Happy Birthday to Don Kessinger, a great shortstop for the Chicago Cubs in the 1960’s and 1970’s. I never played with Don, who spent nearly his entire career in the National League, but I came close. I had signed with the Chicago White Sox in 1977, but retired in May after my second shoulder surgery without every playing a game for them. Don was traded to the Sox in August, where he finished his excellent career.
Another great ballplayer, Deron Johnson, would have been 75 today. He died way too young of lung cancer in 1991. He came up through the Yankee organization, but got traded to the Kansas City Athletics for Bud Daley early in the 1961 season. He led the National League in RBI’s with 130 in 1965, batting fifth for the Cincinnati Reds and following Tommy Harper, Pete Rose, Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson. The first time I ever faced him was on May 29, 1973, when the Oakland A’s were playing at Yankee Stadium. I struck him out looking. But over the course of the next couple of years, Deron did just fine; he had a .313 lifetime average against me.
Happy All-Star Day! Today marks the 45th anniversary of my one appearance in the All-Star Game. I was honored to have been selected to the American League All-Star Team in 1970, and July 14, 1970 was one of the highlights of my career.
It’s the bottom of the ninth with the American League up 4-1 at Riverfront Stadium. Catfish Hunter entered the game to pitch and gave up a leadoff Home Run to Dick Dietz. Bud Harrelson then hit a single to left. Catfish got Cito Gaston to pop up, but then Joe Morgan hit a single to right, moving Bud to second. That’s when Earl Weaver walked to the mound and called me in to pitch. Weaver told me that I would be facing one of the greatest Home Run hitters of all-time, the legendary Willie McCovey. He said something like: “We’ll get him. I ain’t worried about him.” Easy for him to say! Bottom of the ninth, runners on first and second, one out, and our lead is now 4-2. And I’m facing Willie McCovey. Holy crap.
Now I’d like to tell the story this way: McCovey hits into a double play, Aparicio to Johnson to Yastrzemski, and the American League wins. But I can’t because things happened a bit differently.
McCovey hits a clean single to Amos Otis in center. Harrelson scores, and Morgan moves to third. Lead is now 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth And with the great Roberto Clemente coming up to pinch hit for Bob Gibson, Weaver walked back to the mound and called my friend Mel Stottlemyre in to pitch. Clemente hit an RBI sacrifice fly to center, tying the game 4-4. Then Mel struck out Pete Rose to end the inning. The rest of the story everyone knows: on Jim Hickman’s two-out, bottom of the twelfth single, Rose scored from second, barreling in to Ray Fosse at the plate. The National League won, 5-4 – but not without Ray suffering a serious injury that plagued the rest of his career. Another controversy Charlie Hustle has got to live with.
And so it goes into the record books: Fritz Peterson, 0 inning, 1 Hit, 1 Run, runners on the corners. But wow, I was there and it was amazing.
Happy Birthday to Dick Rusteck. We were rookie pitchers in New York in 1966, Dick for the Mets and me for the Yankees. We were both from Chicago. I never played against him, not even in the minors. I started 1965 in the Carolinas League with the Greensboro Yankees while Dick was playing for the Greenville Mets in the Western Carolinas League. I remember his MLB debut because I was reading the New York newspapers every day back then. And of course, I was paying careful attention to as many pitchers as I could, especially a New York rookie. It was June 10, 1966 at Shea Stadium, against the Cincinnati Reds. Dick pitched a four-hit shutout, a complete game, with four strikeouts and just one walk. Pete Rose went 0-for-3. This would be Dick’s only major league win. He got sent back down to the minors about a month later, then brought back up in September. But 1966 would be his only season in the majors. I think about the parallels between us, two Chicago-born southpaws who were 1966 Rookies for the two New York teams. I was blessed with eleven seasons in the majors, and have to think there by the grace of God go I.
One more thing: in 1966, the Reds were a 7th place team and the Mets finished 9th in the National League. Just three years later, the Mets won the World Series, followed immediately by the ascent of the Big Red Machine. Things change quickly in baseball.