It began in 1958, my very first baseball game, Yankees vs. White Sox at the original Yankee Stadium. The Yanks had four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup that day, including Mickey Mantle in center, Yogi Berra in right, pitcher Whitey Ford and pinch-hitter Enos Slaughter..
Chicago’s keystone combination of second baseman Nellie Fox and shortstop Luis Aparicio was also Cooperstown bound. And managers Casey Stengel of the Yankees and Al Lopez of the White Sox made it eight Hall of Famers in the house that afternoon.
That day my father even arranged for me to get an autograph from Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean, who was doing the Game of the Week for NBC.
Grand total, I’ve seen 58 Hall of Famers play in my lifetime. The list ranges from Ted Williams to Stan Musial, Willie Mays to Hank Aaron, Juan Marichal to Catfish Hunter, Carl Yastrzemski to Reggie Jackson, and Greg Maddux, Tommy Glavine and John Smoltz. Saw both of the 2016 inductees, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mike Piazza. Saw Piazza as a Dodger hit a home run against the Rookies in Coors Fields’ inaugural season, 1996.
In 2008, I was in Cooperstown for the induction of reliever Goose Gossage. I’ve seen 14 Hall of Famers hit home runs, and five times saw two future Hall of Famers homer in the same game – Ted Williams and Mantle at Yankee Stadium in 1960, Mays and Billy Williams at Candlestick Park in 1962, Yaz and Reggie in the 1975 ALCS and again in the 1978 AL playoff game at Fenway Park, and Dave Winfield and Rickey Henderson in the refurbished Yankee Stadium in 1986.
Was there when Mays hit a grand slam in 1962, and Carlton Fisk hit a bases-loaded HR at Opening Day in Fenway Park, 1973.
Witnessed wins by Jim Palmer, Ferguson Jenkins, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro and Randy Johnson, Watched Robin Roberts hurl a complete game shutout for the Orioles against the Yankees in 1965 Saw saves by Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage. Saw Nolan Ryan strike out 15 in a 1977 game against the Red Sox.
Saw seven Hall of Famers in a game at Candlestick Park – Willie Mays, Orlando Cepada and Juan Marichal of the Giants and Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and a young Lou Brock for the Cubs. Willie McCovey of the Giants didn’t play that day; sadly never got to see him play.
I’ve also seen 9 Hall of Fame managers, including Leo Durocher, Earl Weaver, Sparky Anderson, and Dick Williams, along with Stengel and Lopez and three recent inductees – Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa.
Once got an autograph from Phil Rizzuto in a luxury suite at Yankee Stadium. Phil offered me a cannoli, and signed my program over to my three kids.
Here’s the my complete Hall of Fame list, in order of induction:
HALL OF FAMERS I HAVE SEEN
Cal Ripken, Jr.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
Tony La Russa
58 players, 9 managers
Dizzy Dean, Phil Rizzuto
Mickey Mantle (1960)
Ted Williams (1960)
Willie Mays (1962), grand slam
Billy Williams (1962)
Harmon Killebrew (1967)
Carl Yastrzemski (1970, 1978)
Reggie Jackson (1971, 1978 (2), 1979)
Carlton Fisk (1973, 2 HRs), 1 grand slam
Jim Rice (1975, 1978)
Dave Winfield (1983, 1986)
Eddie Murray (1978)
Wade Boggs (1994)
Rickey Henderson (1986)
Mike Piazza (1996)
In the last inning of the 2014 World Series and his team trailing by a run, Royals left-fielder Alex Gordon singled and raced all the way to third on an error by Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco. In an alternate universe Gordon might have attempted to score and propelled the Kansas City to a win. But he stopped at third, the next batter Salvatore Perez popped out to end the game, and San Francisco won its third World Series in five years.
If Gordon had run and scored, he coulda been a hero. One of many guys who could have been World Series heroes, if only things had played out differently.
Maybe there’s a coulda been hero in this year’s World Series. Here’s the past list of guys who didn’t quite make it, dating back to 1912:
2011 – Josh Hamilton – His two-run homer in the top of the 10th in Game 6 appeared to seal the deal for the first championship for the Texas Rangers. However St. Louis rallied to tie the game, then won it 10-9 in the 11th on a home run by David Reese. The Cardinals then won Game 7 easily to take the crown.
2001 – Alfonso Soriano – His eighth inning home run against Curt Schilling gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead and within grasp of their fourth straight championship. But Arizona scratched out a pair of runs against closer Mariano Rivera to pull out a 3-2 win and their first and only championship.
1997 – Tony Fernandez – They’d have built a statue of this guy in downtown Cleveland if only things hard turned out differently in Game 7. Fernadnez hit a two-run single in the third inning that held up until the last of the ninth. The Marlins rallied against Jose Mesa to tie the game, then won it 3-2 in the 11th on Edgar Renteria’s single. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948.
1986 – Dave Henderson – Hendu was going to be an all-time rock star in New England. His home run in the top of the 10th put the Red Sox on the brink of their first championship in 68 years, since 1918. However the Mets rallied to win Game 6 6-5 in 10 innings as Mookie Wilson’s grounder eluded first baseman Bill Buckner, and then took Game 7 and the title two nights later.
1976 – Thurman Munson – The Yankee captain hit .529, the highest batting average ever for a player on a losing team. However, the Reds, sparked by Johnny Bench, swept the Yankees in four straight games. Less than three years later, after winning World Series in 1977 and 1978, Munson was killed in a plane crash.
1960 – Whitey Ford – He pitched a shutout in Game 3 and another in Game 6. Too bad, this was the year that Bill Mazeroski hit the most dramatic of home runs and the Pirates beat the Yankees 10-9 in Game 7 to win the World Series. Ford continued his shutout string the next year, breaking Babe Ruth’s record for most consecutive scoreless innings pitched in a World Series and won the MVP.
1953 – Carl Furillo – He rallied Brooklyn with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth to tie the score 3-3 in Game 6. However, Yankee second baseman Billy Martin, who had 12 hits and 8 RBIs while batting .500 in the series, knocked in Hank Bauer from second base with the game-winning run in the ninth inning to give the Bombers 4-3 win and a record fifth straight World Championship
1946 – Dominic DiMaggio – Joe’s little brother hit a two-run double in the eighth inning that pulled the Red Sox even with the Cardinals in Game 7. However DiMaggio injured his hamstring rounding first, and was replaced in center field by Leon Culberson. It was Culberson’s weak relay to Johnny Pesky in the bottom of the inning that led to Enos Slaughter scoring the decisive run in a 4-3 victory.
1919 – Dickey Kerr – With eight of his teammates, the infamous Black Sox, attempting to throw the Series, left-hander starts and wins two games. Kerr pitches a shutout in Game 3 and wins 5-4 in a 10-innings in Game 6. However Cincinnati takes the Series in eight games.
1912 – Fred Merkle – The goat of the 1908 NL pennant race for the New York Giants was almost a hero. Fred Merkle singled in the go-ahead in the decisive Game 8 (one game ended in a tie). With the great Christy Mathewson on the mound, the Giants appeared to have the title well in hand. But Giants center fielder Fred Snodgrass dropped a routine fly ball to start the home half of the 10th, and Larry Gardner later hit a deep sacrifice fly, scoring Steve Yerkes with the winning run.
Andy Pettitte’s retirement breaks a major link in the chain of recent Yankee greatness, especially with the Core Four — a group which won a total of five World Series and seven American League pennants starting in 1996. With Mariano Rivera also exiting this year, and Jorge Posada retiring following the 2011 season, only Derek Jeter remains — and the future of the soon-to-be 40-year-old shortstop is certainly uncertain.
Here are 10 things you should know about Andrew Eugene Pettitte.
1. Pettitte owns a 255-152 career record, good for a .627 career percentage.
2. He is one of just 26 pitchers in baseball history to post a career mark of 100+ games over .500, and the only one still active.
3. Of the previous 25 pitchers to accomplish the feat, 18 are in the Hall of Fame.
4. Pettitte is third all-time on the Yankee win list. His 218 victories trail only Hall of Famers Whitey Ford and Red Ruffing. He’s also first in strikeouts (2009), second in starts and third in innings pitched.
5. He left the Yankees following the 2003 season to sign a free agent contract with Houston and helped lead the Astros to their only World Series in 2005.
6. With a 20-11 career mark against Boston, Yankee fans will always wonder whether having Pettitte on the mound might have stemmed the tide of Boston’s record comeback from three games down in the 2004 ALCS.
7. Pettitte compiled a 90-39 record against the Yankees AL East rivals (20-11 vs. Boston, 28-6 vs. Baltimore, 17-8 vs. Tampa Bay and 25-14 vs. Toronto). That’s a .698 winning percentage.
8. His 19 post-season wins are the most in baseball history. Atlanta’s John Smoltz is next on the list with 15. Whitey Ford has the most World Series wins with 10.
9. Perhaps Pettitte’s most memorable win was a 1-0 shutout over Smoltz in the fifth game of the 1996 World Series.
10. Pettitte retired once previously, after the 2007 season. He returned in 2009, and was the winning pitcher in Game Six as the Yankees beat Philadelphia to win their 27th World Championship.
Ford, a Hall of Famer, won a record 10 World Series games in his storied career, and once pitched 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, another Series record.
He holds the Yankee career record for victories with 236, and at .690 boasts the highest winning percentage in history for pitchers with more than 200 wins.
Ford, below right, was known as the Chairman of the Board.
Perhaps they ought to call Pettitte the King of the Hill.
When Pettitte knocked off the Minnesota Twins the other night in Game Two of the American League Divisional Series, he earned his 19th post-season win, a major league record.
Overall, Pettitte is 19-9 in the playoffs with a 3.87 ERA. Breaking it down, he’s 6-3 in the ALDS, 1-0 in the ALDS, 7-1 in the ALCS, 0-1 in the NLCS and 5-4 in the World Series.
Among Pettitte’s 19 wins are a 1-0 masterpiece against Atlanta’s John Smoltz, another big-game pitcher, in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series; a 3-0 win over the Padres that helped the Yankees sweep the Padres in 1998; and two wins over a Mariners team that earned him MVP honors in the 2001 ALCS. That Seattle team won an American League record 116 games during the regular season.
In 2003, Pettitte won the second game in all three playoff rounds after the Yankees lost the opener. And last year, he won the clincher in all three rounds as the Yankees won their 27th World Championship.
You’ve got to wonder if the Yankees might have avoided the worst playoff collapse in baseball history, losing a 3-0 lead to the Red Sox in the 2004 ALCS, if Pettitte wasn’t pitching for Houston that year.
Is Pettitte a Hall of Famer? That remains to be seen, but he certainly warrants strong consideration. On top of his post-season pedigree, Pettitte has a 240-138 record, and no pitcher with a career record 100 games over .500 has ever been denied entry into Cooperstown. A two-time 20-game winner, Pettitte has never finished a season under .500 in his 16-year career.
Pettitte’s admission that he used steroids won’t help his cause, but you can make a strong argument that the King of the Hill should be a Hall of Famer.
The greatest home run race of all time featured the M&M boys, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 and Mantle belted 54.
Growing up a Yankee fan in New York, every day was Christmas day in 1961. Home runs were stocking stuffers, wins were gift-wrapped presents under the tree.
Ten years old, a kid in White Plains, collector of baseball cards, I marveled at the exploits of this great team.
I watched the games on WPIX-TV Channel 11 on a small, black and white Philco, or listened on the radio. Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and Red Barber provided the play-by-play.
On the nights when the games ran past my bedtime, my father kept score and would leave out the score sheet for me in the morning. IThey did lose now and then, but it seemed as if the Yanks won every night.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the 1961 Yankees remain the best baseball team I have ever seen.
Maris and Mantle
It was the year of Maris and Mantle and the greatest home run race of all time.
Every day, or so it seemed, the Yankees were hitting balls out of the park. And if it wasn’t Rajah or The Mick, it was Moose Skowron or Elston Howard or Yogi Berra or Johnny Blanchard, the reserve catcher and pinch-hitter deluxe.
Maris hit 61 HRs that year, Mantle a career-high 54, Skowron 28, Berra 22, and Howard and Blanchard 21 apiece. The Yankees set the major league record with 240 home runs; Maris and Mantle hit 115 between them, still the highest number ever for two teammates.
The Yanks had Kubek to Richardson to Skowron, one of the great double play combinations. And Clete Boyer, the vacuum cleaner at third.
The Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford, shown below, was 25-4 that season, a career year in a lifetime of career years. Ralph Terry was 16-3, Bill Stafford won 14 games and rookie Rollie Sheldon 11. Left-handed screwballer Luis Arroyo went 15-5 with 29 saves.
On September 1, 1961, the Detroit Tigers came into Yankee Stadium trailing the Bombers by just 1 1/2 games. The Yankees swept the three-game series, won 13 straight overall to bury the Tigers, and eased to 109 wins and the American League pennant..
Despite an injury to Mantle, they wiped out the Cincinnati Reds in five games to win the World Series.
I never did get to a Yankee game during that magical season. My Dad was going to take me to a game against Cleveland in early September, but I got sick the night before. I tried to hide a 102-degree fever, but was discovered and banished to the sick bed.
Had to watch the game on TV that Saturday afternoon when Maris hit homer #56 on the way to the American League record of 61 home runs in a single season. (Many would argue that Maris is still the single-season home run leader, and that the asterisk now belongs to people like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa.)
That year, Maris won his second consecutive American League MVP, and Ford was the Cy Young Award winner.
The 1961 Yankees — still the greatest team I’ve ever seen.
Fifty years ago, August 23, 1958, I saw my very first baseball game.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. A seven-year-old kid, walking into Yankee Stadium with my Dad and seeing the immense ballfield, the green facade, the monuments in center field. The pinstriped legends on the field.
That Saturday afternoon, the Chicago White Sox beat the Yankees, 7-1, as Billy Pierce bested Whitey Ford in a battle of southpaws.
Six future Hall of Famers played in that game — Ford, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Enos Slaughter for the Yankees and Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio for the ChiSox.
Ray Boone hit a solo home run and knocked in four runs for Chicago. Moose Skowron homered in the seventh for the only Yankee run.
I’ve been hooked ever since.
PS — Exactly 10 years later, August 23, 1968, I saw 28 innings of baseball at the Stadium. The Yankees won the first game of the twi-night doubleheader, 2-1; the two teams played to a 3-3, 19-inning tie in the nightcap.
FACT: No major league pitcher at least 100 games over .500 in his career has ever failed to make the Hall of Fame.
All 18 eligible starters who fit this profile are in — including six who pitched the majority of their careers in the 19th Century. There are a dozen 300-game winners on the list.
The 100 Plus Club list is dotted with the usual suspects — Cy Young, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Pete Alexander, Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer and Bob Feller, just to name a few. Young is the only pitcher close to 200 plus in the won-loss category: he finished his career with a record 511 wins and 316 losses.
Whitey Ford has the best overall winning percentage amongst members of the elite club — 236-106 for .690. Lefty Grove is right behind at .680 (300-141), followed by 19th Century hurler John Clarkson at .649 (327-177).
No Koufax, Ryan, Gibson
Then there are those who didn’t make it, immortals like Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Carl Hubbell and Rube Waddell.
The 100 Plus Club is due to get some company soon. Recently retired enigma Roger Clemens has a 354-184 record, a .658 winning percentage. He also has a steroid-tarnished resume which may or may not hinder his Hall of Fame chances. Then again, his seven Cy Youngs can only help his cause.
There are five active pitchers with 100 plus stat lines. Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are 300-game winners, and Randy Johnson is just 11 wins away, at 289. Pedro Martinez is 212-95, a point ahead of Ford’s .690 all-time winning percentage.
All four are pretty much considered to be Hall of Fame locks, with 14 Cy Young awards amongst them (Johnson 5, Maddux 4, Martinez 3 and Glavine 2).
And then there’s Mike Mussina, shown above, a man whose career has been full of almosts and near-misses. Mussina has never won a Cy Young award. He has never won 20 games in a single season, never won an ERA or strikeout title, never won a World Series.
Mussina came to the Yankees the year after they won four World Series in five years. He came within one strike of pitching a perfect game against the Red Sox in Fenway Park in 2001. He’s always left at the altar.
The Moose has won 19 games twice and 18 twice. He’s had 17 straight years of 10 or more wins, an American League record. He’s had only two losing seasons in 18 years.
Overall Mussina is 261-150, a .639 winning percentage. But is that good enough?
Hall of Fame candidates are typically voted in for reaching certain milestones, like 300 wins, 3,000 hits, or 500 home runs. Perhaps consistency should count for something as well.
Only time will tell.