The journey of Bill Monbouquette : from Billy Martin to Jacoby Ellsbury
Posted by athomeatfenway on January 20, 2010
Jacoby Ellsbury could act terribly dumb when he was 22 years old.
“You have to be dumb to try to steal a base when your team is winning 14 – 2.”, said Bill Monbouquette.
So, he talked to him about it.
“If you do that again, you’re going to get drilled right in the flippin’ coconut.’”, Monbouquette told Ellsbury that day in 2005.
Monbo was coaching for Oneonta against Ellsbury and his Lowell team mates at the time.
“And when I told him that, this is what he did –“, Monbouquette mimed Ellsbury’s reaction with the drop of a jaw and the jump of both brows.
I imagined that this dose of inelegant but visceral wisdom made a lasting impression on Ellsbury.
You only need to spend 5 minutes with Bill Monbouquette to know that he is thoughtful and rough-edged, like many men were in the 1940’s and 50’s, and quite politically incorrect in 2010.
Honest, working class guys. Guys who take no shit, but will take prisoners. They’ll fight you when you are wrong, and stop just short of pounding a stake through your heart.
I am grateful to have spent time with him at the Boston S.A.B.R. meeting on MLK Day.
Bill Monbouquette won 114 games and registered a 3.68 ERA over an 11 year career, 8 of them with the Red Sox.
Ask 10 RSN members under 55 years old who Bill Monbouquette is and they typically will not know. He doesn’t get his due.
He was the Ace of the Sox staff. A four-time All-Star, he pitched a no-hitter in 1962 against the White Sox. He tossed three one-hit games. He set a club record with a 17 strikeout-game against the Washington Senators in 1961.
He played during an extended period of Sox failure.
He departed Boston after the ’65 season for Detroit, New York & San Francisco, thus missing the Impossible Resuscitation by a mere 2 years.
And that, my friends, is why few know who he is today. He was not there when Yaz set New England ablaze.
When Fenway was Monbo’s home, the Sox were 581 – 688, finishing in 7th, 8th, or 9th place five times.
There was not a lot to look forward to then. Ted Williams was there for the first 3 seasons. The excellence of Dick Radatz was on display for a while. Yaz was a budding star, a doubles guy, and a hit-for-average man.
Of course, Frank Malzone’s was there, too. Malzone’s run in Boston parallels that of Monbouquette. From 1955 to 1965, Malzone starred at 3rd Base. He went to 6 ASG’s, hit .274, registered 239 doubles, and was cheated out of the 1957 ROY by Yankee fans that complained his 133 At Bats in 55-56 disqualified him.
And every 4th day, Monbo got his start and the Sox had a chance of getting a W.
“I pitched inside. That’s how I made my living. And you tried to get ahead of the batter. What is it with these 2 – 0 and 3 – 1 counts with pitchers today ? That’s when you’re forced to take something off your fastball and throw it over the plate, which is what they want. You need to get ahead of the batter so you can get the out on your pitch, not his.”
He made his major league debut on July 18, 1958 against TheTigers. Billy Martin stole home on him that day. In Billy’s third time at bat, Monbo threw at him, flipping Martin over backwards. The Rookie Righty then induced a pop out. Next, Billy took steps toward the mound. Monbo slipped the glove off his hand and made two fists. Then Billy quipped, “You owed me that Rook.”, turned, and trotted off to his dugout.
Billy The Kid didn’t just steal home on the righthanded Monbo, he did it with two out and the Tiger pitcher, Milt Bolling, at the plate. Billy must have read the Sox rookie like a book.
This man from Medford was a control pitcher. He had control of his pitches, and often his temper.
He walked 100 batters in 236 IP in 1961, but it was an aberration. Typically, he made about 35 starts a year and walked 40 batters.
In 1965, he had a 3.70 ERA and somehow lost 18 games.
In 1963, he won 20 games and asked the Red Sox for a raise to bolster his $14,000 salary.
Even then, he didn’t get his due.
When he didn’t sign the contract for 1964 that GM Pinky Higgins had mailed to him, there was a public confrontation. The fight ended with just one punch. Pinky hit the ground with his backside when Bill uncorked a right to the forehead.
Pinky got up and ordered Bill to meet him in his office the next day. Bill reported as ordered. A bodyguard was present. Words were exchanged again. Down to the floor went Pinky for a second time.
The fighting cost Monbo some of his leverage for 1964.
But Bill did negotiate a 33,000 salary for 1965, his last year in Boston.
In 2007, Monbouquette was diagnosed with leukemia. Chemotherapy and drug treatment didn’t work, but in October 2009, he celebrated the one year anniversary of a successful bone marrow and stem cell transplant.
Monbo is grey now, his face peppered with age. He walks with a stiff gait. He has lost 37 pounds in his battle with cancer. He says he feels good.
He pauses before answering a question, and begins to speak in a whisper, his volume rising as he gets to the end of the story.
“I was there for Ted Williams last game. There was nobody there. Maybe 4,000. They say it was more than that but there wasn’t. Everyone thought Ted would probably go to New York for the last series of the season. But I knew he wouldn’t go.”
“Everyone knows he hit that home run on his last at bat. I was in the bullpen. I watched it all the way and thought I’d catch it, but it kept going. I was nowhere near it where it came down.”
“The thing people forget is that there was a stiff wind blowing that day. Ted hit three balls HARD into that wind, and the wind knocked down the first two. The third one got out. But he could have hit three that day. I saw it.”
Bill Monbouquette didn’t reach the post-season. He missed the glory of ’67 by a smidge. He is off the radar track of most Soxaholics.
But what he witnessed was wondrous. And what he received, he earned.
And in the end, standing anonymously among us at age 73, traveled and wise, he is a strong and righteous man.