Happy Birthday to Jack Heidemann, an infielder for eight seasons in the 1970’s. We were teammates on the Cleveland Indians briefly in 1974. The Yankees traded me there on April 26, and Jack was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals on June 1. While our time was brief, it was an honor to play with him. He was a smart ballplayer and a genuinely nice guy. And he was among the large group of players who interrupted their careers to serve in the military, and on his birthday, I thank him for his service to our country.
Thinking about Jack, the game I remember most was one I watched from the bench. It was August 3, 1971, a night game in Cleveland. Jack was playing Shortstop. Bobby Murcer was on first, Thurman Munson on third, and Roy White came to the plate with one out. Heeba hits a ground ball to Eddie Leon, the Indians Second Baseman. Eddie made a horrible throw to Jack, which put him directly in front of Bobby Murcer, who was sliding into second. Jack suffered serious injuries to his knee and was out for the rest of the season. It was awful. And let me say this – we are all extremely competitive on the field for each play of every game, but none of us like it when a fellow ballplayer gets hurt the way Jack did.
Even though we were on the same team for about 35 days, Jack and I were on the field at the same time only once: May 24, 1974 at Cleveland Stadium. He came in as an eighth inning defensive replacement for John Lowenstein at Third Base, but had no opportunity to make a play. Still, as a pitcher, it was reassuring to know Jack had my back. He was an excellent infielder.
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.