Happy Birthday to Vida Blue, a six-time All-Star who pitched in the major leagues for seventeen years and won the American League Cy Young and MVP in 1971. He was an amazing southpaw and I always enjoyed watching him pitch – except when he was up against me. I remember the first time I saw him. It was July 29, 1969 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. This was his second major league game and he was starting against Stan Bahnsen. He pitched perfect baseball for the first three innings. He gave up a double to Bill Robinson in the fourth and a single to Bobby Murcer in the fifth, but otherwise the Yankees were having trouble hitting this guy. He gave up two hits and two runs in the sixth, and no hits in the seventh. In the eighth, Vida walked Robinson and then have up a Home Run to Joe Pepitone. That put the Yankees ahead, 4-3. The A’s came back in the eighth, with a single by Rick Monday, a triple by Ramon Webster and a single by Bob Johnson to take a 6-4 lead.
I remember another game during the summer of 1971, a real pitcher’s duel between Vida and Mel Stottlemyre. Both of them pitched complete games. Vida had ten strikeouts, Mel pitched a three-hitter. The Yankees scored one run in the first, off a single by Thurman Munson and a double by Roy White; Tugboat scored on a ground out by Felipe Alou, and the Yankees won it 1-0.
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.
One Hall of Famer that eluded the New York Yankees was Frank Robinson, despite repeated attempts to get him in pinstripes. As early as 1965, the Cincinnati Reds were shopping this superstar at winter meetings. My understanding was that the Reds owner thought Robby was an “old 30” and that his body would not withstand much more of a baseball career. He was anxious to trade him while the value remained high. There was talk that the Reds had offered him to the Astros for Jimmy Wynn and a relief pitcher named Claude Raymond, but that Houston turned them down. The Yankee deal I heard about – I had just finished by third year in the minor leagues at the time – was that the Yankees would send and Joe Pepitone to the Reds for Robby and pitcher Jim O’Toole. A couple of weeks later, the Yankees traded catcher Doc Edwards to the Cleveland Indians for Lou Clinton and that seemed to end their search for a power-hitting outfielder. Maybe it was a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era. The Reds did trade Robby, to Baltimore for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun and Dick Simpson. Robby won the Triple Crown in his first season with the Orioles.
After winning three AL pennants with Robby and the 1970 World Series, the Orioles put him on the trading block again. The Yankees tried to put a deal together. The problem, I was told, was that Harry Dalton wanted Mel Stottlemyre or me. Mel was the ace of the staff and I was the #2 pitcher coming off a 20-win season. Lee McPhail countered with Stan Bahnsen, and the Dalton wanted Steve Kline and Mike Kekich too. The Yankees were unwilling to decimate their pitching staff for one superstar outfielder.
Apparently the Mets were in a similar situation. The Orioles wanted Tom Seaver for Frank Robinson, straight up, and the Mets said no. The counter from Baltimore was at least two other pitchers from a list that included Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw, and Gary Gentry – and they Danny Frisella. The Mets said no to that too.
Most players followed the winter meetings carefully, because you never knew what would happen and how it might affect your life. But the Yankees, still owned by CBS – the George Steinbrenner Era was still a few years away – didn’t do much after they traded Bill Robinson for Barry Moore. The Washington Senators offered Frank Howard for cash the Yankees didn’t have, and the Cleveland Indians were shopping star pitcher Sudden Sam McDowell, but they apparently wanted a lot of cash too. The Boss would have had them both in pinstripes.
In 1971, after losing the AL pennant to the Oakland A’s, the Orioles traded Robby to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a group of prospects that included future Yankee Doyle Alexander. The Orioles had Don Baylor and Terry Crowley coming up and wanted to give them more playing time. And Robby was making what was then a huge salary – about $125,000 – and they wanted to unload the expense. The Yankees had shown interest in him then, but they got busy making the “blockbuster deal” that sent Bahnsen to the White Sox for Rich McKinney and missed out. After the 1972 season, the Dodgers traded Robby to the California Angeles, in what really was a blockbuster trade: the Dodgers sent Robby and Bill Singer, an excellent pitcher, to the California Angeles for pitcher Andy Messersmith, Bobby Valentine and Ken McMullen.
After the Boss bought the Yankees and brought Gabe Paul over as the GM – and after Charlie Finley refused to allow the Yankees to hire Dick Williams as their manager — there was some serious talk about hiring Robby to become baseball’s first black manager. Mr. Paul had been GM in Cincinnati when Robby was the NL Rookie of the Year and MVP, and was a huge Frank Robinson fan.
The fourth chance for the Yankees to see Frank Robinson in pinstripes came in June of 1974, when he was again on the trading block. Mr. Paul had been negotiating a deal with the Angels that I recall would have brought Robby and Rudy May to the Yankees for Roy White, Bill Sudakis and Dick Woodson. What I heard was that Robby’s contract gave him the right to veto a deal, and when the Yankees refused to pay about $35,000 in relocation expenses, Robby vetoed the trade. That was just a couple of days before I was traded to the Cleveland Indians, where Robby would soon become my teammate and my manager.
You can’t live life on a bunch of what ifs, like how my career would have been different if I has been pitching for a contending team like the Orioles. But I’ll tell you this: I met my soulmate while playing in New York, I got to play with Boog Powell anyway in Cleveland, and I wouldn’t trade my years with the Yankees for anything.
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.
As 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 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.
The first time I met Bobby Murcer was at Winter Ball ’64 — the Florida East Coast Instructional League. He had played the previous summer for the Yankees in the Appalachian League – the Harlan (Kentucky) farm team I played for the previous season had moved to Johnson City, Tennessee. He was about 18, right out of high school, and it was clear from the very beginning that he possessed extraordinary talent as a player and as a person. I remember him talking about a girl named Kay a lot and it was great to finally meet her and continue to be her friend for the last 50 years. I went 7-2, with a 1.68 ERA in Florida, and had a great time playing with Bobby and other future Yankee teammates: Jake Gibbs, Mike Ferraro, Steve Whitaker, Gil Blanco, Cecil Perkins, Archie Moore, Ross Moschitto, John Miller, and Frank Fernandez (with whom I share that immortal TOPPS rookie card).