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.
David Laurila: Can you tell the story about the day you signed with the Red Sox?
Bill Monbouquette: That’s a famous story. I was 18 years old and was at Fenway Park. I had just finished throwing batting practice and showering up, and I went over to join my mom and dad, down in right field near the foul pole. A couple of drunks were sitting behind us. They were nasty. They were swearing and one of them spilled some booze on my mother. I said, “Hey, enough is enough now.” One of the guys said, “What are you going to do about it?” I looked at my father, he nodded, and the next thing I knew they were taking us out of there to a holding cell.
This big Irish cop was there. He had kind of a brogue and couldn’t pronounce my name. I said, “Can I make a phone call, please?” I wanted to talk to Johnny Murphy, who was the farm director. He let me call and I said, “John, it’s me.” He said, “Where are you?” and I said that I was in the holding cell. He said, “What in the hell are you doing down there?“ I told him what happened and he came down and took me out of there. That was the day I signed, and it was one of those great days that I’ll never forget.
DL: What else do you remember about the start of your professional career?
BM: I remember going away on the train to Corning, New York. I pitched one game there. I was just 18 years old and got whacked around pretty good, so they decided to send me to Bluefield, West Virginia, and that’s basically where my minor league career got started.
The following year, 1956, I went back to Corning. They had a lot of California guys and they were giving them a chance. Of course, California guys are ahead of Massachusetts guys because they get to play more, due to the weather. So, I’m sitting around and I’m not pitching, and I’m getting a little irritated, so I called to see if I could find out what was going on. If I wasn’t going to pitch, I wanted to go someplace else. In those days, they had lots of farm clubs, you know. Anyway, they called me back and said not to worry, but they also didn’t say I was going to pitch more, so I told them I was going home. The Red Sox said, “No, no, no, you can’t do that.” But then I finally get my chance and ended up winning 15 games.
The following year, I went to Albany, in the Eastern League. I didn‘t pitch many games in the first part of the season and they sent me to Greensboro, which turned out to be a blessing as I won 11 or 12 games and got called back up to Albany for the last month of the season and won a couple of games there.
That winter I got a contract from Memphis. I’m thinking, “What the hell is this Memphis?” We had Double-A clubs in Birmingham and Oklahoma City. So I went over to the front office and asked why I had a contract from outside of the organization. They said they wanted me to pitch, and this and that.
Then I found out they were having an early camp, and I said, “I’d love to go to that.” So, I went down to Ocala, Florida, and they gave me a chance, and you just can’t have a better camp than I did. I don’t know if I even gave up a run. That’s how well I pitched. I ended up making the Minneapolis club, which was Triple-A. Gene Mauch was the manager.
We were down in Florida where the Minneapolis team trained, and I was throwing batting practice one day. Mauch was a player-manager at the time, and he was having trouble hitting me in batting practice. He was a red-ass guy, and he threw the bat at me. Then he said, “Throw that bat back.” I said, “Come get it yourself.” So he gets in my face up on the mound, and I said to him, “Let me tell you something: You get off of my mound right now.” [My teammate] Ted Bowsfield told him, “You better get off his mound, Gene,” and he did. And he loved me for that.I got called up in July of that same year, 1958.
DL: Was Jimmie Foxx a coach on the Minneapolis team?
BM: Yes, Jimmie Foxx was one of the coaches, and what a wonderful guy. He went up to play in an old-timers game at Fenway, and he said to give him my number and he’d call my folks. Well, he called my mother and father and they said, “Who?” He said, “Jimmie Foxx.” They couldn’t believe it, you know, because they didn’t know that he was a coach over there. For awhile they were kind of suspicious.
DL: How did you find out about the call up to Boston?
BM: Tommy Thomas was the general manager of the Minneapolis club, and he was trying to call me. I thought it was Ted Bowsfield fooling around. He’d say, “This is Tommy Thomas,” and I kept hanging up on him. Finally he said, “Goddamn it, Bill, don’t hang up on me anymore. You’re going to the big leagues.” I mean, everything happened so fast. Willard Nixon got hurt in Boston and I took his place.
DL: What do you remember about your first game in the big leagues?
BM: Billy Martin stealing home against me. His next time up, I unloaded on him. And in those days there were no helmets. I can still see it today, the ball going between his head and his hat. He ended up popping up. You’ve heard the stories about Billy, the cheap shots and everything else, so I was ready for him. I had my fist cocked out there on the mound, but when he ran by on his way back to the dugout he said, “You owed me that, rook.”
We actually had him at home plate [on the steal attempt], too , but the catcher dropped the ball. And it’s funny, because later I became his pitching coach, which is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
DL: What about your first win?
BM: My first win was a 6-1 win in Washington. I beat Vito Valentinetti and Roy Sievers hit an 0-2 fastball off of me was about eight or 10 inches off the ground and he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After that, I never threw him another low fastball. [Editor’s note: According to retrosheet.org, Monbouquette beat Washington and Camilo Pascual 6-1 on August 5. Six days later, he lost to Valentinetti with Sievers homering.]
DL: You almost no-hit the Tigers in 1960.
BM: Yes, the only hit was by Neil Chrisley, and it was a windblown ball off the wall. Gene Stephens was playing left field that day, and the ball hit about two inches from going into the screen. The ball ran down the wall. A lot of the writers at that time said, “No, the ball didn’t run down the wall,” because they gave Stephens an error. It was pretty early when that happened, either the first or second inning. Gene was mad, because they gave him an error, so they called down to the dugout and asked, “What the hell are you mad for?” He said, “The ball was a couple of inches from going into the screen.” They said, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yeah, I‘m pissed off because you gave me an error. It‘s not an error.” So they changed it to a hit and that was the only one they got.
DL: Had they not changed the call, you would have had two no-hitters in your career.
BM: Yes. I think I had three one-hitters. I lost one of them, too.
But the no-hitter was on August 1, 1962. We left Boston and went to Chicago. It was a night game, and I would be facing Early Wynn, who was going for his 298th win. Eventually he got 300 wins, of course. The home plate umpire was “Jumping” Bill McKinley.
Anyway, we were flying there and I was trying to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. One of the stewardesses came up to me and asked how I was doing. I said, “Well, I’m struggling with this puzzle.” She said, “What position do you play?” I told her that I was a pitcher and she asked how I’d been doing. I told her that I was struggling with that, too. And it was true. I hadn’t won a game in about a month. She started walking away and as she did she said, “You’re going to pitch a no-hitter.” I had a little chuckle to myself, of course, and the next thing I knew we were out there doing battle.
I walked Al Smith on a 3-2 curveball. I had a nasty curveball that night. I didn’t have real good control of it, but it was nasty and they were chasing it. Then I lost my curveball, but I got my slider. And we’d had a couple of extra days of rest, and let me tell you, that ball was jumping out of my hand. I talked to Nellie Fox the next day and he said that all the of [the White Sox] said the same thing, which is that they saw the ball real good, but at the last second, it just exploded. It had that — like I used to call it — little afterburners. I didn’t actually throw a lot of pitches. They didn’t keep track of pitches in those days, but someone said I threw 87.
DL: You had a 17-strikeout game in 1961. Did you have better stuff that day, or in the no-hitter?
BM: I had better stuff in the no-hitter. The location of my fastball was good, and my breaking ball was good. I didn’t throw any changeups. But neither one of us had given up any runs, and I’m not sure how many hits we had gotten off of Early Wynn. I think it was maybe five or six.
In the eighth inning, Jim Pagliaroni was on second base and Lou Clinton got a base hit to left field, and here comes Pagliaroni chugging around third. And it was a bang-bang play. I was on the on-deck circle and I thought he might have even been out, but McKinley called him safe.
I went out and got them one-two-three in the eighth, and then in the ninth it was one, two, and up to hit comes [Luis] Aparicio. Sherm Lollar had been the leadoff hitter and I struck him out. Nellie Fox was next and I got him to ground to third base. Like I said, Nellie told me that my ball was jumping, even in the ninth. And I don’t know how they got this, because they weren’t using guns at that time, but they said I was throwing 97 miles an hour in the ninth inning. I wasn’t a 97-miles-per-hour guy, but maybe that day, with an extra day’s rest…I don’t know. But Fox said, “That ball just got on top of me so fast,” and he hit a slow roller to [Frank] Malzone, who threw him out.
I got two strikes on Aparicio and then threw him a slider off the plate. I thought he swung, but McKinley called it no swing. As Pagliaroni was throwing the ball back, someone yelled from the stands, “They shot the wrong McKinley!”
Well, you don’t want to lose your concentration there, you know. The next pitch, I threw him another slider and he swung and missed. And let me tell you something — I’ve told this story I don’t know how many times — white guys can jump, because I was up in the air. It was just the greatest feeling in the world.
DL: The no-hitter was one of 11 complete games you had that season.
BM: There’s nothing quite like completing a game. You’re walking off that mound just having a little talk with yourself, because there’s so much self-satisfaction, rather than sitting in the dugout and waiting for someone else to save the game for you. Not that [Dick] Radatz didn’t save some of my games, because he did. But I used to complete 12 or 14 games a year, and I was averaging 230 to 240 innings a year. The mindset of a pitcher should be “I’m starting this, and I don’t want anybody in my game.” Now, it didn’t always happen, but I feel that should be your approach.
When I was a pitching coach in Toronto and New York — both for the Mets and Yankees — I used to see pitchers go out there to start the sixth inning and they’d be looking out at the bullpen. I’d be thinking, “What the hell is that?” And I would talk to them about it. “Why were you looking in the bullpen?”
Sal Maglie used to come out to the mound and say, “Skip doesn’t like what he’s seeing and he suggests that you better get your act together, and get it together now.” You’d take a little peek out there and it would be, “God, he’s got two guys warming up.” So, that was always my approach, and I did everything I could to stay out there, even though we had [Dick] Radatz.
Dick was one of the best relievers I ever saw, and he was big, too. He was nicknamed “The Monster.” I used to wait for him on the mound when he came in to relieve me, and I’d tell him, “If you don’t get them out, I’ll kick your ass!” He’d just snarl at me and say, “Just go get a Bud ready for me; I’ll be there in a few minutes.”