Happy Birthday to former Yankee pitcher Andy Messersmith, who is 70 today. Bluto was a great pitcher, and his challenge to the reserve clause helped pave the way for ballplayers to determine their own destiny. I was gone by the time free agency came to be, but I sure remember Bluto as a dominating pitcher for the California Angels, and later for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was the Yankees starting pitcher on August 12, 1968, the first time Bluto pitched against the team he rooted for as a kid in Toms River, New Jersey. I gave up a run in the second, and we took the lead off Mickey Mantle’s two-run homer in the sixth. Rick Reichardt tied it up with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth. With the score still tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Ralph Houk brought in Lindy McDaniel to pitch after I surrendered two-out singles to Jim Fregosi and to Rick. In the ninth, Bill Robinson hit a leadoff double, and moved to third when Tommy Tresh bunted safely. With the score tied, no outs, and runners on first and third, Bill Rigney pulled starter George Brunet and brought Bluto in to pitch. Bluto have up an RBI single to Jake Gibbs, putting us ahead, 3-2. He got Bobby Cox to fly out to Don Mincher at first, and struck out Lindy. Then Roy White drove Tommy home with a single. That was it for Bluto. We won 5-2.
I pitched against him again during his first visit to Yankee Stadium two weeks later. It was a Monday night doubleheader and I started the first game against Dennis Bennett. We fell behind in the fourth when that Reichardt guy hit an RBI single for the first run of the game. I tied it up in the bottom of the inning when I hit a sacrifice fly to Rick in left, scoring Tommy. We took the lead in the sixth when Dick Howser hit a two-out double, scoring Bobby Cox. That’s when Andy came in to pitch. He got Bill Robinson out to end the inning. The Mick led off the seventh with a single, and moved to second on Heeba’s single. Andy Kosco bunted The Mick to third and Heeba to second. Bluto struck out Tommy, but then gave up a two-RBI double to Frank Fernandez. After walking Bobby intentionally, I got up to bad with two outs and runners on first and second. I belted a double past that Reichardt guy, scoring Frank and Bobby. We won 6-2.
In the second game, which I got to see most of — The Major didn’t believe in sending guys home early – starter Bill Harrelson loaded the bases and with two out, Andy came in to pitch again. Mickey Mantle came up to pinch hit for Charley Smith, and Bluto struck him out. We lost that game; Andy got the save.
Happy 75th Birthday to Roger Repoz, my teammate on the Yankees during my rookie season of 1966. Roger had his major league debut with the Yankees in 1964 as a September call-up, and played half a season with them in 1965. I remember one particular day that he was on fire: we were playing a double header against the Athletics in Kansas City and with Mickey Mantle out, Roger played Center Field for both games. He went 2-for-4 in each game, with a total of three RBI’s. A few days later, we were in Detroit and I was pitching. In the top of the first, Denny McClain started off the game by striking out Roy White; then he walked the next three batters – Bobby Richardson, Tommy Tresh and Joe Pepitone — three walks in a row, certainly a rare occurrence for this mighty pitcher. Then Roger Maris drove in Bobby, and with the bases still loaded, Roger drove in Tommy. That gave me a two-run lead before I ever took the mound. But like I said, Denny was a mighty pitcher. He didn’t give up any more hits for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, I did, and we lost 7-2. I got to see the harsh realities of a baseball life for the first time on June 10, 1966 when the Yankees traded Roger, along with Gil Blanco and Bill Stafford, to Kansas City for Billy Bryan and Fred Talbot. It was the first trade since I joined the club. It was nice to get to know Roger, even for a brief time, and it was always nice when I saw him over the next six years when our teams played each other – and not just because he was 0-for-8 against me!
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.
Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, who passed away in 2002, may be one of the best knuckleballers in baseball history. Today would have been his 93rd birthday. His career spanned from 1952 until 1972; he was just a few weeks short of his 50th birthday when he pitched in his last MLB game. I had certainly followed his career – he won 12 games with the 1954 Giants, and he had spent six years with the White Sox, my hometown team. I hit against him only once: it was July 11, 1968 at County Stadium in Chicago. He entered the game in relief of Gary Peters in the top of the fifth, with the Yankees leading the White Sox 3-1. He struck me out, but I still got the win. The first time we pitched in the same game was on June 26, 1966 – my rookie season. The Yankees had a 2-0 lead and Hoyt came in relief of Joe Horlen to pitch the bottom of the eighth. He retired Bobby Richardson, Tom Tresh and Joe Pepitone rather quickly. I like to think I pitched well: a complete game, five strikeouts, and the first shutout of my career. So of course, I will always remember that game.
Happy Birthday to Rudy May, who was a strong rival pitcher in the American League. We just missed each other on the Yankees. I was traded to Cleveland in April, 1974 and the California Angels sold him to the Yankees a little more than a month later. Rudy played a key role in re-establishing the Yankee tradition in the George Steinbrenner Era; he won 15 games in 1975. But poor Rudy got traded in the middle of the 1976 season in a blockbuster deal: Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan went to the Baltimore Orioles for Ken Holtzman, Elrod Hendricks, Doyle Alexander, Grant Jackson and Jimmy Freeman.
The first time I ever faced Rudy, it was a real pitcher’s duel. It was May 6, 1969 at Anaheim Stadium. Each of us gave up just one hit in the first three innings. Billy Cowan hit a leadoff single in the top of the fourth and moved to second on Bobby Murcer’s hit. But then Rudy struck out Roy White and Joe Pepitone, and ended the inning with Frank Fernandez’s pop-up.
We took a 2-0 lead in the fifth when Rudy walked Bill Robinson with one out. I was the next batter, so that should have been out #2; I bunted, Bill got to second, and Rudy made a bad throw to Dick Stuart – so I was safe at first and Bill made it to third. Horace Clarke got us our second out with a pop up. I advanced to second when Rudy walked Billy. The next batter was Bobby, who singled on the first pitch. Bill scored, and then I scored on a weak throw from Jay Johnstone in center. But with runners at second and third, Rudy got Roy White out to end the inning. Rudy was pitching a great game with five strikeouts and no earned runs. Bill Rigney took him out in the ninth after he gave up a leadoff walk to Tommy Tresh, and Andy Messersmith finished the game.
The Angeles scared me in the bottom of the ninth. Bobby Knoop hit an infield single to lead of the inning, followed by another single from Bubba Morton. Lou Johnson laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt; with runners on second and third, Ralph Houk had me walk Jim Fregosi and pitch to Jay. Jay hit a grounder to first, and Joe was able to get the Jim out at second — but it was enough to score Bobby. Now I had a runners on second and third and the always threatening Rick Reichardt at bat. Rick has been turning up in my posts a lot lately – and almost always with bad news for me. But this time I got Rick out, and the Yankees won 2-1. A great game for Rudy, who was quickly impressing the entire American League.
I am celebrating an important anniversary today: 47 years ago today, I hit my first and only Triple as a Major League Baseball player. As a guy with a .159 career average, I will never forget that particular extra base hit. The Yankees were playing the White Sox in my old hometown of Chicago, and I was pitching against Gary Peters. We were both awful teams: the Yankees were in 8th place and the Chisox were in 9th. I was leading off the top of the third, and we were down one run. I had walked Buddy Bradford, who scored when Tim Cullen hit a grounder to Tom Tresh at shortstop and threw the ball to First Baseman Mickey Mantle, who missed it. Mickey was a magnificent player and one of the most wonderful men I ever played with, but this was the final season of his extraordinary career and he could no longer run. By the time he got to the ball, Buddy has scored. Cullen had a 2-1 count on me and he threw me a fastball that I clobbered (maybe clobber is an exaggeration, but I’m 73-years-old and it’s my story) to a beautiful spot between Bradford in center and Walt Williams in right. No neck made an incredible throw but I made it to third, albeit narrowly –Sandy Alomar, the White Sox Third Baseman, was a little surprised by that. Here’s the part my teammates enjoyed most: Horace Clarke tried to sacrifice with a fly ball to Tommy Davis in Left Field. Tommy caught the ball and threw it home, and Duane Josephson tagged me a little before I reached home plate. I was out. But that, my friends, is the historic story of my one and only Triple – but not the only time I got thrown out at the plate. More importantly, I think I pitched well: 8 2/3 innings, and the Yankees won 5-4.
(Quick note: I enjoyed playing with No Neck for a brief time when he joined the Yankees in 1974, and I have always been disappointed that I never got to play alongside Sandy, who came to New York shortly after the Yankees traded me to Cleveland.)
Fred Talbot came to the Yankees about two months into the 1966 season, when Dan Topping traded Gil Blanco (my old minor league teammate), Roger Repoz and Bill Stafford to the Kansas City Athletics for Talbot and catcher Bill Bryan. I called him Zack – the story about why is in my book. His Yankee debut came on June 12, 1966 at Tiger Stadium, starting the second game of a Sunday doubleheader against Mickey Lolich. He had a lead before even taking the mound, after Elston Howard hit a three-run Home Run in the top of the first. Zack retired the side 1-2-3. In the second, Clete Boyer hit a leadoff Home Run, and after Lou Clinton flied out, Zack came up to hit for the first time in pinstripes. He singled to center, and that was it for Lolich, who was replaced by Orlaayndo Pena after just 1 1/3 innings. Zack went to second on Tom Tresh’s single, and scored on a single by Mickey Mantle. Let’s push the pause button for a moment: Zack is in pinstripes for the first time, throws a 1-2-3 inning, gets a hit off Mickey Lolich, and scores his first run as a Yankee on an RBI single by Mickey Mantle. Life is good. Or maybe in baseball you just have to savor the moment, because things can change quickly. If there is one thing I know, it’s that.
Zack takes the mound in the bottom of the second with a 6-0 lead. He gives up a leadoff single to Al Kaline, who moves to second on Fred’s wild pitch and to third on Jim Northrup’s single. Bill Freehan hits a pop up in foul territory that Elston Howard caught, for one out. Then Gates Brown hits a single to right, with Kaline scoring the Tigers’ first run and Northrup moving to second. Zack got a little nervous with Northrup taking a big lead off second, and Larry Napp, the umpire at home plate, called a balk. Now Detroit had runners on second and third, with one out. But Zack settled down, and got Ray Oyler and pinch hitter Jerry Lumpe out to end the inning. With one out in the third, he gave up a single to Jake Wood, and then Norm Cash hit a two-run homer. Now it’s 6-3. The Yankees added a run in the fourth on Tresh’s Home Run.
The fourth would be it for Zack; Ralph Houk brought in Steve Hamilton to pitch after Brown singled and Oyler walked. He left his Yankee debut with a 7-3 lead. The Yankees wound up winning, but not easily. The final score was 12-10. For any 20-something year old, standing on the mound with Mickey Mantle is center and Ellie Howard behind the plate is a magical moment, and I’m glad my friend Zack had a strong showing.
Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers I knew during my baseball career. Click here to view last week’s tribute to Pedro Ramos.