Q&A: Oneonta pitching coach Bill Monboquette

Bill Monboquette won 114 games in eleven big league seasons, pitching for Boston, Detroit, New York and San Francisco. "Monbo," as he is affectionately known, is a former 20 game winner and four-time American League All Star. His career accomplishments include a no-hitter, in 1962, and a 17 strikeout performance in 1961. He is currently the pitching coach for Oneonta. Monbo talked to David Laurila about his career, and working with pitchers in the Tiger organization.

David Laurila: Let's start with something unique from your days with the Red Sox. In 1965, Satchel Paige came out of retirement to pitch one game at the age of 60 (his actual date of birth has long been debated -- some feel he may have been older). You opposed him on this day, and struck out in your only at-bat against him. Tell us about that.

Bill Monboquette: I'll say this: he had better swings off me than I did against him. He had a lot of motion, and surprisingly still threw pretty hard -- probably in the mid-eighties. The Athletics had him sitting on a rocking chair in the bullpen, and it was a treat for the fans to see him. I remember Tony Conigliaro saying, "I'll hit one so far against that old so-and-so," but in three innings, Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) got the only hit off him!

DL: You weren't known as a good hitting pitcher, but you did have one triple in your career. Do you remember it?

BM: Of course. It was in Chicago, against John Buzhardt. I blooped the ball over the first baseman's head, and it spun toward the grandstand and rolled into the corner. As I roared into the bag, our third base coach, Billy Herman, actually turned his back on me. I asked him, "What are you doing?" He just shook his head and said, "I can't believe this!"

DL: You grew up in the Boston area. Tell us about your early days as a baseball fan.

BM: The Braves were still in existence, and it was them that I followed -- not the Red Sox. I used to be part of what they called "the knothole gang." We'd pay ten cents to sit up in the left field pavilion. The players looked like ants from up there!

DL: Those would have been the days of Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

BM: Yes. I remember my uncle taking me to see the Dodgers play.

DL: And then, later, you were with the Red Sox when they finally integrated. What are your memories of Pumpsie Green?

BM: I grew up in a section of town that was pretty "colored." That added to the disappointment I felt with the segregation we faced. I remember being in spring training when Pumpsie couldn't stay in the same hotel with us, or always eat in the same restaurant. I didn't like that. I remember talking to him about it. He was such a great guy, and I felt bad about how things were.

DL: Earl Wilson threw a no-hitter in 1962, becoming the first black pitcher to throw one in the American League. You were his teammate when that happened.

BM: Yes, and he homered in that game, too. Unlike me, Earl could really hit. He threw hard, too, probably close to 100 mph. His command and location weren't that good when he was here. Later on, after he joined the Tigers, he became more of a pitcher and less of a thrower.

DL: And, of course, you threw a no-hitter that season, too. What are your memories of that?

BM: I remember that I hadn't won a game for awhile, and we were flying to Chicago for the game. I was in the back of the plane, doing a crossword puzzle, and the stewardess asked me, "How are you doing?" I told her that things hadn't been going so great on the field, and she said, "I think you'll pitch a no-hitter tonight." It's kind of funny thinking about her saying that, and it actually happening. I guess that game is the highlight of my career.

DL: You played with Earl Wilson in both Boston and Detroit. You also played with Al Kaline and Denny McLain in Motown. Tell us about them.

BM: Kaline could do everything, and he never made a mistake. He was a model player, and if a kid ever wanted to copy someone's swing, his would have been a good one. He wasn't flashy, but you sure wanted him on the team. He was a classy individual.

DL: McLain's reputation was different.

BM: I actually roomed with him, and while he wasn't always well liked by everybody, I never had a problem with him myself. I'll say this, he could pitch. One thing I remember is that he could maintain his stuff for nine innings -- he was throwing just as well at the end of the game as he was at the start.

DL: You were no longer a Tiger when Dick Radatz joined the team, but you did play with him in Boston. Tell us about Dick.

BM: He was probably the best reliever I ever saw. He had great command and velocity, and I remember him once striking out Roger Maris, Yogi Berra, and Johnny Blanchard on nine pitches. I'd love to see some of today's guys hit off of him.

DL: Why is that?

BM: Because he was so intimidating. You didn't want to jump out over the plate against him, that's for sure. He was like Bob Gibson or Stan Williams -- not afraid to knock you down.

DL: I assume he saved more than a few games for you?

BM: Oh, yes. I used to wait on the mound for him when he came in to relieve me. He was nicknamed "The Monster," because he was such a physically imposing man, so I'd hand him the ball and say, "If you don't get them I'll kick your ass!" He'd snarl at me and say, "Just get upstairs and have a Bud waiting for me; I'll be right up!" I did, of course, and he usually was!

DL: One of Radatz's claims to fame is that he dominated Mickey Mantle. Were there any guys you always seemed to get the best of, for whatever reason?

BM: I did pretty well against Mantle, myself. I'm not sure why. Tony Oliva was another. He was a hell of a hitter, but I usually got him out.

DL: What about guys who had your number?

BM: Leon Wagner wore me out. It seemed like he knew which pitch was coming every time I faced him. Harvey Kuenn and Bobby Richardson were tough outs for me, too. They were smart hitters who didn't try to do too much with the ball.

DL: You ended your career in New York, just as Mantle was finishing his. Tell us a little about "The Mick."

BM: Mickey was a wonderful guy. He would do anything for you, and a lot of people don't realize that he was actually pretty humble -- even shy. As for on the field, what a player! He was so strong. I remember him once being so mad after striking out that he bashed his arms against a wall in the dugout, and the whole place shook! He was fast, too, before he hurt his knees. I think he could have stolen 100 bases in a season if he wanted to.

DL: Mickey had a reputation as a guy who liked the night life.

BM: I guess so. I never went out with him myself. One thing, though, he was always ready at gametime. Someone asked him once: "What do you do with a guy who was out all night and says he's too sick to play?" His response was: "You grab him by the collar and say "Don't mess with my money!" You see, money wasn't so big in those days, and World Series shares meant a lot. Mickey liked to have fun, but he was serious about winning.

DL: In your opinion, who was better: Mantle or (Willie) Mays? BM: I think I have to go with Mays, but health plays a part in that. He stayed healthy for much of his career, while Mickey didn't. Willie is probably the best all-around player I've seen. Ted Williams may have been a better hitter, but when it came to doing everything well, Mays was the man. He was sure exciting to watch. Pitching against him in the All-Star game was a thrill.

DL: Ted was still in Boston when you broke in. Talk a little about him.

BM: When I was just starting out, Ted was watching me warm up and said: "This guy can throw strikes." There's a little extra meaning hearing that from someone like Ted, so I felt pretty good about it. Later on we got pretty close. We used to joke around in the outfield, shadowing boxing and stuff like that. We fished together in New Brunswick. You know how he liked to fish.

DL: Ted was replaced in left field by Carl Yastrzemski. What can you tell us about Yaz?

BM: He was obviously a great ballplayer. I had a run-in with him early in his career. I was a veteran by then, and Yaz was going through a rough stretch. He was getting frustrated, and people were booing him, especially when he didn't run everything out as hard as he should have. That made it even worse for him, and he said something in the dugout that I didn't appreciate. I followed him into the tunnel and told him: "They run better ballplayers than you out of this town!" It's funny to look back and think that I could say something like that to Yaz, but at the time I thought it needed to be said. It's a veteran's responsibility to make sure young guys play the game the right way, and maybe what I said helped him. There's no doubt he had a hell of a career.

DL: Say a little more about that -- playing the game the right way.

BM: When things aren't going well, you have work even harder. Let's put it this way, it's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get up.

DL: Do you think today's players treat the game with the same respect you did?

BM: That's a good question. I know one thing: In my day pitchers wouldn't put up with a guy showboating after a home run. No sir. They'd end up with a ball in their ear the next time they came up to bat -- and they knew that. These days, even in the rookie leagues, guys are slapping hands and carrying on after a home run. There's an old saying about acting like you've been there before. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but that's the way the game should be played.

DL: Some people claim that you're responsible for Dick Stuart's nickname: "Dr. Strangeglove." Is that true?

BM: It's not, actually. I did say one funny thing about Dick, though. In 1963, the year I won 20 games, I received the Emil Fuchs award. The plaque itself was very heavy, and when it was handed to me I remarked that it felt like Stuart's glove. That brought a big laugh. I don't want to say anything bad about Dick, though. He was a great guy -- one of the real characters in the game. He did take a lot of grief for his defense. I remember once after he struck out, he was getting booed walking back to the dugout and a few fans tossed paper airplanes at him. He reached up and caught one, and the boos turned into a big ovation. That was pretty funny, too.

DL: You're in the Tigers organization now. Tell us about that.

BM: I've been in Oneonta for five years. I've been in a few different organizations since my playing days. I served as pitching coach for both the Yankees and Mets, and was in the Blue Jays system for twelve years. I enjoy working with the Tigers.

DL: I spoke with John Birtwell recently, who was in Oneonta a few years ago. What can you tell us about him?

BM: I used to get on John quite a bit. He's a smart kid, but sometimes he thinks too much and tries to over-analyze everything. I'd tell him to just throw the ball. He has a motion that's almost down under, and he can be deceptive. He knows how to pitch.

DL: Have you had an opportunity to work with Kyle Sleeth?

BM: I was in Lakeland earlier this season when Britt Burns, the pitching coach down there, had to miss a few days. I saw him throw a side session, and his stuff is nasty.

DL: Do you think he'll move up to Erie this summer? (Ed. note: At the time of the interview, Sleeth had yet to be promoted, but he is now with AA Erie)

BM: That's not up to me, but based on what I saw it's certainly a possibility. The kid has a wonderful arm.

DL: He was a number one pick, while Birtwell was drafted in the 30th round. Do you think that affects the opportunities they'll get in moving through the system?

BM: That's a hard question to answer. When teams invest a lot of money in a prospect they obviously want to see him do well. Does a number one get preferential treatment and move up faster? I suppose it depends on the individual situation, but it's no secret that it does happen. It still comes down to talent in the end, though. There are low round guys who surprise you, and high round guys who disappoint. My job is to help all of them. The best ones will make it to Comerica.

DL: Thanks for your time, Bill. Have a good year in Oneonta.

BM: You're welcome.

David Laurila is a sports writer residing in Boston. He can be reached at DLaurila@aol.com

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