Every Friday, we will be taking a look back at the career of a critical player in New York Yankees history that doesn’t quite get the recognition they deserve. When looking at the storied history of the Yankees names like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter quickly come to mind. Today, we will be looking at those players who played a critical role. Simply put, without these individuals, the Yankees wouldn’t have been the Yankees.
You can find the previous editions here:
Mario Duncan and Luis Sojo
This week, we turn our attention to the starting rotation. Outside of Whitey Ford, the Yankees haven’t had a ton of superstar pitchers. CC Sabathia and Gerrit Cole are the recent stars while the team has employed the like of aces Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and David Cone. Prior generations had the pleasure of watching Catfish Hunter and Ron Guidry. However today we will be looking at a pitcher that dominated when the Yankees struggled, and was a coach for the most recent dynasty — Mel Stottlemyre.
Melvin Stottlemyre was born on Nov. 13, 1941 in Hazleton, Missouri. The Stottlemyre family moved quite a bit during his youth, and they eventually settled in a small Washington town where he attended Mabton High School. Growing up, his father introduced him to the sport and along with his brother, Mel spent most days in his family’s backyard reliving past Yankees and Dodgers World Series.
Stottlemyre eventually joined the team at Yakima Valley Junior College, but he missed his first season as he was academically ineligible. The following season in 1961, Stottlemyre pitched to a 7-2 record but was later rejected during a Milwaukee Brewers tryout.
Surprisingly, Stottlemyre was approached by Yankees scout Eddie Taylor and signed a Minor League contract.
Stottlemyre began his professional career in Kentucky, and he quickly established himself as a top player. In 1962, he earned his first promotion where he went 17-9 with a 2.50 ERA. The following season, he earned a non-roster Spring Training invite and spent the year in Triple A.
Unfortunately, that would be the first tough year for Stottlemyre. He split time between the rotation and bullpen and saw his status as a top prospect dwindle. In 1964, Stottlemyre again started the season in Triple A with the idea that he’d be converted into a reliever. However, a spot start on Memorial Day saw Stottlemyre pitch a shutout earning him a permanent spot in the rotation.
He won 10 consecutive decisions while leading the league in wins, ERA and shoutouts. With the Yankees in a playoff race deep into the season, Stottlemyre got the nod to join the big league club.
Major League Career
Stottlemyre quickly established himself by throwing a complete game in a 7-3 win in his debut. He was looked at as a reliable arm, finishing the season with a 9-3 record with a 2.06 ERA. Stottlemyre, along with his teammates, found themselves in the World Series facing the St. Louis Cardinals.
Stottlemyre would get the nod to pitch against future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in the second game with the Yankees behind in the series. Stottlemyre kept the Cardinals’ bats off balance with his sinker and his curve. He also pitched again during game 5 which saw the young hurler pitch 7 innings in a Yankees loss. Two days later, first-year manager Yogi Berra would send Stottlemyre to pitch in game 7. In the fourth inning, Stottlemyre appeared to get out of the inning on a double play off the bat of Tim McCarver. Unfortunately, Stottlemyre was covering first base and had to dive for a ball. On the play, he injured his shoulder and struggled the rest of the game, which the Cardinals eventually won.
Unfortunately for Stottlemyre, his rookie season was the closest he would come to winning the World Series as a player. Despite, playing on bad teams, Stottlemyre continued to shine. 1965 saw him win 20 games, pitch 18 complete games while finishing with a 2.63 ERA. He would continue to pace the Yankees pitching staff, averaging 16 wins per season with a 2.97 ERA for his career. Finally, in 1974 it looked like Stottlemyre and the Yankees might make a return to the Post Season. Sadly, late in the season, he was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff which would effectively end his career. Stottlemyre was unable to get his arm back into pitching shape and he was released at the age of 32.
Coaching Career and Later Life
Stottlemyre first joined the Seattle Mariners as an assistant pitching coach but he stepped down following the passing of his youngest son to childhood cancer. He would return to baseball in 1984 as the pitching coach for the Mets. Finally, in 1986, Stottlemyre returned to the World Series and this time would walk away with a ring. Despite his success with the staff, Stottlemyre was dismissed after the 1993 season and would spend a couple of years with the Astros.
In 1996, Stottlemyre joined Joe Torre’s staff as the pitching coach in the Yankees. As part of the late 90s dynasty, Stottlemyre would cement himself as a Yankees legend. Stottlemyre helped to manage the careers of Andy Pettitte while balancing the personalities of Roger Clemens, David Wells, David Cone and Doc Gooden. Under his leadership, the Yankees would win the World Series in 1996, 98, 99 and 2000 while losing in 2001 and 2003. He spent two additional seasons in the Bronx as his pitching staff’s never had a losing record.
Stottlemyre retired for good from baseball after the 2008 season. Two of his sons would make it to the Majors as pitchers, and along with his son Todd, the Stottlemyres hold the record for most wins by a father and son combo.
Sadly, Stottlemyre passed away in 2019 at the age of 77. During his life, he spent over 50 years in organized baseball.