fifth run was on a one-out RBI double to Willie.
I only pitched once more to Willie, on May 27, 1976 at Yankee Stadium, and he went 0-2 against me. In the fifth inning, I gave up a two-run Home Run to Mickey Rivers, and after giving up a single and wild pitch – and with the game tied 3-3, I was done.
What I didn’t know at the time was just how done I was. The next day the Indians traded me to the Texas Rangers for Ron Perzanowski. And within the next three weeks, a shoulder injury ended my baseball career.
So for me, 5/27/76 would be the last time on the mound for Yankee Stadium (not including an Old Timer’s Day). The last batter I would face there was Thurman Munson, my friend and my old catcher. That was fine by me.
A little Celerino Sanchez trivia: Chief came to the Yankees in an unusual trade between a MLB team and a club in the Mexican League. The process started in 1969 when the Yankees traded Al Downing and Frank Fernandez to the Oakland A’s for Danny Cater and an obscure guy named Ossie Chavarria, a Panama-born career minor leaguer (1959-1973) who hit .208 in 124 games for the Kansas City Athletics during parts of 1966 and 1967. (Footnote: he hit .222 against me in four games my rookie year.) Ossie never got his pinstripes: he played all the infield positions for the Syracuse Chiefs, batted in the .250-.270 range, but the competition was tough in those days – the Yankees had Horace Clarke, Gene Michael, Jerry Kenney, Frank Baker and Ron Hansen ahead of him. The Yankees were in the market for a new third baseman, and the scouts had identified Chief as a potential star. So after the 1971 season, the Yankees traded Ossie to the Mexico City Tigers in the Mexican League for Chief. Chief, of course, didn’t pan out, and he returned to the Mexican League in time for the 1974 season. Sadly, Chief died young, of a heart attack in 1992 at age 48. But for some reason – likely his name and his role as the transitional third baseman between Jerry Kenney/Rich McKinney and Graig Nettles – he is well remembered by the Yankee fans of the Horace Clarke Era.
Chief hit his only career Home Run at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 1973 off of Baltimore’s Mickey Scott. He was a pinch hitter for the pinch hitter for the designated hitter. Jim Ray Hart started the game against Mike Cuellar, and Ron Bloomberg pinch hit for him when Bob Reynolds came in relief. When Earl Weaver replaced Reynolds with Scott, Ralph Houk sent Chief up. With Bobby Murcer on first, Sanchez hit a shot to left; Al Bumbry tried to grab it, but he could not. That was a great win because we were tied with Baltimore for second on that particular day. Yankees blanked the Orioles 8-0; rookie Doc Medich got the win.
Chief went hitless in his first two major league games; his first hit came at Yankee Stadium, off Mike Paul of the Texas Rangers. It was a two-out hit to left, with an RBI; Roy White scored. His last hit came in his final game as a New York Yankee, and as a major league baseball player. It was the final game of the 1973 season; I was on the mound against Detroit. He came in to the game as a seventh inning replacement for Graig Nettles; facing Fred Holdsworth, he hit a two-out, two-run single to center, driving in Otto Velez and Hal Lanier. And Chief could never touch Wilbur Wood; nine At-Bats in 1972 and 1973, he hit .000 off him.
Happy Birthday to Hal Lanier, who was my Yankee teammate in 1972 and 1973. Hal came from a baseball family; I remember listening to Cubs games on the radio when I was a kid growing up in Chicago and Max Lanier was a pitcher for the Cardinals. The Yankees purchased Hal’s contract from the Giants a few weeks before 1972 spring training began, and I met him for the first time when he reported to Fort Lauderdale. During a road trip to Tampa, Hal took me to the racetrack and introduced me to his Dad. The first time we played together was on April 29, 1972 against the Twins at Yankee Stadium. I pitched eight innings, struck out four, and gave up two runs and six hits. But that wasn’t enough to stop Jim Kaat and Dave LaRoche, who combined for a four-hit shutout. Hal was 0-for-three. The 1972 season began miserably for me; I began the season 0-6 and didn’t win a game until May 21.
Hal was a smart guy, fun to be around. He was a good fielder, which helped because you didn’t keep him on the team for his bat. He hit .214 in 1972, with no Triples or Homers and just six RBIs. But there was one game during the summer when he drove in two runs against the Red Sox. If there was ever a time to be on, it was when you were playing Boston. His last game as a Yankee was on September 30, 1973. It was a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, it was the last game of the season and we were facing the Tigers. As I talk about in my book, this was vintage “Horace Clarke Era” baseball; we were in 4th place in the AL East, 16 ½ games out of first. I was the Yankee starter; on the mound for Detroit was a September call-up named Fred Holdsworth. We took the lead in the second after Bobby Murcer scored on Otto Velez’s double, and held it until I have up a two-run homer to Marv Lane in the seventh. We regained the lead in the seventh off a leadoff homer by Duke Sims and a key RBI single by Celerino Sanchez. In the eighth, we added an insurance run when Hal Lanier hit an RBI double. I gave up hits to the first two batters in the ninth, Ike Brown and Tom Veryzer, and Ralph Houk brought Lindy McDaniel in to close. It was almost 42 years ago and this one is still a little painful to talk about. Lindy got clobbered and we went into the bottom of the ninth down 8-5. John Hiler, who was a pretty awesome closer, ended the game with a 1-2-3 inning.
The Yankees released him after the 1973 season, and he moved on the coaching and managing. He was the Houston Astros manager in the mid-1990’s. Hal is a half a year younger than me, and he’s still in baseball. I heard recently that he landed a gig as manager of an independent league team in Ottawa, Canada. They are lucky to have him.
Happy Birthday to Kerry Dineen, who played the outfield for the Yankees ever so briefly in 1975 and 1976. While I missed playing with Kerry on the Yankees, I remember him from my last spring training in Fort Lauderdale in 1974 and he was impressive. The Yankees were high on him as a prospect. He got called up for a few games in 1975 when Elliot Maddox got hurt, and – I looked it up – he hit .364 playing in seven games over a six day period. I don’t know why he didn’t get a September call-up. But in Cleveland, a week before I was traded to Texas, I paid attention to Kerry’s big game because my friend Thurman Munson was playing left field.
It’s a good story. The Yankees were on their way to George Steinbrenner’s first pennant. On May 20, 1976, the Yankees and the Red Sox had a brawl, and Mickey Rivers and Lou Piniella got hurt in the fight; with Maddox and Ron Blomberg already on the DL, it left Billy Martin with a shortage of outfielders to play the next day. The way I heard it, Kerry was actually taking batting practice in Syracuse when he got a call telling him that needed him in the Bronx in time for the 8 PM game. The Yankees started Roy White in center, Thurman in left, and Oscar Gamble in right. (Fran Healy was catching, in case you are wondering.) Billy used Rick Dempsey to pinch hit for Oscar, and Rick wound up playing right for a bit.
The Yankees were behind by a run going into the bottom of the ninth and they rallied. Otto Velez pinch hit for Jim Mason and hit leadoff double and came out of the game so Sandy Alomar could run for him. Successive sacrifice flies by Willie Randolph and Roy White brought Alomar home, tying the game at 4-4. Dempsey got a hit in the tenth and Billy put Kerry in to run for him.
In the bottom of the twelfth, Kerry came up to bat with two outs and runners on second and third. He did a walk-off single and the Yankees won 5-4. It was his moment, but it didn’t last. He played four games for the Yankees that spring and never wore pinstripes again. After the season was over, he was traded to the Phillies for some guy Sergio Ferrer. Anyone ever hear of him?
The other good story is that not long after Kerry got sent back to the minors in 1975, the Yankees brought up a promising young pitcher named Ron Guidry. Gator got Kerry’s uniform, #49.
Here’s a photo of Thurman Munson playing Left Field against the Red Sox on May 21, 1976. Thurman almost robbed Jim Rice of a Home Run; instead, it was a double. Thurman could do it all!
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.
I enjoy how easy it is to go off on a tangent when talking about Yankee history. In referencing Bill Robinson’s win of the 1967 James P. Dawson Award for the outstanding Yankee rookie in spring training, I thought about my own rookie year. The 1966 award went to Roy White, who deserved it. Just like I recollect games and the pitches I throw, I remember the number of votes I got. I’m going to keep the number to myself, but I will let you know there were 9 reporters who voted, Heeba got 7 votes and Bobby Murcer got two.
I was proud of Heeba and Weaser on getting the award, which continues to be considered quite prestigious in the Yankee world. I felt especially good when Mike Ferraro won it in 1968 because I knew how hard Stump took being cut from the team the year before. Jerry Kenney, my teammate at the AA Shelby Yankees, shared the award in 1969, and Johnny Ellis (not Thurman Munson) got it in 1970. The reporters sort of validated my Horace Clark Era theory in 1971 when they declined to give the award to anyone. Rusty Torres won in 1972, Otto Velez in 1973, and Tom Buskey in 1974 – a few weeks before he was traded to the Indians along with Steve Kline, Freddy Beene and me. Bluto died way too young in a car accident; he was 51.
Happy Birthday to Dave Goltz, who had a 12-year career as a pitcher for the Twins, Dodgers and Angels. In the five seasons that our careers overlapped, I only pitched against Dave once. It was June 16, 1974, the second game of a doubleheader at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians scored one run in the first off a pair of doubles by Ed Crosby and Otto Velez, and another in the third off singles by Crosby and John Lowenstein (who proceeded to steal second and third). We scored a third run in the fifth when Lowenstein got another RBI single. I went into the ninth with a three-run lead, having given up five hits and no runs. Rod Carew led off with a double to left, and moved to third after Harmon Killebrew flied out to George Hendrick in center. With two outs, Craig Kusick singled to left, and Carew scored. Dave pitched well; he gave up seven hits (same as me), and he struck out seven (I only struck out two that game) – his team just didn’t hit. And I have to mention that Carew and Killebrew each got two hits off me that game – no surprise since they were among the best hitters I ever faced. They each had a lifetime .300+ lifetime batting average against me.