May 25th, 2013

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.

When he retired, he got involved in harness horse racing as a driver and owner. He also became a minor league pitching instructor for the Yankees. Then in 1997, his name was back in the New York tabloid headlines when he was convicted of assaulting his wife.

Update:  The above post was originally written in 2011. After finally being acquitted of the most serious assault charges made by his ex-wife, it was reported that Montefusco told the judge he would never be a defendant in a court room again for any kind of offense. The Count actually spent two years in jail after being arrested on those charges because he reportedly couldn’t afford bail. He then became a pitching coach for an independent minor league club based in Somerset, New Jersey, that was managed by former Yankee, Sparky Lyle. He quit that job in 2005. Montefusco’s Yankee seasonal stats and big league career totals are listed at the end of this post.

I’ve also put together a lineup of some of the most notable players who have played for both the Yankees and Giants during their big league careers:

SS – Hal Lanier
Mgr – John McGraw

Other notable Yankee/Giants include: Jack Clark, Dave Kingman, Felipe Alou, Matty Alou, and JT Snow.

The Count shares his March 25th birthday with this former switch-hitting Yankee outfielder.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS GF CG SHO SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
1983 NYY 5 0 1.000 3.32 6 6 0 0 0 0 38.0 39 14 14 3 10 15 1.289
1984 NYY 5 3 .625 3.58 11 11 0 0 0 0 55.1 55 26 22 5 13 23 1.229
1985 NYY 0 0 10.29 3 1 1 0 0 0 7.0 12 8 8 3 2 2 2.000
1986 NYY 0 0 2.19 4 0 1 0 0 0 12.1 9 3 3 2 5 3 1.135
13 Yrs 90 83 .520 3.54 298 244 17 32 11 5 1652.1 1604 728 650 135 513 1081 1.281
SFG (7 yrs) 59 62 .488 3.47 185 175 2 30 11 0 1182.2 1143 514 456 90 383 869 1.290
NYY (4 yrs) 10 3 .769 3.75 24 18 2 0 0 0 112.2 115 51 47 13 30 43 1.287
SDP (2 yrs) 19 15 .559 3.77 63 42 9 2 0 4 279.2 271 131 117 23 73 135 1.230
ATL (1 yr) 2 3 .400 3.49 26 9 4 0 0 1 77.1 75 32 30 9 27 34 1.319
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/24/2013.