Birthday Baseball (A New Occasional Series) - Game 1, July 12, 1968

I love reading about baseball, researching baseball history, learning about baseball, and.... (on and on). When I dig into baseball history, I always find something new. I'm always learning.

It's great.

As I thought about the long winter months, I came up with a new feature for the blog, one that is as obscure as it promises to be fun. I decided I'd look back on some specific Yankees games played in years gone by, but I’d only look at one specific date on the calendar…

“The ones played on my birthday,” I thought. "I wonder if anything exciting happened for the Yankees on the day I was born and then on successive years on that date.

And with that, this new series was born.

To begin, we need to begin where I began - the day I was born, July 12, 1968.

As always, whenever I do research like this, my first two stops are always Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference…

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On July 12, 1968, the Yankees played the Chicago White Sox in Chicago. It was a night game in the windy city.

These were some of the dark days for the Yankees. The glory days were behind them. Many years of mediocre (and poor) play lay ahead. But in 1968, the Yankees weren't as terrible as people today might assume. They actually finished the season 83-79 (.512). That was far from the glory days, but, not as horrible as one might imagine when considering those lean years.

The Yankees entered the game against Chicago on July 12, 1968 with a 38-43 record. Chicago was worse. They were only 34-46.

The Yankees sent Steve Barber (who earned some "fame" as a character in Jim Bouton's Ball Four) against Tommy John for the White Sox.

Tommy John?! We all know Tommy John's name as the first player to have the surgery named for him, but for me to think that he actually pitched on the day I was born was somewhat awe inspiring. For, you see, Tommy John pitched until 1989, when I was a junior in college. Tommy John pitched the day I was born and kept pitching throughout my entire life until I was almost 21 years old. That is amazing. What is even more amazing is that 1968 was Tommy John's sixth Major league season - a young rookie he wasn't. This fact put the length of Tommy John’s career into perspective for me.

The biggest name in the Yankees lineup that day was Mickey Mantle, playing in his final season. He would go 1 for 3 with a walk in his four plate appearances. The Mick played first base that day and had 12 putouts and one assist.

The White Sox also had a future Hall-of-Famer in their lineup. Luis Aparicio played shortstop and batted second. He went 2 for 3 with a sacrifice bunt in his four plate appearances.

Tommy John is actually on the ballot for Hall-of-Fame consideration this winter. Should he earn enshrinement, the Sox would have their second player from this game in the Hall.

But, there was one other future Hall-of-Famer in the lineup for the Yankees that day…

The other future Hall-of-Famer who played in the game played third base for the Yankees and batted fifth that day. His name was Bobby Cox who owned a lifetime .225 batting average across two big league seasons. Cox, of course, went on to great success as a manager which is how he earned his enshrinement in baseball's hallowed halls.

As I look back at the game, it seems to have been a pitcher's duel.

The White Sox scored first with three singles in the bottom of the first to go up 1-0. Amazingly, that would be the only run they scored that day.

The Yankees managed only one hit through the first three innings (a second inning single by Andy Kosco, the right fielder), but he was erased on a double play off the bat of Tommy Tresh who was the shortstop.

In the bottom of the third inning, Luis Aparicio singled and stole a base. That's fun. Aparicio was known as a great base stealer. He was doing his thing. In spite of the stolen base, the Sox failed to score that inning.

Through five innings, the Yankees were being one hit by Tommy John. John, who began that season with a 7-0 record seemed like he was on track for win number eight.

The Yankees did manage two two-out singles in the top of the sixth inning. These were from Horace Clarke and Mickey Mantle, but Roy White grounded out to the pitcher to end the frame.

Through six innings, the White Sox led 1-0.

The Yankees finally scored in the top of the seventh. With two outs, Tom Tresh came up and hit a solo homer to tie the game at one. Frank Fernandez then came up and hit a homer of his own to give the Yanks a 2-1 lead. Fernandez's homer, or shall we say the back-to-back homers from Tresh and Fernandeez, knocked Tommy John out of the game.

Bob Locker and Wilbur Wood pitched the final innings for the White Sox. For the Yankees, Steve Barber went the distance for the win. Barber allowed nine hits and walked two, but he only allowed that first inning run. In the game, Barber struck out six batters. He lowered his ERA for the season to an impressive 2.17 to go along with his less than impressive 2-3 win/loss record.

Of note - Steve Barber would pitch a complete game shutout his next time out (vs the Senators) on July 16. Barber, who famously had a sore arm in Ball Four, never again in his career pitched nine innings in a game. The games of July 12 and 16 were the last two nine inning outings of his career (a career that lasted until 1974).

Next up in the series, July 12, 1969, just nine days before the moon landing...)

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Yankees Record on July 12 (since 1968): 1-0.