Tagged: Rollie FIngers

Happy Birthday, Bill Campbell

Bill CampbellHappy Birthday to Bill Campbell, who for some of his fifteen years in the major leagues was one of the game’s dominant relief pitchers.   I remember he was the first closer to test the free agent market after the 1976 season and Bill had a huge role in determining how owners would value relief pitchers moving forward.  His stats the previous season in Minnesota were mind-boggling: he went 17-5 as a relief pitcher, plus 20 saves.  He pitched 167 innings, had an ERA of 3.08 with 115 strikeouts.  And by the way, in 1975 he was 4-5 with five 5 saves in 121 innings, so it is fair to say that Bill peaked at exactly the right moment in his career.  Free agency was in its infancy at that point, and Bill was with a small market team.  He signed a four-year deal with the Red Sox worth $1 million.  Now I understand that in today’s baseball economy, that’s less than the major league minimum salary, but back then, it was huge money.  Huge money.  And the Red Sox gave him the same amount of money they had offered Charlie Finley to buy Rollie Fingers’ contract just a few months earlier – the one Bowie Kuhn cancelled.  I once heard someone say that a year earlier, Bill was making $20,000 and asked Calvin Griffin for $30,000 and got turned down.  So I remember Bill not just for what he accomplished on the field, but for the precedent he set in contact negotiations.

Remembering Jim Hardin

USA. Bronx, New York. 1972. Jim HARDIN, Fritz PETERSON and Mel STOTTLEMYRE.

On what would have been his 72nd birthday, I am remembering my Yankee teammate and friend, Jim Hardin. I used to call him Twiggy. He started with the Orioles in 1968, and the first time I faced him was on September 27, 1969 at Yankee Stadium. The Orioles were in first place and Twiggy was doing well. This turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. Aside from Joe Pepitone’s Home Run to lead off the bottom of the second, neither team was getting many base runners. Twiggy gave up four hits in seven innings; I gave up six in nine, and the Yankees won 1-0. That’s how I ended the 1969 season with a 17-16 record. Twiggy ended with an 18-13 record – his first full season in the majors. That turned out to be his best season. Twiggy blamed the decision to lower the pitching mound for his arm problems.

The Orioles traded Twiggy to the Yankees for Bill Burbach on May 28, 1971. I remember Twiggy being very excited to play in New York – and you have to remember, the Orioles were great in those days and we were not. He never said it, but I’m sure he was unhappy spending two consecutive World Series’ in the bullpen without ever getting to pitch. I know it frustrates me that I never played in a post-season game; Twiggy came so close, twice. One more thing: Twiggy got robbed on his trade to the Yankees, literally. After being informed of the trade, he drove his own car up from Baltimore in a rainstorm that night. He stopped to eat and came out to find that someone had broken into his car and stolen everything he had.

Twiggy pitched his first game wearing Pinstripes on May 31, 1971, the second game of a Monday afternoon doubleheader against the Oakland A’s. He came in to pitch the top of the seventh after Gary Waslewski was pulled for a pinch hitter. With the A’s ahead 5-3, Twiggy got Larry Brown and Rollie Fingers out, gave up a double to Bert Campaneris, and the struck out Joe Rudi. After Frank Baker got a two-out single, Ralph Houk pinch hit for Twiggy. Not a bad first game.

Sadly, Twiggy’s arm troubles persisted and he missed most of August. The Yankees released him at the start of the 1972 season. He hooked up with the Braves for a while, but his career was over. Twiggy built a new career in sales, and became a scratch golfer and master fisherman. He got his pilot’s license. In 1991, Twiggy and a couple of his friends flew his plane down to Key West, went fishing, and were on their way back to Miami for a golf tournament. Just a couple of minutes after taking off, his engine stalled. He crashed in a shopping center parking lot – and expertly avoided a little league field filled with kids not far away. All three passengers died in that crash. Jim Hardin, who was just 47, become the second of three Yankees to die in a plane crash. He was a good man and I miss him.

Happy Birthday, Sparky Lyle

Sparky LyleHappy 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.

Rollie Fingers couldn’t get Ed Herrmann out

Ed HerrmannI never got to play with Ed Herrmann and that was my loss. He didn’t play for the Yankees until the season after I was traded. He was a great guy, an outstanding competitor, and he died way too young in 2013 after waging a valiant battle against prostate cancer. I battled that twice. It’s important that baseball fans remember those who made a contribution to the game, and since Ed was an All-Star in 1974 (along with Thurman Munson), I thought it was appropriate to reminisce about his career.

I faced Ed a bunch of times as a pitcher – I recall he doubled off me once in a game I lost to the White Sox in 1973 – but the story I remember most had nothing to do with me or the Yankees. Rollie Fingers was one of the great relief pitchers of all time (although I remain partial to Sparky Lyle) and most hitters didn’t have much luck once he got to the mound. But Ed wasn’t afraid of Rollie because Rollie had trouble getting Ed out. I looked up the exact numbers and Ed was 13-for-26 against Rollie between 1969 and 1978. In 1971, the year the A’s captured their first pennant since Connie Mack managed them forty years earlier in Philadelphia, Ed was particularly impossible for Rollie to get out.

It is often overlooked that Rollie was a starting pitcher in 1970 and that’s how he began the 1971 season. When the A’s came to Chicago for their first White Sox series that April, Ed beat Rollie up. He went 2-for-2 with a two-run double and a single during the 4 2/3 innings that Rollie pitched. Ed’s next opportunity was in Oakland that summer; by then Rollie was the closer and Ed hit a two-out ninth inning Home Run off him. The next time Rollie faced Ed in late September, Ed was the leadoff hitter in the top of the ninth and the White Sox had the lead. Rollie hit Ed with the pitch. But Ed was a patient man, and while he had to wait eleven months, he hit a first-pitch single off Rollie the very next time he faced him.

In case you didn’t know it, Ed was the grandson of Marty Herrmann, who played major league baseball for the Brooklyn Robins in 1918. Marty Herrmann pitched in one game, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds managed by Christy Mathewson. What an amazing baseball legacy.