1968 will forever be remembered as the “Year of the Pitcher”. Denny McClain of the Tigers won 31 games, the last pitcher to win 30 in a single season. Bob Gibson of the Cardinals pitched to a record low 1.12 ERA; Cleveland’s Luis Tiant led the AL with a 1.60 ERA. San Francisco’s Juan Marichal was 26-9. On and on. Only one batter in the American League, Carl Yastrzemski, batted over ,300….just barely at .301.
And 50 years ago this month, slugger Rocky Colavito, called on in relief, recorded a victory in his final season with the Yankees. Yep, the Rock got the win.
Colavito, a superb outfielder with a strong right arm, hit .374 home runs in a 14-year career, including 42 to lead the AL in 1959.
On August 25, 1968, Colavito pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against Detroit, and wound up with a victory when the Yankees rallied from a 5-0 deficit to win 6-5. Colavito came on in relief in the fourth inning, and retired two batters to strand a couple of runners.
The Yankees got a run back in the fourth, and then struck with two outs in the sixth. Bill Robinson hit a three-run homer followed by a Bobby Cox solo blast that tied the score at 5-5. Colavito then walked and scored what proved to be the winning run on a Jake Gibbs single. Lindy McDaniel finished off the Tigers in the ninth to earn the save.
In the second game, Colavito homered against Mickey Lolich to spark another Yankee comeback and a 5-4 win for a doubleheader sweep.
The Tigers were good enough to win the World Series in 1968, but had a tough August weekend in the Bronx. In a Friday twi-night doubleheader (I was there), the Yankees won the opener 2-1, and then the two teams battled to a 3-3, 19 inning tie ended with curfew, with McDaniel pitching seven perfect innings in relief. On Saturday, the Yankees beat McClain 2-1 behind Mel Stottlemyre.
According to the rules of the time, the Friday game counted as a tie but had to be played again as part of the Sunday doubleheader where Colavito made history.
The Yankees played yet another doubleheader on Monday and shortstop Gene Michael pitched three innings in a 10-2 loss to California. The Stick gave up five runs to the Angels, but none of them were earned. On Tuesday the Yankees again split with the Angels. It was the Yanks fourth doubleheader in five days, including the 19-inning tie.
Rocky Colavito had an outstanding career. He hit four home runs in a game in Baltimore in 1959. Before the 1960 season, Colavito was traded to Detroit for Harvey Kuenn. For the only time in baseball history, a HR champ was traded for a batting champion. There was outcry in Cleveland following the deal.
Rocky Colavito also pitched three scoreless innings in a 1959 mound appearance with Cleveland. His lifetime ERA is 0.00. You can’t do better than that.
The Jinx spans sports and the ages. We’ve seen the Giants crushed in the Super Bowl, the Yankees blanked in both games of a doubleheader, the Knicks lose buzzer-beaters. And so much more. We’re afraid to speak on the phone when the Yankees or Giants are playing for fear of jinxing them.
But The Jinx may have reached a new high…or low depending upon your point of view…..on a rainy Friday night in July in New York.
The evening started out in fine fashion when. Matty nabbed box seats, right behind home plate, for Yankees-Royals at the Stadium. But it rained the whole time we were there, the tarp was never taken off, and finally the game was postponed. Bummer.
So now Matt and I are on a crowded subway heading back downtown. We pull into the Fulton Street station, I reach into my pocket….and realize to my horror my cell phone is gone.
Matty quickly calls my number and to my amazement a guy named Zack answers. Sure I’ve got your phone he said, I found it sitting on a bench at the 149th Street Station in the Bronx.
Shortly after we’re turned around, going back uptown to meet Zack, who’s at 75th and Amsterdam. My man Zack answers the door with a Yankee cap (he too had been at the game), and handed over my iPhone. He refused a monetary reward but did accept the gift of a CC Sabathia bobblehead doll.
Zach if you’re reading this you are my hero. And while calculating the odds of recovering a phone left in a South Bronx subway, I will pass it along.
The story doesn’t end there. As soon as we left Zack’s place a monsoon hit Manhattan. No shelter from the storm. We got drenched.
Finally we find the subway and head back downtown to the Oculus Station at the World Trade Center to take the Path train under the river to Newark. We make our connections, and then rush to make the Jersey transit train for the last leg of our journey back to Fanwood.
We’re just about 10 minutes into the 30-minute ride when the train comes to a stop at the Union Station Keane University stop. A half hour later we’re informed that a vehicle hit a bridge up ahead of us, and that we can’t move until the bridge passes inspection.
Well finally, about an hour and a half later, we’re cleared to go and make our way home.
The Jinx. You can’t make this stuff up.
GM Brian Cashman has made many shrewd moves the past several years in making the Yankees a contender once again. The acquisition of Sonny Gray isn’t one of them.
Cashman dealt three prospects – James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler — to the Oakland A’s for Gray before the trade deadline last July. At the time, most thought the Yankees were getting a solid, young No. 2 starter.
Instead, Sonny has evoked nightmare visions of guys like Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, all of whom flopped in pinstripes.
Facing the Red Sox on the last day of June, Gray crumbled in the first inning. After retiring the first two batters, Gray loaded the bases and then surrendered a grand slam to Rafael Devers. He couldn’t get off the mound fast enough midway through the third inning, trailing 6-0 with boos cascading down from irate Yankee fans..
“That was embarrassing for me and for everybody in here,” Gray said in the home clubhouse after the 11-0 loss. “If I was out there, I probably would’ve booed me louder.”
Statistics tell the story, and it’s not good one. In fact, Gray’s performance as a Yankee has been historically bad. All Yankee pitchers are expected to pitch well at home….and show a propensity for beating the Red Sox. Gary has done neither.
Since coming to the Bronx, Gray has a 4-6 record and a 7.10 ERA, highest of any Yankee pitcher in history who has started at least eight games at Yankee Stadium.
This year, Sonny has an 8.25 ERA in eight home starts, the worst in Yankees history. Pavano was the previous leader in this dubious category with a 6.89 ERA.
Against Boston, the Yankees have lost all four of Gray’s starts in the past two seasons. His ERA against the Red Sox is 9.35, better only than Jose Contreras (16.43) and Andy Hawkins (14.44).
In eight career starts against the Red Sox overall, including his lone win while a member of the A’s, Gray is 1-6 with a 6.98 ERA.
“I mean, I haven’t beaten a lot of teams since I’ve been here. I’ve been bad against the Red Sox. I’ve been bad against a lot of teams,” Gray said. “So I don’t think you can say one particular team has my number. I’ve been bad against multiple teams.”
At least you got something right, Sonny.
It was 20 years ago today that I witnessed a piece of baseball history. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Beanie Baby day at Yankee Stadium, Yankees southpaw David Wells carved out a slice of baseball immortality by pitching a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.
My sister Aimee came up with four tickets in the lower stands in right field, and my son Dan, then 12, nephew Sean, 7,and brother-in-law Jack saw a game for the ages.
That day, Wells threw the first perfect game for the Yankees in nearly 42 years, going back to Don Larsen’s masterpiece against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Amazingly, Wells and Larsen graduated from the same high school, Point Loma, near San Diego.
There were several interesting sidelights to that game. For one, I just missed catching a home run ball by Bernie Williams in the fifth inning. If you go back and look at the videotape, I’m the guy in the orange windbreaker who gets shoved out of the way on Bernie’s blast.
A father sitting in the row in front of us kept getting up to buy food for his kids. Then after seven innings he announced he was leaving. My brother-in-law and I were incredulous. We both asked him if he knew what was going. He realized a no-hitter was in progress, but responded that he wanted to beat the traffic. Jack and I just shook our heads and laughed.
Lastly as we left the Stadium, I turned to Sean, who had just seen the second major league game in his life. I told him he could go to a game every day for the rest of his years and never see another perfect game.
You have to go back nearly 60 years to find a Yankee debut like the one Giancarlo Stanton had in his first game in pinstripes. On April 19, 1960, the Yankees opened the season at Fenway Park with a 9-4 victory over the Red Sox.
That day, a guy named Roger Maris, an outfielder acquired from the Kansas City A’s in the off-season, batted lead-off for the Yankees that day and doubled.
Maris later hit a pair of of home runs and singled in another run. He finished with four hits, four RBIs and a 5-2-4-4 line.
The Rajah won the AL MVP in 1960, and lost the World Series in seven games to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. The following year Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s record, won the MVP again, and helped the Yankees beat the Reds in five games in the World Series.
For the record, Stanton homered twice, doubled and drove in four runs to lead the Yankees to a 6-1 win over the Blue Jays in the opener. He finished 5-3-3-4 for the game.
Adding National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to a powerful lineup that already includes American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge has baseball fans, Yankee fans, dreaming of record home run harvests in 2018.
Stanton, who led the majors in homers last year with 59, is one of the few home run champions to be traded, part of a short list that includes Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. And Judge with 52 homers broke Mark McGwire’s rookie record of 49, established in 1987.
The only time teammates each hit 50 homers in a season was 1961, when Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) hammered their way to the record with 115 total home runs.
Stanton and Judge pose a threat to both of those records. If they had played on the same team last year, their 111 combined home runs would have been second on the all-time list.
The rest of the top five home runs by teammates features:
110 – Barry Bonds (73) and Rich Aurilia (37), 2001 Giants
107 – Babe Ruth (60) and Lou Gehrig (47), 1927 Yankees
101 – Mark McGwire (70) and Ray Lankford (31), 1998 Cardinals
100 – Alex Rodriguez (57) and Rafael Palmeiro (43, 2001 Rangers
Recently I read “1941: The Greatest Year in Sports” by Mike Vaccaro, the excellent columnist for the New York Post. Vacaro interweaves vignettes about the year in sports – Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams .406 season, Whirlaway’s Triple Crown, Joe Louis over Billy Conn and more – with the shadow of war hanging over the world in 1941. Excellent read.
My favorite sports year is 1951 – my birth year. That was a great year for sports.
Start with “The Shot Heard Round the World,” Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth inning home run off Ralph Branca at the Polo Grounds that gave the Giants the National League pennant over the Dodgers. At one point in August, the Giants trailed Brooklyn by 13 1/2 games, yet came all the way back to win a dramatic playoff game on what is generally regarded as the most memorable home run in baseball history,
The Yankees went on to beat the Giants in six games in the World Series. It was Joe DiMaggio’s final appearance in the Fall Classic; while Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays found October’s spotlight as rookies.
The year 1951 saw the first professional championship in North America for a team based West of St. Louis. The Los Angeles Rams beat the Cleveland Browns 24-17, gaining revenge for a last-minute loss to the Browns in 1950.
Earlier in the 1951 season opener, LA quarterback Norm Van Brocklin passed for 554 yards and five TDs in a 54-14 win over the New York Yanks. That record has stood up for more than 66 years.
The world of boxing witnessed the career intersection of two of the game’s all-time heavyweights. Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis. In an October bout at Madison Square Garden, Marciano, age 27, knocked down Louis, 37, twice in the eighth round before the fight was called as a TKO.
The great golfer Ben Hogan overcame a near-fatal automobile accident in 1949, winning both the Masters and the US Open.
In the NBA, the New York Knickerbockers nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Rochester Royals before losing in seven games. The Royals won the final game 79-75 on April 21. It was their first, and to date only, NBA Championship.
That same day, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup four games to one over the Montreal Canadians, with all five games going into overtime. Bill Barilko scored the Cup-winning goal; sadly it turned out to be his final goal. Barilko died in a plane crash during the summer in a fishing trip to northern Quebec.