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The Harmonica Incident:  August 20, 1964 (Flashback)

 


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-Yankeelike  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."

#  #  #

You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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