Phil Linz: “Play Me or Keep Me!”
Just before the trade deadline, San Francisco Giants’ reserve outfielder Nate Schierholtz got his wish and was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies. Schierholtz, in a public “play me or trade me” ultimatum issued to the first place Giants via San Francisco Chronicle baseball beat reporter Henry Schulman, said that he had come to the sad conclusion that “I’m not in the cards having a future here.”
Now Schierholtz, raised in the Bay Area and loved without reservation by Giants’ fans and whom he in turn loved unreservedly, finds himself in unfriendly Philadelphia with the rebuilding and last place Phillies.
Maybe Schierholtz would have been better off to have taken his lead from the 1960s New York Yankees’ bit player Phil Linz who coined his famous variation on the “trade me” theme. Linz said: “Play me or keep me!”
Linz, a utility infielder who broke in with the Yankees in 1962, promptly lost the starting shortstop job to fellow rookie Tom Tresh. But unlike most bench warmers, Linz never made waves about his playing status. The Washington Senators, to name but one interested team, coveted Linz. And had he been traded Linz, who also could play second, third and the outfield, might have been a fixture in the tenth place Senators’ starting line up.
Instead, Linz came up with his classic “keep me” line and begged management not to trade him. For one thing, Linz’s locker was right next to Mickey Mantle’s. According to Linz, from the moment he walked into the clubhouse, he was “walking on air.” Once Linz looked around and saw future Hall of Famers Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and baseball’s new home run king Roger Maris, he said: “I was just happy to be there. I wanted to be as nice as I could to everybody.”
Not only was Linz enthralled by the Yankees’ veterans, his new teammates were young and fun loving like him. What could be better for Jim Bouton, Joe Pepitone and Linz than to be Yankees, high profile bachelors and living in liberated New York during the free love era? As Newsday columnist Steve Jacobson put it: “There are Yankees who earn more (Linz’s salary was $7,000), Yankees who play more but none who enjoy it more” than Linz.
One of the benefits of being a Yankee that neither Linz nor any one else could have predicted was the nationwide publicity and financial bonanza that came his way after the infamous 1964 harmonica incident.
After appearing in 71 and 72 games in 1962 and 1963 Linz, with Tony Kubek injured most of the season and Tresh moved to center field, found himself a regular in manager Yogi Berra’s struggling 1964 line up. On August 11, the Yankees dropped a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox. In the heat of an American League pennant race, the Yankees were mired in a five game losing streak and had lost 6 of their last ten. Linz made a late inning appearance in the second game and was not a factor in the twin bill set backs. But for reasons not totally clear, once on the team bus Linz pulled out his newly purchased harmonica ($2.25 at Marshall Fields) and began to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Berra, feeling plenty of pressure during his managerial debut, blew sky-high. The two tussled over the harmonica and alternately threw it at each other.
The Berra-Linz dust up quickly became the headline in every baseball city. When the Yankees played the crosstown rival Mets a few days later in the Mayor’s Trophy Game, some Mets threw harmonicas onto the field. The story has a happy ending—sort of. After things settled down, Linz endorsed Hohner harmonicas for a reported $5,000. The company promptly reported a sharp spike in sales. The Yankees regrouped and won the American League title by edging the White Sox by one game. In the World Series, however, the Yankees lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-3.
But in 1965, not much of anything amused the Yankees’ management or the players. The Yankees dumped Berra during the off season and replaced him with the pilot who edged him out in the series, Johnny Keane. The season was a disaster. For the first time since 1925, the Yankees didn’t reach .500. The team finished 77-85, in sixth place and 25 games out.
By the end of 1965, Linz no doubt had a different perspective on the emotional value of pinstripes. Whether he did or not didn’t matter. In November Linz was shipped off to the Phillies in exchange for Ruben Amaro. After two years with the Phillies, Linz was traded again, this time to the New York Mets.
There’s only the slimmest chance that Schierholtz, born in 1984, would recognize Linz’s name or know anything about the famous harmonica caper that enthralled baseball fans during the summer of ’64. But it’s for sure that Linz, now 73 and living in Baltimore, spends more time reminiscing about the Yankees and Mantle than he does about the Phillies and Bobby Wine.
Joe Guzzardi works for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Contact him at email@example.com