NY Sports Day

On 6/8/1969, it was Mickey Mantle Day at Yankee Stadium. The “Voice of the Yankees,” Mel Allen, was bestowed the honor of introducing Mantle or as he put it, “call [him] from the dugout.” Allen addressed the more than 60,000 fans on hand with an introduction of the All Time great as “The Magnificent Yankee.”

A 27-year old pitcher named Mel Stottlemyre was there. The ceremony took place between games of a doubleheader and the talented right hander had just tossed a complete game, three hitter to lead the Yanks to a 3-1 win against the Chicago White Sox in the first game of the twin bill. It was his ninth win (of what would be one of his three 20-win seasons) for a Yankee team that was destined to finish under .500.

Sunday, Stottlemyre succumbed to a long and courageous battle with bone marrow cancer at the age of 77 and you can certainly make the argument that he was a “Magnificent Yankee.”

In my first book, “Yankees Essential,” (Triumph Books) I wrote a chapter entitled, “The Other M&M Boys, Two Great Yankees Who Never Grabbed The Ring,” Stottlemyre’s playing career mirrored that of Don Mattingly, in that both had tremendous Yankee tenures, played their entire careers in the Bronx, but both missed out on playing for a World Championship Yankee team.

I’ll never forget when Stottlemyre was called up in August of 1964.

I was 10 years old and at sleep away camp in the summer of ’64. I was already a huge Yankee fan at that time and you didn’t have the instant availability for information as you do today. My late father would mail me the newspaper clippings of what the Yankees were doing during the summer, including when the 22-year old Stottlemyre was called up from Richmond (Yanks AAA affiliate at the time) on August 11th to make his Major League debut the next day at Yankee Stadium.

It was difficult to even get radio transmissions in upstate New York so I had to wait for the mail to find out how Stottlemyre and the Yankees were doing until I got home from camp. Finally, the mail came and I learned that the rookie went the distance in a 7-3 win over the White Sox, who, along with the Orioles, were in a tight race with the Yankees for the American League Pennant. There were no divisions and no wild cards in those days, only two teams played in the post season so the young hurler was thrown right into the fire.

As it turned out, Stottlemyre’s promotion was a key to the Yankees winning the final American League pennant of the Dynasty. The young righty went 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA and the Yankees won their 29th AL Pennant. In the World Series loss to the Cardinals, Stottlemyre pitched very well in three games.

Stottlemyre tossed a complete game win in game two in St. Louis, to beat the great Bob Gibson, 8-3, and even the Series at a game apiece. In game five, he gave up two runs (one earned) in 7 IP in a game the Yankees lost 5-2 in ten innings and came back on two days rest to oppose Gibson (who was also going on two days rest) for a third time in the 7th game. Stottlemyre ran out of gas and could only last four innings in a 7-5 loss.

That would be Stottlemyre’s only post season appearance as he was destined to pitch for sub-par Yankee teams for the remainder of his career. The spectre of playing with little or no support only highlights how good Stottlemyre was and like Mattingly, he put together a career that falls short of Hall of Fame status. (In my opinion and it’s not a biased one, Mattingly belongs in the Hall of Fame)

Stottlemyre had great control, he did not walk many batters, and featured a sinker ball that a hitter could do nothing with except pound into the ground. From 1965-1973, he pitched no less than 251 innings each season. No starting pitcher today even approaches that number.

Stottlemyre’s prowess as a hitter tends to be overlooked because he was such a good pitcher (and because of the advent of the Designated Hitter) but he had some moments at the plate. In his debut, Stottlemyre got a single in his first big league at-bat. In September 1964, Stottlemyre tossed a complete game shutout against the Washington Senators in D.C. and was 5-for-5 at the plate.

Stottlemyre hit seven career home runs. One of those came in 1965 when he hit an inside-the-park grand slam home run off of Boston Red Sox pitcher Bill Monbouquette at Yankee Stadium.

Stottlemyre’s career came to an end in 1974. He had a rotor cuff injury and there was no Tommy John surgery at that time that could’ve extended his playing career. There was a falling out with the Yankees that would last for over a decade but in that time he continued to make his mark in NY baseball as a pitching coach for the Mets.

Stottlemyre worked under Mets Mgr. Davey Johnson where he helped groom such outstanding pitching talent at Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone and Sid Fernandez, just to name a few. In 1986, the Mets won the World Series and Stottlemyre got his first ring.

After his tenure with the Mets ended, Stottlemyre came back to the Yankees in 1995 and was Joe Torre’s pitching coach for the run that produced four World Championships in five seasons. Stottlemyre had a major impact on Andy Pettitte’s career and was a key component of that historic run.

I saw Stottlemyre pitch in person many times and got to interact with him during my professional career while he was a pitching coach for the Mets and Yankees. He was always one of my favorite Yankees and I was so saddened to hear the terrible news of his death that I shed a tear while I was driving in my car earlier today.

Another “Magnificent Yankee” is gone. RIP #30

Howie Karpin