An appropriate “-30-” for 2 Yankees favorites
Willie Randolph and Mel Stottlemyre both wore uniform No. 30 as players with the Yankees. In newspaper parlance, “-30-” means “end of story.” There is no more honorable end of the story for a former Yankees player than to have a plaque in Monument Park dedicated in his honor, which was bestowed on each of these fan favorites at Saturday’s 69th Old-Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium.
They took separate paths to this special day as representatives of two distinctively different eras in franchise history and then joined together on manager Joe Torre’s coaching staff in the 1990s and 2000s to help steer the Yanks through a renewed period of glory.
Randolph’s plaque had been publicized as a prelude to the annual event. The one for Stottlemyre, however, was kept a secret from the former pitcher and pitching coach who has been battling multiple myeloma for the past 15 years. The Yankees could not be sure whether Stottlemyre could make the trip to New York from his home in Issaquah, Wash. His wife, Jean, worked with the Yankees behind the scenes to make a reality the idea conceived by principal owner Hal Steinbrenner.
“This is beyond a doubt the biggest surprise I’ve ever had,” Mel said to the crowd. “Today in this Stadium, there is no one that’s happier to be on this field than myself. I have been battling a dreaded disease for quite some time. I’ve had so much help from my family and I can’t say enough about you people, how supportive you’ve been for me over the years.”
For a man who grew up in Brooklyn, Randolph came full cycle with this ceremonial day. He has touched so many parts of baseball life in New York City from the sandlots and high school in Brownsville to second base and the third base coaching box in the Bronx to the manager’s office in Queens and now to that hallowed area beyond the center field wall at the Stadium.
Accompanied by his parents and surrounded by many former teammates and pupils, Randolph gave a moving speech to the crowd assembled for the Yankees’ annual reunion.
“I began living my dream at [age] 21,” he said, “and I am still living it at 61.”
Randolph came to the Yankees from the Pirates as an added player in a trade and quickly established himself as the regular second baseman under manager Billy Martin, another former Yankees second baseman, in 1976 when the Yankees won their first pennant in 12 years. Willie went on to play on World Series championship teams in 1977 and ’78 and on another Series team in 1981 that lost to the Dodgers. As a Yankees coach, he won four more rings in 1996 and from 1998-2000 and for clubs that played in the 2001 and ’03 Series.
The New York City connection was not missed on Randolph, who has long taken pride in his place in the city’s baseball history. With Saturday’s ceremony, he added to that legend in becoming only the sixth native New Yorker to receive a Monument Park plaque along with Hall of Famers Lou Gehrig (Manhattan), Phil Rizzuto (Brooklyn), Whitey Ford (Queens) and Joe Torre (Brooklyn) and owner Jacob Ruppert (Manhattan). The plaques for Randolph and Stottlemyre bring the total to 35 in Monument Park.
While success seemed to follow Randolph during his playing career, it eluded Stottlemyre after his rookie season of 1964 when he went 9-3 as a midseason callup and started three game of that year’s World Series in the Yankees’ losing effort against St. Louis.
“This is such a shock to me because that era that I played in is an era for the most part the Yankees have tried over the years to forget a little bit,” Stottlemyre said. “We went from being in the World Series in 1964 to fifth in 1965 and dead last in ’66. With a successful organization like the Yankees, they want to forget those years, I think, as fast as they possibly can. It does me a lot of good for something like this to happen because it tells everybody that I really was here.”
Stottlemyre, 73, was the ace of Yankees staffs during those down years and was a five-time All-Star who was 164-139 with a 2.97 ERA over his 11-season career (1964-74) with three 20-victory seasons and 40 career shutouts. After coaching stints with the Mariners, Mets (including the 1986 World Series title year) and Astros, Stottlemyre joined the Yankees as their pitching coach and won Series rings with them in 1996 and from 1998-2000.
One of his pitching disciples, Andy Pettitte, escorted Stottlemyre to the infield as the last player announced among the returning Old Timers that included Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Wade Boggs, Goose Gossage, Ford and Torre as well as Bernie Williams, David Cone, Roy White, Paul O’Neill, Don Larsen, Lou Piniella, Gene Michael and Dr. Bobby Brown.
“I thought they forgot me,” Mel said. “There was no one left in the dugout. They sure know how to keep a secret around here.”
It is a secret no more. The Monument Park plaque is all either new member of the collection needs to know about his worth to a grateful organization. As a final tribute, the Yankees’ starting pitcher in the regularly-scheduled game against the Tigers was Nathan Eovaldi, the current wearer of uniform No. 30.