Mel Stottlemyre thought he had been forgotten, but the truth was, that was impossible.
It was Old-Timers’ Day 2015, and Stottlemyre, battling cancer and needing a doctor’s clearance just to take the trip from his home in Seattle, sat in the dugout near his cane, a little shrug to his demeanor. All the other players had been called out on that day – the day the Yankees were ostensibly honoring No. 30, Willie Randolph – but not him.
But it was then that Stottlemyre, who died in a Seattle hospital Sunday at the age of 77 from complications due to multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer, was shown exactly how unforgettable he was. The 30 on the grass was for him, too. The plaque Joe Torre held was for him. The cheers were for him.
And Stottlemyre, the Yankees ace turned pitching coach who was at the forefront of some of the biggest moments in New York baseball history, was being immortalized in Monument Park.
On Monday, a day after Stottlemyre died, the baseball world was again reminded of his indelible mark on the sport – both for the Yankees, where he played his entire career and then helped mold the likes of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, and for the Mets, too. As a pitching coach, he fostered the arms of a generation – Dwight Gooden, Bobby Ojeda, Ron Darling – and was part of the 1986 world championship coaching staff. He was known as a pitcher’s pitching coach, and his staff loved him for it. All told, he won five World Series as a coach, the one with the Mets and the rest with the Yankees' dynasty teams of the late ‘90s.
“Mel was a better person than he was pitching coach,” Ojeda said. “He was a person I aspired to be, but I never made it.”
Added Gooden: “Mel was more than a pitching coach to me. He was a dear friend. Everything I accomplished in the game was because of him. He taught me so much more than balls and strikes. I’ll miss him dearly.”
For Stottlemyre, it all began in that rookie season of 1964 – one where he was called up in August and immediately made a name for himself, using that devastating sinker to help the Yankees clinch their fifth straight pennant. He battled Bob Gibson three times in that seven-game World Series against the Cardinals, eventually faltering in Game 7. He was 9-3 that season with a 2.06 ERA.
The five-time All Star had a 2.97 ERA in a decade in baseball, with 1,257 strikeouts. But despite reaching the World Series only three months into his major-league career, that would be the last time Stottlemyre would make the playoffs as a player. Instead, he made his name as the bright spot in a dark time. The Yankees' only true ace early in his tenure, he led the American League in complete games, batters faced and innings pitched in 1965, and went 20-12 in 1966, the first of three 20-win seasons. Overall, he went 164-139 with 152 complete games and 40 shutouts. Stottlemyre tore his rotator cuff in June 1974 – an injury that, at the time, had no surgery to correct it – and was released by the Yankees before the beginning of the 1975 season, ending his pitching career.
There was bad blood with the Yankees after that, and Stottlemyre coached for the Mets and the Astros before finally making peace with George Steinbrenner and signing on as Joe Torre’s pitching coach from 1996-2005, where he was largely credited with shaping the pitching staff that won all those rings.
“I am sorry to hear of Mel’s passing,” Torre said in a statement. “Mel was a role model to us all and the toughest man I have ever met. Sometimes a manager hires a friend to be their coach but with Mel, as with Zim [Don Zimmer], he was my coach who became a dear friend and someone who became very special to me.”
During that tenure, in 2000, Stottlemyre revealed that he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a disease of the plasma cells in the blood that can manifest in bone pain, kidney failure and neurological problems. His disease went into remission, returning in 2011.
The tense relationship with Steinbrenner, though, reared itself again and eventually led to Stottlemyre’s resignation in 2005; he coached one more year with the Mariners, in 2008, before his retirement. Any resentment with the Yankees, though, was left behind as the years passed – and that was never so certain than on that day in 2015, when Stottlemyre was ushered to home plate by Pettitte and honored while surrounded by his family, including his wife, Jean. He is also survived by his sons, Mel Jr., a pitching coach, and Todd, a former major-league pitcher.
“Beyond his tremendous accomplishments as a player and coach, Mel Stottlemyre was beloved for his class, dignity and fighting spirit," the Yankees said in a statement. "His contributions to different eras in our history guided us through difficult times and brought us some of our greatest all-time success. As a result, Mel’s popularity transcended generations, all of whom thought of him as their own. His plaque in Monument Park will forever serve to celebrate the significance of his legacy.”
It was clear on that day that the plaque held tremendous meaning to Stottlemyre, the man who thought he had been forgotten.
“Today, in this stadium, there is no one happier to be on this field than myself,” he said then, holding back tears. “I’ve been battling a dreaded disease for quite some time. I’ve had so much help from my family over here and I can’t say enough about you people, how supportive you have been of me over the years,” he added, pointing to the cheering fans.
“If I never get to come to another Old-Timers' Game, I will take these memories that I have today.”
Playing career: Yankees, 1964-74
 Career pitching record: 164-139, 2.97 ERA, 1,257 strikeouts 152 complete games, 40 shutouts
 Major-league debut: Aug. 12, 1964
 Rookie season: 9-3, 2.06 ERA (Pitched Games 2, 5 and 7 in the 1964 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, going 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA)
 All-Star appearances: Five (1965, 1966, 1968, 1969, 1970)
 20-win seasons: Three (20-9 in 1965, 21-12 in 1968, 20-14 in 1969)
 Coaching career: Mets pitching coach, 1984-93; Astros pitching coach,1994-95; Yankees pitching coach,1996-2005; Mariners pitching coach, 2008
 World Series titles as a pitching coach: Five (1986, Mets; 1996, 1998-2000, Yankees)

Laura Albanese/

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