Tagged: Steve Kline

Mickey Mantle’s first day as a Yankee coach

Mickey Mantle Bobby MurcerIn 1970, at the end of August, the Yankees announced that Mickey Mantle was returning to the team as a coach. It was a peculiar situation: the Yankees essentially platooned First Base coaches. Elston Howard would coach the first three innings, Mickey would coach the middle three, and then Elston would return for the final three. The Mick didn’t like the job, and he left after the 1970 season – never to appear in a uniform for a MLB game again. The Mick’s first game as a coach was on August 30, 1970 at Yankee Stadium. We were playing the Minnesota Twins and Bert Blyleven was pitching. Bobby Murcer led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk. When he got to first, he walked over to talk to The Mick, who jokingly pushed him away. All the Yankees got a real laugh watching that. Lemon stopped laughing seconds later when he was thrown out at second when Danny Cater hit into a double play. The Yankees won 5-2 on a well-pitched game by Steve Kline, and The Mick was, for a day anyhow, a good luck charm. And for those of you who are wondering, the Twins First Baseman in the photo is Rich Reese.

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.

The four times Frank Robinson almost became a Yankee

Frank RobinsonOne 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.

Monument Monday: Loyd Colson

Loyd ColsonLoyd 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.

Loyd ColsonSo 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.

The James P. Dawson Award

I enjoy how easy it is to go off on a tangent when talking about Yankee history. In referencing Bill Robinson’s win of the 1967 James P. Dawson Award for the outstanding Yankee rookie in spring training, I thought about my own rookie year. The 1966 award went to Roy White, who deserved it. Just like I recollect games and the pitches I throw, I remember the number of votes I got. I’m going to keep the number to myself, but I will let you know there were 9 reporters who voted, Heeba got 7 votes and Bobby Murcer got two.

I was proud of Heeba and Weaser on getting the award, which continues to be considered quite prestigious in the Yankee world. I felt especially good when Mike Ferraro won it in 1968 because I knew how hard Stump took being cut from the team the year before. Jerry Kenney, my teammate at the AA Shelby Yankees, shared the award in 1969, and Johnny Ellis (not Thurman Munson) got it in 1970. The reporters sort of validated my Horace Clark Era theory in 1971 when they declined to give the award to anyone. Rusty Torres won in 1972, Otto Velez in 1973, and Tom Buskey in 1974 – a few weeks before he was traded to the Indians along with Steve Kline, Freddy Beene and me. Bluto died way too young in a car accident; he was 51.

My last game as a Yankee player

My last day as a Yankee player – in my heart, I’ll always be a Yankee – was on April 25, 1974. The Royals were in town and we were playing a Thursday afternoon game at Shea Stadium. Steve Kline was pitching against Paul Splittorff, who had been a couple of years behind by at Arlington High School in the Chicago suburbs. It was the 18th game of the season and we were two games above .500, ½ game behind the 1st place Orioles (not that April stats matter). Steve gave up five runs off six hits and Bill Virdon replaced him with one out in the sixth with Freddy Beene. I came in for Freddy in the seventh to pitch the final three innings of the game. I gave up hits to Cookie Rojas and Amos Otis, but struck out Hal McRae looking to end the inning without too much damage. I had a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and took the mound in the ninth for what would be my last inning as a Yankee pitcher. Bobby Floyd led off with a walk, and Patek bunted to me, putting men on first and second. Rojas bunted, but I through it to Graig Nettles to force Floyd at third. Patek and Rojas advanced a base on my wild pitch. Virdon had me walk Otis and pitch to Big John Mayberry, who hit a grounder to first. Bill Sudakis tossed it to Jim Mason to force Otis at second, but Patek scored and Rojas moved to third. What I didn’t know at the time was that after nine seasons as a Yankee, I was about to face my last batter in pinstripes #19. It was Hal McRae. On a 1-2 count, he hit a fly to Walt Williams in right to end the inning. Kansas won 6-1. The next day, the Yankees announced that they had traded Steve, Freddy and me (coincidentally – and I mean it – all three pitchers from the most recent loss) – along with Tom Buskey – to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. And as a classic New York film character once said, this is the business we have chosen.

It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. The Yankees were a class organization and Gabe Paul told me he was trying to trade me. I wanted to pitch, and I was maybe the fifth man in what was then a four-man rotation – Mel Stottlemyre, Doc Medich, Pat Dobson and Steve Kline. My last start was April 11, the second game of a Sunday double header — ironically against Cleveland — and it didn’t go well. I gave up three runs on nine hits and got pulled in the fourth inning. Sudden Sam McDowell, who was battling me for the fifth starter spot, came in relief. Mr. Paul and the Indians GM, Phil Seghi, had been working on a trade for weeks. While I was pitching my last three innings, Mr. Paul worked out the deal. He really wanted Chambliss, and who can blame him.

If you want more information on the days leading up to the trade, legendary New York sportswriter Murray Chass wrote a column about it a few days earlier. I posted it to my website: https://fritzpetersondotorg.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/chassapril1974.pdf

And in case you were wondering about Freddy Beene​, who is my Facebook friend: the last batter he faced in a Yankee uniform was Bobby Floyd, and he struck him out.

Happy Birthday, Dick Drago

Happy Birthday Dick Drago, who made his major league debut for the first Kansas City Royals team in 1969 and won 11 games as a right-handed pitcher. He got to play for manager Joe Gordon, a Hall of Fame second baseman and Yankee legend, and with guys like Jim Campanis, Bob Oliver, and the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year, Lou Piniella. My Yankee teammates who went to the Royals in the expansion draft included Jim Rooker, Ellie Rodriguez, and Steve Whitaker, who got traded to the Seattle Pilots two weeks before opening day for Piniella. I didn’t get to face Dick until August 25, 1970, and only for an inning. Steve Kline pitched great for 7 1/3 innings and only let up one run – a seventh inning leadoff homer to Bob Oliver. After he gave up a hit in the eighth, and with a runner at second, Ralph Houk brought in Jack Aker to pitch to Amos Otis. Jack had a sore back and hadn’t pitched in about two weeks. He seemed to be doing fine, but after one pitch, the pain returned and he could not continue. Houk called me in to get the last two outs. Dick was pitching magnificently. He had given up a run in the second when Bobby Murcer doubled and Danny Cater drove him in, when he took the mound in the top of the ninth, we were tied, 1-1. Roy White singled, stole second, and advanced to third on Cater’s infield hit. Then Jim Lyttle drove him in with a single. I came in for the bottom of the ninth and gave up a leadoff walk to Oliver; the Major then brought in Lindy McDaniel to close, and the Yankees won 2-1. So Dick, who threw a complete game (and was great) got the loss, and I got the win by pitching to four batters. A hugely important win, by the way, because I finished the season 20-11.