Monday, April 16, 2012

All-Time Bluefield Team - Bill Monbouquette

The next entry on the All-Time Bluefield-to-the-Bigs Team is starting pitcher Bill Monbouquette. A right-handed finesse pitcher, "Monbo" pitched for 11 seasons in the majors, mostly for Boston, from 1958-68. With a career bWAR of 20.2, I'll give him the #3 starter designation on the All-Time Bluefield staff.

Monbo was born August 11, 1936 in Medford, Mass.* Fellow Medfordians to play in the majors include Mike Pagliarulo and 1876 Boston Red Stockings right-hander Foghorn Bradley. Former Giants and Royals lefty Bill Tufts is also from Medford, which is ironic considering that Medford is the home of Tufts University.

* I spent the summer of 2010 in the wood-bat New England Collegiate Baseball League, calling the play-by-play for the North Shore Navigators. I lived with a great host family in Arlington, which was right next to Medford. I'd drive through Medford on my way to the ballpark in Lynn, nice town.

Fellow August 11th birthday boys in MLB are Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Drew Storen, Pablo Sandoval, Bubba Crosby, Edgardo Alfonzo and Vada Pinson.

He inked a contract with the hometown Red Sox in 1955 and, as he tells it in this Baseball Prospectus Q&A, fought with drunken fans at Fenway Park and found himself in a holding cell:

"I was 18 years old and was at Fenway Park. I had just finished throwing batting practice and showering up, and I went over to join my mom and dad, down in right field near the foul pole. A couple of drunks were sitting behind us. They were nasty. They were swearing and one of them spilled some booze on my mother. I said, “Hey, enough is enough now.” One of the guys said, “What are you going to do about it?” I looked at my father, he nodded, and the next thing I knew they were taking us out of there to a holding cell.

"This big Irish cop was there. He had kind of a brogue and couldn’t pronounce my name. I said, “Can I make a phone call, please?” I wanted to talk to Johnny Murphy, who was the farm director. He let me call and I said, “John, it’s me.” He said, “Where are you?” and I said that I was in the holding cell. He said, “What in the hell are you doing down there?“ I told him what happened and he came down and took me out of there. That was the day I signed, and it was one of those great days that I’ll never forget."

After that whole mess, he was assigned to the Bluefield Blue-Grays, who were a Red Sox affiliate for the 1954 and 1955 seasons. Only 18 years old, he went 2-4 with a 3.06 ERA in ten games, seven starts, for Bluefield. In 47 innings, he allowed only 46 hits and two home runs.*

* One of his fellow hurlers on that 1955 Bluefield team was Bill Kunkel. Kunkel lasted three seasons in the majors, then became an NBA referee for three seasons before moving to MLB. He was an American League umpire from 1968-84, and he battled cancer for the latter portion of his career. He was only 47 when he died in 1985 and is the last former major leaguer to serve as an umpire in the show. His son is former Rangers infielder Jeff Kunkel.

Monbouquette moved up the ranks and made it to Boston in 1958, making his debut at Fenway Park on July 18, just a few miles from his hometown of Medford. He received a rude welcome when the visiting Tigers put up two runs in the top of the first inning, the last of which coming on a Billy Martin steal of home. The Red Sox would come back to tie the game and after the rookie starter departed, go on to win it on a Frank Malzone grand slam.

He was a witness to history in 1959 when Pumpsie Green debuted for Boston, becoming the first black player in Red Sox history. They were the last major league team to integrate. Green and Monboququette were minor league teammates the year before in Minneapolis (where theplayer-manager was Gene Mauch and the hitting coach was Jimmie Foxx). After Green came to Boston, the club's first base coach, Del Baker, was using racial slurs and Monbouquette put an end to that, telling Baker he'd "knock you right on your ass" if he did it again.

Monbo developed into the ace of a lackluster Boston club in 1960 and earned his first All-Star selection as he was tabbed to start the Midsummer Classic for the American League. At Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, he allowed four runs in the first two innings and took the loss, allowing home runs to Ernie Banks and Del Crandall.

Monbouquette finished the season in the AL's top ten in WAR (3rd, 4.7), wins (14, 7th), strikeouts (134, 7th), innings (215, 8th), and K/BB ratio (1.97, 7th).

He went 14-14 in 1961 and while his ERA dropped to 3.39 (122 ERA+), his walk total jumped to 100, marking the only time in his career that he issued more than 68 free passes. Still, his 4.0 WAR was good enough to rank sixth in the league and his 161 strikeouts ranked eighth. He tossed the fourth-most complete games in the circuit with 12.

He allowed home runs number 33 and 36 to Roger Maris in July of his famed 1961 season. Looking at Monbo's HR log, those two blasts are sandwiching a July 14th long ball off the bat of Baltimore catcher (and favorite of Thomas "Herc" Hauk) Gus Triandos.

On May 12 of that season in Washington, he struck out 17 Senators in a five-hitter. That stood as a Red Sox single-game record until Roger Clemens K'd 20 Mariners in 1986 to set a new MLB mark. Since 1918, Boston pitchers have only struck out 15 or more hitters 18 times. Ten of those were by Pedro Martinez and six were by Clemens. The other two were Monbo's 17 K outing and a 15-K day by Mickey McDermott in 1951.

An interesting note about that '61 staff is that joining Monbo in the rotation was Gene Conley, who moonlighted as a Boston Celtic and was finishing up a three-year run of winning championships for Red Auerbach. He had earned a ring as a pitcher on the 1957 Braves, making him the only player to win both a World Series and an NBA title.

1962 brought an even better season. His walk rate dropped and he made it back on the All-Star team. His 15 wins were the ninth-most in the league and he finished tenth in strikeouts (153), innings (235.1) and WHIP (1.24).

But his claim to fame for the 1962 season came on August 1 at Comiskey Park when he pitched a no-hitter against the White Sox. Coming into the start, hadn't won a game in nearly a month (his July ERA was 8.53). As he recounts in this February 1984 issue of Baseball Digest, on the flight to Chicago, when he told the stewardess how long it had been since he won, she said, "don't worry, Bill, you're going to throw a no-hitter tonight."

Al Smith was the only man to reach base against Monbouquette, who was matched zero for zero by the aging Early Wynn. It was still 0-0 into the top of the eighth inning until Lou Clinton singled home Jim Pagliaroni with the game's only run.

Monbouquette struck out Sherm Lollar to open the ninth. Hall of Famer Nellie Fox pinch hit and grounded out to third before Monbo struck out Fox's double-play partner and fellow Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio to finish the gem.

A little more than a month earlier, teammate Earl Wilson had no-hit the Angels and Monboquette noted in the Baseball Digest that having two guys on the same team throw no-hitters in the same year was rare. He correctly remembered that Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette were the previous duo to do it. Here's the full list of the 16 teams to throw multiple no-hitters in one season:

Year Team First No-Hitter Second No-Hitter
1882 LOU Tony Mullane 9/11 Guy Hecker 9/19
1884 COL Ed Morris 5/29 Frank Mountain 6/5
1888 PHI Ed Seward 7/26 Gus Weyhing 7/31
1904 BOS Cy Young PG 5/5 Jesse Tannehill (8/17)
1908 CLE Bob Rhoads 9/18 Addie Joss PG 10/2
1916 BOS Rube Foster 6/21 Dutch Leonard 8/30
1917 SLB Ernie Koob 5/5 Bob Groom 5/6
1938 CIN Johnny Vander Meer 6/11 Johnny Vander Meer 6/15
1951 NYY Allie Reynolds 7/12 Allie Reynolds 9/28
1952 DET Virgil Trucks 5/15 Virgil Trucks 8/25
1956 BKN Carl Erskine 5/12 Sal Maglie 9/25
1960 MLN Lew Burdette 8/18 Warren Spahn 9/16
1962 BOS Earl Wilson 6/26 Bill Monbouqette 8/1
1972 CHN Burt Hooton 4/16 Milt Pappas 9/2
1973 CAL Nolan Ryan 5/15 Nolan Ryan 7/15
2010 PHI Roy Halladay PG 5/29 Roy Halladay 10/6 (Post)

* Note that five of the 16 were just one pitcher throwing both, including Johnny Vander Meer's back-to-back no-no's and Roy Halladay throwing one in both the regular season and playoffs. The 1917 Browns no-hit the eventual champion White Sox on back-to-back days (!), but not back-to-back games as the second no-hitter was the finale of a doubleheader.

Starting with his August 1 performance, Monbouquette pitched to a 1.68 ERA over his final 13 starts of the year.

1963 brought another All-Star nod and his only 20-win season, despite his ERA going up by half a run to 3.81 and leading the league in hits and earned runs. He led the loop in K/BB ratio (4.14) and was in the top ten in starts (36, 3rd), innings (266.2, 3rd), wins (20, 4th), BB/9 (1.42, 4th), and strikeouts (174, 7th).

He kept up his impeccable control in 1964, leading the league with a 1.54 BB/9 and a 4.14 K/BB ratio. It was the second straight season that he led the league in hits allowed with exactly 258.

In '65 he lowered his ERA to 3.70, but tough luck gave him a league-leading 18 losses. In six of those L's he allowed two or fewer earned runs.

On July 20, he surrendered an inside-the-park grand slam to Yankees pitcher Mel Stottlemyre. The ball rattled around the monuments in center field as it was the first pitcher since Deacon Phillippe in 1910 to hit an ITP grand slam. In 1992, Butch Henry became the third pitcher to do it.

1965 would be Monbouquette's final season with Boston, as he was traded in October to Detroit.

As perennially sub-.500 and second-division finishers, the Red Sox never contended with Monbouquette. In his final year in Beantown in 1965, the Sox went 62-100, the only time since 1932 that they hit triple digits in losses. Only two years later was the "Impossible Dream" of 1967, starting a string of 16 consecutive winning seasons. They've been below the .500 mark only six times in the 46 years since Monbo's departure.

After a rocky 1966 campaign for the Tigers in which he posted a 4.73 ERA while splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, he was dealt to the Yankees.

He pitched well for New York, going 6-5 with a 2.36 ERA over ten starts and 23 relief appearances. In a return to Fenway in September of 1967, he beat the Red Sox to knock them out of first place during that legendary pennant race.

He struggled the following season and was traded to the Giants in July  for Lindy McDaniel. He only lasted seven games in San Francisco, making his final big league appearance on September 3, 1968 at Wrigley Field. He relieved Gaylord Perry in a loss to Fergie Jenkins and the Cubs, allowing a homer to Ernie Banks.

While his playing days were over at just 32 years of age, he quickly got into coaching. He was back in the Appy League in 1969, managing the Johnson City Yankees to a 37-31 record. His team lost the pennant by one game to the Pulaski Phillies, who were piloted by future champion Phils manager Dallas Green. He also served as pitching coach in the majors with the Mets and Yankees in addition to minor league stints for Toronto and Detroit.

Monbo has been battling acute myelogenous leukemia for the past few years, but as recently as last September, it is in remission.

His #27 was eventually retired by the Red Sox, but for a man who wore it after he did, Carlton Fisk. Monbo got his recognition in 2000 when he was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame.

He ranks high on the Red Sox all-time list in starts (228, 6th) and innings pitched (1,622, 7th), and his 969 strikeouts are the ninth-most in club history. However, with only 65 more whiffs Jon Lester will bump him down a notch, though his top-ten standing is safe.

Monbouquette was one of the most consistent, durable starters of the early 60s. Over the six-year period from 1960-65, he was among the major league leaders in starts (203, 6th), innings (1416, 8th) and wins (86, 11th), though he allowed the second-most homers with 161. His 1.51 BB/9 from 1963-65 was the best rate in all of MLB and his K/BB ratio of 3.31 was the seventh-best.

Here are some other interesting tidbits on Monbo's career:

Jamie Moyer's comeback is one of the best stories of the young 2012 season. His second attempt to become the oldest pitcher to record a victory was unsuccessful last Thursday, but the starting pitching matchup was very interesting. His counterpart at Coors Field was 22-year-old Madison Bumgarner. The Giants lefty is Moyer's junior by 26 years and 256 days, making this the largest age gap for a pitching matchup since this game in 1965.

The great Satchel Paige was 59 years old and made a cameo start for the Kansas City Athletics 12 years after his previous big league outing. The 29-year-old Monbouquette started against him. Ol' Satch shut out the Red Sox for three innings, allowing only one hit (a first-inning double to Carl Yastrzemski) before being removed. His lone strikeout victim was Monbouquette, but the BoSox hurler recovered and got the win. Boston rallied to tie the game in the seventh inning against Diego Segui, who would later throw the first pitch in Seattle Mariners history in 1977*. The Sox won it in the eighth on a John Wyatt wild pitch that was followed by a Tony Conigliaro inside-the-park homer. Monbouquette went the distance, allowing two runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out six.

* In keeping with the Red Sox-oriented nature of this post, I'll note that the first batter Segui faced in the inaugural Mariners game was current NESN broadcaster Jerry Remy. Also, Segui relieved starter Marty Pattin in the first game in the Seattle Pilots' only season in 1969. He's the only guy to play for both of Seattle's major league teams and he's also the father of former big leaguer David Segui.

The Multi-Franchise Player page on Baseball-Reference is a neat tool. In about 20 seconds you can find that Monbo isn't the only one to have played for the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees and Giants. Also suiting up for those teams was former catcher and current Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin.

He is tied with Mel Parnell on the Red Sox list for the most wins against the Yankees with 16. The Baseball-Reference Play Index Game Finder only goes back to 1918, so it's possible that Babe Ruth or another Dead Ball-era hurler has more. Josh Beckett has 14 and since his yearly win total against the Yanks for his six years in Boston is 2-2-3-2-1-4, he could pass them in 2012.

Bill Monbouquette was one of the lone bright spots for the Red Sox in the late 50s and early 60s. He enjoyed a fine career in which he totaled 20.2 bWAR. Pitchers within one win of him include Mike Hampton, Paul Splittorff, Al Downing, Bob Tewksbury, John Smiley and Randy Wolf. He's a very solid middle of the rotation choice for the All-Time Bluefield team.

All-Time Bluefield Roster
SP 1 Dean Chance
SP 3 Bill Monbouquette
Setup TBA
Setup TBA
Closer TBA

C Gregg Zaun

SS Cal Ripken

LF Don Baylor

1 comment:

  1. The stewardess who told Bill Monbouquette he was going to pitch a no hitter was my mother-in-law!!