November 30 – Happy Birthday Steve Hamilton
When I was a kid, we’d eat dinner at my Grandmother’s house most Sundays with our entire extended family. As a result, I watched plenty of Sunday afternoon televised Yankee games with my uncle. I was a much more passionate Yankee fan than he was and once the Yankee dynasty crumbled in 1965, he would annoy me by making snide derogatory comments about how bad the team was playing. For example, if a Yankee starter faltered and a reliever was inserted, no matter who came out of the bullpen I could count on my uncle to exclaim, “Not this guy for God’s sakes, even I can hit this guy!”
I’ll never forget the game in late June during the 1970 season when that statement was actually made truthfully. Steve Hamilton had been a very good bullpen pitcher for New York since he was acquired from the Washington Senators in a 1963 trade for Jim Coates. He was 6’7″ tall and a superb athlete, good enough to have played two seasons of NBA basketball in the late fifties for the Lakers. He had performed a variety of pitching roles for New York during his career in pinstripes. He pitched parts of eight seasons for the Yankees, accumulating a 34-20 record, with 36 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 486 innings of work. Manager Ralph Houk would give the big guy a start every now and then and in 1968, used him as New York’s closer and Hamilton led the team with 11 saves that year.
On this particular June day, Sam McDowell and the Indians were killing the Yankees. Houk put Hamilton into pitch the top of the ninth. Hamilton, who was born in Columbia, KY in 1935, was a very funny guy in the clubhouse and on that day, with the game already lost, he decided to have some fun on the field as well. The first hitter he faced was Tony Horton. He had been working on a blooper pitch, which had been nicknamed the “Folly Floater” and had used it against Horton successfully in an game earlier that same season. He decided to employ the pitch again against the Indian first baseman. Hamilton threw Horton two straight folly floaters and Horton almost came out of his spikes trying to hit the softly tossed lobs. Horton fouled both of them off weakly and Thurman Munson caught the second one for an out. Horton’s reaction was hilarious as he tossed his helmet high in the air and actually crawled back into the Indian’s dugout on his hands and knees.
I was amazed to find out that the above clip of this event was actually available on You Tube. Take a look for yourself and see why I finally could agree that a Yankee pitcher threw a pitch even I could hit.
Hamilton shares his November 30th birthday with this one-time Yankee starting pitcher.