May 25 – Happy Birthday John Montefusco
John Montefusco was good at fast starts. In his September 3, 1974 Major League debut for San Francisco, he was called in from the bullpen in the visitor’s half of the first inning with the Giants trailing their arch rivals, the Dodgers, 4-2. Not only did he go on to pitch nine innings of one-run relief to get the win, he also homered in his first-ever big league at bat against the LA knuckleballer, Charlie Hough. Then in 1975, his official rookie season, Montefusco went 15-9 with a 2.88 ERA to win the NL Rookie of the Year award. The young right-hander became the talk of baseball and was even turned into baseball royalty when sportscaster Al Michaels gave the Long Branch, NJ native the nickname “The Count.”
Montefusco continued his outstanding pitching during his sophomore season with 16 wins, a 2.84 ERA, getting selected to his first and only All Star team and leading the league with six shutouts. But in those first two seasons he had also pitched 500 innings of baseball and although he would have some decent years during the rest of his professional career, he would never again be the pitcher he was in 1975 and ’76 in San Francisco.
The injuries began in 1977 and by 1981, the Giants had traded him to the Braves, where he won just two games that season and pitched just 77 innings. Still, when he became a free agent at the end of that year, the Padres signed him. Montefusco won 10 games during his first season in a Padres uniform and was 9-4 in August of the following year when the Yankees acquired him in a trade for a player to be named later and couple of hundred thousand of George Steinbrenner’s dollars. (The player to be named later turned out to be Dennis Rasmussen.)
That 1983 Yankee team was trying to catch Baltimore in the AL East Pennant race and they were hoping Montefusco would strengthen their starting rotation. He certainly did that. The Count put together one of his patented fast starts for New York and I remember it very well. He got six starts down the stretch and won all five of his decisions. The Yankees couldn’t catch Baltimore but it wasn’t Montefusco’s fault and Bronx Bomber fans were hoping he’d continue his winning ways the following year. The Yankee front office was more than hoping, they were betting on it. They gave the pitcher a 4-year, $3 million contract that October. But by then, he was 34 years-old and his right arm had just about quit on him. He went 5-3 in 84 and then spent the rest of his Yankee contract on the DL.
The Count shares his March 25th birthday with this former switch-hitting Yankee outfielder.