Old-Timers' Day is for storytelling. This one, which starts off about Mickey Mantle and ends with Joe Pepitone, is imported from Detroit with Pepitone getting the last word before Sunday's annual event at Yankee Stadium
Mantle's last visit to Tiger Stadium as an active player was on Sept. 19, 1968. Denny McLain was on the mound for Detroit, which had a 6-1 lead in the eighth inning behind the 30-game winner.
McClain, 70, picked up the first half of the story in an interview last week.
"He was up for the last time in our ballpark,'' McLain said of Mantle. "He was my idol. I called [catcher] Jimmie Price out to the mound. I said 'Listen, let's let him try to hit one out.' Price looked at me and said 'What are you talking about?' I said 'He needs one more [to move past Jimmie Foxx with 535 home runs on the all-time list]. Let's let him have a chance to do that. He can't hit a six-run homer.' ''
Mantle, who McLain said was slow to catch on, took the first two pitches for strikes. "I threw with a little more velocity this time, still on an arc, and Mickey fouls it down the rightfield line," McLain said of the third pitch. "The next thing I know, Mantle's screaming 'Throw it right here.' He put his hand belt high. I said OK and throw the next pitch. He hit the ball in the rightfield stands."
The Tigers had no issue with what McLain did. "That's how much faith we had in him," former Tigers star Willie Horton said. McLain finished the game for the 31st victory and first of two consecutive Cy Young Award seasons.
The next batter was Pepitone. "Joe stands over home plate and he says 'Hey, I'm your friend, too,' " McLain said. 'I like you a lot and you like me a lot, now give me the same pitch.' I threw a fastball behind his head, all you could see was elbows and his butt as he was hitting the ground."
Pepitone, 73, said: "I looked at him I said 'Straight,' he said 'No.' I said 'Curve?' He said 'No.' Next pitch he hit me in my helmet. That's Denny McLain. Tell him I haven't forgotten about it and one of these days I'll get even."
Old-Timers' Day next year?