by Harold Friend
During March, 1978, George Steinbrenner tried to improve the Yankees by showcasing Ken Holtzman, the left hander they acquired from the Orioles at the trading deadline in 1976. In his second appearance this spring, Holtzman allowed eight runs and nine hits as the Braves blasted the Yankees, 11-1.
Not Exactly Sandy Koufax
After the game, Holtzman said he thought his throwing was all right but that a lack of control was his problem, considering his lack of work last season. The big left hander, who was compared to Sandy Koufax in his rookie year, when he was 9-0 for the Cubs, was realistic when he thought that it would take him months to find his coordination and control.
"I got to keep pitching. Eventually I'll find the right coordination. In past years, by this time I was beginning to get pretty sharp, but now I'm way off so it's going to take me several months."
Martin Didn't Use Holtzman in the Playoff or World Series
Holtzman was 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA for the Yankees in 1976 but Yankees' manager Billy Martin did not use him in the playoffs or World Series. The Yankees lost the first three games of the World Series to the Reds and when a reporter asked Martin, "How do you spell Holtzman?", the Yankees' manager got testy. Holtzman's only response was that he respected Martin's baseball knowledge.
Holtzman started the 1977 season as part of the Yankees' rotation but was ineffective and relegated to the bullpen. He started only 11 games, had a 2-3 record and a 5.78 ERA. During a three week stretch he made only two relief appearances, after which he exploded, saying that he signed with the Yankees expecting to be used.
"I was obviously not told the truth when I signed here. They asked me to sign a long term deal because they wanted me to pitch here a long time. It's getting hard to explain to my friends in the league why I'm not pitching."
George Steinbrenner Became Disenchanted With Holtzman
It is believed that George Steinbrenner became disenchanted with Holtzman almost immediately. When Holtzman realized he wasn't going to be used regularly he demanded a trade, and since he had been in the majors ten years, he could veto any trade. Steinbrenner tried to get Holtzman to waive that right, which he refused to do, not making Mr. Steinbrenner too happy.
Holtzman Requested a Trade
Holtzman requested that he be traded to Milwaukee or Chicago in order to be close to his home in Lincolnshire, Illinois, but it was not to be because Steinbrenner ordered Billy Martin to use Holtzman as an "insurance policy" in case the Yankees needed another starter. It was not a happy situation, but the Yankees finally gave Holtzman a chance in the spring of 1978.
George Steinbrenner Tried to Improve the Yankees
The significance of the Ken Holtzman trade was that it was the first of too many in which George Steinbrenner acquired veteran "name" players in exchange for youngsters. With few exceptions, the Yankees would have been better off if Steinbrenner had allowed the youngsters to develop as Yankees.
The Yankees acquired Holtzman, veteran pitchers Doyle Alexander and Grant Jackson, veteran catcher Elrod Hendricks, and left hander Jimmy Freeman, who never made it, for veteran lefty Rudy May, young pitchers Scott McGregor, Tippy Martinez, and Dave Pagan, and young catcher Rick Dempsey. Baltimore would make such trades every season. Holtzman was thirty years old when he joined the Yankees, but Steinbrenner has little patience with what he construes as failure. When Holtzman didn't adjust to his new surroundings immediately, he was sent to the bullpen. Holtzman blasted the Yankees and was never an effective pitcher again.
In Defense of Steinbrenner
In defense of Steinbrenner and the Yankees, when he joined the Yankees, Holtzman had won 155 games in ten full seasons with the Cubs and Athletics. He and Reggie Jackson went to the Orioles on April 2, 1976, and on June 15, the Orioles unloaded Holtzman on the Yankees, who thought they were getting the pitcher who helped the Athletics win three consecutive World Championships and had gone 4-1 with a 2.55 in those World Series. Instead, the Yankees had a pitcher who won twelve games for them and six for the Cubs when he returned to Chicago. Holtzman's career was over in 1979, when he was thirty three years old. References:
Chass, Murray. (1978). Braves bombard holtzman for 8 runs." New York Times, March 15, 1978. P. B6.