August 12, 1964: Mel Stottlemyre’s Yankee dandy debut


It's not true that only good pitchers lose 20 games -- a lot of bad ones have, too -- but it is in Mel Stottlemyre's case. He was an All-Star in 1966 when he lost 20 games, though that's damning with faint praise. Stottlemyre lost 20, but Yankees other than Mel lost 69 games and the team finished last for the first time since the last year they were called the Highlanders, in 1912. Stottlemyre was 12-20 with a 3.80 ERA and threw 251 innings, but it took a team effort for him to lose 20. The Yankees scored just 46 runs in the 19 starts Stottlemyre lost, or 2.5 per start. They were shut out twice and scored one run for Stottlemyre in eight of those losses. At 12-19 after having lost 2-1 to Boston on Sept. 23, Stottlemyre didn't start again, but he lost No. 20 on the final Friday in Game No. 157 (the Yankees had three games they didn't play). Stottlemyre entered in the 10th inning of a 5-5 game, pitched a scoreless inning and then lost No. 20 in the 11th on a single, a sacrifice bunt and another single. Needless to say the Yankees hadn't scored in the 11th, and they lost 6-5. Stottlemyre became the Yankees' first 20-game loser since Sad Sam Jones lost 21 in 1925. Sad Sam was a pretty good pitcher -- he won 229 games from 1913-35 -- but not in 1925. And neither were the '25 Yankees, even in the middle of a strong decade, a good team. They finished seventh as they lost 85 games (winning 69), 21 by Sad Sam. Jones' 4.63 ERA was above the league average of 4.39. He lost No. 20 on September 19 and kept on going, losing No. 21 eight days later when the Tigers knocked him with a six-run fourth inning on their way to a 10-5 win. Unfortunately for Sad Sam, by the time the Yankees became the Murderers' Row of 1927, he was a St. Louis Brown. Sad indeed.
It’s not true that only good pitchers lose 20 games — a lot of bad ones have, too — but it is in Mel Stottlemyre’s case. He was an All-Star in 1966 when he lost 20 games, though that’s damning with faint praise. Stottlemyre lost 20, but Yankees other than Mel lost 69 games and the team finished last for the first time since the last year they were called the Highlanders, in 1912. Stottlemyre was 12-20 with a 3.80 ERA and threw 251 innings, but it took a team effort for him to lose 20. The Yankees scored just 46 runs in the 19 starts Stottlemyre lost, or 2.5 per start. They were shut out twice and scored one run for Stottlemyre in eight of those losses. At 12-19 after having lost 2-1 to Boston on Sept. 23, Stottlemyre didn’t start again, but he lost No. 20 on the final Friday in Game No. 157 (the Yankees had three games they didn’t play). Stottlemyre entered in the 10th inning of a 5-5 game against the White Sox, pitched a scoreless inning and then lost No. 20 in the 11th on a single, a sacrifice bunt and another single. Needless to say the Yankees hadn’t scored in the 11th, and they lost 6-5. Stottlemyre became the Yankees’ first 20-game loser since Sad Sam Jones lost 21 in 1925. Sad Sam was a pretty good pitcher — he won 229 games from 1913-35 — but not in 1925. And neither were the ’25 Yankees, even in the middle of a strong decade, a good team. They finished seventh as they lost 85 games (winning 69), 21 by Sad Sam. Jones’ 4.63 ERA was above the league average of 4.39. He lost No. 20 on September 19 and kept on going, losing No. 21 eight days later when the Tigers knocked him with a six-run fourth inning on their way to a 10-5 win. Unfortunately for Sad Sam, by the time the Yankees became the Murderers’ Row of 1927, he was a St. Louis Brown. Sad indeed.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles retelling the 1964 season. Stay for the end.

Mel Stottlemyre won 164 games in his career, all for the Yankees, none more important than the nine he won as a rookie in 1964.

No. 1 was on this day in 1964 when Stottlemyre made his major league debut. Having won 13 games in the International League, Stottlemyre treated the Chicago White Sox as if they were offensively little better than the lineups he’d been facing, which perhaps isn’t much of an exaggeration.

Stottlemyre threw a seven-hitter, Roger Maris broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth with a two-run homer and Mickey Mantle hit the second of his two homers for insurance in the eighth as the Yankees won, 7-3.

The win kept the third-place Yankees three-and-a-half games behind the AL-leading Orioles, and moved them within one-and-a-half games behind the second-place White Sox.

The setting of a pennant race was more difficult, perhaps, than the opponent. The 1964 White Sox won 98 games despite an offense that was seventh in the AL in runs scored, ninth in home runs, last in doubles, eighth in slugging percentage and OPS and seventh in OPS+. They were second in one category — caught stealings.

(If you think it’s an anomaly that such a poor offensive team would come so close to winning a pennant, wait for 1967. The ’64 White Sox were the juiced ball era compared to their ’67 counterpart.)

Stottlemyre’s promotion, thanks to a Whitey Ford injury, fundamentally changed th 1964 pennant race. Four days later, Stottlemyre thew a five-hitter and came within an out of a second straight complete game to start his career as the Yankees beat the first-place Orioles, 3-1, in the deciding game of a three-game series. Instead of being four-and-a-half games behind, as the Yankees were when they lost the opener, they left town two-and-a-half games behind.

When the Yankees lost their next six games in a row, four at Chicago and two at Boston (and were outscored 27-9), Stottlemyre threw a six-hit shutout at Boston to beat the Red Sox, 8-0. In his first three starts, he pitched 26.2 innings. From that shutout on, the Yankees finished the season 30-11.

Much of that was Stottlemyre. From September 8-26, when the Yankees went from one-and-a-half games behind to four games ahead, Stottlemyre won five consecutive starts, three of them complete games, the last a two-hit shutout at Washington.

In that five-game stretch, Stottlemyre had a 1.73 ERA; in the 13 games he pitched, including an inning of relief in the final game to prepare for the World Series, he was 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA, five complete games and two shutouts. Without Ford’s injury, it’s unlikely the Yankees win the pennant.

Stottlemyre almost helped the Yankees to a World Series win, too. In Game 2, Stottlemyre beat Bob Gibson, 8-3, with a complete game seven-hitter (Gibson won his next seven Series starts until losing Game 7 of the 1968 Series to Mickey Lolich and the Tigers). In Game 5, Stottlemyre left trailing, 2-0, after seven innings and took a no-decision when the Yankees tied it. Gibson and the Cardinals won it, 5-2, on Tim McCarver’s home run in the 10th.

And, like Gibson, pitching on two days rest in Game 7, Stottlemyre lost Game 7, reached by the Cardinals in a three-run fourth thanks to a key error and leaving the next inning for a pinch-hitter. Gibson and the Cardinals won, 7-5.

And having started his career where every game mattered, Stottlemyre spent the next decade pitching in games that were mostly irrelevant for teams, even representing the sport’s most successful franchise, that were insignificant.

Stottlemyre was the best player on the worst Yankee teams ever, or at least since the franchise was nicknamed the Highlanders. He was an All-Star five times for a team that used to be full of stars, but now was devoid of them.

Stottlemyre won 20 games and led the AL with 18 complete games and 291 innings in 1965; the Yankees won just 77 and fell 22 games and five places in the standings from 1964.

It got worse. They Yankees finished last in 1966 and Stottlemyre lost 20 games, despite a 3.80 ERA. He won 20 games in consecutive seasons in 1968-69 for teams which hovered at .500, and threw an AL-high 24 complete games in ’69. He had a 2.87 ERA but won only 16 games in 1971, then lost an AL-high 18 despite a 3.22 ERA in 1972.

And then just as the Yankees were getting good again in 1974 and contending for the AL East title, Stottlemyre’s shoulder failed him just as his infield had in the ’64 Series. He pitched in only 16 games in 1974 and never again.

After pitching to the standard Yankees pennant winners demanded — 164-139, 2.97 ERA, 152 complete games, 40 shutouts, a .646 OPS against, 272.1 innings per season for nine of them — his career was over as the Yankee revival was beginning.

A year later, the Yankees cut Stottlemyre at spring training.

“It seems like a heartless move to cut loose so coldly such a loyal and devoted servant,” wrote New York Daily News sports writer Phil Pepe, according to Stottlemyre’s bio at sabr.org.

That’s like saying it seems Babe Ruth hit a few home runs. Cutting Stottlemyre abruptly was colder than that.

Stottlemyre held no grudges, became a pitching coach and fathered two big-league pitchers (another son, Jason, died of leukemia at age 11 in 1981). Stottlemyre was on the staff of the 1986 Mets, who won the World Series, and in 1996 returned to the Yankees to be Joe Torre’s pitching coach.

Those Yankees teams won all the World Series the ones Stottlemyre pitched for never did.

  • Phillies 6, Cubs 5: Wes Covington’s three-run home run in the eighth overcame a 2-1 deifict, the Phillies added two more in the top of the ninth on Bobby Wine’s two-run single and hung on in the bottom of the ninth to go four games up on the second-place Giants. Jack Baldschun retired Billy Williams for the final out with Leo Burke on second, after Burke’s bases-clearing double made it 6-5. Despite the scare tactics, Baldschun earned his 16th save in relief of Chris Short, who allowed seven hits in seven innings. One of them, Ron Santo’s 22nd home run, gave the Cubs a 2-1 lead in the sixth.

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