Ron Klimkowski was one of my favorite Yankees. He was warm and friendly all the time. We called him Bela, because we thought he looked like the Count Dracula actor, Bela Lugosi. In my book, I wrote a lot about him on a personal level. But he had some talent as a pitcher also, and was proud of his Yankee alumni status until he died of heart failure at the young age of 65 in 2009. Bela was part of two important trades involving Yankee veterans: originally signed by the Red Sox, he was the Player-To-Be-Named-Later in the trade that sent Elston Howard to Boston for the 1967 pennant race and World Series. Four years later, the Yankees sent him to Oakland, along with Rob Gardner, for Felipe Alou. Bela was from New York and New Jersey and he loved being a Yankee, so he signed with the Yankees after the A’s released him thirteen months later.
I remember Bela’s major league debut. It was September 15, 1969. He was a September call-up from Syracuse. The Yankees were home against the Detroit Tigers, and Stan Bahnsen was pitching against Denny McClain, who was again dominating the American League. It was still a little weird seeing Tommy Tresh in a Tiger uniform, even though his trade for Ron Woods had happened a couple of months before. Ralph Houk pinch hit for Stan in the bottom of the sixth, and Bela arrived on the Yankee Stadium pitcher’s mound for the first time in the top of the seventh. We were down 2-0. The first MLB batter he faced was Cesar Gutierrez, who had come in to replace Tommy at Shortstop in the first inning. Cesar grounded out to Jerry Kenney at shortstop, providing Bela with his first major league out. He quickly got five more: Jim Northrup and Al Kaline, then Norm Cash, Willie Horton and Tommy Matchick in the eighth. He gave up a hit, his first, to Bill Freehan in the ninth, but then retired Dick Wert, Denny and Cesar, consecutively. So Bela was off to a great start: three scoreless innings, facing ten batters, and giving up one hit. The problem for Bela, not his fault, was that Denny gave up just two hits the entire game, and scored his 23rd win of the season.
On September 24, The Major decided to start Bela, who pitched magnificently against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Maybe Bela just wanted to show Tom Yawkey what he gave up. He pitched nine full innings, giving up no runs and just three hits. The problem for Bela, again not his fault, is that the Yankees couldn’t get anything going offensively. In the top of the tenth, with runners on first and second and one out, The Major sent Frank Tepedino up to hit for Bela. No doubt the right move. Unfortunately, Teppie flied out. Then Horace Clarke popped up to second to end the inning. Jack Aker and Lindy McDaniel threw scoreless tenth and eleventh innings, respectively. And no runs were scored off of Stan Bahnsen in the twelfth and thirteenth. Of course the Yankees couldn’t score off the Bosox reliever, Sonny Siebert, who gave up just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.
George Scott hit a leadoff infield single off Stan in the bottom of the fourteenth; Scott got to second of a well-executed bunt by Tom Satriano. Stan walked Dalton Jones, who came in to pinch hit for Sonny.. Then Mike Andrews doubled to left, scoring George. As you can imagine, it’s extraordinarily painful to lose a 1-0 game to Boston in the fourteenth inning. What was worse was that this was the best game of Ron Klimkowski’s baseball career.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Loyd Colson was drafted by the Yankees in 1967, their first pick in the 28th round. Of the 77 players the Yankees drafted that day, only five ever wore the pinstripes, and Loyd was one of them. Just making it to the major leagues is an extraordinarily tough task, and while Loyd’s career was short, he still made it. I’m sure he will never forget the thrill of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while he never made it back, our team was honored to have him there and grateful for his strong showing that day. So today’s installment of Monument Monday is dedicated to all the young players who made it to the major leagues, even if for only a short time, and I want to recognize their monumental achievements.
I met Loyd for the first time in February of 1970, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Lauderdale. He was one of nine new guys on the 40-man roster that the Yankees viewed as integral to regaining their past glory. The others were (if I remember this correctly) pitchers Larry Gowell (who had 217 strikeouts in 195 innings in the minors the year before), Terry Bongiovanni, Doug Hansen and Bill Olsen, outfielder Rusty Torres, and a trio of infielders – George Zeber, Mario Guerrero and Tim O’Connell. [One brief footnote to baseball history: one of the players cut to make room for these new prospects was Bobby Cox, who was our Third Baseman for two years.] Loyd had impressed the Yankees during his stint with the Kinston Eagles, the Yankees Carolina League AA team. He had 125 strikeouts in 120 innings, and a 1.73 ERA.
Going into spring training, there were fifteen guys competing for four open spots on the Yankee pitching staff. Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and I were expected to be three of the five starters, and Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton were going to be in the bullpen. There were six pitchers in contention to be the other starters: Bill Burbach, John Cumberland, Ron Klimkowski, Steve Kline, Joe Verbanic, and this guy named Mike Kekich, who had been traded from the Dodgers. Also in camp were Rob Grander, Dick Farrell (a veteran National League pitcher who was at the end of his career), Jerry Tirtle, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, Bongiovanni, Gowell, Hansen, Olsen and Colson. Yankee executives boasted that they had “pitching depth” heading into the 1970 season. I remember that I was excited. Entering my third major league season, I pitched the most pre-season innings of the Yankee pitchers and had a 1.55 ERA during spring training.
The four pitchers who made it on the 25-man roster were Burbach, Klimkowski, Verbanic, and Kekich. Verbanic had missed the entire 1969 season because of a shoulder injury. He started the season with the Yankees, but was gone in about a month, never to pitch in the major leagues again. He would eventually be replaced by Cumberland. Eventually Bile would lose his starting slot to Kline, who got called up in July.
So back to Loyd Colson. Loyd was impressive in spring training and sent to the Manchester Yankees, the AA team, to get some more experience. He gets called up to the Yankees in September of 1970. He’s wearing #49 on his back. I remember his one appearance. It was September 25, and we were playing the Detroit Tigers in a Friday twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. There were six games left in the season, and we were in second place in the American League East, thirteen games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Steve Kline was pitching against Mickey Lolich. After seven innings, we were losing 2-1. Dick McAuliffe had hit a solo homer and Elliot Maddox had an RBI double for Detroit; Ron Hansen hit a solo Home Run for us. Loyd entered the game in the top of the eighth, taking over for Gary Jones, who had left the game for a pinch hitter.
The first major league hitter Loyd faced was Tigers Second Baseman Dalton Jones, who it a fly ball to center that Bobby Mitchell caught for the first out. [For Yankee memorabilia collectors there is some significance to this, since Loyd and Bobby would share a Rookie Card in the 1971 TOPPS set. The next batter was Don Wert, who singled to Bobby in center. Gene Lamont, the Tigers catcher, then hit an RBI double. This was a tough debut for a pitcher and I recall being impressed by how Loyd settled down and struck out the next two batters, Maddox and Lolich.
In the top of the ninth, Colson led off the inning by striking out McAuliffe. He gave up an infield single to Mickey Stanley, and then retired Jim Northrup and the always threatening Norm Cash on flyballs. The Yankee offense threatened Lolich in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Lyttle hit a one-out single to center, and advanced to second when Gene Michael got on base due to Jones’ error. So with the tying run at first, The Major sends Roy White in to pinch hit for Loyd. Lolich struck Heeba out, and then won the game when Horace Clarke flied out to right.
So there it is, the history of Loyd Colson. Not a bad showing: 3 hits, one run, and three strikeouts (and zero At-Bats) in two innings as a pitcher for the greatest baseball team in history. He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1971, didn’t make the team, and got sent to Syracuse. He never had another opportunity to play in the majors, but he did have two good innings in pinstripes and all of us are grateful to him for that.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to read my previous entries.
Steve Hamilton is still remembered for his Folly Floater pitch, and his Yankee teammates will never forget the time he swallowed some of his chewing tobacco and threw up on the mount. Abby came to the Yankees in a 1963 trade with the Washington Senators, so he was there when I made the team in 1966. We met at spring training. We were Yankee pitchers together until the last month of the 1970 season, when the let him go and the White Sox claimed him off the waiver list. We had fun together, were friends off the field, and stayed in touch until he passed away of colon cancer at the young age of 63. One of the coolest facts about Abby is that he also played in the NBA for two or three years; I think only two guys have ever played in both a World Series and in the NBA finals. The dude was 6’6. I remember that Carl Yastrzemski couldn’t hit Abby; he had a career .143 batting average against him. If I had to pick one guy to get out, it would have been the best player for our biggest rival.
There was one game in 1970 against the Red Sox that I remember well because I was the starting pitcher. It was June 21 at Fenway Park. We were in 2nd place in the AL East, 3 game behind the Orioles, and I was having the best season of my career – soon afterwards, I would be named for the first (and only) time to the American League All-Star team. The game started off well enough, a 1-2-3 first inning. But in the bottom of the second, I wasn’t throwing well. Tony Conigliaro led off with a single, and moved to third on a one-out single by George Scott. I struck Billy Conigliaro out, but then Jerry Moses hit an RBI single. Then George scored on a single by the Red Sox pitcher, Gary Peters. Jerry scored off a single by Mike Andrews. We were down 3-1. Yaz led off the third with a single and Ralph Houk had enough. I was out, Ron Klimkowski was in. The lead bounced back and forth a few times. The Major pulled Ron in the sixth for Abby, who walked Yaz; then Jack Aker came in to pitch. Long story short, Yankees won 14-10 in an 11-inning game. Bobby Murcer led us to victory, robbing Yaz of a Home Run in the eighth with an incredible catch, and a key double in the top of the eleventh.
(OK, I have to make a full disclosure here: You may be wondering why I wrote about a game where Abby pitched to one batter and walked him in a post about Abby. I started writing about the 6/21/70 Red Sox game because I thought it was the one Abby won for us. But I had it wrong. But I figured any story that ends with Bobby Murcer robbing Carl Yastrzemski of a Home Run, followed by an extra-inning RBI double ought not become the victim of the delete key. Fair enough?)
Here are the ones I should have led with: two 1970 games against the Brewers at Yankee Stadium. On May 2, I started the game and had a 4-0 lead going into the sixth inning. John Kennedy, a former Yankee, led off with a single to center. I struck out Rich Rollins, walked Tommy Harper, and John scored on Ted Kubiak’s single. I struck out Ted Savage; then Kubiak stole second and Tommy stole third. I walked Danny Walton, loading the bases. Mike Hershberger hit a two-run single to center, and The Major brought in Lindy McDaniel to pitch. I left the game with a 4-3 lead. Milwaukee scored two runs off Lindy and Jack Aker in the eighth, putting them ahead 5-4. Jerry McNertney hit a leadoff homer against Joe Verbanic in the ninth (6-4) and then loaded the bases with two walks and a single. The Major brought in Abby, who struck out the next two batters to end the inning. This game ends the way I like them to end: Bobby Murcer hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game, and with runners on first and second, Thurman Munson hit a walk-off single to win the game. Abby got the win.
The next day, May 3, the first game of a Sunday afternoon doubleheader, starter Bill Burbach and reliever Ron Klimkowski gave up a combined 5 runs in the first three innings. The lead bounced back and forth for a while and in the sixth, with the Brewers ahead 6-5, Abby came in to pitch. He gave up another run after Kennedy doubled, Bob Meyer bunted him to third, and Tommy Harper got an RBI sacrifice fly. The Yankee offense came through for Abby in the bottom of the sixth Bobby Murcer led off with a single, but got forced at second by Roy White’s ground out. Heeba scored on Danny Cater’s single to left. Then Thurman Munson came in as a pinch hitter for Jake Gibbs and tripled, scoring Danny. That was followed by Gene Michael’s double, scoring Tugboat. Abby ended the inning with a pop up to the shortstop, nut the Yankees now had an 8-7 lead.
I think this part is important: the fact that The Major let Abby hit with a runner on second and a one-run lead is a testament to Abby’s pitching. He was doing well, and they weren’t going to risk taking him out. Abby did not disappoint: he got out of the seventh unbruised, with just one base runner on a walk; he had a 1-2-3 eighth. And he won the game in the ninth with another 1-2-3 inning. It was great pitching – for the second time in two days.
Watch Abby’s Folly Floater: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFvp7kMraAw
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.