LADY AT THE BAT: Snapped Yankees Skid Brings Memories of '64 Harmonica Incident

Friday, August 14, 2015

Snapped Yankees Skid Brings Memories of '64 Harmonica Incident

Two weeks ago at the trade deadline, I wrote that the Yankees might be better off improving their rotation from within by bringing Luis Severino to the Bronx, much like they called on a young Mel Stottlemyre in 1964. Later that same day the Yankees announced Severino was indeed headed to the majors. I'm still thinking 1964 these past few days, so please indulge me while I take us all back to '64 one more time.

At the start of play on August 17, 1964, the third place Yankees trailed the first place Orioles by 2.5 games. They were in Chicago to start a four game series with the second place White Sox, who were one half game ahead of the Yankees, The series was critical for the Yankees' hopes that season. Unfortunately, the Yankees were swept in the series by Chicago and, for good measure lost the first two games of the next series in Boston, a losing streak of six games they could ill afford. The Yankees offense was the main culprit, scoring 9 runs in those six losses. Sound familiar?

Last night the Yankees finally snapped their losing streak at five games with an 8-6 win at Cleveland. The offense finally came alive (as we all knew it eventually would), and Nathan Eovaldi, though he didn't pitch particularly well, pitched just good enough to earn win number 12. The offense took it from there. Yes, the lead is gone and yes, the Yankees have fallen to the first wild card position. The one game playoff is still at home at this point.

So the Yankees find themselves in 2nd place, a 1/2 game out. When the dust settled on the losing streak of 1964 they were 5 1/2 games back, buried in 3rd place, But following that streak in 1964, the Yankees went 30-11 down the stretch to claim the pennant. Can it happen again? Time will tell. Stottlemyre was instrumental in that drive in '64. Maybe Severino, who has pitched well in his first two starts, will be the Stottlemyre of 2015, And there is possibly good news on Michael Pineda, who may be back in the rotation before September.

Then again, maybe the Yankees are in need of a defining moment of 2015. There was one in '64. Following the fourth straight loss in Chicago, an afternoon game, the team bus was stuck in rush hour traffic on the way to O'Hare airport,  Reserve infielder Phil Linz, thought  it would be a good idea to serenade the team by playing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on his newly purchased harmonica. Manager Yogi Berra thought otherwise and angrily ordered Linz to, "put that thing in your hip pocket"

At least that's how one of the game's great gentleman, Bobby Richardson recounted the incident in his autobiography. Of course, by all accounts, Yogi actually said something entirely different and potentially much more painful for Linz, but give Bobby credit for maintaining a sense of decorum and having a sense of humor, as well.  According to reports and collaborated in books authored in part by several Yankees players, including Joe Pepitone, Jim Bouton, Mickey Mantle and others, Linz did not hear Berra the first time and, upon asking what Yogi had said was told by Mantle to "play it louder" There was an angry confrontation between Berra and Linz, in which Linz tossed the harmonica in the direction of Berra who slapped the instrument, while airborne, off Pepitone's knee.

There are some who were on the bus that day that believe the "harmonica incident," as it became known, was the catalyst for clearing the air and putting the Yankees on the right track for the pennant. Two days later the losing streak was history and the pennant run indeed began. Linz, who was fined by the Yankees made up for it scoring a nice endorsement deal from some harmonica company.

Maybe the Yankees  need something like what happened on that bus in Chicago to wake their suddenly anemic offense. Anything. Somebody please smuggle a musical instrument into the club house or on a bus this weekend in Toronto, It worked in '64. Why not now? We need something.  A good donnybrook might do the trick. Does anyone in the the Yankees traveling party has a spare mandolin, or some instrument they are not using? Just find a little something to stir things up a bit.

Then maybe the Yankees can start relaxing and return to playing the way they have for much of the season, We saw it last night in Cleveland and need it to continue in Toronto.

It would be music to my ears.

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