He pitched a total of 60 2/3 innings covering 27 games with two teams in two seasons. He had a total of eight career starts, 19 relief appearances in which he garnered a grand total of one save! He had two complete games, struck out a total of 21 guys, walked 32 batters and had a career ERA of 5.64. He had two complete games and he threw one shutout!
It’s that one shutout that all the fuss is about!
The Red Sox traveled “to Yankee Stadium for an early April game, and a kid pitcher from Toronto knocked on the door of fame.”
It was opening day at Yankee Stadium and it was a symbolic matchup of southpaws with Whitey Ford slated to go for the Yankees against Red Sox rookie, Billy Rohr. Ford was in his 16th season with 234 wins under his belt. He had pitched in 11 World Series, had six World Championship rings and won 10 World Series games. He was destined for the Hall of Fame and was but seven games and 37 days removed from retirement.
Twenty-one year old Billy Rohr was making his major league debut!
Whitey Ford retired on May 21, 1967 with a career record of 236-106 including 45 career shutouts. He won the 1961 Cy Young Award when he was 25-4. He was inducted into Cooperstown in 1974.
Billy Rohr pitched his last game in the major leagues on June 26, 1968 at the age of 22. His record was 3-3 in 27 big league games.
The Yankees had fallen from glory finishing in 10th place in 1966. The Red Sox were not much better as they finished in ninth place in ’66’, a half game ahead of their Bronx rivals. They were teams heading in different directions and this game, on this day would prove to be a watershed mark towards that effort.
Billy Rohr graduated from Bellflower High School in San Diego in 1963. A standout athlete in both baseball and basketball he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $25,000 within days of his graduation.
Rohr was 26-3 at Bellflower High School including four no-hitters!
He was also the captain of the basketball team.
The Red Sox drafted him from the Pirates organization in November of 1963 and the following season Rohr began his trek to Fenway and Red Sox folklore the following year. Impressing in the New York Penn League, the 1965 season found him at Winston-Salem where after two months of dazzling the Carolina League with a 7-3 mark and a 2.93 ERA, he was promoted to triple A Toronto.
That promotion proved particularly propitious as it was there the young lefty’s path crossed with his new manager, a guy named Dick Williams.
Dick Williams played 13 years as a utility player on five teams. He retired from the Red Sox following the 1964 season and managed their Triple A team in Toronto in ’65’ and ’66’ before taking the helm of the Red Sox in 1967 at 36 years of age.
Rohr was 14-10 at Toronto and the following spring made the big club out of spring training. When the 100-1 Red Sox headed north out of Winter Haven Florida in April of 1967, William Joseph Rohr was their number three starter.
He spent the night before his first start pouring over the Yankee hitters with fellow starter Jim Lonborg and on the following day when he took the mound, his catcher was a 28-year-old rookie himself, also making his major league debut, Russ Gibson!
Russ Gibson toiled 10 years in the minor leagues before making the Red Sox in 1967.
The 21-year-old rookie pitcher took the ball from his 36-year-old former journeyman, rookie manager and headed toward the Yankee Stadium mound to throw to his 28-year-old rookie catcher; each unknowing they were about to cross over into the mystic where fantasy meets reality, where miracles are commonplace and “Impossible Dreams” are realized!
Twenty-two year old rookie Reggie Smith, playing in his ninth major league game, led off for Boston and the switch hitting second baseman deposited a Whitey Ford fastball into Yankee Stadium’s left field bleachers giving the Red Sox and Rohr a 1-0 lead.
Reggie Smith finished second in the 1967 Rookie of the Year balloting behind Twins rookie second baseman, Rod Carew.
The first 10 Yankees went down and then Yankee right fielder Bill Robinson walked with one out in the fourth. The Yankees first base runner was followed by Rohr’s first strikeout as he got Tom Tresh. Joe Pepitone walked and Elston Howard stepped in with two on and Rohr induced a fly ball to 22-year-old Tony Conigliaro in right, preserving both his nascent ho-hitter and the Red Sox 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the sixth, after Horace Clark had flied to 27-year-old Carl Yastrzemski in left to start the inning, Bill Robinson stepped in again and rifled a line drive off of Rohrs shin. The ball ricocheted to Foy at third who fired it to 23-year-old first baseman George Scott just in time to get Robinson, preserving the lanky lefty’s no-no.
The two leftys both posted 1, 2, 3 innings in the seventh and as the Sox came to bat in the eighth, they held on to a 1-0 lead and Rohr was clinging tight to his no-hitter!
Twenty-four year old third baseman, Joe Foy, hit a two run homer in the eighth giving Rohr and the Sox some breathing room and the drama meter spiked when Mickey Mantle was announced as a pinch hitter leading off the Yankee eighth. Rohr got him on a fly to right and then made an error allowing pinch hitter Lou Clinton to reach. He walked Horace Clarke but got Bill Robinson to hit into an inning ending double play.
He was three outs from a no-hitter in his major league debut! Three outs away from doing what no pitcher in major league history had ever done, three outs away from immortality!
Tom Tresh led off the ninth inning and he scorched a ball to left field in the direction of Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz went back and….well forget me telling you about, let Ken Coleman do it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BoD1xEJSXo
Following “one of the greatest catches we’ve ever seen” Joe Pepitone flied to Conigliaro in right and now only Elston Howard stood between Rohr and history. The Yankee catcher slammed history’s door in the kids face with a single to right center and Rohr had to settle for a one hitter when third baseman Charley Smith flied to Conigliaro to end the game.
Billy Rohr delivers a Yankee Stadium pitch on April 14, 1967. His day !
Baseball history is replete with stories of players who, for an ever so brief moment in time, entered into the halls of the illustrious, brushed with immortality, realized the impossible; and in so doing etched their names in the games granite of greatness!
A week later, on April 21st, Rohr took to the mound at Fenway Park against the same Yankees. He delivered a complete game 6-1 win with, guess who, Elston Howard knocking in the Yanks’ only run with an eighth inning single spoiling the kids bid for back to back shutouts.
He never won another game for the Red Sox; and by June he was back in the minor leagues. He returned in September and pitched one inning in relief against the Orioles in a 10-0 loss, surrendering four runs, four hits and he walked two.
He never pitched for the Red Sox again and in April of 1968, a year and 12 days from the day he flirted with immortality, he was sold to the Cleveland Indians.
Rohr made 17 relief appearances with the Indians in 1968.
He never started another big league game, spent 1969 in Portland in the Pacific Coast League and in 1970 was traded to the Tigers. He never made it to Detroit, and played in the minors bouncing between the Tigers and Montreal Expos organizations before leaving the game for good in 1972. He was 26 years old!
Billy Rohr pitched in only 27 games in his big league career, 10 with Boston and all of them in 1967. He was 2-3 with the Red Sox in 42 1/3 innings. On its surface many would say, a nondescript entity in a long list of what might have beens. However Billy Rohr is a transcendental figure serving a duplicitous role in Red Sox history and Fenway folklore.
On one level his glorious effort in his Yankee Stadium debut serves as a microcosm of the Red Sox franchise from 1919 to 2004; earmarked with flashes of spectacular brilliance, heart pounding excitement, outstanding effort and resounding accomplishments but in the end falling excruciatingly short.
And at yet another his performance that day served as some mystical portal through which he and his Cardiac Kid mates passed on their way to forever transforming a franchise and in the process rescuing a team, a ball park, indeed a city.
When Billy Rohr came to celebrate Fenway Park’s 100th birthday, he was welcomed with the fervor and warmth often reserved for the all time greats. It was an appropriate and heartfelt expression and well deserved for on April 14, 1967 in Yankee Stadium in front of 14,375 fans in the Bronx, for two hours and 11 minutes, he was precisely that…..
an all time great!