The Baltimore Orioles were one of the toughest teams I ever played against. They won the World Series in 1966, my rookie year, the American League Pennant in 1969 (the first time there was a Divisional Series), the World Series in 1970, and the AL Pennant in 1971. They had an unreal team: Boog Powell at first, Davey Johnson at second, Mark Belanger at short, Brooks Robinson at third, Andy Etchebarren was the catcher, and they had Frank Robinson, Paul Blair and Don Buford in the outfield. And they had great pitching – one year it was four 20-game winners: Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. So because they were so good in 1970, I feel compelled to recall one game between the Orioles and the Washington Senators that year – maybe just to embarrass my friend, Rick Reichert.
It was June 20, a Sunday afternoon at RFK, and it was Earl Weaver managing against Ted Williams. The game was tied 2-2, and in the top of the twelfth inning, with nothing more than a pair of walks, a pair of popups, and an error by Mike Epstein, the Orioles scored and took a 3-2 lead. In the bottom of the twelfth, Jim French drew a leadoff walk, and with one out, Rick came up to the plate to pinch hit for Lee Maye. He hit a walk-off, two run homer and delivered a rare and excruciating loss to the first-place Orioles. It was an amazing moment.
I had to look up the details, but I remember the game. The Yankees had lost to the Red Sox more than an hour earlier. We were 2 ½ games out of first place at that point and we all stuck around the clubhouse to find out how the Orioles game was going.
You may remember Corbett Field in Tucson because some of the scenes from the movie Major League were filmed there. I was there on February 27, 1975, my first spring training with the Cleveland Indians, when I found out that Boog Powell was going to be my teammate. The Orioles traded him, along with pitcher Don Hood, for catcher Dave Duncan and a minor leaguer named Alvin McGrew. While I was sorry to see Dave go (the able Alan Ashby was waiting in the wings to become the starting catcher), I was excited to be playing on the same team as Boog. He was a fearsome, powerful hitter. I know this from experience – he had more RBI’s against me than any other major leaguer except Brooks Robinson and Paul Blair. He already had more than 300 career Home Runs before he came to Cleveland. In his first year with the Tribe, he hit 27 more homers, with 86 RBI’s and a .297 average. Outstanding!! I remember the first game I pitched with Boog on my side. It was April 12, 1975 at County Stadium in Milwaukee. He hit two Home Runs, with two walks and three RBI’s. I wasn’t quite so good. 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. The Brewers beat us 6-5.
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 Bill Melton, who was a power-hitting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox while I was pitching for the New York Yankees. Some called him Beltin’ Bill because he hit 160 Home Runs in a short ten-year career that prematurely ended due to injury. He hit 33 Home Runs with 95 RBI’s in 1970, his second full major league season, and 33 Home Runs (best in the American League). Between 1968 and 1976, we played in 22 games together. He went 18-for-30, a career average of .300 – and after Paul Blair, no one hit more Home Runs off me that Bill Melton.
One game that comes to mind against Bill and the White Sox was on August 26, 1969, a weeknight game at Yankee Stadium. I was facing a very tough pitcher in Tommy John. We got off to a good start when Tommy gave up a second inning two-run Home Run to our catcher, Frank Fernandez. Tommy and I were pitching nicely; each of us got into jams a few times, but we both pitched our way out of them. By the time Chisox manager Al Lopez pulled him for a pinch runner in the top of the ninth, Tommy had not let more Yankees score. I was also pitching a shutout as I entered the ninth. Ron Hansen (my future teammate), hitting for Tommy, led off with a single to left. Gene Michael’s fielding error let Walt Williams (also my future teammate) reach first and Tommy McCraw (running for Ron) move to second. Luis Aparicio bunted to Bobby Cox at third, moving Tommy to third and No Neck to second. I got a second out when Don Pavletich popped up to Ron Woods in center. Then Beltin’ Bill comes up and hits a double past Roy White in left, scoring Tommy and No Neck and tying the game up 2-2. Ralph Houk had enough of me and brought in Lindy McDaniel to get the third out.
Wilbur Wood came in to pitch in the bottom of the ninth and retired the Yankees 1-2-3. Lindy pitched the top of the tenth in what was clearly a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. Stick made another error at shortstop, putting Ken Berry on first. Then Bobby Cox committed a throwing error, putting Ken on third and Bobby Knopp on first. Frank Fernandez let a ball get by him and Bobby advanced to second. Then Pete Ward (yet another future teammate) hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Berry and giving the White Sox a 3-2 lead.
The Yankees rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but they couldn’t get the job done. Gary Bell, now pitching for the White Sox, gave up a leadoff walk to Roy White. Then he walked Fernandez, advancing Heeba to second; Lopez switched pitchers (now Danny Lazar); The Major put Jerry Kenney in to run for Julio Big Head. Bobby Murcer bunted – well, as usual – to the Birthday Boy at third, with Heeba and Lobo each advancing a base. Lazar intentionally walks Ron Woods. Now Danny Murphy comes in to pitch. Batting for Cox, Jimmie Hall hit popped up to Aparicio at short. With two outs, bases loaded, and down 3-2, The Major puts Jake Gibbs in to hit for Len Boehmer. Giblets struck out looking, ending the game with a painful loss for the entire team.
One last story – quickly, I promise: the last time I ever faced Bill Melton was on May 9, 1976 at Anaheim Stadium. We were both at the ends of our careers – Bill with the Angels, me with the Indians (not long before my trade to the Rangers). Birthday Boy came up in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and Cleveland ahead 2-0 and hits a single to center.
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 baseball great Andy Etchebarren, my fellow Class of 1966 MLB Rookie. Andy was the Orioles catcher in my first major league game. It was Friday, April 15, 1966 in Baltimore and I’ll never forget it. I was 24 and in my first season with the Yankees. I gave up two hits in the first inning, to Luis Aparicio and Brooks Robinson. The second inning went better: Davey Johnson grounded out, and I got my first big league strikeouts – first Paul Blair, and then Andy. Andy got a hit off me in the fifth, a solid shot to center. We were up by two runs in the bottom of the ninth when Frank Robinson hit a Home Run. I settled down and got my first major league win. 1966 was an amazing year for Andy — one of many in his fine career – he was an American League All-Star at age 23, and the Orioles swept the World Series that year against the Dodgers. What an amazing team the Orioles were that year. Frank Robinson (later my manager in Cleveland) won the Triple Crown and the MVP. The Yankees finished tenth in the AL – that’s dead last – 70-89, and 26.5 games out of first place. That’s what I mean by the “Horace Clarke Era.”
I was sorry to learn of the passing of former Orioles outfielder Andres Mora, who died last week at the age of 60. I remember facing him in 1976, his rookie season, and my last one. It was the bottom of the 8th inning and I was pitching for the Texas Rangers at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. We had a 6-1 lead. Mark Belanger hit a single to left and moved to second on Bobby Grich’s groundout. Lee May hit a single to left and Belanger scored. Then Mora came to the plate. He hit a solid single to left, moving May to second. Paul Blair drove in May with a double to left. With Mora at third, Frank Lucchesi pulled me and Steve Foucault in relief got Ken Singleton to pop up to Roy Howell at third to end the inning. Rest in peace, Andres Mora. Your fans will always remember your contribution to the game.