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Mel Stottlemyre, Yankees’ Ace During Lean Years, Dies at 77

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“When Mel answered the phone, he sounded ecstatic,” Zimmer remembered. “Later on that night, I found out that Mel’s brother had died earlier in the day of a brain tumor. He never said a word about it on the phone because he didn’t want to ruin the night for the rest of us. That’s what kind of a person he is.”

Melvin Leon Stottlemyre was born on Nov. 13, 1941, in Hazleton, Mo., and grew up in Mabton, Wash., the son of a construction worker. He was signed by the Yankees organization in 1961 out of what was then Yakima Valley Junior College (now Yakima Valley College) in Washington State.

When Stottlemyre joined the Yankees, Ford, the Hall of Fame left-hander, became his mentor. When Ford hurt his shoulder pitching in the 1964 World Series opener, the Yankees rested much of their hopes on Stottlemyre. He beat Gibson in Game 2, pitched to a no-decision in Game 5 and was the loser in Game 7.

The Yankees never returned to the World Series during Stottlemyre’s playing career, but he became one of the American League’s leading pitchers.

He had a 20-9 record in 1965, when he led the A.L. in complete games, with 18, and innings pitched, with 291. The Yankees were beginning to fade by then, finishing sixth in what was then a 10-team league. Stottlemyre won 12 games and lost 20 in 1966 when they finished last for the first time since 1912. But he rebounded to go 21-12 in 1968 and 20-14 in 1969.

In June 1974, while pitching against the California Angels, Stottlemyre tore his rotator cuff. Over the winter, he was advised by the Yankees to rest until at least May 1. When they released him at the end of spring training, he was stunned. The move was made by General Manager Gabe Paul, but Stottlemyre was convinced that the Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had been behind it, and it left him embittered.

Stottlemyre retired with a record of 164-139 and an earned run average of 2.97 before turning to a second career as a pitching coach. But a family tragedy took him away from baseball for a time and ultimately colored his already bittersweet feelings toward Yankees management.

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