August 3 – Happy Birthday Roger Repoz
1965 was the year the music died if you were a Yankee fan. Actually, nobody really died but dependable All Stars like Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Roger Maris, Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson each seemed to become too old to play the game all at the same exact time. Tom Tresh won the team’s triple crown that year with just a .279 average, 26 home runs and only 79 RBIs. One year earlier, this same exact team had taken the St Louis Cardinals to seven games in the 1964 World Series. But they’d fallen off a cliff since October and it would be more than a decade before a Yankee pinstriped uniform would appear in another Fall Classic.
If you’re an old enough Yankee fan to remember that ’65 season, you don’t forget Mel Stottlemyre’s amazing 20-9, 2.63 ERA performance. You also don’t forget the first ten days a kid named Roger Repoz had as a Yankee. Repoz was being hailed as Mickey Mantle’s successor back then. He was 24 years old at the time, a native of Bellingham Washington, who was putting up pretty impressive power numbers in the upper levels of the Yankee farm system. Although taller than Mickey at 6’3″, the youngster’s muscular build and great speed had fans like me hoping we were welcoming Mantle’s successor to the Bronx. And after his first week and a half with the team, we really thought that was the case. Although it was close to fifty years ago, I can still remember loving the fact that he had the same first name as Maris and matching first and last name initials like the Mick.
Repoz started his first game of the ’65 season against the Orioles on July 1st and homered in his final at bat against Steve Barber. Ten days later, he had already hit his fifth Yankee home run, went 4-5 in the game against Minnesota and was hitting over .300. Could it be? Had the Yankees pulled another rabbit out of their hat? Would Repoz not only save the Yankee season but lead them to a whole new generation of post season play? Unfortunately not. After that great game against the Twins, Roger began an 0-29 streak. Though he did manage to hit a total of 12 home runs during his half season with the team, he also struck out too much and batted just .220. By the following June, New York’s front office had already given up on their left-hand hitting prospect and traded him to the A’s for reliever Fred Talbot and backup catcher, Bill Bryan.
Repoz ended up playing nine seasons of big league baseball which included four straight years of starting in the California Angel outfield. He also played in Japan after his Major League career ended in 1972. He ended up with 82 home runs in the big leagues but the final 77 of those HRs were not nearly as exciting as his first 5.