Tagged: Sparky Lyle

Monument Monday: Bill Monbouquette

Bill MonbouquetteTomorrow 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 Birthday, Tony Muser

Tony MuserHappy Birthday to Tony Muser, who played for the Red Sox, White Sox, Orioles and Brewers during a nine-year MLB career. I saw him play for the first time in 1969, when he was a September call-up for the Red Sox. It was his first game at Yankee Stadium and he was batting in the top of the ninth. He hit a two-out RBI single off Jack Aker to tie the game. The Red Sox brought in Sparky Lyle to pitch — never a good thing for the other team – but The Count gave up a single to Bobby Murcer and the Yankees won the game on a walk-off RBI single by Thurman Munson. Tony was a good guy, and I was proud when he became the Royals manager.

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.

Sparky Lyle’s only extra-base hit as a Yankee

Thurman Munson Sparky LyleAs long as people were willing to listen to me talk about my one career Triple 47 years ago today, I figured I could relay another memorable hit by one of my favorite pitchers: Sparky Lyle’s only extra base hit as a New York Yankee.  It was June 3, 1972, a Saturday afternoon in Chicago.  Freddy Beene started the game against Stan Bahnsen.  We were down two runs going in to the top of the ninth, and Goose Gossage was on the mound as the White Sox closer.  We tied the game, 10-10, after a single by Rusty Torres, a walk by Bobby Murcer, and singles by Roy White and Ron Blomberg.  Goose, in a rare blown save, was gone after three batters. The Countess came in to pitch the bottom of the ninth and had a 1-2-3 inning.  He did the same thing in the tenth and eleventh innings.  He gave up one hit in the twelfth, but Pat Kelly got stranded.

Bobby Murcer led off the top of the thirteenth with a single of Bart Johnson and advanced to second on Roy White’s walk.  Bloomie hit a shot to Carlos May in left, but it wasn’t deep enough for Lemon to score.  Then Thurman Munson hit a three-run Home Run.  Jerry Kenney hit a grounder to short, but was safe at first because of Rich Morales’ throwing error.  The second out of the inning came when Bernie Allen flew out to left.

So now the Yankees are up 13-10 and with two outs Ralph Houk kept Sparky in the game.  He hit a double that went between Carlos and Jay Johnstone in center, scoring Kenney. He made it to second huffing and puffing, unaccustomed to running to first yet alone an extra base, but that huge smile, sort of like Tweetie Bird looking at Sylvester, is what I remember most. But that wasn’t the best part.  Horace Clarke came up to bat and hit a single to center off the first pitch, and The Countess had to run from second to home. He made it, huffing and puffing again – this time I saw no smile.  What I would give to watch him do that again!

Apparently unsatisfied with a five-run lead, the Yankee offense continued to rally.  Rusty walked and Bobby Murcer hit a three-run Home Run.  We went into the bottom of the thirteenth leading the White Sox, 18-10.

The Countess, maybe still a little tired from all that running, scared all of us just a little bit. He gave up a leadoff walk to Dick Allen, who moved to second off Jay’s groundout and to third on Bill Melton’s single.  Chuck Brinkman, pinch hitting for the pitcher, singled to left, but Dick couldn’t score off Heeba.  So Sparky had the bases loaded, one out, and I think he was still out of breath from all that running.  But it was over quickly: Tom Egan hit into a double play.  Sparky Lyle was the best!

Happy Birthday, Willie Randolph

Willie RandolphHappy Birthday to Willie Randolph, whose emergence as the Yankees regular second baseman marked the end of the Horace Clarke Era and the genesis of the George Steinbrenner Era that restored the Yankee Tradition of winning.  I missed Willie by a year and a half.  The Yankees traded me to Cleveland in April 1974, and Pittsburgh traded him to New York after the 1975 season.  His rookie season was the first Yankee pennant since 1964, when I was a sophomore minor leaguer.  His place in Yankee history is solid, and I’m pleased that the team chose to honor him last month.  (Note: Don’t rush through this post, it has a tear-jerker ending.)

The first time I saw Willie up close was on May 18, 1976, a 4 ½ hour, 16-inning game at Cleveland stadium.   I was pitching against Catfish Hunter, who gave up three hits and three runs in the top of the first.  I faced Willie for the first time in the second inning, and he hit a two-out single to center.  I got him out the next two At-Bats.  We had a 6-1 lead in the top of the ninth.  I gave up singles to the first two batters, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles, and that’s when Frank Robinson gave me the hook.  Dave LaRoche entered in relief and struck out Otto Velez.  Then Willie was up.  He hit a single to left, loading the bases.  Dave walked Rick Dempsey and gave up a two-run single to Sandy Alomar.  After walking Roy White, Tom Buskey came in to pitch and promptly gave up a two-run single to Thurman Munson.  That tied the score 6-6.

Sparky Lyle pitched six innings in relief, which explains why the Indians couldn’t get a seventh run.  He was awesome, as he always was.  In the 16th, Jim Kern gave up five runs – the fifth run was on a one-out RBI double to Willie.

I only pitched once more to Willie, on May 27, 1976 at Yankee Stadium, and he went 0-2 against me.  In the fifth inning, I gave up a two-run Home Run to Mickey Rivers, and after giving up a single and wild pitch – and with the game tied 3-3, I was done.

What I didn’t know at the time was just how done I was.  The next day the Indians traded me to the Texas Rangers for Ron Perzanowski.  And within the next three weeks, a shoulder injury ended my baseball career.

So for me, 5/27/76 would be the last time on the mound for Yankee Stadium (not including an Old Timer’s Day).  The last batter I would face there was Thurman Munson, my friend and my old catcher.  That was fine by me.

Happy Birthday, Goose Gossage


Happy Birthday to Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball.  I never got to play with Goose on the Yankees, and as a starting pitcher that was my loss.  No disrespect to Lindy McDaniel, but history would be treating me just a little better if I had Goose on my side.  The guy was incredible.  Goose’s rookie year was Sparky Lyle’s first in pinstripes.  They went up against each other on two consecutive days.

Goose’s first game against the Yankees was during his rookie season of 1972.  The Yankees were in Chicago and this was the first time Goose was facing us. The date was June 3, 1972.   It started as a matchup between Stan Bahnsen, who had been dealt to Chicago in that crappy-for-us Rich McKinney deal, and Freddie Beene.   This was one of the highest scoring games I can remember – we won 18-10.  Goose entered the game at the start of the seventh, and the Yankees were losing 10-8.  He was impressive – a 1-2-3 inning, getting Ron Bloomberg, Thurman Munson and Jerry Kenney out.  And he was just as impressive in the eighth, getting Bernie Allen, Felipe Alou and Horace Clarke out – another 1-2-3 inning.

So Goose comes out for the top of the ninth, protecting a 10-8 lead.  He gave up singles to the first three batters: Rusty Torres, Bobby Murcer and Roy White, who drove in Rusty.  10-9, runners at first and second, no outs, and Bloomie is up.  Chuck Tanner pulled Goose for Steve Kealy, who gave up an RBI single.   The score remained tied until the top of the 13th, when the Yankees had an extraordinary inning:  Thurman Munson and Bobby Murcer both hit a three-run homers: The other RBI’s came from two unlikely sources: Horace Clarke and Sparky, who drove in a run with a beautiful double to left.  Sparky pitched five innings, holding the Chisox to just three hits for the win.

The next day, Goose came in to relieve Dave Lemonds in the sixth inning.  The White Sox were ahead 2-1, but Lemonds got in some trouble.  With runners on first and second, Roy White hit an RBI single to tie the game.  Tanner pulled Lemonds and Goose got Felipe to hit into a double play.  But with Bobby on third, Goose threw a wild pitch and the Yankees were now up 3-2.  In the seventh, Goose faced an unusual offensive threat: Hal Lanier, who singled to right, stole second, and go to third of another wild pitch.  Then Gene Michael laid down an absolutely beautiful bunt and Hal scored.

The White Sox came up in the bottom of the ninth, and the Yankees starter – some guy named Kekich – was three outs away from a complete game.  With one out, he walked Bill Melton and then gave up a hit to Mike Andrews.  With runners on first and second, Ralph Houk pulled Mike and brought in Sparky to close.  Then Tanner put Jorge Orta in to run for Andrews, and pulled the next batter, shortstop Rich Morales, for a pinch hitter, Dick Allen.  Allen belted a Home Run over the left field fence.  The White Sox won, 5-3, and another rookie, Cy Acosta, got the win.

Goose got his first win against the Yankees on August 22, 1972, a 5-4 game in Chicago.  The losing pitcher? That would be me.