The 1966 Binghamton (New York) Triplets of the Class A New York-Penn League played most of their home games at Johnson Field, a tired old facility that defined the phrase “dead ballpark standing.” New York State had taken title to the park in September 1965 as a first step toward tearing it down and building a highway. The park received as little upkeep as possible after that point as the “Trips” and their fans waited for the ax to fall.1
For one day, though, the team of Yankees farmhands got a remarkable reprieve from their shabby old ballpark. On August 20, the Trips played a regular-season home game at one of the most iconic and historic parks in baseball history, Yankee Stadium. They rose to the occasion. In a minor-league version of the big-league Mayor’s Trophy game,2 the Triplets rode a late home run to a 2-1 victory over the Auburn (New York) Mets, the New York-Penn affiliate of the crosstown New York Mets.
The idea of a regular-season Binghamton-Auburn game at either Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium, to be played before a big-league game, leaked to news writers as early as February 1966.3 Yankee officials confirmed the matchup in mid-May, scheduling it in the afternoon to precede a Yankees-Kansas City A’s night game. One news account noted that the Yankees – formerly disdainful toward promotions – had changed their attitude as they struggled to draw fans’ attention away from the Mets.4
The Yankees’ attendance declined from a league-leading 1,747,725 (or 21,577 per game) in the World Series championship season of 1961 to just 1,124,648 (13,715 per game) in the last-place season of 1966. The Yankees’ 1966 gate total placed them fourth in the American League, only 400 or so ahead of the Detroit Tigers.5 Binghamton and the Yankees had a long association, and perhaps Yankee officials figured that a Trips game might lure a healthy crowd of visitors from upstate.
While the Yankees had played exhibitions in Binghamton, the 1966 game was the first time the Triplets – or any other minor-league team – had played on the hallowed soil of Yankee Stadium.6 According to Binghamton’s newspaper, it was only the third minor-league game ever held at a major-league ballpark. Two Eastern League teams, York and Elmira, did battle at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium on August 21, 1965, and EL rivals Pawtucket and Pittsfield played at Boston’s Fenway Park on August 15, 1966.7
The Yankees announced an official attendance of 2,042 for the Class A game, while the New York Times and other outlets estimated a crowd of about 2,500.8 By either count, this was a bigger crowd than the Yankees drew for two of their home games later in 1966. Near the end of the Yankees’ season, with all hope lost, the team drew just 413 paying fans on September 22 against the White Sox and 1,440 the next day against the Red Sox.
The game matched the New York-Penn’s two hottest second-half teams. Manager Frank Verdi’s Trips were in first place with a blazing 36-16 second-half record, while Clyde McCullough’s Auburn team was 4½ games back in second place at 31-20.9 Auburn had claimed the first-half title with a 43-18 record, while Binghamton sat in fifth place in the six-team circuit.10 Auburn eventually won the league title at 80-49, while Binghamton placed third at 67-58, 11 games back.
For Verdi, the game represented a brief return to a level he’d reached momentarily. Verdi’s big-league playing career consisted of a single inning at shortstop with the 1953 Yankees, with his sole appearance coming at Fenway Park on May 10. He played 18 seasons and managed in the minors for another 24, but never reached the majors again as a player, manager, or coach.
The pitchers who started the Yankee Stadium game would both have longer big-league careers than Verdi – and one of them went on to become a New York legend. Auburn rolled out 23-year-old Jerry Koosman, while Binghamton countered with 19-year-old Mickey Scott. The pair of lefties, both in their second pro seasons, ranked at the top of the league in most major categories, including wins (Scott led with 15, Koosman was third with 12); ERA (Koosman led with 1.38); innings pitched (Scott and Koosman tied for second, at 170); and strikeouts (Scott led with 190, Koosman was third with 174.) Koosman’s 19-season big-league career included 12 with the Mets, during which he won 140 games and helped the team win the 1969 World Series. Scott pitched parts of five seasons with three teams.
Only one other Auburn starter, third baseman Joe Moock, reached the big leagues, getting a cup of coffee with the Mets the next season. Moock ranked second in the league with 21 homers and 99 RBIs, trailing only Batavia’s Cito Gaston in both categories. Also notable in Auburn’s lineup was catcher Steve Chilcott, who had been the number-one pick out of Antelope Valley High School in California in the amateur draft just two months earlier.11 Chilcott, chosen ahead of future Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, hit just .176 at two low minor-league levels that season. Hampered by injuries, he never reached the majors, and the Yankee Stadium game was about as close as he came.
Besides Scott, none of the Binghamton starters reached the majors as players. Brooklyn-born second baseman Matt Galante, who received a plaque before the game for being a college All-American,12 coached 19 seasons with the Astros and Mets between 1985 and 2004 and served as interim manager for the 1999 Astros. As a 22-year-old rookie, Galante hit .342 in 71 games for Binghamton in 1966. “I can see this place as my permanent home,” Galante told the New York Times, with more enthusiasm than foresight, after playing in the minor-league game in New York City.13
Binghamton, playing as the home team, scored the game’s first run, in the second inning. Center fielder Ernie Recob hit a one-out single. Shortstop Dion von der Lieth, hitting only .207, grounded a double down the left-field line, just inside the third-base bag. Based on left fielder Jon O’Dell’s pace fielding the ball, Verdi waved Recob around third, and he scored without a throw for a 1-0 lead.14
The Mets threatened in the third and fourth innings, getting runners on first and second both times but failing to score. Auburn finally tied it up in the fifth, starting when Chilcott’s liner over the head of right fielder Willie Mobley bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double. Chilcott took third on a groundout and scored when second baseman John Gonsalves followed with the game’s mightiest hit, a triple to left-center field that hit the 457-foot marker on a single bounce. Moock grounded to Galante to end the inning, stranding Gonsalves at third.15
Binghamton surged ahead for good on one swing in the seventh inning. Left fielder Al Otto came to the plate hitless in two at-bats, but he’d been a jinx to Koosman all season. Both of Otto’s home runs in 1966 had come off the Auburn lefty, and earlier in the week Otto had beaten Koosman with a 10th-inning home run back at Johnson Field. Sure enough, he did it again. Otto drove a low inside curveball just to the fair side of the left-field foul pole for a 2-1 Binghamton advantage.
Otto, a teacher in the offseason, hit .179 between two Class A teams in 1966; it was his third and final season as a pro.16 He later became a successful high-school baseball coach in Illinois, and his son, pitcher Dave Otto, reached the majors between 1987 and 1994.17
Koosman was lifted after seven innings in which he allowed just four hits and two runs, walked three and struck out six. Teammate Jerry Wild worked a shutout eighth inning for Auburn, allowing one hit. It was a solid combined performance, but it couldn’t match Scott. The Binghamton pitcher went all the way, scattering five hits, walking four, and striking out nine. He set down the final 10 Auburn hitters in order, wrapping up the game by striking out pinch-hitters Steve Smith and Ray Stadler for the final outs. It was Scott’s fourth straight complete-game win over Auburn since the start of July.18
The game capped an exciting day for the youngsters on both teams. For the Auburn squad, the day began with a 9 A.M. flight from Syracuse, with players angling for window seats to see the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks. The junior Mets toured Shea Stadium, took a bus trip through Manhattan, and received welcoming treatment from Yankees staff, including a postgame roast-beef dinner. The only disappointment of the visit – besides the loss – came when manager Alvin Dark of the A’s refused to allow the Auburn team to use the visiting clubhouse. The Auburnites dressed in Yankee Stadium’s press room instead.19 In the night game, the Yankees took a measure of revenge on Auburn’s behalf, dropping seven first-inning runs on the A’s and cruising to an 8-5 win.
This article was fact-checked by Tom Merrick and copy-edited by Len Levin.
Sources and photo credit
In addition to the specific sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org for general player, team, and season data.
Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of minor-league games, but the August 21, 1966, edition of the Binghamton (New York) Press published a box score.
The author thanks FultonHistory.org for making several of the cited newspapers available online.
Image of 1973 Topps card #553 downloaded from the Trading Card Database.
2 The Mayor’s Trophy was a series of games pitting New York’s American and National League teams against each other for bragging rights, played intermittently between the 1940s and the 1980s. See the Baseball-Reference BR Bullpen article: https://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Mayor’s_Trophy_Game.
3 John Fox, untitled column, Binghamton (New York) Press, February 9, 1966: 8C.
4 “Triplets Yankee Stadium Stuff,” Binghamton Press, May 13, 1966: 10B.
5 For comparison, the Mets drew 1,932,693 home fans in 1966. The Mets had outdrawn the Yankees every year since 1964, when Shea Stadium opened.
6 Several sources from 1966, including: Joe Trimble, “EL Farm Duel,” New York Daily News, August 21, 1966: 129; and “Yanks’ Farm Reaps Harvest in Stadium Game,” New York Times, August 21, 1966: S3. The Daily News’ description of the game as an Eastern League (EL) matchup was incorrect: While the Binghamton Triplets spent most of their existence in the EL, they were in the midst of several years in the New York-Penn League in 1966.
7 “A Big-League Performance by Triplets: 2-1 in Stadium,” Binghamton Press, August 21, 1966: C1. York and Elmira completed their game in Baltimore in August 1965, but that night’s Orioles game was rained out. And the Pawtucket-Pittsfield game at Fenway Park on August 15, 1966, was delayed by rain and ultimately suspended in the fifth inning so the Red Sox could take the field. The minor-league teams completed the game a few nights later in Pittsfield. So the Yankee Stadium minor-major doubleheader of August 20, 1966, appears to be the first such doubleheader where both games were successfully completed.
8 “Yanks’ Farm Reaps Harvest in Stadium Game.”
9 New York-Penn League standings as published in the Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, August 20, 1966: 1D.
10 New York-Penn League first-half standings as published in the Oneonta (New York) Star, June 27, 1966: 14.
11 Also the alma mater of iconoclastic musician Frank Zappa, whose West Coast performances with his group the Mothers of Invention received brief notice in the New York Daily News of August 13, 1966.
12 “Little Hope for Yankees” (photo and caption), New York Daily News, August 21, 1966: 129.
13 “Yanks’ Farm Reaps Harvest in Stadium Game.” This story is unbylined but may have been written by Gerald Eskenazi, who was at Yankee Stadium to cover the Yankees-Kansas City A’s game for the Times.
14 “A Big-League Performance by Triplets: 2-1 in Stadium”; also, “Otto’s HR Again Enables Triplets to Nip Mets 2-1 in Yankee Stadium Game,” Auburn (New York) Citizen-Advertiser, August 22, 1966: 12.
15 “Otto’s HR Again Enables Triplets to Nip Mets 2-1 in Yankee Stadium Game.” John “Chico” Gonsalves, a 23-year-old rookie, hit .236 with five triples for the 1966 Auburn team. He played two more seasons at Classes A and Double A before leaving professional baseball. The Binghamton Press’s game story, “A Big-League Performance by Triplets: 2-1 in Stadium,” had Gonsalves’s hit reaching the 457-foot fence on two hops, rather than one.
16 “A Big-League Performance by Triplets: 2-1 in Stadium.” Also, “Otto’s HR Again Enables Triplets to Nip Mets 2-1 in Yankee Stadium Game.”
17 Paul Sullivan, “Otto’s New Job: Son’s No. 1 Fan,” Chicago Tribune, July 11, 1988. Accessed online September 20, 2021. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1988-07-11-8801140405-story.html.
18 “A Big-League Performance by Triplets: 2-1 in Stadium.” Also, “Otto’s HR Again Enables Triplets to Nip Mets 2-1 in Yankee Stadium Game.”
19 Leo A. Pinckney, “Yankees Gave Our Mets Red Carpet Treatment,” Auburn Citizen-Advertiser, August 22, 1966: 12. The Binghamton newspaper reported that the Trips traveled to New York by bus, and also mentioned Dark’s refusal to allow Auburn to use the visitors’ dressing room.
Binghamton Triplets 2
Auburn Mets 1
New York, NY
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