Incident: August 20, 1964
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-Yankee like 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."