Happy Birthday to Ray Culp, who pitched for the Phillies, Cubs and Red Sox from 1963 to 1973. The first time I saw Ray pitch was in 1968, following his trade to Boston for Bill Schlesinger. On a Saturday night at Fenway Park, he threw a four-hit shutout, striking out ten Yankee batters. I came into the game in the bottom of the sixth, after Ralph Houk had pulled starter Fred Talbot for a pinch hitter. I have up one hit in the two innings I pitched – to Ellie Howard – before Steve Whitaker was put in to hit for me. Boston beat us, 4-0; that was Ray’s first American League win.
Happy Birthday to Dick Simpson, an outfielder who was my teammate on the New York Yankees ever so briefly in 1969. Dick was involved in a bunch of trades involving some familiar names: he came up with the Angels organization and was traded to the Orioles for Norm Siebern; the Orioles traded him to the Reds as part of the Frank Robinson trade; the Reds sent him to the Cardinals for Alex Johnson; and the Cardinals dealt him and Hal Gilson to the Astros for Ron Davis. After the 1968 season, the Astros traded him to the Yankees for my friend Dooley Womack. Dick lasted a little more than a month in New York before he was traded to the Seattle Pilots for Jose Vidal. Later that year, he and my friend Steve Whitaker were traded to the Giants for Bobby Bolin. Dick was a key player in my second win of the 1969 season. It was April 24, 1969 and we were in Cleveland playing the Indians. He entered the game in the bottom of the fifth, replacing Jerry Kenney in the center. In the sixth, Tommy Tresh hit a leadoff infield single and moved to second when Juan Pizarro walked Jake Gibbs. I was the next batter and bunted to Max Alvis at third, who got me out but allowed Tommy and Jake to advance. Alvin Dark, The Tribe’s manager, called an intentional walk of Horace Clarke to load the bases and pitch to Dick. Dick hit a three-run double to left. Then he scored on Bobby Murcer’s Home Run. We won 11-3. I pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts.
Another bit of Dick Simpson trivia: he wore #9 for the Yankees, one of three to wear that number in between Roger Maris and Graig Nettles. The others were Steve Whitaker and Ron Woods.
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).
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.
Writing about Don Mincher got me thinking about the Seattle Pilots, the expansion team that lasted just one year at Sick’s Stadium before going bankrupt moving and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers. A bunch of my teammates and friends wound up on the Pilots: Mike Hegan, Steve Whitaker, Mike Ferraro, John Kennedy, Steve Barber, Dooley Womack and Jim Bouton, whose time with the Pilots became the focus of his controversial best seller (and one of my favorite books), Ball Four. Two future teammates, Jack Aker and Fred Stanley came to the Yankees from the Pilots.
Steve Whitaker innocently played a role in the Yankees comeback: just two weeks before opening day, the Pilots made a trade with the Royals that sent a promising outfielder named Lou Piniella to Kansas City for Steve. Lou was the 1969 AL Rookie of the Year and Steve had to wear the weird Pilots cap and settle for just being a good guy. With closer Lindy McDaniel expendable because the Yankees got Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater, the Whitaker trade sort of set up the Piniella for McDaniel deal that made Lou my Yankee teammate for the start of the 1974 season. And my trade to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss and Dick Tidrow helped create the winning George Steinbrenner Era. As I keep saying, the Yankees gave up a lot of talent for Chris and Dick, but they clearly got the best of that deal.
Happy Birthday to Don Mincher, who was a strong hitter and would be more widely known had he played for contending teams during a long and highly regarded baseball career. One bit of trivia to start: Don was the starting first baseman in the first game of the Seattle Pilots in 1969, along onetime Yankees Steve Whitaker and Mike Hegan. (I never got any starts against the Pilots that historic season.) I faced Don several times during my career and generally did fine against him; I looked up his average and he hit about 50 points less against me than he did against others. The game I remember was against the California Angels on April 28, 1967, before a scant crowd at Yankee Stadium. In the second, my friend Rick Reichardt hit a single to a shortstop named John Kennedy. Jose Cardenal walked, moving Rick to second. Then Don comes up and hits a three-run homer. I don’t think I even turned around; I knew it was gone when I heard the sound of the ball hitting the bat. I gave up 173 Home Runs during my career, and pitchers don’t forget any of them. I gave up another run that inning, putting the Angels ahead 4-1. I made it through the next three innings fine, and in the fifth Horace Clarke pinch hit for me. The Yankees won the game 5-4, with Steve Whitaker carrying the team with an RBI single and a Home Run. Tom Tresh homered, and the Yankees went ahead in the eighth when Charley Smith scored on Elston Howard’s sacrifice fly. Dooley Womack got the win, and I got to enjoy serving up one of Don Mincher’s 200th career Home Runs.