December 15 – Happy Birthday Gil Blanco
We didn’t know it at the time, but the 1965 Yankee spring training camp would be the last one hosting a defending AL Champion ball club for quite a while, over a decade to be exact. It was Johnny Keane’s first exhibition season as the manager of the Bronx Bombers after he replaced the fired Yogi Berra. Keane’s Cardinals had defeated Berra’s Yankees in the 1964 World Series the previous fall. New York GM, Ralph Houk had already made the decision to fire Berra before losing that Series, convinced his veteran club needed more discipline. Houk felt Keane was the guy who could instill it.
The new skipper’s innovative idea was to move New York’s big hitters like Mantle, Maris and Ellie Howard to the very top of the Yankee lineup so they could get more at bats. The plan was working like a charm during spring training. Mantle actually batted first in some of that year’s preseason games with Maris second and Howard in the three-hole and they all were hitting over .400 at one point.
The other exciting thing about that ’65 camp was the emergence of today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant as a bonafide Yankee pitching prospect. Gil Blanco was a big six feet five inch right-hander from Phoenix who had been signed by New York right out of high school the year before. Just nineteen years old, he impressed everyone with his poise and stuff that spring and earned a spot on the Yankee roster.
Though the team started out the 1965 regular season slow under Keane, Blanco did not, holding the opposition scoreless during his first seven big league appearances out of the bullpen. That streak earned him his first start at the end of May versus Detroit and the kid got hammered. He gave up three hits, two walks and four runs and didn’t make it out of the first inning.
That turned out to be the only start he’d make while wearing the pinstripes. He failed to make the Yanks 1966 Opening Day roster and that June, Houk traded Blanco, Bill Stafford and Roger Repoz to the A’s for Fred Talbot and Bill Bryan. He got the opportunity to start for Kansas City during the second half of that season, but after finishing 2-4, he would never again throw a pitch in the big leagues.