July 1 – Happy Birthday Kerry Dineen
The Red Sox had won the AL East in 1975 and the Yankees were on their way to doing the same in ’76, when the bitter rivals squared off against each other for a four game series in May of that season at Yankee Stadium. The first game took place on a Thursday night and would become a memorable part of Yankee-Red Sox lore. It was the night Lou Piniella tried to score from second base on a line drive single by Otto Velez, which had been cleanly fielded by Dewey Evans who happened to have the very strongest and most accurate throwing arm in all of Baseball back then. In his very funny book, The Wrong Stuff, Bill “the Spaceman” Lee, who was on the mound for Boston that night, set up the play this way: “…Evans came tearing in and grabbed the ball on one hop. Now with an arm like Evans out there, God could have been rounding third and he would have been out. And this was Piniella. Lou runs as if he’s got high heeled shoes on. Tight high heels.”
A charging Piniella saw that Boston catcher Carlton Fisk already had the ball so Sweet Lou decided to do the old “no slide catcher collide” play. It didn’t work but the collision caused a famous melee to break out during which Graig Nettles slammed Lee on his pitching shoulder. What very few Yankee fans remember about that fight was that Yankee outfielders Piniella and Mickey Rivers were both injured in the same brawl. It wasn’t until just a couple of hours before the next night’s game that the Yankee trainer told then manager Billy Martin that neither outfielder could play. Since New York’s two other spare outfielders at the time, Elliot Maddox and Ron Blomberg, were both already on the DL, the call went out to the Yankees’ triple A farm team in Syracuse to send an outfielder and Martin began the second game of the series with his catcher, Thurman Munson playing left field. Munson was a great player for sure but he was by no means a good outfielder. When the Red Sox saw him out there, their game plan was revised to “hit it to left and keep running.” Sure enough, Munson misplayed two balls in the second inning to give the Red Sox an early 4-2 lead.
In the mean time, the Syracuse Chief’s put their best outfielder, Kerry Dineen on an 8:00 pm flight from Syracuse to Kennedy. He arrived at Yankee Stadium in the middle of the game. This was the 22-year-old’s second installment in pinstripes. New York had brought him up the previous June and Dineen impressed everyone by hitting .364 in that initial seven-game stint.
Now, less than a year later, he sat in the dugout and watched the Yankees eventually tie the contest at 5-5. Martin would send Dineen in as a pinch-runner in the tenth inning and leave him in the game to play right field. He then came up in the bottom of the 12th inning and won the game with a dramatic line drive walk-off single. The kid who had actually taken batting practice with the Chief’s earlier that same evening was now being mobbed by reporters in the Yankee locker room. That’s how Kerry Dineen’s Wild Yankee Weekend of 1976 began.
It would not end quite so well. Dineen was kept in the lineup by Martin for the final two games of the Series. In the finale that Sunday, he lost a fly ball off the bat of Red Sox shortstop, Rick Burleson, in the punishing sun of the old Yankee Stadium outfield, causing a run to score in a one-run loss to the Red Sox. Another Yankee rookie, second baseman Willie Randolph was seen consoling Dineen in front of his locker after the game. Willie probably told him to put the error behind him and get ready for the next game. As it turned out, Dineen’s next Yankee game would be his last. He was sent back to Syracuse the following month and eventually traded to the Phillies organization.
Dineen was born in Englewood, NJ on July 1, 1952 and grew up in Chula Vista, CA. He shares his birthday with this long-ago Yankee pitcher and my youngest daughter, another great Yankee fan, Marissa Cinquanti. Happy birthday Rissie! I love you.