Tagged: Yankee Stadium

Monument Monday: Loyd Colson

Loyd ColsonLoyd Colson was drafted by the Yankees in 1967, their first pick in the 28th round.  Of the 77 players the Yankees drafted that day, only five ever wore the pinstripes, and Loyd was one of them.  Just making it to the major leagues is an extraordinarily tough task, and while Loyd’s career was short, he still made it. I’m sure he will never forget the thrill of standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and while he never made it back, our team was honored to have him there and grateful for his strong showing that day.  So today’s installment of Monument Monday is dedicated to all the young players who made it to the major leagues, even if for only a short time, and I want to recognize their monumental achievements.

I met Loyd for the first time in February of 1970, when pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Fort Lauderdale.  He was one of nine new guys on the 40-man roster that the Yankees viewed as integral to regaining their past glory.  The others were (if I remember this correctly) pitchers Larry Gowell (who had 217 strikeouts in 195 innings in the minors the year before), Terry Bongiovanni, Doug Hansen and Bill Olsen, outfielder Rusty Torres, and a trio of infielders – George Zeber, Mario Guerrero and Tim O’Connell.  [One brief footnote to baseball history: one of the players cut to make room for these new prospects was Bobby Cox, who was our Third Baseman for two years.] Loyd had impressed the Yankees during his stint with the Kinston Eagles, the Yankees Carolina League AA team.  He had 125 strikeouts in 120 innings, and a 1.73 ERA.

Going into spring training, there were fifteen guys competing for four open spots on the Yankee pitching staff.  Mel Stottlemyre, Stan Bahnsen and I were expected to be three of the five starters, and Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton were going to be in the bullpen.  There were six pitchers in contention to be the other starters: Bill Burbach, John Cumberland, Ron Klimkowski, Steve Kline, Joe Verbanic, and this guy named Mike Kekich, who had been traded from the Dodgers.  Also in camp were Rob Grander, Dick Farrell (a veteran National League pitcher who was at the end of his career), Jerry Tirtle, Gary Jones, Terry Ley, Bongiovanni, Gowell, Hansen, Olsen and Colson.  Yankee executives boasted that they had “pitching depth” heading into the 1970 season.  I remember that I was excited.  Entering my third major league season, I pitched the most pre-season innings of the Yankee pitchers and had a 1.55 ERA during spring training.

The four pitchers who made it on the 25-man roster were Burbach, Klimkowski, Verbanic, and Kekich.  Verbanic had missed the entire 1969 season because of a shoulder injury.  He started the season with the Yankees, but was gone in about a month, never to pitch in the major leagues again.  He would eventually be replaced by Cumberland.  Eventually Bile would lose his starting slot to Kline, who got called up in July.

Loyd ColsonSo back to Loyd Colson. Loyd was impressive in spring training and sent to the Manchester Yankees, the AA team, to get some more experience.  He gets called up to the Yankees in September of 1970.  He’s wearing #49 on his back.  I remember his one appearance.  It was September 25, and we were playing the Detroit Tigers in a Friday twi-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.  There were six games left in the season, and we were in second place in the American League East, thirteen games behind the Baltimore Orioles.  Steve Kline was pitching against Mickey Lolich.  After seven innings, we were losing 2-1.  Dick McAuliffe had hit a solo homer and Elliot Maddox had an RBI double for Detroit; Ron Hansen hit a solo Home Run for us.  Loyd entered the game in the top of the eighth, taking over for Gary Jones, who had left the game for a pinch hitter.

The first major league hitter Loyd faced was Tigers Second Baseman Dalton Jones, who it a fly ball to center that Bobby Mitchell caught for the first out.  [For Yankee memorabilia collectors there is some significance to this, since Loyd and Bobby would share a Rookie Card in the 1971 TOPPS set.  The next batter was Don Wert, who singled to Bobby in center.  Gene Lamont, the Tigers catcher, then hit an RBI double.  This was a tough debut for a pitcher and I recall being impressed by how Loyd settled down and struck out the next two batters, Maddox and Lolich.

In the top of the ninth, Colson led off the inning by striking out McAuliffe.  He gave up an infield single to Mickey Stanley, and then retired Jim Northrup and the always threatening Norm Cash on flyballs.  The Yankee offense threatened Lolich in the bottom of the ninth. Jim Lyttle hit a one-out single to center, and advanced to second when Gene Michael got on base due to Jones’ error.  So with the tying run at first, The Major sends Roy White in to pinch hit for Loyd.  Lolich struck Heeba out, and then won the game when Horace Clarke flied out to right.

So there it is, the history of Loyd Colson.  Not a bad showing: 3 hits, one run, and three strikeouts (and zero At-Bats) in two innings as a pitcher for the greatest baseball team in history.  He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1971, didn’t make the team, and got sent to Syracuse.  He never had another opportunity to play in the majors, but he did have two good innings in pinstripes and all of us are grateful to him for that.

Monument Monday is a weekly tribute to the Pitchers  I knew during my baseball career.  Click here to read my previous entries.

Happy Birthday, Bill Melton

Bill MeltonHappy Birthday to Bill Melton, who was a power-hitting third baseman for the Chicago White Sox while I was pitching for the New York Yankees.  Some called him Beltin’ Bill because he hit 160 Home Runs in a short ten-year career that prematurely ended due to injury.  He hit 33 Home Runs with 95 RBI’s in 1970, his second full major league season, and 33 Home Runs (best in the American League).  Between 1968 and 1976, we played in 22 games together.  He went 18-for-30, a career average of .300 – and after Paul Blair, no one hit more Home Runs off me that Bill Melton.

One game that comes to mind against Bill and the White Sox was on August 26, 1969, a weeknight game at Yankee Stadium.  I was facing a very tough pitcher in Tommy John.  We got off to a good start when Tommy gave up a second inning two-run Home Run to our catcher, Frank Fernandez.  Tommy and I were pitching nicely; each of us got into jams a few times, but we both pitched our way out of them.  By the time Chisox manager Al Lopez pulled him for a pinch runner in the top of the ninth, Tommy had not let more Yankees score.  I was also pitching a shutout as I entered the ninth.  Ron Hansen (my future teammate), hitting for Tommy, led off with a single to left.  Gene Michael’s fielding error let Walt Williams (also my future teammate) reach first and Tommy McCraw (running for Ron) move to second.  Luis Aparicio bunted to Bobby Cox at third, moving Tommy to third and No Neck to second.  I got a second out when Don Pavletich popped up to Ron Woods in center.  Then Beltin’ Bill comes up and hits a double past Roy White in left, scoring Tommy and No Neck and tying the game up 2-2.  Ralph Houk had enough of me and brought in Lindy McDaniel to get the third out.

Wilbur Wood came in to pitch in the bottom of the ninth and retired the Yankees 1-2-3.  Lindy pitched the top of the tenth in what was clearly a metaphor for the Horace Clarke Era.  Stick made another error at shortstop, putting Ken Berry on first.  Then Bobby Cox committed a throwing error, putting Ken on third and Bobby Knopp on first.  Frank Fernandez let a ball get by him and Bobby advanced to second.   Then Pete Ward (yet another future teammate) hit a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Berry and giving the White Sox a 3-2 lead.

The Yankees rallied in the bottom of the tenth, but they couldn’t get the job done.  Gary Bell, now pitching for the White Sox, gave up a leadoff walk to Roy White.  Then he walked Fernandez, advancing Heeba to second; Lopez switched pitchers (now Danny Lazar); The Major put Jerry Kenney in to run for Julio Big Head.  Bobby Murcer bunted – well, as usual – to the Birthday Boy at third, with Heeba and Lobo each advancing a base.  Lazar intentionally walks Ron Woods.   Now Danny Murphy comes in to pitch.  Batting for Cox, Jimmie Hall hit popped up to Aparicio at short.  With two outs, bases loaded, and down 3-2, The Major puts Jake Gibbs in to hit for Len Boehmer.  Giblets struck out looking, ending the game with a painful loss for the entire team.

One last story – quickly, I promise: the last time I ever faced Bill Melton was on May 9, 1976 at Anaheim Stadium.  We were both at the ends of our careers – Bill with the Angels, me with the Indians (not long before my trade to the Rangers).  Birthday Boy came up in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and Cleveland ahead 2-0 and hits a single to center.

The game I remember most: July 4, 1966

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 great Ralph Houk reacts to John Romano breaking up my no-hitter in the 8th inning.

The great Ralph Houk reacts to John Romano breaking up my no-hitter in the 8th inning.

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.

Elston Howard’s second act

Something a lot of people forget about the magnificent Elston Howard was that in 1967, after breaking up a kid’s no-hitter with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, and after the brawl and all the other stuff that went on between the two teams, Ellie got traded to the Red Sox in early August and helped Boston win the American League pennant that year. The Yankees got a player to be named later; it turned out to be a pitcher named Ron Klimkowski. I’m glad that Ellie got to play in one last World Series; he was the starting catcher for six of the games (and played in all seven), and in Game 5 he got a key hit and RBI. His 1961 teammate, Roger Maris, played for the St. Louis Cardinals.

In his first game at Yankee Stadium not in pinstripes, he got an RBI in a close game. I didn’t face Ellie until his last season in the major leagues, 1968. It was May 12, 1968 at Yankee Stadium, and Ralph Houk brought me in to pitch in the third inning after Bill Monbouquette had given up five runs in the first two innings, and three successive singles in the third. I faced Ellie in the fifth and he singled to center off me. Six days later at Fenway Park, the Major pulled Fred Talbot for a pinch hitter in the sixth and then I came in to pitch. I got the first two batters out, then Ellie came up to bat. He hit an infield single. So after two games, and two at-bats, Elston Howard retired with a 1.000 batting average against me. After he retired, he came the Yankee First Base coach. Sweetest guy ever.

Happy Birthday, Rico Petrocelli

Happy Birthday to Rico Petrocelli, born in Brooklyn 72 years ago today. Even though I joined the Yankees as a rookie at the start of the 1966 season, Ralph Houk didn’t use me against the Red Sox until September 24, a match-up between an 8th place team and a 10th place team at Yankee Stadium. I looked it up and attendance that night was 5,897. This was the first time I faced Rico and got him out four times – three of them on infield pop ups. This was a real unexciting pitchers dual between me and Jim Lonborg (who would win the AL Cy Young Award the next season. I gave up six hits – three of them to Reggie Smith – no runs, and struck out seven. Jim pitched a four-hitter, giving up one run after giving up hits to Mike Hegan and Horace Clarke, with Bobby Murcer driving in the one run of the game with a ground out to second. The other memorable moment was that I hit a ground-rule double in the bottom of the eighth.

Some fans mark the genesis of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry to the Babe Ruth trade, but for this kid from the suburbs of Chicago, it began on Wednesday, June 21, 1967 during a tough 8-1 loss at Yankee Stadium. Tempers were flaring. Our pitcher was Thad Tillotson and in the second inning he beaned Joe Foy, who had hit a Grand Slam Home Run against us the previous day, in the head. That was after he threw a pair of brush-back pitches at him. The next inning, Longborg beaned Tillotson, and players from both teams cleared their benches in defense of our teammates. It got exponentially worse when a verbal argument between Rico and Joe Pepitone turned into a real fight. I remember that Rico’s brother was working at Yankee Stadium as a security guard and he ran out on the field to help his brother. That was the year the Red Sox came from behind to win the American League pennant in what was called “The Impossible Dream.”

I didn’t know Rico well, but he was probably no Fritz Peterson fan: he went 9-for-54 against me, a career .167 average.