Book Reviews


 

Pride and Pinstripes
The Yankees, Mets, and Surviving Life's Challenges

by Mel Stottlemyer (with John Harper)

Review by Richard Sheppard

 

For a kid growing up in the mid-Sixties, with a modest interested in baseball, Yankee pitcher Mel Stottlemyer was one of the readily familiar players. The Yankees dynasty was ending, but they were still a team reckoned always a contender. They played on WPIX channel 11 in New York, and Mel Stottlemyer was a recognizable enough name. He wasn’t a “great” pitcher, but he was a strong pitcher who became the ace of the flagging Yankee teams of the mid-Sixties through the mid-Seventies.

Mel’s career started off as fine as any. Called up in August 1964, he helped the Yankees to a pennant and onto the World Series, where they faced the St. Louis Cardinals. Though the Yankees lost the series in 7 games, and Mel pitched that final game, rookie Mel threw two of his three World Series starts vs. one of baseball’s dominating all-time greats, Bob Gibson. And despite the lost series, Mel’s teammates assured him he’d be back to the post-season many times during his career. Unfortunately for Mel the player, the Yankees never did.

Take Your Time Mel -- And See You Later

As the Yankee ace during their post-season drought decade, Mel pitched fine, until in June, ’74 when an arm injury put his entire playing career in doubt. And in 1975, the Boss, George Steinbrenner purchased the Yanks, and was looking to make immediate on-field changes to restore the Yankees’ post-season rituals. Mel had assurances he could take his time coming back from his injury for the 1975 season, but the Yankees – Mel blames then Yankee GM Gabe Paul – reneged on any take-your-time-Mel promise and he was released before the 1975 season. Despite some modest interest from other clubs, Mel’s playing days were done.

But not, by any means, his baseball career. Mel’s low-key demeanor and knowledge of the game assured interest in his coaching chops, and he did a stint with the Seattle Mariners, before returning to the big New York stage as the Mets’ pitching coach. And with the likes of pitching stalwarts Doc Gooden and David Cone, and crack offensive players Daryl Strawberry and Keith Hernandez, Mel was able in 1986 to taste the sweet smell of World Series success. It may have been with the ‘wrong” New York team, but Mel was fond of the Mets despite the team’s incredibly well-deserved party rep. As pitching coach Mel was closer to Doc than Daryl, but he rues both of their lost potential and the drug demon dooms.

Winning with the "Wrong" Team

And then, after winning with the “wrong” New York team, Mel is able to return to the Yankees under manager Joe Torre. If winning with the Mets was a taste of honey, the Yanks’ 4-World Series title wins in ’96, ’97 ’99 and 2000 was a banquet of Yankee pinstripe pride. Those Yankee teams, including the remarkable 1998 125-win club were the stuff of dreams for a coach. Great, team-oriented players and, backing up Mels’ capable staff’s during those days, the indomitable Mariano Rivera.

Sharing Cheeseburgers with George

It wasn’t all high-points for Mel, though. He opens his book describing how he had to attend the 2000 Yankee-Met “Subway Series” carefully covered to prevent infection. Mel was suffering from cancerous melanoma and his weak immune system forced him to watch the game from manager Torre’s office. While he was there watching on TV and listening to the roar of the crowd in the stadium above him, George Steinbrenner joined him and insisted on sharing some cheeseburgers. Mel considers this George’s way of making up for his years-earlier misunderstanding about Mel’s Yankees release. Not one to hold a grudge, Mel bears up with his companion. It likely helped their tęte-ŕ-tęte that the Yankees had that Series well in hand. It’s a tribute to Mel’s modesty that as he discusses some of the tribulations of treatment for his cancer, he’s never maudlin. Interestingly, it was a form of near-experimental cell-therapy which defeated Mel’s cancer.

While never able to play for a Yankee World Series winner, which seems to be the standard for being considered an “immortal” Yankee (see also: Alex Rodriguez today), Mel carried himself in a way that entitles him to title his book, “Pride and Pinstripes.” Mel left the Yankees as a coach at the end of the 2006 season, with some slight reservation as he had when leaving as a player. Still, Mel has one Mets and four Yankee World Series rings as coach to bolster his case for being a favorite among BOTH Mets and Yankee fans. He may not be an “immortal” Yankee, but he’ll be an unforgettable one, and in Yankee-land, well-earned for Mel.