My hero, my father, passed away on January 13th at the age of 77 after a 20-year fight with multiple myeloma. Dad pitched with the New York Yankees from 1964-1974. He was a 3x 20 game winner and a 5x all-star during his playing days. Dad won 164 games over the ten years with the Yankees and had 152 complete games and 40 career shutouts.
After his playing days, he went on to become one of the best if not best-pitching coach in the history of the game spanning 23 seasons. As a coach, he became a 5x World Champion. One with the New York Mets in 1986 and four World titles with the New York Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. During his coaching time with the Yankees, two of his starting pitchers threw perfect games including the legendary David Cone.
My father coached some of the game’s greats as we know them now. Doc Gooden, Sid Fernandez, Ron Darling, David Cone, Andy Petite, Roger Clemons, and Mariano Rivera who was the first player in major league history to be voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously on the same day as Dads funeral.
He not only coached some of the greats but during his playing career, he played with some of the legends of the sport. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, and Bobby Murcer to name a few. Yogi Berra was his first manager in 1964 where he started Dad in his rookie season three times against Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Dad touched a lot of people throughout his legendary baseball career on and off the field. The fans in New York will forever admire him. Players, writers, broadcasters, managers and even baseball owners praised the way my father carried himself as you will see below. It was more than the way he carried himself; it was indeed the man he was. Dad didn’t have one fake bone in his body. He was authentic to the core. He was a faithful servant leader where he cared about other people. Every moment you had with my father you walked away from him a better person. He had the gift of making every situation better for everyone that came into contact with him.
Ron Darling said, “when you were at your worst, Mel was at his best. He made you believe in yourself and feel good and then things would get better.”
Roger Clemons said, “I think about his smile, and his laugh even when I knew he wasn’t feeling well.”
Buster Olney, a senior writer for ESPN, said in a conversation with Clemons said that Stottlemyre was like John Wayne transported off the big screen, in how he carried himself.
David Cone said, “ he was more than a great pitcher and fantastic pitching coach. He was a father figure and touched so many in a positive way.
“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, Doc Gooden.”
In a recent conversation I had with the great Joe Torre, he expressed to me that my father was a mentor to everyone.
During Dads 33 years in major league baseball, 30 of those great years were spent in New York. 10 as a pitcher and 20 as a pitching coach. Of all the great moments and memories My father had in the great city of New York I am sure the day in 2015 at the Yankees Old Timers day will stand as his most significant. The Yankees honored this great man with a plaque that now resides in monument park. My father delivered an unforgettable speech that day at Yankee Stadium. “If I never get to come to another Old Timers Day, I will take these memories, and I’ll start another baseball club, coaching up there, whenever they need me.”
We lost a great man, “Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner 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, Mets 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.”
I remember my Mom calling with excitement. The Yankees had just called her to let her know that they were going to surprise Dad with the plaque at the old-timers game in June of 2015. Mom said that the Yankees would be flying our entire family in for this special event. This would go down in history as my fathers most prestigious personal award ever. Let us not forget, only the Yankee legends reside in monument park. Mom informed me of the dates and immediately I was sick to my stomach. I already had a prior commitment to be in California that weekend where I would have hundreds if not thousands of people counting on me to be there over that same weekend. My hero who was not feeling well at the time due to cancer and the Yankees were honoring him with the most prestigious award in Yankee franchise. I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my life. Do I take my wife and kids to New York to be with the rest of my family or do I go to California where I had already given my word that I would be at that event? To most people, the decision seems easy. Go to New York.
I idolized my father from the time I could walk. I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Those footsteps represented more than baseball although that was my childhood dream. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of not only the legendary Yankee but I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the man. My father stood by his word with no exceptions to the rule. His values and character were non-negotiable. His choices and actions always spoke louder than his words. You could count on him 100% of the time.
I made the decision to go to California praying that I would not regret it for the rest of my life. I prayed that we would have our special time in monument park at a later date.
When I look at the pictures from that special day in Yankee Stadium I have to admit that there is some pain deep down that me, Erica and my kids are missing from the photos. Those photos also remind me that I was truly following in my father’s footsteps. I kept my word to a team of people that were counting on me to keep my commitment. As hard as it was, I was like Dad on that weekend.
Mel Stottlemyre was more than a sports icon to our family. He set the example of how to treat women by being a loving, faithful husband to my mother. To my brothers and I, he was Dad, our best friend, mentor, coach, and leader. He was also crazy about his 8 grandkids. Outside of his sports legacy, he left us a valuable set of rules called life lessons to live by.
He was always positive even when we were in the middle of a storm. I never heard him ever say the words, I can’t or You can’t. He always believed in the best even when the odds were against him. He possessed the mindset of a champion.
When my younger brother Jason passed away from Leukemia in 1981, he displayed the highest form of leadership I have ever witnessed. He pulled our family together in the living room on our first day back in the house without Jason. Even though he was in great pain, he mustered the strength to declare that we will get through this as a family. We will stick together, and we will never forget Jason.
One time I recall dad walking out of the park with Mel jr and I after we had just played in an American Legion game. He asked, “did you guys have fun today.?” We both said yes. “ He said it didn’t look like it. If you don’t have fun playing the game, then you guys shouldn’t play.” Dad believed in pursuing your passion and striving to be the best you can at whatever you do. I took that advice into and throughout my major league career. Play every game likes it is your last one.
Dad was a firm believer in the KISS strategy. Keep it simple stupid. He had to remind me of this several times over my major league baseball career. Success is simple; It always boils down to mastering a handful of things Dad would say.
If you throw up, make sure you can sleep in it. What he meant by this is taking 100% responsibility for all of your words and actions.
About 3 years ago we left the hospital at a time my dad was very ill. When we got to his house, he wanted me to take him for a drive in the mountains. As we were driving, he admired the cabins in the mountains. He said, “ I might buy a cabin in the mountains someday.” I was floored, I was praying he would get through the day. I realized right then that Dad was refusing to give his power over to his current circumstances. He was giving all of his power to his vision. That was one hell of a lesson that day.
When things got tough, he would say narrow your focus to this moment. Just be the best you can right now. An excellent lesson for staying present in the moment.
He forgave George Steinbrenner for a dispute they had when the Yankees released my Dad, and his playing career came to an end. Years later, in 1996 George hired my Dad as the Yankees pitching coach under the great Joe Torre. The power of forgiveness. Without it, my father would have missed out on the 4 world titles he had with the Yankees as the pitching coach.
Commitment, discipline, integrity, character, consistency were all synonymous with his name. He lived life as if excuses were a disease.
I could go on and on because my Dad lived a legacy life where he positively touched millions of people.
Dad fought until the bitter end. He was without a doubt the greatest warrior I have ever witnessed. With my mom on one side of him, Mel Jr and me on the other side. Mel jr had his right hand, and I had my left hand on his heart. We were all together when he took in his last breath.
I will never forget you. Thank you for the life that you provided for our family. Thank you for being the most excellent example of a human being. Thank you for being the greatest Dad, friend, mentor, coach, and leader. Thank you for your legacy and lessons. Thank you for all the memories. I will cherish every single one of them. Thank you for never quitting even in the midst of a storm. You will forever live in my heart. I want to be just like you Dad.