Happy Birthday to José Santiago, who pitched for the Kansas City Athletics from 1963 to 1965, and the Boston Red Sox from 1966 to 1970. The first time I saw him pitch was in 1966, when the Red Sox were playing us at Yankee Stadium. Whitey Ford was pitching against Jim Lonborg. Boston took and, but the Yankees scored two runs in the fourth inning and Billy Herman brought Jose in to pitch. With runners on second and third and nobody out, Jose got the next three batters out.
Milkman Jim Turner was my first major league pitching coach. I met him in Fort Lauderdale when I arrived at spring training in February, 1966. He had pitched for the Boston Braves and the Cinncinnati Reds, where he got his first World Series ring in 1940. He was traded to the Yankees in 1942 and got his second ring in 1943. His story always interested me: a 20-game winner in his rookie season in Boston in 1937, going nine innings (sometimes more) twenty times that year. He played for the Braves while Casey Stengel managed them. While Milkman Jim enjoyed a nice career, he was never as good as he was that first season. Milkman Jim spent 52 years in baseball, eleven of them as Casey Stengel’s pitching coach. He helped Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Don Larsen, Johnny Sain, Ralph Terry, Whitey Ford, and so many others develop their pitching skills. Admittedly, I was not his biggest fan. I always had the impression Milkman Jim only liked the big stars and didn’t seem all that interested in a bunch of us. He tried hard to get me to throw a curveball the way Whitey did – that’s not easy to teach. But I was also a kid and maybe I should have tried a little harder to listen to Milkman Jim. Later, I learned that it was Milkman Jim who taught Raschi how to throw a curve. I guess that’s a common problem in life – you don’t know what you don’t know until you’re forty. Jim Turner passed away in 1998, at the age of 95. He was a Yankee hero, and I want to remember him fondly on the 112th anniversary of his birth.
I never heard the full story about the shakeup of the Yankee coaching staff after the 1959 season, when New York finished third in the American League East. Over the years, I heard that Ralph Houk was a rising star and the Yankees, already grooming him to succeed Casey Stengel, were concerned that The Major would take the open manager’s job with the Kansas City Athletics; he reportedly turned the job down after the Yankees agreed to give him the First Base Coach spot, knocking out Charlie Keller. And I had been told that Eddie Lopat was emerging as a successful minor league manager and they didn’t want to lose him – so I assumed that’s why they dropped Jim Turner and gave Steady Eddie the job.
What I do know is that Turner wound up getting the pitching coach job in Cincinnati in 1961 and helped them get to the World Series against the Yankees. He came back to the Yankees in 1965, my rookie season.
I am hoping that CC Sabathia does not pass me on one particular All-Time record list: most career Home Runs given up by a Yankee pitcher. CC has given up 134 homers while in pinstripes – that’s the 9th most All-Time. If he gives up four more Home Runs, he will tie Lefty Gomez for 8th, and if he gives up five more, he will tie me for 7th. I have up 139 Home Runs between 1966 and 1974. The rest of the Top Ten: Andy Pettite (236); Whitey Ford (228); Ron Guidry (226); Red Ruffing (200); Mel Stottlemyre (171); Mike Mussina (166); and Ralph Terry (133). I’m not in bad company!
A little bit of Yankee trivia regarding the often overlooked job of bullpen coach. When I made the team in 1966, the beloved Jim Hegan was in his sixth season in the post. Shanty got pushed out in 1974, mostly because he was a Ralph Houk man and Bill Virdon wanted his buddy Mel Wright. Mel originally signed with the Yankees in 1950, but never wore pinstripes. Mel and Bill became close when they played for the same Yankee farm teams in the early 1950’s. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954, along with Virdon and another minor leaguer, Emil Tellinger, for future Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. He was on Virdon’s staff with the Pirates, Astros and Expos too. And he died way too young at age 54. Sometimes coaches are the flotsam and jetsam of baseball, with their careers dependent upon who the manager is.
Over the coming days, I’ll write a little bit about the other Yankee coaches who were around during my time with the team: Loren Babe, Frank Crosetti, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Dick Howser, Mickey Mantle, Wally Moses and Jim Turner.
From the moment the Yankees signed me in 1963, I knew playing for the greatest sports franchise in American history would be a daunting challenge. But last weekend’s Old Timer’s Day, with a proper tribute to Willie Randolph and Mel Stottlemyre, made me think back to my first Old Timer’s Day at Yankee Stadium. It was 1966, I was a rookie pitcher, and already in awe of playing alongside greats like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris (just to name a few). But if there was ever a day of epiphany for me, it was that first Old Timer’s Day that summer. The Yankees celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1941 World Series win over the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the 25th anniversary of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
This was an incredibly amazing game, not just for the fans that packed the stadium, but for rookies like Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Dooley Womack and me. What the Yankee organization did that day was a two-inning game between the 1941 Yankees and the 1941 Dodgers. Joe McCarthy came back to manage the Yankee team, and Leo Durocher as the Dodgers skipper. So here I am, a 24-year-old kid, watching Red Rolfe and Lefty Gomez– who played alongside Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Ruffing, Earle Combs and Bill Dickey – play. It was the first time I actually saw Joe DiMaggio live in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium. In case you’re wondering, DiMaggio hit a double off Whit Wyatt, scoring Phil Rizzuto from third. As DiMaggio famously said: “I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
I can’t let the day pass without paying tribute to one of the best Yankee southpaws of all-time: Eddie Lopat, who was born 97 years ago today. The Yankees stole Eddie in a 1948 trade from the White Sox and he went on to pitch for some of the greatest teams in Yankee history. During his eight years as a Yankee, Eddie went 113-59, with a 3.19 ERA. The Yankees won five consecutive World Championships with Eddie on a pitching staff that included goliaths like Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, Johnny Sain, Tommy Byrne, and a rookie named Whitey Ford. I met Eddie at a couple of Old Timer’s Day games over the years, before he passed in 1992. RIP, Steady Eddie, a true legend of the Yankees’ “Eddie Lopat Era.”