November 3 – Happy Birthday Ken Holtzman
I do still remember when Ken Holtzman was a young and brilliant starting pitcher with the woeful Chicago Cubs. He was actually the first player drafted in a Major League Amateur Draft to make it to the big leagues and because he was Jewish and a southpaw, sportswriters were calling him the next Sandy Koufax. Talk about pressure, huh? In 1968, Holtzman was joined by Fergie Jenkins and Bill Hands to form the core of a very talented starting rotation for manager Leo Durocher’s Cubs. The trio won 47 games that season and then 58 more in 1969, when they lost the NL East pennant to the Mets in heart breaking fashion.
Chicago traded Holtzman to Oakland in 1971 for outfielder Rick Monday. The St. Louis native won 77 games and three rings in his four seasons with the A’s. He then fell victim to Charley O’Finley’s historic housecleaning when he was traded to the Orioles with Reggie Jackson a week before Opening Day in 1976. In June of that same season he was made part of a ten-player blockbuster deal between the Yankees and Baltimore.
I honestly expected Holtzman to then become a big winner and popular Yankee. That didn’t happen. He went just 12-10 over the next three seasons. It has been reported that Yankee Manager Billy Martin despised the veteran pitcher and refused to use him. I’ve also read that George Steinbrenner wasn’t fond of him either. Whatever the real reason, Holtzman was a veteran 165 game-winner in the prime of his career with two no-hitters, thirty shutouts, with a great post season record and three World Championships. He had a healthy arm and was on the roster of a team that had one of the best run-scoring attacks in all of baseball. The Yankees just let him rot on the vine. In fact the only good thing Holtzman produced for New York was the player he was finally traded for. In June of 1978, he was sent back to the Cubs for reliever Ron Davis.