John Montefusco elated to be part of his first Yankees Old-Timers' Day
"This is awesome; to come here for Old-Timers' Day and have it be Goose Gossage's day to get a plaque in Monument Park, this is just unbelievable," John Montefusco said on that sunny morning in the Bronx.
Montefusco was the "other" newbie in 2014, and he brought his whole family - including grandson Nicholas, seen being cradled in the picture to the left - over from New Jersey to celebrate with him. It was a second homecoming for the righty known as "The Count," who grew up in Long Branch and, after spending his first 10 years in the majors in the National League (and mostly on the west coast), came back to spend the final three-plus years of his career (1983-86) in pinstripes.
"The Count" had a lot of highlights in his career, including four big ones before he turned 27; Montefusco hit a home run in his first career at-bat for the Giants in 1974, won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1975, and earned an All-Star nod in 1976, and later that year, he pitched a no-hitter against Atlanta that stood as San Francisco's last for 33 years, until Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the Padres in 2009.
The Yankees sent Dennis Rasmussen and another player to San Diego in August 1983 to acquire him, but after a strong finish to that season, Montefusco was limited to just 18 appearances over his final three years thanks to a series of injuries. His personal line (10-3, 3.75 ERA as a Yankee) was good, but Montefusco knew his extended absences affected the team, especially the 1985 squad that finished just two games behind Toronto in the AL East.
"I felt like I was the cause of us not going to the playoffs, because we only missed by a game or two," he said. "I think if I would've been here the whole year, we could've made it."
All four of the Yankees' 2014 opening day starters who are now on the disabled list may resemble that remark come October, but to those holding down the fort, Montefusco had some sage words of advice.
"Some guys, when others get hurt, do think they have to step up, but you have to take this game one day at a time," he said. "People get hurt in this game, and you don't want to see your frontline pitchers go down, but things happen and you have to bring guys up and do the best you can and try to stay close until everyone comes back."
Even though he was inactive for all of them, one of his biggest highlights as a Yankee was being a part of three Old-Timers' Day celebrations, and now, coming full-circle after nearly three decades, he's getting a chance to hobnob with those he enjoyed watching while he was in the league and after he left.
"I grew up watching the Yankees from the 1960s, so when I was playing, I loved seeing (Mickey) Mantle, Yogi (Berra), Whitey Ford, and (Roger) Maris when he was alive," he said. "Now I'm looking forward to seeing guys like David Cone, Gossage, Roy White, Mickey Rivers…all the guys I watched right before and right after I played here."
These days, the 64-year-old Montefusco is enjoying retirement and loving being a new grandfather, and while he tries to watch the Yankees every night, he laughed that he keeps his mind sharp by "going to the race track every day!"
If he has his druthers, there will be one other thing he'll get to do at least once a year going forward to keep his baseball mind sharp.
"The Yankees are the best at bringing people back. There's not many teams that do this anymore, but they do it every year and the fans love it. I'm just thrilled to be here."