PRIDE AND PINSTRIPES, The Yankees, Mets, and surviving life’s challenges. By Mel Stottlemyre with John Harper. Harper, 2007. 269 pages.
Mel’s baseball journey broaches three baseball dynasties: one that was ending (’64 Yankees), one that should have happened but did not (the 1980’s Mets), and one that did come to full fruition (the Jeter era Yankees.).
The portrait he paints of what the Mets could have been and should have been alone makes the book worth reading.
Stottlemyre doesn’t waste anytime painting George Steinbrenner as a meddling, former Assistant Football Coach (Northwestern 1955, Purdue 1956) who secretly believes the Yankees “….should win all 162 games in a season, or at least come close, the way a powerhouse football team might go 11-1 in college, or say 14-2 in the NFL.”
Stot dances right up to the cutting edge of brutal, fire-breathing honesty about George. Then, so as not to totally offend, he backs off, softens his stance, and points out that George has a good side.
Then he points out that the good side only comes out when things are generally going George’s way.
The hatred burns quietly.
Mel joins the late Bobby Murcer in having written a recent memoir that reveals Steinbrenner as a Baseball amateur who attracts talent with his millions, and drives talent away with his personality.
It appears that George has no loyalty to his team. His true loyalty is to burnishing his legacy as the Yankee owner who bought all the booze and then stirred the drink, too.
The only thing new about any of this is to hear it directly from a classy guy like Stottlemyre.
Mel Stottlemyre’s playing career is well known to 50-something fans. Hailing from little old Mabton, Washington, he excelled in High School Baseball while avoiding Football, which his disciplinarian Dad simply forbid.
Mel threw in the mid-80’s while at Mabton High where his Class of 1959 numbered 24 Seniors. Yankee Scout Eddie Taylor signed Mel out of Yakima Junior College, signed him right in a Mabton mint field in the midst of crop workers and farm equipment, for no bonus, $400 a month, and a roster spot on the 1961 Harlan (KY) entry in the Appalachian League.
God granted Mel a naturally occurring sinker. He put it together with a little slider and minor league hitters were flummoxed from Day 1. He went 9-4 in Harlan and Auburn in 1961. Them he notched a 17-9 record with 8 shutouts in Greensboro (1962). He spent the 1963 season in AAA Richmond adjusting to the demands of pitching to adults, producing a 7-7 mark. Then in 1964, emerging from the Richmond Bullpen to which he had been demoted, Mel notched 10 consecutive wins as a starter. He had learned to set up hitters, getting them to think slider and then throwing sinker.
By July, 1964, the Yankees were in a pennant race with the Orioles and White Sox and were in need of pitching. On Aug. 12, 1964, Stottlemyre walked form the Concourse Plaza Hotel to Yankee Stadium, where he made his MLB debut. He induced 19 ground ball outs, winning a complete game 7-3 victory over the White Sox. Mantle, who hit two home runs that day, one a 500 footer, graciously stood with Mel for photos.
An untouted rookie in a pennant race, Mel became a sensation. He finished 9-3. He made 3 World Series starts, all against Bob Gibson
1964 was the last good year for the Yankees until 1970. Aging stars, the first MLB draft, and a lack of young talent all took their toll on Yankee fortunes.
Mel was instantly the ace on a bad team. How do these number sound to you ? 20-9, 2.63 in ’65. 12-20, 3.80 in ’66. 15-15, 2.96 in ’67. 21-12, 2.45 in ’68. 20-14, 2.82 in ’69. 15-13, 3.09 in ’70. 16-12, 2.87 in ’71. 14-18, 3.22 in ’72. 16-16, 3.07 in ’73.
Stottlemyre would make $13 million a year today. Regardless of the W’s and L’s, his ERA and 272 IP average per year would make him a #1 starter almost anywhere.
A torn rotator cuff ended his career 16 games into the 1974 season.
The Yankee Doctor caring for Mel’s shoulder was woefully inadequate. First, they rested him, then they ordered him to pitch through the injury. Later, in Spring of ’75, the Yankees sent Mel for dangerous X-Ray therapy.
Perhaps fostering what would become a full blown grudge against George later in life, the reckless X-Ray therapy became in Mel’s mind the potential cause of his son Jason’s death in 1981 from Leukemia, and his own Multiple Myloema in 2000.
Stotlemyre’s story also includes 10-years stints with the Mets and Yankees as their pitching coach.
He reminds us of what a cocky and powerful team played at Shea in 1986……..
“….Davey set the tone….the players took it from there, playing with a swagger that rubbed some people the wrong way, making us a hated club as the wins began to pile up, but we weren’t interested in making friends that year. In fact, our guys were more than happy to brawl…”
Mel brings us back to young Doc Gooden, before the drugs, when he threw a 97 mph heater and a 12-to-6 curveball that froze batters. At age 21, he simply made men look like boys. He looked to be a sure fire HOF’er, no doubt.
Stot also recalls the improbable Mets comeback in game 6 of the 1986 World Series — a little too clearly for this Red Sox fan.
The Yankee Years were glorious. He was tight with Zim, had a great relationship with Torre, was close to the Pettitte’s and Jeter’s while getting along with the David Wells types.
On David Wells: “Sometimes perfect, sometimes perfectly exasperating.”
On Andy Pettitte: Anti-Pettitte ramblings reverberated constantly within the Yankee organization, dating back to the very start of his career and emanating from Tampa. His soft body must mean that he is lazy. No matter Andy’s real world results, the whisper campaign persisted: He could not be counted on to be a consistent winner. The whisper continued right up until he left in 2003.
When Pettitte was at a low point in his Yankee career circa June 1999, meddling George wanted to trade the lefty. Stottlemyre went to Cashman. “Brian…look at Andy Pettitte as if he was on another team, not the Yankees. Look at what he has done during the season and in the post-season, and let’s say you had the opportunity to make a deal for him and have him pitch in Yankee Stadium, where you love having left handers. You’d give up almost anything to get a guy like him. Yet, we already have him and there’s this talk about trading him. I can’t understand it.”
Cashman: “I can’t argue your point.”
After lobbying by Mel and Torre, Pettitte survived the trading deadline. And George’s comment to the press was none too supportive:
“He should be very relieved…Certain people put a lot of faith in him. Now we’ll see what kind of man he is. This is a very defining moment for him.”
That was classic George, trying to motivate people by challenging their manhood.
Stottlemyre crosses an entire era of baseball history in this memoir. There is much more on his sons Todd and Mel, Jr., the Mets, Zimmer, Jeter and Joe.
He also shares his personal ordeal of losing his son, Jason to leukemia. Stottlemyre is a man of character. He explains how he made it through the loss and then continued on to more challenges and conquests.
When facing his own cancer challenge in 2000, he received letters from others with multiple myloema. They said they watched the Yankee games hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the dugout. They wanted to see the man who had the disease that they had, who did his cell therapy and chemo, and now was back at work trying to win a championship.
At first, Mel wrote letters back to these people. Then, it occurred to him that a telephone call would have a greater effect. His call startled them. Who would think that the Yankee Coach would take the time to reflect on their letter, never mind respond to it ?
He chatted with them, exchanging info on how their cancer treatment was going and how they were feeling.
He set a great example. He used his special status as a baseball hero to bring hope.
The inclusion of his cancer battle in this book was intentionall. He wanted to help others with multiple myloema resist giving in to the fear of imminent death.
Mel is a character guy. That come through loud and clear.
Always focused. Always professional. Loyalty. Family. Perseverance.
I give the book 4 stars out of five. Regardless of your team loyalty, you’ll find this book worth reading if you remember watching Joe Pepitone or Thurman Munson play.
Younger Yankee devotees will enjoy the insights from the 90’s.
Current Mets fans, having suffered unspeakably for the last two years, should wait until the Mets win another Division before reading this book. The memories of what should have been are only salt in the wound, at present.