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Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #31 Mel Stottlemyre

Arguably better known for his time as Yankees’ pitching coach during the ‘90s dynasty, Stottlemyre was also incredible on the mound.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Full Name: Melvin Leon “Mel” Stottlemyre
Position: Pitcher
Born: November 13, 1941 (Hazleton, MO)
Died: January 13, 2019 (Seattle, WA)
Yankee Years: 1964-74
Primary Number: 30
Yankee Statistics: 360 G, 356 GS, 164-139, 2.97 ERA, 112 ERA+, 3.37 FIP, 2661.1 IP, 152 CG, 40 SO, 1257 K, 1.219 WHIP, 43.1 bWAR, 34.0 fWAR

Biography

While there are plenty of others for whom it’s impossible to tell the story of the Yankees without, the Top 100 Yankees list that we’ve been doing over the past couple months has only included players. You’re not going to see the likes of Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, and Joe Torre on the list, as they never played for the Yankees.

That being said, some coaches did play for the franchise, who were impossible not to bump up some spots due to off-field contributions. Make no mistake: Mel Stottlemyre is more than worthy of his spot on this list for his on-field career alone. However, his importance to the Yankees goes well beyond his 11 years on the mound.

Diamond in the Rough

One of five children born to Vernon and Lorene Ellen Stottlemyre, Mel Stottlemyre was born in Missouri 1941. His father was a pipefitter and moved the family around to various states around the country before they finally settled in Washington state. There, Mel developed a love of baseball from his father, who would take him and his brother to local semi-pro games.

Early in his life, Stottlemyre’s playing of the sport was mostly limited to games in the backyard with his brother. He didn’t really play much organized ball until high school. Stottlemyre began to shine as a pitcher and shortstop for Mabton High School, where he was a multi-sport start and the student body president.

His high school career got Stottlemyre a scholarship to Yakima Valley Junior College, but things did not start great there. His first season was supposed to be in 1960, but poor grades led him to be declared academically ineligible. He eventually got that straightened out and returned for 1961, where he impressed and caught the eye of major league teams.

The then Milwaukee Braves gave Stottlemyre a workout, but came away unimpressed and rejected him for “not throwing hard enough.” Their loss would be the Yankees’ gain. Yankees scout Eddie Taylor signed Stottlemyre to the pitcher’s childhood favorite team in 1961.

Portrait of Mel Sottlemyre Posing in Yankees Uniform

While Stottlemyre’s missed opportunity with the Braves left him dejected and thinking his baseball career was over, Taylor was impressed by the pitcher’s sinker and how he worked with his stuff, despite it not being overpowering.

Stottlemyre started his Yankee and professional career with the Harlan Smokies of the Appalachian League and quickly impressed enough to earn a promotion. He continued his good run in 1961 with the Auburn Yankees, earning another promotion in 1962. A 2.50 ERA and a 17-9 record with the Greensboro Yankees saw him named by one sportswriter as the “hottest prospect of the Carolina League” that season.

In 1963, Stottlemyre got an invite to big league spring training with the Yankees, but would spend all of that season in Triple-A in Richmond, Virginia. At 21-years-old, he struggled a bit that season, running into the first on-field adversity of his professional career to that point. That led to no spring training invite for 1964, but Stottlemyre wouldn’t take long to get himself back into the big league picture.

Breakthrough

Repeating 1964 in Richmond, Stottlemyre started the season in the bullpen, but after a complete game shutout in a spot start on Memorial Day, forced his way back into the rotation. From there, he caught fire, putting up 1.42 ERA in 152 innings that season. In August, the Yankees were in a tight race for the AL pennant and dealing with an injury to ace Whitey Ford. In need of someone to fill in, the team called up Stottlemyre.

On August 12th, Stottlemyre made his MLB debut against the White Sox, who were one of the teams the Yankees were battling with for the pennant. That day couldn’t have gone much better for the debutant, as Stottlemyre threw a complete game, allowing three runs on seven hits in a 7-3 Yankees win.

That got Stottlemyre a place in the Yankees’ rotation, and he took the opportunity and ran with it. Including his debut, he put up a 2.06 ERA (177 ERA+) in 96 innings across 13 games and 12 starts. He helped rejuvenate the Yankees’ roster, as they eventually overtook and held off the White Sox and Orioles to win the AL pennant.

Not only would Stottlemyre retain his rotation place for the World Series against the Cardinals, but manager Yogi Berra gave him the start in Game 2 opposite future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson with the Yankees trailing 1-0 in the series. That day, he would outduel the legend, allowing just three runs in a complete game, as the Yankees won 8-3 to even things up at one.

The two would face off again in Game 5 with the series tied at two. Gibson got the better of things that day, but Stottlemyre was again impressive. He gave up just one earned run (two in total) in seven innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, as the Yankees eventually lost in 10 innings.

The Yankees would then bring Stottlemyre back to start Game 7 on just two days rest for a third showdown against Gibson. After three scoreless innings, an error by shortstop Phil Linz on what should’ve been a double play allowed St. Louis to take the lead. The Cardinals went on to tack on another couple runs in the inning, and the rookie would be pinch-hit for the next inning. Stottlemyre’s final line in Game 7 is not exactly what you would want in a do-or-die game, but it was hardly all on him. The Yankees ended up losing the game and the series, but their young pitcher had impressed on the sport’s biggest stage.

Little would anyone have known at the time, but Stottlemyre’s first taste of postseason baseball would also be his last.

Ace of a Crumbling Giant

The 1965 season was one of change for the Yankees. For one, CBS had purchased the franchise the previous year. Besides that, the team controversially fired Berra after one fairly successful season as manager and poached Johnny Keane, who had just beaten them in the World Series as the Redbirds’ skipper. Add in the fact that the core of that dynastic roster from the late 50s/early 60s was aging, and you had a recipe for disaster.

The Yankees finished just 77-85 in 1965, which was the first time they finished below .500 since 1925. Absolutely none of that was the fault of Stottlemyre, who became the Yankees’ ace in his first full season in the big leagues (and also hit a memorable inside-the-park grand slam while going 5-for-5 on July 20th). With 20 wins, Mel was the winning pitcher in nearly a quarter of the Yankees’ victories on the season, as he led the league with 291 innings pitched and 18 complete games. With a 2.63 ERA (129 ERA+), he was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and finished 14th in MVP voting.

New York Yankees

The 1966 season was an even worse one for the Yankees, with Stottlemyre also having his first down year in the big leagues. As a team, they finished in last for the first time in over half a century, as Keane got fired after a 4-16 start. While Stottlemyre had a decent start to the season, getting named an All-Star again, a second-half swoon saw him finish with a 3.80 ERA (87 ERA+) and a league-high 20 losses.

After making a few adjustments, Stottlemyre bounced back in 1967 with a solid campaign, even as he battled through some injuries. However, the Yankees continued to struggle as a team, finishing in ninth place.

Stottlemyre returned to All-Star form in 1968. Although he again had to deal with injury issues, he won 21 games, and put up a 2.45 ERA (117 ERA+). In helping the Yankees climb back above .500, he also finished 10th in MVP voting, which would be the highest finish of his career.

By 1969, the year the mound was lowered, Stottlemyre was becoming one of the veteran leaders of the team. He may have been just 27, but after the retirement of Mickey Mantle, he suddenly was one of the most senior Yankees, in addition to one of the best. He responded to that added pressure with one of the best seasons of his career, throwing a remarkable 24 complete games. His 124 ERA+ would go down as the second best in a full season in his career. While the team regressed in the standings, Stottlemyre was a shining light.

As the calendar turned to the 70s, Stottlemyre put up another good season, as a young Yankees’ core finally started to show some promise. While the pitcher was again somewhat limited by injuries, his 14 complete games and a 115 ERA+ helped the team crack the 90-win mark in 1970.

In 1971, the team fell back to the pack a bit, but Stottlemyre continued to be the ace trying to drag them up the standings, putting up a 114 ERA+ in 269.2 innings. An inconsistent 1972 saw Stottlemyre put up his first below-average season since 1966. While he had good stretches, he finished the year with a 92 ERA+, and led the league with 18 losses.

While the team finished below .500 in 1973, George Steinbrenner’s purchase of the team showed a light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, on the mound, Stottlemyre rolled back the years, with a 120 ERA+ in over 270 innings.

But in 1974, the years of putting up massive innings totals and dealing with injuries finally caught up to Stottlemyre. He tore his rotator cuff, and was limited to just 16 appearances. While he had been a bit below average to that point, he was by no means terrible, as the Yankees finally began to make good on their promise and battled the Orioles down to the wire in the AL East.

Stottlemyre was planning a comeback in 1975 when the Yankees decided to release their former ace. Despite being just 33-years-old, his big league career was over. He retired back to his home state of Washington after that, no longer with a connection to the organization he had helped lead through some dark ages. His story in pinstripes wasn’t over yet, though.

Coaching Career

New York Mets Dwight Gooden and Coach Mel Stottlemyre SetNumber: X44079 TK1

After his move back to Washington, Stottlemyre was hired by the Mariners as a pitching instructor in the organization, holding that position through 1981. He left that gig following the death of his son from leukemia, but later returned to coaching and the Big Apple when he was hired as Mets’ pitching coach in 1984.

Mentoring the likes of a young Dwight Gooden, Stottlemyre helped the Mets become a force in the mid to late 1980s, including their famous World Series win in 1986. After that team began to fall away, he joined the Houston Astros’ organization and spent a couple seasons as their pitching coach. Finally, in 1996, he buried the hatched with Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ organization and agreed to becoming the pitching coach under the team’s new manager Joe Torre. That would begin a very long and fruitful partnership.

While Stottlemyre never got to win a ring in a Yankees’ uniform as a player, his coaching tenure would end with several of them. The Yankees won four World Series titles over the course of Stottlemyre’s tenure from 1996-2005, making the playoffs in every season. From young and up and comers like Andy Pettitte to veterans like David Cone and Roger Clemens, plenty of pitchers came in and had big seasons during Stottlemyre’s run back with the team.

Mariners v Yankees Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

After the 2005 season, Stottlemyre retired from the Yankees’ job. For one, the pitching staffs over the previous couple seasons had notably come apart at inopportune times. Besides that, he had also grown somewhat weary of life under Steinbrenner. Stottlemyre seemed to interpret the Yankees’ owners congratulations of the Angels and manager Mike Scoscia after their win over the Bombers in the ALDS as a shot at Joe Torre. While the pitching coach claimed he was “leaving happy,” it’s hard to not read into things deeper.

Following a brief stint with the Diamondbacks, Stottlemyre spent one season back in the dugout when he joined the Mariners as pitching coach in 2008. He retired again after that year, ending a long and impressive coaching career.

Non-Baseball Life and Later Years

Off the field, Stottlemyre was married for over 50 years to his wife, Jean. The two had three children, one of whom, Jason, tragically passed away from leukemia at age 11. The other two, Mel Jr. and Todd, both made the big leagues as pitchers themselves. Todd had even been selected by the Yankees in the 1983 MLB Draft, but did not sign with the team. Todd won two World Series titles with the 1992 and ‘93 Blue Jays, while Mel Jr. has followed his father into the coaching realm. He’s had a couple big league stops, and his currently the pitching coach for the Miami Marlins, having helped Sandy Alcántara win the 2022 NL Cy Young.

Back during his coaching career with the Yankees, Stottlemyre had battled multiple myeloma, but had beaten the disease. However, it reoccurred in 2011, and he spent the remainder of his life dealing with it. He would still make appearances at Yankee Stadium, and in 2015, the team surprised him with a Monument Park plaque, after which he gave an emotional speech to the Yankee Stadium crowd.

While he continued to valiantly fight his cancer after that, he sadly passed away on January 13, 2019 at the age of 77.

Whether it be as a shining light in one of the darkest eras in franchise history, or as being the wise sage coach in one of the best eras of team history, Mel Stottlemyre means so much to so many generations of Yankees’ fans.

Staff Rank: 31
Community Rank: 24
Stats Rank: 33
2013 Rank: 31

References

Baseball Reference

FanGraphs

SABR, Wolf, Gregory H.

BR Bullpen

New York Times, Kepner, Tyler.

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/stottme02.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/stottto01.shtml

MLB Trade Rumors

New York Daily News

“The Yankees in the Early 1960s” by William J. Ryczek

Previously on the Top 100

32. Mike Mussina
Full list to date