Mel Stottlemyre, who spent over 40 years in baseball as a New York Yankees pitcher and pitching coach for both the Yankees and the New York Mets, died on Sunday at 77. Stottlemyre, who is survived by his wife and two sons, had been battling bone marrow cancer for 20 years.
Stottlemyre spent almost 25 years as a pitching coach, and built a reputation as a legend. From 1984 to 1993 he worked with the New York Mets and tutored the rotation — which included guys like Ron Darling and Doc Gooden — that led the Mets to their 1986 World Series Victory. After a stint with the Houston Astros, he joined the Yankees in 1996 and found immense success (and four World Series rings) coaching pitchers like Andy Pettitte and David Cone.
Stottlemyre was praised for his ability to improve but not tinker, and for his attention to detail — for years he would catch the starters’ pre-game bullpen sessions so he’d know firsthand how their stuff looked that day. He left the Yankees after the 2005 season, citing differences with George Steinbrenner (not at all shocking), and decided to retire after he was dismissed by the Seattle Mariners in 2008.
Before Stottlemyre’s coaching days, he spent 11 seasons a starting pitcher for the Yankees. From 1964 to 1974, Stottlemyre made 356 starts in 360 games. He pitched over 200 innings in all but two seasons, and pitched over 300 innings in 1969. He retired with a 2.97 ERA, 164 wins, and 152 complete games.
Stottlemyre remains underrated as a pitcher, and that may have something to do with when he played. The Yankees lost the World Series in 1964, Stottlemyre’s rookie year, and wouldn’t make it back to the playoffs again until 1976, two years after Stottlemyre retired. That’s not exactly a period of Yankees baseball that fans remember fondly. Plus, the vast majority of Stottlemyre’s career took place before George Steinbrenner bought the Yankees in 1973. Steinbrenner helped push the Yankees back to the forefront of baseball, but by then, Stottlemyre had retired.
Stottlemyre won five World Series titles as a pitching coach, but his greatest honor came in 2015. Stottlemyre was given permission by his doctor to fly from his home in Seattle to New York for Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. That day, the Yankees surprised him by unveiling a plaque for him in Monument Park, an honor the Yankees had bestowed upon just 34 other people at that time. Stottlemyre, who was deep into his battle with cancer, gave an emotional speech to the crowd at the stadium. Via the New York Daily News:
“Today in this Stadium, there is no one that’s happier to be on this field than myself,” he said, choking up. “This is such a shock to me because the era I played in is an era where, for the most part, the Yankees have tried over the years, I think, somewhat to forget a little bit…If I never get to come to another Oldtimers Day, I will take these memories and I’ll start another baseball club, coaching up there, whenever they need me.”
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