Happy Birthday to Willie Randolph, whose emergence as the Yankees regular second baseman marked the end of the Horace Clarke Era and the genesis of the George Steinbrenner Era that restored the Yankee Tradition of winning. I missed Willie by a year and a half. The Yankees traded me to Cleveland in April 1974, and Pittsburgh traded him to New York after the 1975 season. His rookie season was the first Yankee pennant since 1964, when I was a sophomore minor leaguer. His place in Yankee history is solid, and I’m pleased that the team chose to honor him last month. (Note: Don’t rush through this post, it has a tear-jerker ending.)
The first time I saw Willie up close was on May 18, 1976, a 4 ½ hour, 16-inning game at Cleveland stadium. I was pitching against Catfish Hunter, who gave up three hits and three runs in the top of the first. I faced Willie for the first time in the second inning, and he hit a two-out single to center. I got him out the next two At-Bats. We had a 6-1 lead in the top of the ninth. I gave up singles to the first two batters, Lou Piniella and Graig Nettles, and that’s when Frank Robinson gave me the hook. Dave LaRoche entered in relief and struck out Otto Velez. Then Willie was up. He hit a single to left, loading the bases. Dave walked Rick Dempsey and gave up a two-run single to Sandy Alomar. After walking Roy White, Tom Buskey came in to pitch and promptly gave up a two-run single to Thurman Munson. That tied the score 6-6.
Sparky Lyle pitched six innings in relief, which explains why the Indians couldn’t get a seventh run. He was awesome, as he always was. In the 16th, Jim Kern gave up five runs – the fifth run was on a one-out RBI double to Willie.
I only pitched once more to Willie, on May 27, 1976 at Yankee Stadium, and he went 0-2 against me. In the fifth inning, I gave up a two-run Home Run to Mickey Rivers, and after giving up a single and wild pitch – and with the game tied 3-3, I was done.
What I didn’t know at the time was just how done I was. The next day the Indians traded me to the Texas Rangers for Ron Perzanowski. And within the next three weeks, a shoulder injury ended my baseball career.
So for me, 5/27/76 would be the last time on the mound for Yankee Stadium (not including an Old Timer’s Day). The last batter I would face there was Thurman Munson, my friend and my old catcher. That was fine by me.
Happy Birthday to Kerry Dineen, who played the outfield for the Yankees ever so briefly in 1975 and 1976. While I missed playing with Kerry on the Yankees, I remember him from my last spring training in Fort Lauderdale in 1974 and he was impressive. The Yankees were high on him as a prospect. He got called up for a few games in 1975 when Elliot Maddox got hurt, and – I looked it up – he hit .364 playing in seven games over a six day period. I don’t know why he didn’t get a September call-up. But in Cleveland, a week before I was traded to Texas, I paid attention to Kerry’s big game because my friend Thurman Munson was playing left field.
It’s a good story. The Yankees were on their way to George Steinbrenner’s first pennant. On May 20, 1976, the Yankees and the Red Sox had a brawl, and Mickey Rivers and Lou Piniella got hurt in the fight; with Maddox and Ron Blomberg already on the DL, it left Billy Martin with a shortage of outfielders to play the next day. The way I heard it, Kerry was actually taking batting practice in Syracuse when he got a call telling him that needed him in the Bronx in time for the 8 PM game. The Yankees started Roy White in center, Thurman in left, and Oscar Gamble in right. (Fran Healy was catching, in case you are wondering.) Billy used Rick Dempsey to pinch hit for Oscar, and Rick wound up playing right for a bit.
The Yankees were behind by a run going into the bottom of the ninth and they rallied. Otto Velez pinch hit for Jim Mason and hit leadoff double and came out of the game so Sandy Alomar could run for him. Successive sacrifice flies by Willie Randolph and Roy White brought Alomar home, tying the game at 4-4. Dempsey got a hit in the tenth and Billy put Kerry in to run for him.
In the bottom of the twelfth, Kerry came up to bat with two outs and runners on second and third. He did a walk-off single and the Yankees won 5-4. It was his moment, but it didn’t last. He played four games for the Yankees that spring and never wore pinstripes again. After the season was over, he was traded to the Phillies for some guy Sergio Ferrer. Anyone ever hear of him?
The other good story is that not long after Kerry got sent back to the minors in 1975, the Yankees brought up a promising young pitcher named Ron Guidry. Gator got Kerry’s uniform, #49.
Here’s a photo of Thurman Munson playing Left Field against the Red Sox on May 21, 1976. Thurman almost robbed Jim Rice of a Home Run; instead, it was a double. Thurman could do it all!
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.”