Let’s remember the life of Tommie Agee, who played enjoyed a wonderful twelve-year major league baseball career, most notably as a star of the 1969 World Champion Mets. I hated the Mets, but not Tommie. He was a great guy and an amazing ballplayer. I liked and respected him a lot. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award with the White Sox in 1966 with 80% of the vote; if anyone cares, I was a rookie that year and received zero votes. Chicago got him from the Indians in what now looks like a lopsided trade involving three teams: Cleveland sent him, Tommy John and John Romano to Chicago for Cam Carreon; the White Sox sent Fred Talbot, Mike Hershberger and Jim Landis to Kansas City, who in turn sent Rocky Colavito on a return trip to the Indians (who seemed unafraid of the Curse of Rocky Colavito.)
Tommie was a career .300 hitter against me. The first time I saw him was at Yankee Stadium on May 28, 1966. He was the leadoff batter in that game and he hit a first pitch single to Roger Repoz in right field. He was taking huge leads off first and with Don Buford at At-Bat, Ralph Houk ordered a pitch out and Elston Howard picked him off. All of my games are memorable to me, especially the ones from 1966, but this particular game always bothered me. It had been raining since the third inning, and with the game tied, 2-2, after five full innings, the umpires called it for weather after a delay of nearly an hour. Yankee fans were irate because a game called after that point technically invalidated their rain checks. The club, sensing a possible public relations problem – Bob Fishel was good at that, as was Marty Appel after him – decided to honor the rain checks anyway. But the game was if it never happened, at least statistically. I still had to wait a few days to rest.
Anyway, back to Tommie. He was a great ballplayer and a wonderful man. I still think it‘s sort of cool that he and Cleon Jones were friends since they were kids and won a World Series as outfielders together. He died in 2001 at age 58 of a heart attack; he would have been 74 today. Baseball misses him.
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 Jackie Warner, who played Right Field for the Angels in 1966. I faced Jackie once, on May 7, 1966 at Anaheim Stadium and Marcelino Lopez was pitching for the Angels. He went 0-for-3; the biggest problem I had that day was Rick Reichardt, who hit a triple and then scored off Norm Siebern’s single. I pitched a four-hitter, a complete game, and the Yankees won, 3-1. That was the last time I pitched against Jackie. And I say this with no disrespect: in fourteen At-Bats against Yankee pitchers, Jackie never got a hit. He was traded after that season to Kansas City for ex-Yankee Roger Repoz, but never got back to the majors.
Happy Birthday to Eddie Fisher, who was never married to Debbie Reynolds, Elizabeth Taylor or Connie Stevens, but did play fifteen years in the major leagues from 1959 to 1973 -– around the same time his namesake enjoyed so much success in Hollywood. I remember watching Eddie as a starting pitcher for the White Sox when I was in college. They first time I faced him as a pro ballplayer was on July 20, 1970 at Yankee Stadium. He was with the California Angeles and came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh in relief after Andy Messersmith gave up a single to Roy White, an RBI double to Danny Cater, and a two-run homer to Curt Blefary. I came up to bat with a runner on first and two out and hit a single to my old teammate Roger Repoz in left. I pitched well – a three-hitter with five strikeouts and a complete game, but gave up a solo homer to Jim Spencer; the Yankees won 6-1. I also recall pitching a nine-hit shutout against the Angeles and Rudy May and Eddie in 1971, and a four-hit shutout against the Angels in 1971 that Eddie pitched in. Eddie left baseball with a respectable 85-70 record with a 3.41 career ERA. I must admit there was a certain thrill pitching against a guy you used to watch as a kid.
Fred Talbot came to the Yankees about two months into the 1966 season, when Dan Topping traded Gil Blanco (my old minor league teammate), Roger Repoz and Bill Stafford to the Kansas City Athletics for Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. I called him Zack – the story about why is in my book. His Yankee debut came on June 12, 1966 at Tiger Stadium, starting the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against Mickey Lolich. He had a lead before even taking the mound, after Elston Howard hit a three-run Home Run in the top of the first. Zack retired the side 1-2-3. In the second, Clete Boyer hit a leadoff Home Run, and after Lou Clinton flied out, Zack came up to hit for the first time in pinstripes. He singled to center, and that was it for Lolich, who was replaced by Orlaayndo Pena after just 1 1/3 innings. Zack went to second on Tom Tresh’s single, and scored on a single by Mickey Mantle. Let’s push the pause button for a moment: Zack is in pinstripes for the first time, throws a 1-2-3 inning, gets a hit off Mickey Lolich, and scores his first run as a Yankee on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle. Life is good. Or maybe in baseball you just have to savor the moment, because things can change quickly. If there is one thing I know, it’s that.
Zack takes the mound in the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead. He gives up a leadoff single to Al Kaline, who moves to second on Fred’s wild pitch and to third on Jim Northrup’s single. Bill Freehan hits a pop up in foul territory that Elston Howard caught, for one out. Then Gates Brown hits a single to right, with Kaline scoring the Tigers’ first run and Northrup moving to second. Zack got a little nervous with Northrup taking a big lead off second, and Larry Napp, the umpire at home plate, called a balk. Now Detroit had runners on second and third, with one out. But Zack settled down, and got Ray Oyler and pinch hitter Jerry Lumpe out to end the inning. With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Jake Wood, and then Norm Cash hit a two-run homer. Now it’s 6-3. The Yankees added a run in the fourth on Tresh’s Home Run.
The fourth would be it for Zack; Ralph Houk brought in Steve Hamilton to pitch after Brown singled and Oyler walked. He left his Yankee debut with a 7-3 lead. The Yankees wound up winning, but not easily. The final score was 12-10. For any 20-something year old, standing on the mound with Mickey Mantle is center and Ellie Howard behind the plate is a magical moment, and I’m glad my friend Zack had a strong showing.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to view last week’s tribute to Pedro Ramos.
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!