February 1, 2011
Bill Monbouquette, Part Two
Bill Monbouquette is as old-school as they get. The 74-year-old “Monbo” spent 50 years in the game — 11 as a big-league right-hander and many more as a pitching coach — and few have been more hard-nosed. Three years after being diagnosed with leukemia, he remains every bit as feisty.
A native of Medford, Massachusetts, Monbouquette was signed by the Red Sox in 1955 and made his big-league debut three years later. He went on to win 114 games and log nearly 2,000 innings, mostly with Boston. His career accomplishments include a 20-win season, a no-hitter, and a 17-strikeout performance. Befitting a former high school hockey player, he never backed down from an opposing hitter, nor from an abusive fan or a disrespectful manager or front office executive.
Part One appears here.
DL: You started the 1960 All-Star Game.
BM: Yes, and I had good stuff, but my location wasn’t good. I always tell people that Yogi [Berra] was calling the wrong pitches, but I’m just kidding around when I say that. But [Willie] Mays was the leadoff hitter and I had him two strikes — it was either 1-2 or 2-2 — and I side-armed him. He bailed, flicked the bat out there, and hit a triple down the right-field line. [Bob] Skinner got a base hit to score him, then I tried coming inside to [Ernie] Banks, but the ball tailed out over the plate and he hit a two-run homer. It was 3-0 before I could get out of the inning.
DL: You faced five Hall of Famers in your two innings that day.
BM: Oh, yeah. Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Stan Musial all played in that game. I was 23 years old. It was 120 degrees on the field, they said. And another thing I remember about that All-Star game, other than the game itself, is that afterward we went to New York, and we were sitting on the plane, and [Mickey] Mantle comes over and sits down beside me. He’d had a few drinks and he says to me, “You know, I can’t hit you. I know what you’re going to throw me, but I can’t hit that pitch and I can’t lay off that pitch.” I figured, “Yeah, here’s a con game coming.”
I was sitting in the hotel lobby — it was somewhere around five o’clock — and Stan Musial walks by and says, “Hey, how ya doing? Have you had dinner yet?” I said, “No,” and he said, “Well, why don’t you come along with us?” Now, I had heard that Stan Musial was a great guy, and I ended up getting to know him through some golf tournaments…and Mickey Mantle used to always invite Dick Radatz and me to his, in Oklahoma. Mickey would always come over and say, “Thanks for coming.” Those are the types of things that really stand out to me when I think about my time around baseball. Stan didn’t have to do that.
DL: In April of 1962, you threw a 12-inning complete-game shutout against Cleveland.
BM: Yes, against Ron Taylor. That’s the game where Carroll Hardy hit the grand slam home run in the 12th. I don’t know how many hits I gave up that game, but I do know that I just felt really good. They didn’t keep charts back then, like they do today. I just kept going out there. They’d ask how I felt and I said, “I’m good.” Ronnie Taylor was matching me inning to inning to inning, but then he made that one bad mistake. Like Sal Maglie used to say, “You’re not entitled to a mistake.” If the other guy isn’t giving up any runs, you can’t give up any runs.
DL: You won 20 games in 1963, but then had a bit of a run in with Mike “Pinky” Higgins, the team’s general manager.
BM: I went 20-10, and they offered me a $3,000 raise. I thought that was an insult, so when I got that contract, I just ripped it up and threw it in the fireplace. I was at the Boston Writers’ Dinner, in the lounge, and Higgins says to me, “You don’t even have the decency to send the contract back.” I said, “You don’t deserve any decency.” He walked up right up to me, into my face. He has this big, tall glass of bourbon — straight bourbon — and boom! I hit him right over his eye. He says to me, “I’ll see you in my office tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock.”
So, over I go. I walked into his office and he said, “Sign the contract!” There’s an envelope, I open it up, and it’s the same thing. I ripped it up, went over the desk, and knocked him right out of his chair. There we were, rolling on the floor. Mike Higgins and I never got along.
When I first got called up, in 1958, I was 21 years old and the Red Sox also called up a guy named Pumpsie Green, a teammate of mine in Minneapolis and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. Higgins was the manager [in Boston] and Del Baker was his first base coach. They didn’t like blacks. I overheard them say one day: “That black S.O.B. — blah, blah, blah.” That wasn’t the word they used; they used the N word. I had grown up in a mixed neighborhood — they were in our house and we were in their house — so I didn’t like that.
I went to up to Del Baker and told him, “If I hear you say that again, I’m going to knock you right on your ass, and I’m not hesitating, pal. There is no need for that.” Higgins came over to ask what was going on, and I told him the same thing.
DL: After eight years with the Red Sox, you were traded to Detroit.
BM: That was one of the sad moments of my career, because I loved pitching in Boston. I loved driving to Fenway Park; it only took me ten minutes without traffic. I loved pitching for the Red Sox and I still root for them every day. I used to play with some great players there. One of them was Tony Conigliaro, and I have a story.
I always used to work out at Tufts [University] and he came over there one day. He was kind of a brash, cocky kid — but still a good kid — and he walked into Tufts, right into the field house, and I wondered to myself, “Who is this kid?” He came over and said, “Hi, I’m Tony C, Tony Conigliaro. I’m going to work out here.” I said, “Did you go upstairs and ask permission?” He said, “Well, you’re here.” I said, “Are you kidding me? You have to go up and talk to the athletic director.” He went up and did it, and when he got back, I told him, “Tony, you’re a young kid. You have to do that.”
If I ever saw a surefire Hall of Famer, it would have been Tony C. God almighty, he could run, he could throw, he could hit for average, he could hit for power, and he had that perfect swing. When I look back, here was a guy who liked to lean out over the plate — he used to jump out over the plate — and I used to say to him, “If I ever get traded, you better not jump out over the plate against me, because I’m going to drill you.” But, I mean, I don’t care how hard you threw, he could handle a fastball. He had great hands for a 19-year-old kid. I loved playing with him, because I loved that beautiful swing that he had. It was just a tragic thing that happened to him at a young age.
DL: Your trade to Detroit came prior to the 1966 season, and after pitching well in two of your first three starts, you went on to have a pretty rocky year.
BM: I won my first game. I beat the Yankees and had a shutout until Jake Gibbs hit a home run against me with two outs. My third game, I think I might have shut out Washington. But I remember sitting down at one point with [Tigers manager] Charlie Dressen — and I loved Charlie Dressen — and I said that every pitcher has bad points during the course of the season, and all I ask is that you don’t give up on me. He said, “I won’t give up on you.” Well, during the course of that year, Charlie had a heart attack and passed away.
Bob Swift took over, and he and I didn’t see eye to eye at all. I was pitching this one game where I had a 2-1 lead in the seventh inning and Willie Kirkland was up. I kept getting the sign from Bill Freehan, which was coming from the bench, to throw him inside. Well, my stuff wasn’t as good late in the game as it was during the earlier innings, so I didn’t want to throw him there. I could throw the ball off the plate and he’d chase it. [Swift] came out and we kind of argued a little bit. I said, “Bob, my stuff isn’t as good.” He said, “Well, do you want me to get someone else?” I said, “No, no. I want to throw him to the outside, off the plate.” Well, I got ahead in the count and I threw him that ball outside and off the plate, and he hit a slow roller. Ray Oyler was at shortstop and he was playing toward the middle, and the ball bounced through the hole into left field to either tie the score or put us behind. [Swift] was pissed off at me and all of a sudden I was in the bullpen.
DL: You played with some pretty talented guys in Detroit.
BM: There were some darn good players there. [Al] Kaline was a great player. He was one of the most talented guys in the game. If a kid ever wanted to copy someone’s swing, his would be a good one. And [Mickey] Lolich and [Denny] McLain…especially Lolich; he had Hall of Fame stuff. When I was with McLain, and hitting against him, he had a fastball that really jumped at you, and a good curveball. Bill Freehan was a good catcher. Dick McAuliffe was a good player. Jim Northrup and Norm Cash. Yes, there were some good players.
BM: Well, you have to stand your ground. I know what Willie’s reputation was, and I played with him, you know. He’d always tell me, “You knocked me down and acted like it slipped.” I‘d say, “No, no, Willie, it didn’t slip.”
DL: You struck out Mickey Mantle 22 times in 83 at bats.
BM: But do know something? Didn’t he look beautiful swinging and missing? Guys like him and Reggie Jackson looked good striking out and I’m sure the Babe did, too. Ted [Williams] looked good striking out, even as mad as he was.
DL: You signed with the Yankees in May of 1967. What was it like watching your hometown team battle for a pennant that summer?
BM: And I beat the Red Sox in Fenway, too. You can guess what that feeling is like, but you get over it. And I never played for a better manager than Ralph Houk. The year I was there, he kept track of all the games I pitched and said that I should have gone 15-2 instead of 6-5. I had an earned run average under 3.00 that year. [Editor‘s note: his ERA was 2.33.]
I remember pitching one game against the Twins where [Houk] said to me, “Can you give me an inning tonight?” I said, “Sure.“ This was on a Saturday and I was going to be starting on Tuesday. I think it might have been Al Downing that I relieved and I went one-two-three. He said, “How about giving me another inning?” And then it was “How about another inning?” Then it was “The hell with Tuesday.”
I ended up going nine innings in relief and I remember Rod Carew got on base, and Russ Nixon, my old roommate, hit a double. I think it was the 16th inning. So Carew was on third and Jerry Zimmerman was the hitter, and [Elston] Howard was catching. I called Ellie out and said, “I’ll tell you something. I’m going to bait Carew. I’m going to tell you right now, he’s going to try to steal home on me.” He said, “Do you really think so?” I said, “Yeah.”
Okay, so the first pitch I got a strike on a fastball. Ellie called for a curve and I didn’t look at Carew — not how you normally look over there before you throw the ball — but I had him out of the corner of my eye and knew that he had that extra lead. Ellie called for the curveball, but I shook him off and threw a fastball right under Zimmerman’s chin. And here comes Carew, and we got him.
DL: How did you end up going from being a player into the coaching ranks?
BM: I was in spring training with Houston. It was on a look-see thing from San Francisco. Chub Feeney was the general manager for San Francisco and Harry Walker was the manager for Houston. Harry and I didn’t see eye to eye. Harry Walker was like a trick master; he was always trying trick plays and stuff like that. I knew that trick plays just got you in trouble. I told Harry, “I’m not going to do that stuff.” This was in spring training and, I mean, they called more balks on us. I remember talking to Larry Dierker and a few other guys, and it was “You can’t do those things, they’re balks.” The pitchers were getting called for balks and they were ticked off.
I remember, we were playing in Washington when Ted Williams was managing there. I was talking to John Edwards, the catcher, and I said to him, “John, I want you to come over to the left field line and listen to Williams and Walker talk." John said that Walker could talk you into anything and I said, “Well, he’s not going to talk Williams into anything, I guarantee you that.” The next thing I heard Williams saying to Walker was “You’re full of shit!” John and I were laughing like hell about that. Anyway, they released me and sent my contract back to San Francisco. Then the Giants released me [in April 1969].
When I was in New York, Ralph Houk and Lee MacPhail had said that when I decided to hang it up, they’d have a job for me. So I called them right away when I got released and they said, “Yep, come on down.” I drove to Ft. Lauderdale and that’s how my minor league career got started. I went out and looked at some of the best players all over the country, and then I managed the Johnson City rookie league team for them. I ended up spending a long time as a coach, with both the Mets and the Yankees, and many years in the minor leagues [with the Blue Jays and Tigers].
I’m retired now, and I miss the camaraderie. I also loved working with the kids. It’s a great game and I’m happy to have spent 50 years in it. It’s all I’ve ever done. I still love talking about baseball.