NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York Yankees infielder Phil Linz, who knocked a Game 7 home run off Bob Gibson in the 1964 World Series but made even more noise by hitting a few sour notes on his harmonica, has died. He was 81.
Former teammates said Linz’s family told them he died Wednesday night in Leesburg, Virginia. Linz had been in poor health since a stroke five years ago.
Linz was a light-hitting backup for most of his seven-year career, batting .235 with 11 homers for the Yankees, Phillies and Mets.
But an episode on the team bus — along with some prodding by Mickey Mantle — long ensured Linz’s place in Yankees’ lore.
Swept in a four-game series by the first-place White Sox at Chicago in August 1964, the Yankees were riding to the airport when Linz, sitting in the back, began fiddling with a harmonica — he’d got it a day earlier at the Marshall Field’s store, an hour after teammates Tony Kubek and Bobby Richardson bought them.
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Studying a play-by-numbers pamphlet, Linz started to practice a sweet tune: “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”.
“I was sitting about a seat in front of him. He gave it a toot or two, he didn’t really have it down yet,” Kubek told The Associated Press on Friday.
Riding up front, first-year manager and longtime Yankees star Yogi Berra was in no mood to hear it. He angrily shouted for the music to stop.
Linz, however, didn’t hear Berra clearly. So the 25-year-old part-timer — who had played in all four losses — asked Yankees star Mickey Mantle what the skipper had said.
Mantle, ever ready to stir the pot, told him Berra said, “play it louder.”.
So Linz continued to blow away. Berra, out of character, angrily rushed back to confront him.
Berra slapped the harmonica out of Linz’s hand, Kubek said, and it went flying, hitting first baseman Joe Pepitone in the shin as tempers flared.
“Then Mickey starts grinning and tells Whitey Ford, that’s it, now Yogi’s going to get fired and he’s going to have to take over the team,” Kubek recalled. “Mickey says, ‘Whitey, you’re going to be my first base coach and here’s the sign for the hit-and-run,’ and he toots the harmonica once. Then he says here’s the bunt sign and toots twice.”.
“Pretty soon, all the tension and nervous laughter went away and guys started to relax and joke again,” Kubek said. “It all turned out all right.”.
Berra wound up fining Linz $250. Linz, however, came out OK in the financial department — boosted by national reports of the blow-up, the Hohner harmonica company gave Linz a $10,000 endorsement deal.
Harmony restored, the Yankees rallied down the stretch and reached the World Series for the fifth straight year.
“Some people say the harmonica incident caused a spark, I don’t know, maybe it did,” Kubek said.
With Kubek injured late in the season and out at shortstop, Linz played all seven games against St. Louis in the Fall Classic.
Showing off rare power, Linz homered during a win in Game 2. He then connected for a solo drive off Gibson with two outs in the ninth inning in Game 7 — Gibson retired the next batter to seal a 7-5 victory and the championship for the Cardinals.
Linz made his major league debut in 1962 but didn’t play in the World Series as the Yankees won the title. He got a pinch-hit single off Sandy Koufax in Game 4 of the ’63 Series as the Yanks got swept by the Dodgers.
In 1966, Linz joined the Phillies and he finished up with the Mets, where one of his coaches was Berra. Later, under much more relaxed circumstances, Linz broke out the harmonica with Berra.
Linz also found success off the field, for years running a popular Midtown restaurant and club called Mr. Laffs where sports figures congregated.
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