Special Feature on Mel Stottlemyre
By Alfred Santasiere III
June 25, 2015 — This year’s Old-Timers’ Day festivities were as special for me — and I’m sure for so many Yankees fans — as any have been.
Prior to the Old-Timers’ Day game, the Yankees dedicated Monument Park plaques to two of their most important alums. As I wrote on this blog earlier, plans were in place to recognize former second baseman and coach Willie Randolph. Randolph was indeed honored, and his speech was wonderfully heartfelt. For more on Randolph’s great career in pinstripes, check out the June Issue of Yankees Magazine, where my story on the Brooklyn native was published.
A few months ago, I learned that that there was a plan in place to also dedicate a plaque to Mel Stottlemyre on Old-Timers’ Day, but that it would be a surprise to the former pitcher and coach. With the blessing of Stottlemyre’s wife, Jean — contingent on my promise to not reveal the news — I traveled to Snoqualmie Falls, Washington to interview the great Yankee about his career. When Stottlemyre and Jean sat down with me at a restaurant in the Salish Lodge & Spa for a three-hour interview, he had no idea why I was writing a retrospective piece on him this year.
Regardless of that, I enjoyed every second of our candid lunch conversation, which covered everything from when Stottlemyre first got interested in baseball through his tenure as the Yankees pitching coach.
“My younger brother and I used to play baseball in the backyard,” said Stottlemyre, who grew up in Mabton, Washington. “I always pretended that I was playing for the Yankees. We used to watch the baseball game of the week religiously, and the majority of the time, the Yankees were playing in those games. I always loved the Yankees, and from the time I was about 5 years old, I actually dreamt of playing for the Yankees one day.”
Sometime later in our conversation, Stottlemyre spoke about his rookie season with the Yankees, when his heroics helped get the team to the 1964 World Series.
“I just think I filled a void that they had at the time,” the humble Stottlemyre said about his 9–3 regular season. “We didn’t have anyone else in Richmond [Yankees minor league home] who was ready to come up, and I was able to pinpoint my pitches and get major league hitters out.”
Stottlemyre also shared a story about one of his first days on the Yankees coaching staff in 1996.
“On the first day of spring training, I walked into Joe Torre’s office to let him know which pitchers I was going to have throwing,” Stottlemyre said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You don’t have to tell me that. I hired you to do a job, and I trust everything you’re doing.’ That was a huge relief because it wasn’t always like when I was with the Mets.”
When I said good-bye to the couple, Stottlemyre — who has been battling multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer, for several years — told me that he was hoping to make it to New York for Old-Timers’ Day — simply to take part in the annual tradition.
Without knowing about the surprise tribute, and despite a few more health-related setbacks between my late April interview and mid-June, Stottlemyre was able to make the trip.
As Stottlemyre sat in the home dugout during the introductions of the other former Yankees on June 20, he wondered when his name would be called.
“I thought they forgot me,” Stottlemyre said.
Then, after the last Yankee was introduced, Stottlemyre’s family emerged from the other dugout, and the masters of ceremonies announced that the Yankees would be dedicating a plaque to one of the team’s greatest right-handers and the guy who guided a group of pitchers to four championships.
“This is the best surprise I’ve ever had,” Stottlemyre said when he got to the podium. “There’s no one happier to be on this field than myself.”
As moving as Stottlemyre’s entire speech was, he saved the best for the end.
“If I never get to come to another Old-Timers’ Day, I will take the memories that I have today, and I will start another baseball club, coaching up there wherever they need me.”
After the ceremony, I caught up with Stottlemyre in a Yankee Stadium suite for the follow-up interview I had been looking forward to for several weeks. During that conversation, I thanked him for meeting with me in Washington, and I told him how special that time was for me.
“It was special for me too,” Stottlemyre responded. “It gave me the chance to reflect on my whole life, and that felt great.”
My feature on Stottlemyre’s life in baseball and his well-deserved Monument Park plaque dedication will be published in the July Issue of Yankees Magazine.
— Alfred Santasiere III