Phil Linz died last month, and I meant to write about it but did not. He was a baseball player that only baseball fans remembered, and fewer as time went on, yet he was deemed worthy of a long obituary in the New York Times, among other publications. There is a reason, and the reason ultimately reduces to a favorite topic here, moral luck. That, of course, isn’t mentioned in any of the obituaries.
I saw Phil Linz play many times. His New York Yankees team was the perennial pennant winner that dominated the American League from 1961 to 1964; Linz joined the team in 1962. By current day standards he was a terrible hitter, but he could play many positions well, and those Yankee teams were hardly short of offense. Still, utility infielders with light bats are usually fungible and forgettable. Baseball Reference.com lists the most similar players to Linz as Robert Andino, Augie Ojeda, Manny Alexander, Clyde Beck and Rusty Peters.
Unlike any of those nonentities, however, Linz had a moment of fame. On the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1964, the Yankees were riding the team bus to O’Hare after losing four straight games to the White Sox. Yankee manager Yogi Berra, seated in the front, was in a foul mood: the team was looking like it might finish in second place, something just not tolerated by Yankee management. Linz had recently bought a harmonica, and was practicing in the back of the bus by playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” over and over. Yogi couldn’t stand it, and shouted from his seat to Linz, “Shove that harmonica up!” Between the harmonica and the other noise, Linz didn’t know what his manager had said, so he asked the teammate sitting by him, Mickey Mantle, what Yogi had shouted. The Mick, who was a practical joke aficionado, told him that Berra wanted him to play louder. So Linz did.