Harvey Frommer / Players
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HARVEY FROMMER ON SPORTS (from the vault)
THE HARMONICA INCIDENT: AUGUST 20,1964 (Flashback)
Despite a string of four straight pennants, the Bronx Bombers were a bust throughout much of the 1964 season. Yogi Berra had succeeded Ralph Houk as skipper; there were reports that he got more laughs than lauds from his players.
It was getting to be late August ; the Yankees were in third
place behind Baltimore and Chicago. The Yankees were on the team bus heading to O'Hare Airport, losers of four straight to the White Sox, winless in 10 of their last 15 games. A 5-0 shutout at the hands of Chicago's John Buzhardt had totally demoralized them.
Phil Linz, #34, reserve infielder, a career .235 hitter was a tough, aggressive player who loved being a Yankee. But he was regarded by some to be un-Yankeelike along with teammates Joe Pepitone and Jim Bouton.
"I sat in the back of the bus," Linz recalled. The bus was stuck in heavy traffic. It was a sticky humid Chicago summer day. "I was bored. I pulled out my harmonica. I had the Learner's Sheet for 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.' So I started fiddling. You blow in. You blow out."
An angry Berra snapped from the front of the bus: "Knock it off!" But Linz barely heard him. When asked what their manager had said, Mickey Mantle said, "Play it louder." Linz played louder. Berra stormed to the back of the bus and told Linz to "shove that thing."
"I told Yogi that I didn't lose that game," Linz related." Berra smacked the harmonica out of Linz's hands. The harmonica flew into Joe Pepitone's knee and Pepitone jokingly winced in pain. Soon the entire bus -- except for Berra -- was in stitches.
Another version has it that Linz flipped the harmonica at the angered Berra and screamed: "What are you getting on me for? I give a hundred per cent. Why don't you get on some of the guys who don't hustle?"
Linz was fined $200 -- but as the story goes received $20,000 for an endorsement from a harmonica company. "The next day," Linz gives his version, "the Hohner Company called and I got a contract for $5,000 to endorse their harmonica. The whole thing became a big joke."
Actually, the whole thing changed things around for the Yankees. The summer of 1964 was Linz's most productive season. Injuries to Tony Kubek made the "supersub" a regular: Linz started the majority of the games down the stretch, and every World Series game at short.
New respect for Yogi propelled the Yanks to a 22-6 record in September and a win in a close pennant race over the White Sox. A loss in the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games cost Berra his job. But there were those who said he was on his way out the day of the "Harmonica Incident."
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