#Shortstops: Music Box
The story became part of baseball legend seemingly overnight, a moment in time that condensed a pennant-winning season into no more than five minutes.
Yankees shortstop Phil Linz played the harmonica on a team bus one afternoon in Chicago. And that moment is now a part of history in Cooperstown.
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The date was Aug. 20, 1964, and the Yankees were en route to O’Hare Airport after a 5-0 loss to the White Sox at Comiskey Park. Chicago pitcher John Buzhardt shut out New York on seven hits – all singles – that day, handing the Yankees their fourth straight defeat and leaving the Bronx Bombers four-and-a-half games behind the AL-leading White Sox.
Linz, who had struck out as a pinch-hitter in the game, was sitting next to teammate Joe Pepitone near the back of the bus when he began playing a Marine Band harmonica made by the M. Hohner Company of Germany. First introduced to the American market in 1896, the Marine Band brand became popular because of its small size and price.
Berra, the Yankees’ first-year manager, was not impressed.
“Put that thing in your pocket,” the Associated Press quoted Berra as shouting at Linz.
As the story goes, Mickey Mantle encouraged Linz to keep playing. After a few more notes, Berra moved toward Linz, saying: “You’d think you’d just won four straight.”
Linz then flipped the harmonica at Berra, and a shoving match ensued after the instrument hit Pepitone.
“Why are you getting on me?” the AP quoted Linz saying to Berra. “I give a hundred percent out on the field. I try to win. I should be allowed to do what I want off the field.”
Berra was unmoved and quickly returned to his seat. But Yankees coach Frank Crosetti, who had been with the team as a player and a coach for 33 seasons, began arguing with Linz.
Crosetti later said it was the worst internal incident he’d seen in his time with the club.
The outburst had no immediate effect on the team, which lost the following day to Boston 7-0 to extend its scoreless innings streak to 21 innings. But with the pennant slipping away, the Yankees suddenly caught fire – winning 26 of their next 33 and eventually capturing the flag on the next-to-last day of the season, finishing one game ahead of the White Sox.
Berra and Linz later signed a box with a harmonica similar to the one used that August day, dating it Oct. 10, 1964. The box and harmonica are now a part of the Hall of Fame collection.
Linz played seven years in the big leagues with the Yankees, Phillies and Mets – appearing in a career-best 112 games in 1964. He had seven hits, including two home runs, in the Yankees seven-game loss against the Cardinals in that year’s World Series.
Berra was dismissed from his job as Yankees manager following that Fall Classic, but went on to manage the Mets from 1972-75 – leading the team to the 1973 NL pennant – and the Yankees again in 1984 and 1985.
Berra, who helped the Yankees win 10 World Series titles during his playing days, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1972.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum