Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Zisk Interview: Bill Monbouquette by Mike Faloon

Former pitcher and coach Bill Monbouquette accomplished a lot during his decades in the big leagues—chief among his credentials: a no-hitter, a 20-win season and two trips to the All-Star game—but they pale compared to his ability to tell a story. When my brother and I attended the Syracuse Chiefs’ Hot Stove Dinner this past winter Monbouquette, who played with the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees, and Giants over the course of an 11-year career (1958-1968), stole the show. His stories were funny and warm and, truth be told, they felt like they’d been told hundreds of times. It reminded me of watching comedian Don Rickles in the documentary Mr. Warmth. Rickles probably hasn’t changed his act in years and why should he? There’s nothing but the sense of enjoyment, no fatigue, no cynicism, no need for new material. Likewise for Monbouquette. Talking to fans was a pleasure not an obligation. Zisk caught up with Bill Monbouquette in February. (Interview by Mike Faloon)
I really enjoyed your stories from the Hot Stove League dinner in Syracuse and one player who seemed to have a big impact on you, a former teammate, was Ted Williams. You went fishing with Ted Williams.
Yeah, I was up in New Brunswick. I stayed two or three days at his camp. We had breakfast every morning and he’d get up at the crack of dawn and he would be yelling “toot ta toot toot toot” like he had a trumpet. He was a very early riser. I don’t know how many guys have ever fished with him. That’s Atlantic salmon, where his place is. When I was playing with him in the clubhouse he had a fly rod and a rumble lure and he’d say, Open that back pocket of yours, and about 20-30 feet away flip it right in there like it was nothing. This guy was not only a great player, the best hitter I ever saw, this guy was a great fisherman, fly fisherman, especially. I’m not the only guy that’s ever said that. It was a pleasure to play with him. He was a boyhood idol and still today he is my idol. I was fortunate to play with him for ’58, ’59, and ’60. I was there the last day he hit his home run. During the course of the game he’d hit three other balls that the wind held back and you get to thinking, If only Ted could do this. There I was right in the bullpen and we knew he wasn’t going to New York to finish the season, the weekend, and he ends up hitting this screamer into the bullpen—nothing was going to hold this ball back. I had a chance to catch it and I was in such awe. When it hit the back of that bullpen it made one hell of a loud noise and that was it. That was the end of his career. We all wish we could go out like that. Unfortunately it doesn’t happen. Only to the great ones, and he sure as hell was.

And it was through Ted that you met John Glenn.
Yes, I did. We met him, I’m trying to think if it was 1959 or ’60, I’m not sure. It was in Washington and when he said, I want you to meet the next man going to the moon we all looked at each other and said, What the hell is he smoking? What was going on? Going to the moon? It just didn’t sound right back in those days. It was quite a thrill because John Glenn, some kind of wonderful person, from my conversations with him anyway. When we had the memorial services at Fenway (for Ted) I got to talking to John and I asked him what kind of pilot Ted was and he said he was the best pilot he’s ever known. And (Ted’s) a guy that never went to college. My oldest son is a pilot for American Airlines and all the calculus and all that math they had to take in college. But here he did it and I don’t think they had calculus in high school back in those days. Wonderful eyesight. Naturally great instincts and I guess it’s hard to teach instincts. We started talking about him, how he handled the plane, and then when he crash landed his jet where he had been shot when he was in Korea and (John) said to me, Boy he can run. I said, I don’t think so. I mean, for three years I’ve never known him to have any speed. Anyway, he says when Ted landed that plane and he got the hell out of there you should have seen how quick he was. There are a million stories about Ted Williams.

Another great story is your no-hitter against the White Sox.

Oh yeah, of course Ted wasn’t there on that one. This was 1962 and I hadn’t won a game in a long time and we were flying over that day. We did a lot of that. You flew into the city and you played that day, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes at night. I was sitting on the plane doing the crossword puzzle, struggling like hell with that and one of the stewardesses sat down and said, How are you doing?, and I said, I’m struggling with this puzzle. She goes, What position do you play, how you doing there? And I say, Pitcher and I’m struggling like hell with that one too. She got up and said, You’ll pitch a no-hitter tonight. The umpire that game was a guy named Bill McKinley and we go into the ninth inning and I’m winning 1-0 and I get the first two guys. I struck out Sherm Lollar and Nellie Fox was on deck. He was pinch hitting and he’s got this big smile and I don’t want to look at him because I don’t want to lose my concentration, that’s what he was trying to do. And (Fox) hit this weak ground ball to (Frank) Malzone who threw him out. Apparcio, I got two quick strikes and then I threw him a slider maybe a foot and a half off the plate and I thought he swung and the umpire, McKinley called it, No, he didn’t swing and as the ball was coming back to me from the catcher I heard somebody yell from the stands, They shot the wrong McKinley! Oh my god, I had to walk around off the mound. The next pitch I threw him another slider and he swung and missed and let me tell you something don’t let anybody tell you that white people can’t jump because I was way up off the ground. That was probably my greatest thrill. Winning 20 games was wonderful but nothing can beat that. I had a shot at two, three more. I had a one-hitter in Boston and a one-hitter in Minnesota, which I lost. You win some and you lose some.

That was a good stretch for you. You went to the All-Star game three times in four years.
Yeah, well, I didn’t pitch very well in the game in Kansas City in ’60. I gave up three home runs. Mays led off the game. I sidearmed him and he bailed out and hit the ball down the right field line and it went for a triple. Banks hit a homerun off of me and Crandall hit a home run. That’s why I tell kids I’m an authority on homeruns. I gave up 221 of them. I think that allows me to be an authority. One of the nicest things that ever happened to me, in the ’60 All-Star game, we played two (games) back then, we would try to raise more money for the pension and we played in Kansas City in that game that I pitched in. I was the loser. Then right after the game we flew back to New York and had a day off and played the next day. We were sitting on the runway. It was hot. It was 120 at game time at the park and it was down in the hold which made it much hotter. We were sitting there. I can’t recall what was wrong—a strike?—but there was a long delay, a couple of hours, and Mantle comes up to me—I was with the Red Sox—he says, I can’t hit you. I know what you’re going to throw me. I know where you’re going to throw it and I can’t hit it and I can’t lay off of it. You know, sometimes when they try to con you? Like Rocky Calavito used to say, Hey, how’s your family? Anyway, we get to New York and I was sitting in the lobby and it was around five o’clock and wondering what I was going to do. Stan Musial and four or five other guys come walking through the lobby and he says, What are you doing? I said, Just hanging around. He said, Have you eaten yet? I said, No. C’mon, you’re going with us. You can’t ask for a nicer thing to happen to you, to have Stan Musial ask you to go to dinner. Couldn’t ask for a nicer guy. I got to know him through Mickey Mantle’s Make a Wish Golf Tournament. What a wonderful guy. Always had time for the people. I like that in a player. You always have to give back. That seems to be a thing of the past. There are certain people that do it. I like the way David Ortiz is with the fans.

You’d mentioned Willie Mays. You later played with the Giants. Did you get to know guys like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry and Mays?
Oh yeah. One time I was coaching for the Blue Jays in St. Caterine’s, Ontario in the New York-Penn League and some of our kids were running around and we had to bail them out of jail, so I took my pitching staff over to the bullpen and I started saying Ted Williams. Carl Yastremski. Al Kaline. Whitey Ford. Willie Mays. Willie McCovey. Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry. I said, Do you know who those guys are? A couple of the guys said, Who are they? I said, They’re all Hall of Famers and they didn’t act like you idiots. That put their heads down real quick. I got to know Gaylord pretty well. I knew Willie when I was in charge of minor league pitching for the Mets. Willie was working for the Mets. I loved Willie, really a great guy. The greatest all-around player for me was Willie Mays. One time he hit a homerun against me in spring training in Scottsdale. I had just knocked him down real good and I hung him a curveball and Yaz was in leftfield and he hit the ball so far and so hard and Yaz never made an attempt to go for it. It was 360 down the line in Scottsdale. Yaz just put his head down. In a kidding way, when the inning was over, I said, Hey, don’t show me up, make an attempt for the ball. He said, That’s over the swimming pool. There was a parking lot and then there was a swimming pool. Oh, it was a 500-foot shot. Then he hit one off of me over in Phoenix. It was a line drive. It was almost up on to the road and it hit the embankment out there and bounced all the way back to second base. What the hell’s the difference if it’s 500 feet or 320 feet, you know?

You were with the Yankees in ’67 and ‘68 and I noticed that a lot of future managers and coaches—you, Bobby Cox, Dick Howser, Mel Stottlemyre—on those teams, which Ralph Houk managed. Is there any connection between the way he treated players and the fact that so many of them went on to be managers and coaches?

I’m sure everybody learned from him. He was a player’s manager. He stuck up for the players. If there was a brawl on the field he was the first guy there. We all know his service background. He was a major. He was easy to talk to. I was Billy Martin’s coach; he wasn’t very easy to talk to. If you’re a guy’s coach and you can’t talk to the manager, it makes it tough. I loved him.

You also worked for the Mets when Doc Gooden came up.

When he was in the minor leagues I was there. In the instructional league all I ever said to Doc was don’t let anybody fool with your delivery. There are pitching coaches that are happy to change deliveries. It’s hard to change someone who’s been throwing a certain way all his life. You can make a couple of adjustments here and there. I know guys who have said, It’s time to change the delivery. What the hell? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. One thing you don’t hear pitching coaches say, like the old timers you used to say: Get after him. The hitter knows when you’re not challenging him or getting after him. I remember Ted used to say, Well he’s going to do this and on this count he’s going to do that, he’s going to pussyfoot and not give me anything to hit. That was his memory. I can remember as an 18-year-old kid sitting on the bench hearing Ted say, C’mon, we’ve got to get this club. It was at Fenway, you know. I had just signed. You got to get these guys here because we’re going to Cleveland and we’re going in to face the Nasty Boys: Feller. Wynn. Lemon. Garcia. Narleski. Mossi. It might have been the greatest pitching staff of all time. And everybody would say, Yeah, sure, you really have trouble with those guys. He’d be talking about hitting and everything else. As an 18-year-old kid what the hell do you know about hitting? I said to myself, Did I make a mistake here in signing or what? That was a great experience to be around him, to listen to him talk. He’d talk about meeting Babe Ruth, and he did introduce me to Ty Cobb in Scottsdale, Arizona. That was probably ’60 or ’61 or so and he was wheeling Ty around in a wheelchair and I had just pitched nine innings against the Dodgers and got beat 1-0 or 2-1. John Roseboro hit a home run off me in the ninth inning and (Ty) said, I like the way you pitch, son, get right after ‘em. How can you not remember that? Of course, I said, Thank you, sir.

One last thing: I see that when you were with the Tigers in ’66 you stole a base.
Did I have one or two?

According to what I found you had one.

That was against Kansas City.

You have a pretty good memory of your pitching side, do you remember your stolen base?
I guess I was with the Tigers when I stole that. That was in Kansas City. I remember the throw was high and Bert Campaneris tried to hit me on the top of the head. And I gave him a little shove. The game has been great to me.

Mike Faloon might just do the Angel Pagan wing flap dance before too long. In the meantime, he and his wife are expecting their second child in early June.

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