Happy 71st Birthday to Sparky, my friend and teammate and the best relief pitcher I ever played with. When the Yankees traded Danny Cater to the Red Sox for Sparky in March of 1972, it changed my life for the better. We hit it off immediately and had lots of fun together. Jim Turner, the Yankees pitching coach, once called our group “The Nursery” because of all the childish pranks we pulled, and we wore that as a badge of honor. I enjoyed every minute I played with The Count, and one of the reasons is that our team got significantly better because of his arrival.
I remember Sparky’s Pinstripe debut on April 19, 1972. We were ahead of the Brewers 3-0 in the top of the ninth. Mike Kekich had given up just two hits when Ron Theobold hit a two-out single, followed by John Briggs’ Home Run. Ralph Houk brought in The Count to pitch to George Scott, who grounded out on the second pitch. The first time he came to my rescue was on May 21, against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. I was off to a miserable start and was 0-6 so far that season. I went in to the top of the ninth with a 6-1 lead, and quickly have up successive singles to Duane Josephson, Rico Petrocelli and Phil Gagliano. With the bases loaded and two out, The Major brought The Count in to pitch, and I got my first win of the year.
Another memorable game from early in The Count’s Yankee career came in his second appearance for us, against the Oakland A’s on April 25, 1972. It was a pitcher’s duel between Sparky and Rollie Fingers. Steve Kline and Catfish Hunter were the starters and the game was tied 3-3 going into the ninth inning. Sparky had a 1-2-3 inning, followed by Rollie walking Rich McKinney and facing four batters. Sparky had a 1-2-3 tenth; Rollie had a little more trouble. He gave up a two-out walk to Bobby Murcer, who moved to second on Roy White’ single and got stranded there when Rollie got Felipe Alou out. In the eleventh, gave up a one-out hit to Joe Rudi and walked Reggie Jackson – then he struck out Sal Bando and Mike Epstein. With two outs in the bottom of the eleventh, The Major sent Ron Blomberg to the plate to pinch hit for Sparky. Bloomie walked, but then Rollie got Jerry Kenney out to end the inning. Mike Hegan hit an RBI double off Lindy McDaniel in the top of the twelfth, and Rollie had a 1-2-3 inning to get the win. It didn’t take long for our team to understand that the Era of Lindy McDaniel was over and there was a new fireman in town. One of my greatest regrets was that I wasn’t around for Sparky’s Cy Young season.
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.