The day Rocky Colavito pitched for the Yankees

Well, except the Yankees stunk that year. 1968 was the year of the pitcher. The Yankees had a few of those. But they never had a worse year at the plate. Guys like Horace Clarke, Bobby Cox (yeah, that was him), Andy Kosco and Jake Gibbs couldn’t hit their way out of the infield. A beat up, broken Mickey Mantle was in his last year and despite his lowest batting average of his career, he still was productive. But that was it. The Yankees needed help so they obtained Rocky Colavito from the Dodgers. Without the information we have at our fingertips today, they might not have known that Colavito was just about finished as a player. 1968 would be his last year too.

The twelve year old boy was excited about Colavito because he was somewhat of a legend AND he was Italian. Bonus! Colavito had some superb years with the Indians and Tigers and finished his career with 374 homers and a 132 career OPS+. He is one of the few players that ever hit four homers in one game. That made him a perfect candidate for the Hall of Very Good, but he didn’t get enough counting stats for the Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t just the homers that made him a legend. It was also his throwing arm from right field. In fourteen seasons, he threw out 123 base runners. Colavito hit five homers for the Yankees in 1968 but he only batted .220, which wasn’t much different than anyone else on the team.

But the twelve year old didn’t care. He was Italian, he was a Yankee, thus he was gold. So the first game of the double header started right after 1:00 P.M. on August 25, 1968 against the Detroit Tigers, one of Colavito’s former teams. The boy was disappointed because Colavito wasn’t in the starting line up. Steve Barber was the starting pitcher for the Yankees against Pat Dobson of the Tigers. Barber was a gangly left-hander who had some good seasons for the Orioles in the 60s including a 20-win season in 1963. But by the time the Orioles sent him to the Yankees, he was finished as an effective pitcher. He did hang around for another half a decade and was a part of the Seattle Pilots inaugural and only season.

Barber had nothing that day and the Tigers jumped on him for two runs in the first, two runs in the third and a run in the top of the fourth. He gave up ten base runners in three and a third innings while only striking out one batter. The Yankees had seen enough and Barber was taken out of the game. Back in those days, the Yankees had a little cart that would bring relief pitchers from the bullpen to the dugout. Who would step out of the cart to be the next Yankee pitcher? Rocky Colavito!

Phil Rizzuto went wild. The twelve year old went wild and called his little brother over. Rizzuto was calling Colavito a huckleberry and saying, “Holy Cow” a few dozen times because he couldn’t believe that Colavito was actually going to pitch. Neither could we.

But there he was. The Yankees were down 5-0 without a team that could hit their way back into a game. They had another game to play after that one and they must have figured, what the heck. But Colavito succeeded. He held the Tigers in check for two and two thirds innings. He gave up a hit and walked two against one strikeout and he did not give up a run.

Meanwhile, the Yankees, the team that couldn’t hit, actually climbed back into the game. They scored a run in the bottom of the fourth to make it 5-1 and then erupted for five runs in the sixth to knock Dobson out. Bobby Cox (hitting .226) hit a homer and Bill Robinson (batting .223) hit a three-run job. Rocky Colavito contributed a walk and a run scored. Since Colavito completed the top of the sixth, he became the pitcher of record. Could he actually get the win!?

The one, the only, the legend…Dooley Womack pitched a scoreless seventh (though he made  it interesting with two base runners) and Lindy McDaniel pitched the eighth and ninth without giving up a run and Colavito did get the win. Now that that twelve year old is a middle aged man, all I can remember about that day is laughing and smiling that something so unique and unexpected was happening. Those barbecued hamburgers never tasted so good.

One other note: The only hit the Tigers got off of Colavito was a double by Al Kaline, Colavito’s old teammate who was a very similar player to Rocky except that he hung around longer and got the numbers needed for the Hall of Fame.

As for Colavito, it wasn’t his first pitching assignment. He had pitched in a game in 1958 (August 13), ten years before the game we are talking about. In that game, he pitched three scoreless innings and again, it was against the Tigers. Al Kaline didn’t get a hit off of Rocky that day. Nobody did. And so this Hall of Very Good outfielder pitched twice in his career, ten years apart, and finished with a perfect 0.00 ERA in five and two thirds inning with a perfect 1-0 record. Holy Cow indeed.

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

15 thoughts on “The day Rocky Colavito pitched for the Yankees

  1. David

    I love these posts.

    • Completely agree. Great dip into the nostalgia pool. We need a series of posts highlighting when position players pitched, or played positions they had no business playing (or not recognized/rememberd for playing). Alfonso Soriano @ 2B does not qualify.

      • williamjtasker

        I have another one in reserve for the next off day on the game Mickey Mantle played shortstop and Yogi Berra played third. And thanks, you two.

    • ray

      I remember that day very well. I too had my radio and was at the beach in New Jersey. By sweeping that DH, the Yankees completed a sweep of the soon-to-be World Champion Tigers and reached the 0.500 mark (63-63), although they would not finish there. Colavito's pitching was the high point.

  2. david alvarez

    Wow. I was there for that game–all of seventeen. Long live the Rock! Always wondered why they didn't try and see if he didn't have a bit more left in the tank…surely he had more than Andy Kosco!

  3. Timarimba

    I am also a huge fan of these posts!

  4. John

    Great stuff Will. I'm going to point my Dad out to these. He's been a fan since the 50's and would probably get a real thrill out of reading them.

  5. roadrider

    I remember it well! Colavito homered in the second game (as an OF) as the Yankees swept the Tigers.

    If you can believe it, the Bombers had to play a twilight double-header the very next day against the Angels and Gene Michael was called on to relieve Al Downing. Stick did not fare as well as Rocky giving up 5 runs (all unearned – but he did give up 3 consecutive two-out hits in the eight to plate all those runs) as the Yankees lost 10-2.

    And if that wasn't enough, they had to play yet another DH against the Angels the day after that!

    It must have been a rainy summer in 1968.

  6. Herb Sevush

    If my memory serves the last place Yankees swept a 4 game series from the first place Tigers that weekend. On that Saturday I was at the game when Mel Stottlemyre threw a 4 hit shutout against the Tigers en route to a 1-0 win over Denny McLain, who was in the middle of his 30 win season. It was Mantle's last season and the Yanks were an awful team, but I do remember Colavito and Michaels pitching in relief.

    • Herb Sevush

      I just looked it up and the Stottlemyre game was actually a 2-1 victory, not 1-0. I got the 4 hitter right. And the Yanks did sweep the Tigers in the 4 game set. Stan Bahnsen won Friday, also 2-1.

      • roadrider

        Although I was watching on TV I remember it well! Stan Bahnsen – he was pretty good. Then they traded him for Rich McKinney who was supposed to be the third-base solution until he got off to a rough start and made 4 errors in a game against the Red Sox. I think they either sent him down to AAA or shipped him out of town soon after.

  7. leftylarry

    Though Colavito had more power Kaline was a much better average hitter, struck out a lot less, better fielder, though Rocky had a stronger arm (Kaline had a great arm too) and a better base runner.
    Rocky was strictly a HR hitter with a great arm, not in Kaline's class as an overall player.

  8. ian

    I believe Mel Stottlemyre did beat Denny McLain twice that year, both low scoring – what else – games.
    Mclain lost only six. For a brief period I insisted Mel was a better pitcher than Tom Seaver, but eventually gave it up. Hey, I was only thirteen. What did I know! Mel was a fine pitcher and might have been around for the late seventies glory and a lot more wins, but he tore his rotator cuff before there was Tommy John surgery.

  9. tom

    My wife and i were at the stadium that day. It was a bright spot in a dismal season. So many unique things happened – i still talk about it. My recollection tbough was that rocky started the opener andshut out the tigers for three innings. Any way too double check? I remember the cox and colavito homers. I thought the stadium was going to come down when rocky hit his hr. He was from the bronx. Thanks!

  10. George howard

    Rocky was on the top 10 list for all time home runs when he left the game in 1968 .
    Why not the hall of fame. He got my vote,

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