Mel Stottlemyre thought he had been forgotten, but the truth was, that was impossible.
It was Old-Timers’ Day 2015, and Stottlemyre, battling cancer and needing a doctor’s clearance just to travel from his home in Seattle, sat in the dugout near his cane. All of the other players had been called out on a day the Yankees ostensibly were honoring No. 30, Willie Randolph, but it was then that Stottlemyre was shown exactly how unforgettable he was.
Stottlemyre had worn that number before Randolph, and the “30’’ on the grass was for him, too. The plaque Joe Torre held was for him. The cheers were for him.
The Yankees ace-turned-pitching coach, who was at the forefront of some of the biggest moments in New York baseball history, was being immortalized in Monument Park.
Stottlemyre, 77, died Sunday in a Seattle hospital of complications from multiple myeloma, a disease of the plasma cells in the blood that causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow.
As a pitching coach, Stottlemyre mentored Dwight Gooden, Bobby Ojeda and Ron Darling on the Mets’ 1986 world championship team. He was known as a pitcher’s pitching coach, and his staff loved him for it. He won five World Series as a coach, four with the Yankees from 1996-2000.
“Mel was a better person than he was a pitching coach,” Ojeda said. “He was a person I aspired to be, but I never made it.”
Said Gooden: “Mel was more than a pitching coach to me. He was a dear friend. Everything I accomplished in the game was because of him. I’ll miss him dearly.”
Gooden told United Press International in 1985, “There isn’t the slightest question in my mind how much Mel had to do with whatever I accomplished. He didn’t try to hit me with a hundred different things at once. He made sure I learned one thing first before he went on to the next.
“The biggest thing is you’re able to talk to him. He doesn’t make himself out to be a god. He’s very approachable. You never have any trouble sitting down with him. He’ll listen to you.”
Helped by a devastating sinker, Stottlemyre went 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA in the final seven weeks of the 1964 season and was a key reason the Yankees won a fifth straight American League pennant. He made three starts against the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in the 1964 World Series, going 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA, and lost Game 7 on two days’ rest.
But after reaching the World Series only two months into his major-league career, Stottlemyre would not get to the postseason as a player again. Instead, he made his name as the bright spot in a dark era for the franchise.
He went 20-9 with a 2.63 ERA for the 77-85 Yankees in 1965 and led the American League in complete games (18) and innings pitched (291). He also won at least 20 games in 1968 and 1969 and lost 20 in 1966 (for a 70-89 team that finished 10th). He pitched 303 innings in 1969, leading the league with 24 complete games.
Overall, he was 164-139 with a 2.97 ERA, 152 complete games and 40 shutouts in 11 seasons.
Stottlemyre hit seven home runs in his career, including an inside-the-park grand slam off Red Sox righthander Bill Monbouquette on July 20, 1965, at Yankee Stadium. He also went 5-for-5 in a two-hit shutout of Washington on Sept. 26, 1964.
Stottlemyre suffered a torn rotator cuff in June 1974 — there was no surgery then to correct it — and was released by the Yankees before the 1975 season, ending his pitching career.
There was bad blood with the Yankees after that, and Stottlemyre coached for the Mets and the Astros before finally making peace with George Steinbrenner and signing on as Joe Torre’s pitching coach from 1996-2005.
“I am sorry to hear of Mel’s passing,” Torre said in a statement. “Mel was a role model to us all and the toughest man I have ever met. Sometimes a manager hires a friend to be their coach, but with Mel, as with Zim [Don Zimmer], he was my coach who became a dear friend and someone who became very special to me.”
In 2000, Stottlemyre revealed he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma. It went into remission but returned in 2011.
Stottlemyre’s relationship with Steinbrenner again grew tense and led to the coach’s resignation in 2005. He coached one more year with the Mariners, in 2008, before retiring.
Any resentment toward the Yankees was left behind as the years passed, which was never more clear than on that day in 2015, when Stottlemyre was ushered to home plate by Andy Pettitte and honored while surrounded by his family, including his wife, Jean. He also is survived by sons Mel Jr., who briefly pitched in the major leagues and was named the Marlins’ pitching coach last month, and Todd, who went 138-121 in a 14-year major-league career.
Stottlemyre’s son Jason — who his father and his brothers said was the best baseball player of the three sons — died at age 11 in 1981 after battling leukemia for five years. He passed away days after receiving a bone marrow donation from his brother Todd, and after his own diagnosis, Mel Stottlemyre said he drew strength from the way his young son battled the disease.
“Beyond his tremendous accomplishments as a player and coach, Mel Stottlemyre was beloved for his class, dignity and fighting spirit,” Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement. “His contributions to different eras in our history guided us through difficult times and brought us some of our greatest all-time success. As a result, Mel’s popularity transcended generations, all of whom thought of him as their own. His plaque in Monument Park will forever serve to celebrate the significance of his legacy.”
It was clear on that day that the plaque held tremendous meaning to Stottlemyre, the man who thought he had been forgotten.
“Today, in this stadium, there is no one happier to be on this field than myself,” he said, holding back tears. “I’ve been battling a dreaded disease for quite some time. I’ve had so much help from my family over here and I can’t say enough about you people, how supportive you have been of me over the years,” he added, pointing to the cheering fans.
“If I never get to come to another Old-Timers’ Game, I will take these memories that I have today.”
Playing career: Yankees, 1964-74
Career pitching record: 164-139, 2.97 ERA, 1,257 strikeouts 152 complete games, 40 shutouts
Major-league debut: Aug. 12, 1964
Rookie season: 9-3, 2.06 ERA (Pitched Games 2, 5 and 7 in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, going 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA)
All-Star appearances: Five (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970)
20-win seasons: Three (20-9 in 1965, 21-12 in 1968, 20-14 in 1969)
Coaching career: Mets pitching coach, 1984-93; Astros pitching coach,1994-95; Yankees pitching coach,1996-2005; Mariners pitching coach, 2008
World Series titles as a pitching coach: Five (1986, Mets; 1996, 1998-2000, Yankees)