Let’s remember the life of Tommie Agee, who played enjoyed a wonderful twelve-year major league baseball career, most notably as a star of the 1969 World Champion Mets. I hated the Mets, but not Tommie. He was a great guy and an amazing ballplayer. I liked and respected him a lot. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award with the White Sox in 1966 with 80% of the vote; if anyone cares, I was a rookie that year and received zero votes. Chicago got him from the Indians in what now looks like a lopsided trade involving three teams: Cleveland sent him, Tommy John and John Romano to Chicago for Cam Carreon; the White Sox sent Fred Talbot, Mike Hershberger and Jim Landis to Kansas City, who in turn sent Rocky Colavito on a return trip to the Indians (who seemed unafraid of the Curse of Rocky Colavito.)
Tommie was a career .300 hitter against me. The first time I saw him was at Yankee Stadium on May 28, 1966. He was the leadoff batter in that game and he hit a first pitch single to Roger Repoz in right field. He was taking huge leads off first and with Don Buford at At-Bat, Ralph Houk ordered a pitch out and Elston Howard picked him off. All of my games are memorable to me, especially the ones from 1966, but this particular game always bothered me. It had been raining since the third inning, and with the game tied, 2-2, after five full innings, the umpires called it for weather after a delay of nearly an hour. Yankee fans were irate because a game called after that point technically invalidated their rain checks. The club, sensing a possible public relations problem – Bob Fishel was good at that, as was Marty Appel after him – decided to honor the rain checks anyway. But the game was if it never happened, at least statistically. I still had to wait a few days to rest.
Anyway, back to Tommie. He was a great ballplayer and a wonderful man. I still think it‘s sort of cool that he and Cleon Jones were friends since they were kids and won a World Series as outfielders together. He died in 2001 at age 58 of a heart attack; he would have been 74 today. Baseball misses him.
Happy Birthday to Jesse Hudson, who pitched two innings for the 1969 New York Mets. As I have noted before, I followed New York pitchers closely since the newspapers I was reading offered extensive coverage of the Mets – especially in 1969. Jesse came in to pitch the eighth inning with the Pittsburgh Pirates ahead 7-0. He got the first MLB batter he faced, Jerry May, to hit a grounder to the mound, which he tossed to Donn Clendenon for his first out. Then he walked Fred Patek. The Bucs pitcher, Luke Walker, hit another grounder to the pitcher, which Jesse threw to Bobby Pfeil for the force at second. Luke moved to second on Matty Alou’s single, and scored on a double by Dave Cash. With Matty at third, Jesse struck out Willie Stargell to end the inning. In the ninth, Jesse began the inning by striking out Johnny Jeter and retiring Al Oliver on a flyball to Tommie Agee in left. He walked Richie Hebner, but ended the inning by striking out Jerry May. And that, my friends, was Jesse Hudson’s major league career. He never pitched in a MLB game again.
I pitched in 355 major league baseball games over an 11-year career – 2,218 1/3 innings, I gave up 2,217 hits, 947 runs, 173 Home Runs, and I struck out 1,015 batters. I’m blessed by a multitude of memories. But when people ask me what game I remember most, there is nothing to think about. It was July 4, 1966, the second game of an Independence Day doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. I was a 24-year-old rookie and a starting pitcher for the greatest sports team in the history of the planet. And as I took the mound for the start of the 8th inning, I was throwing a perfect game. I had retired the first 21 batters. I struck out Tommie Agee twice. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, put I had great stuff. In the first seven innings, home plate umpire Jim Odom had only called 13 balls.
We were playing the White Sox, the team I rooted for as a kid growing up in Chicago. My guys were making some great plays in the field. This was the day Ralph Houk ended his experiment of playing Tommy Tresh at third and Clete Boyer at sort. Thank god; Tommy and Clete were amazing. And the Yankee offense came through. I led off the third inning with a single to left off Juan Pizarro, and scored on Bobby Richardson’s double. Lou Clinton drove in Bobby and Dick Schofield to put us up 3-0. We scored two more runs in the fifth when Jake Gibbs drove in Lou and Clete Boyer.
There were some hairy moments, like in the fourth inning when Don Buford almost beat out a bunt. (Thank you, Clete Boyer!) and in the sixth when a relatively new Yankee, Dick Schofield, made an incredible back-handed stop at short that prevented Ken Berry from getting what should have been a bit.
So, to paraphrase Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. In the dugout, no one said anything, except for pitching coach Jim Turner (a Yankee legend, but not my favorite coach), who just told me to “relax.” Gene Freese led off the 8th with a shot to left field – deep left field – that was caught magnificently by Tommy. I had now retired 22 batters – five outs away from pitching the first perfect game since Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series. But no immortality for me; this is where the universe turned. Jerry Adair came to the plate – the same Jerry Adair who would have a .167 batting average against me. Jerry hits – maybe it’ better if I say taps – the ball about twenty feet up the third base side of the mound. I got it, and threw it high to Ray Baker at first base. E-1, a throwing error – my throwing error – and for the first time a White Sox player had reached first base. So no perfect game, but still a no-hitter. Everything’s gonna be fine.
The next batter was John Romano, the White Sox catcher. Before you ask, John would wind up with a .250 average against me – for those who don’t particularly enjoy math, that means he gets a hit one out of every four times. And this, my friends, would be one of them. John hit a single right up the middle. Nothing we could do about it. The no-hitter was off the table; now the Chisox have runners on first and second, and we still needed to win this game. Berry gets up and hits a double to left, and Adair scored. Al Weis, who pinch-ran for Romano, moved to third. Then Lee Elia hits a sacrifice fly to center; Weis scored (Yankees 5, White Sox 2). Next up was Bill Skowron, a true Yankee legend, who was pinch hitting. Moose hit a grounder to first baseman Ray Barker, who flipped it to me to get the third out in the most memorable inning of my life. I led off the ninth with a groundout — kudos to The Major, who didn’t pinch hit for me on this incredible day. The Yankees won – yeah, I know, that’s what matters – and I have one heck of a story to tell. Thank you for listening to it, and Happy Fourth of July.