Tomorrow would be the 79th birthday of Yankee pitcher Bill Monbouquette, who died at the beginning of this year after a valiant fight with acute myelogenous leukemia. Bill had a great eleven year baseball career, spending eight years with the Red Sox, followed by the Tigers, Yankees and Giants. Aside from his statistical accomplishments that included a 20-game win season and three All-Star games (including one as the American League’s starting pitcher), Bill was also the last starting pitcher to face Satchel Paige, then 59-years-old and playing in one game for the Kansas City Athletics on September 25, 1965. Bill was also the last hitter Satchel ever struck out. I was a college student from Chicago in 1962 and listened on the radio as Bill threw a no-hitter against Early Wynn and my team at the time, the White Sox. And anyone who had ever thought about pitching knew about his 17-strikeout game against the Senators in 1961. He was popular in Boston – I think he grew up not far from Fenway Park – but baseball is baseball and after the 1966 season (and before the team became the improbable vault to the 1967 World Series), Bill was traded to Detroit for a handful of prospects.
After Bill became a Yankee, he told me about his own major league debut, against the Tigers in 1959 at Fenway, with all his family and friends watching. I can still hear him telling it. It was the first inning. He walked the first batter, and then gave up a single to Billy Martin. Now there were runners on first and third and Al Kaline was up; a run scored when Kaline hit into a fielder’s choice that Boston third baseman Frank Malzone bumbled. Now the bases were load and Bill got the next two batters out. Then Billy Martin stole home. That’s a heck of an introduction to MLB.
The first time I watched Bill pitch in person was on April 14, 1966. The weather in New York was so cold the day before that the game was postponed to a doubleheader – that’s how we played the second and third games of my rookie season. He pitched a complete game and struck out six (Roger Maris twice), and the Tigers won 5-2. He beat us again in June in a tough 4-3 loss; Bill actually came in relief, blew the save, and then got the win. I didn’t face him in any of the four games against the Yankees that’s season.
The Tigers released him ten games into the 1967 season, and the Yankees were able to sign him. His first game wearing the Pinstripes (#40) was on June 2, against the Tigers. He pitched the eighth and ninth innings, faced seven batters, and gave up one hit. In 33 games, he had a 2.33 ERA – and 56 strikeouts in 135 innings. He won the final game of that season with a complete game against the Athletics. The Yankees traded him to the Giants in June of 1968, who would be the Yankees closer until we got Sparky Lyle four years later. And for McDaniel, we got Lou Piniella, who would play a key role in ending the Horace Clarke Era and returning the Yankees to their glory. In a weird sort of way, the Yankees got Bill Monbouquette for free and turned him into Sweet Lou.
One thing the Yankees and Red Sox have in common is that they take care of their own. When Bill first got sick in 2007, the Red Sox launched a massive campaign to get fans to enter the National Marrow Donor Registry as a way of saving his life. He had a stem cell transplant and that gave him several more years.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Happy 75th Birthday to Roger Repoz, my teammate on the Yankees during my rookie season of 1966. Roger had his major league debut with the Yankees in 1964 as a September call-up, and played half a season with them in 1965. I remember one particular day that he was on fire: we were playing a double header against the Athletics in Kansas City and with Mickey Mantle out, Roger played Center Field for both games. He went 2-for-4 in each game, with a total of three RBI’s. A few days later, we were in Detroit and I was pitching. In the top of the first, Denny McClain started off the game by striking out Roy White; then he walked the next three batters – Bobby Richardson, Tommy Tresh and Joe Pepitone — three walks in a row, certainly a rare occurrence for this mighty pitcher. Then Roger Maris drove in Bobby, and with the bases still loaded, Roger drove in Tommy. That gave me a two-run lead before I ever took the mound. But like I said, Denny was a mighty pitcher. He didn’t give up any more hits for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I did, and we lost 7-2. I got to see the harsh realities of a baseball life for the first time on June 10, 1966 when the Yankees traded Roger, along with Gil Blanco and Bill Stafford, to Kansas City for Billy Bryan and Fred Talbot. It was the first trade since I joined the club. It was nice to get to know Roger, even for a brief time, and it was always nice when I saw him over the next six years when our teams played each other – and not just because he was 0-for-8 against me!
Happy Birthday to Norm Siebern, a former New York Yankee, who played major league baseball from 1956 to 1968. Norm came up through the Yankee organization and was part of a trade that would have historic significance to the Yankees and to the game of baseball. After the 1959 season, the Yankees traded Siebern, Hank Bauer, Don Larsen and Marvelous Marv Throneberry to the Kansas City Athletics for Roger Maris, Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley. Norm later played for the Orioles, Giants, Angels and Red Sox. He has two World Series rings –with the Yankees (1956 and 1957) – and played in the 1967 World Series with the Red Sox. I faced Norm for the first time during my rookie season. It was May 7, 1966 and we were playing the Angels at Anaheim Stadium. Marcelino Lopez was pitching for California and Norm was at First Base. I’ll never forget it; I had been in the majors for about three weeks, and I was pitching really, really well. In the first four innings, I retired the first twelve batters. Yes, I was pitching a perfect game. Then in the fifth, Rick Reichardt hit a leadoff triple to Mickey Mantle in center. I got Jackie Warner out. Then Norm comes up to bat and hit single to left, scoring Rick. I threw a complete game and got the win, and Norm drove I the only run California scored that day.
Happy Birthday to Gary Waslewski, who pitched with me on the New York Yankees in 1970 and 1971. I started following Gary when he was called up by the Red Sox during the summer of 1967 after seven seasons in the minor leagues because I followed a lot of young pitchers, especially when they were pitching for your greatest rival. And I was glued to the television set on October 11, 1967 when he was picked to start Game 6 of the World Series. (I admit I was not rooting for him – I could never root for Boston to win anything!) With just 42 innings of major league experience in only 12 MLB games, Gary did just fine. Boston had a 3-2 lead when he left the mound in the top of the sixth inning after walking Roger Maris and Tim McCarver. The Red Sox beat the Cardinals 8-4, forcing the historic Game 7.
The first time I saw Gary pitch was on May 10, 1968 at Yankee Stadium. He pitched a complete game, striking out six, but the Yankees won 2-1. After that season, Boston traded him to the Cardinals for Dick Schofield; six months later, St. Louis sent him to the Expos for Mudcat Grant. The Yankees got him a little less than a year later for Dave McDonald. Joe Verbanic got optioned to Syracuse to make room for him. Gary’s first game in Pinstripes was on May 19, 1970 at Yankee Stadium. He came in relief for John Cumberland. A month later, he started a game against the Red Sox, pitched well, and the Yankees won 3-2.
The first time Gary came in to pitch in relief for me was on July 9, 1970 at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. I had a 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, but gave up three runs on singles by Bobby Grich, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and a double by Brooks Robinson. That’s when Ralph Houk took me out. Gary came in with two outs and a runner on second and got Davey Johnson to ground out. We took the lead in the top of the sixth when Marcelino Lopez walked Horace Clarke with the bases loaded, and then gave up an RBI single to Jerry Kenney. We beat the Orioles 7-5.
The Yankees released Gary at the end of Spring Training 1972 and he pitched for the Oakland A’s after that.
Happy 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.
Something a lot of people forget about the magnificent Elston Howard was that in 1967, after breaking up a kid’s no-hitter with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, and after the brawl and all the other stuff that went on between the two teams, Ellie got traded to the Red Sox in early August and helped Boston win the American League pennant that year. The Yankees got a player to be named later; it turned out to be a pitcher named Ron Klimkowski. I’m glad that Ellie got to play in one last World Series; he was the starting catcher for six of the games (and played in all seven), and in Game 5 he got a key hit and RBI. His 1961 teammate, Roger Maris, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.
In his first game at Yankee Stadium not in pinstripes, he got an RBI in a close game. I didn’t face Ellie until his last season in the major leagues, 1968. It was May 12, 1968 at Yankee Stadium, and Ralph Houk brought me in to pitch in the third inning after Bill Monbouquette had given up five runs in the first two innings, and three successive singles in the third. I faced Ellie in the fifth and he singled to center off me. Six days later at Fenway Park, the Major pulled Fred Talbot for a pinch hitter in the sixth and then I came in to pitch. I got the first two batters out, then Ellie came up to bat. He hit an infield single. So after two games, and two at-bats, Elston Howard retired with a 1.000 batting average against me. After he retired, he came the Yankee First Base coach. Sweetest guy ever.
Happy Birthday to Don Demeter, an 11-year MLB veteran who must have liked me because he had a lifetime batting average of .417 against me. He first showed his dominance over me at the plate early in my rookie season. It was May 17, 1966 and the Yankees were playing the Tigers in Detroit. We had a good first inning: Denny McClain walked three consecutive batters, and we scored two runs on a sacrifice fly by Roger Maris and a single by Roger Repoz. But that would be the end of the Yankee run production for the day; Denny settled down to pitch a two-hitter with eight strikeouts. After a Maris double and an intentional walk to Elston Howard in the fourth, no other Yankee would get on base.
As for me, I pitched okay for the first four innings, but let’s just say I was no Denny McClain. I had a 1-2-3 first, and after giving up a second inning double to Al Kaline, I got the next three guys out. The next two innings were fine. I gave up a fifth inning leadoff homer to Bill Freehan, followed by Ray Oyler’s double. Oyler scored on a sac fly, tying the game at 2-2. In the sixth, Norm Cash doubled, and then Don Demeter came up. He hit a powerful shot over the left field fence, putting the Tigers ahead, 4-2. Ray Barker pinch hit for me in the seventh. The Tigers won 7-2, putting my rookie record at 2-3. During our next series against Detroit, Don homered off me too, but this time the Yankee offense came through and we won 6-3.
Finally, Happy Birthday to Mike Stanley and Bob Shirley, who played for the Yankees long after I left — that means they’re much younger than me!