When then Manager, Yogi Berra slapped the harmonica out of Phil’s hands on that infamous 1964 Yankee bus ride, Yankee fans would never had guessed that the seemingly quiet and shy Linz was possible of such defiance. In actuality, Linz was a whacko. He and the even crazier Joe Pepitone had come up through the Yankee farm system together, leaving a trail of behavioral incidents that would have made Charley Sheen blush.
Linz spent four seasons in pinstripes as a utility infielder. He had a good glove and displayed a good enough bat to see plenty of action during his first three years in the big leagues. In fact, Linz started and led off every game of the Yankee’s 1964 World Series against the Cardinals. The two home runs he hit during that Fall Classic would be the highlight of his Yankee career and also the turning point. In 1965, Linz pretty much stopped hitting, averaging just .207 in 99 games. So when Tony Kubek’s bad back forced the Yankee stating shortstop’s early retirement at the age of 29, Linz was bypassed for the job. Instead, New York traded him to Philadelphia, for their starting shortstop, Ruben Amaro. Linz bombed as a Phillie and then played his final two big league seasons as a backup infielder with the Mets.
|NYY (4 yrs)||354||1086||968||150||238||50||4||10||67||12||94||129||.246||.314||.337||.651|
|NYM (2 yrs)||102||340||316||27||66||9||0||0||18||1||14||51||.209||.248||.237||.485|
|PHI (2 yrs)||63||92||88||8||18||5||0||1||11||0||4||15||.205||.239||.295||.535|
I was an oversized kid. My first little league baseball coach kept asking me if I wanted to try catching. We already had a kid on the team doing the catching and I believe his name was John Malec. John had a tendency to get lazy back there and he would sometimes sit instead of squat in in his crouch at which point our coach would scream, “Get your damn rump off the ground Malec. If you’re tired go home!”
Young Malec was not alone. That same phrase or words very similar could be heard shouted to boys dressed in oversized catcher’s gear by coaches and parents at thousands of baseball fields across our country. It was against protocol and considered taboo for a catcher to let his buttocks come in contact with the dirt when assuming the catchers’ crouch position to await the next pitch. So every time Coach Aldi would ask me if I wanted to catch, I would quickly say no because I did not want to have anybody yelling at me to keep my rump off the ground.
Now if today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant had started his Major League career in 1960 instead of 1980, either John Malec would be walking around with a lot fewer emotional scars or I myself might have even given the tools of ignorance a shot. Why? Because Tony Pena gave every lazy kid catcher an automatic retort to the phrase “Get your damn rump off the ground catcher.”
Pena sat on his rump (see photo) waiting to receive every pitch thrown to him during his eighteen-year career as a big league catcher. He sat down back there during his seven years catching for the Pirates, his three seasons as a Cardinal, the four summers he caught in Boston and during his eighteenth and final year split between Chicago and Houston. He sat down back there for 1,950 games, the fourth most by any big league catcher in history.