Mel Behney (1974 Boston Red Sox Yearbook)

May 6, 1974: Career-ending injury, chilly weather mar Boston-Pawtucket exhibition

This article was written by Kurt Blumenau

Mel Behney (1974 Boston Red Sox Yearbook)Frigid cold, a small crowd, and a career-ending injury are three things no one wants to see at an exhibition game.

Unfortunately, all three marred the Boston Red Sox’ game against their Triple-A affiliate in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, on May 6, 1974. Temperatures in the 40s limited attendance to fewer than 2,500 people, and those who braved the chill saw Pawtucket reliever and former Cincinnati Red Mel Behney break his arm while throwing a pitch.

The outcome of the game, a 4-2 Boston win, seemed incidental to the evening’s other events. “The game with Boston, which should have been more or less a fun game for players and fans, turned out to be anything but,” a local sportswriter summarized.1

The Red Sox had moved their Triple-A affiliate from Louisville, Kentucky, to Pawtucket for 1973. Pawtucket previously hosted Boston’s affiliate in the Double-A Eastern League from 1970 through 1972. Carlton Fisk, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper, and Rick Burleson all played for Pawtucket Double-A teams on their way to the majors.

The city’s first season at Triple A was one to remember. After finishing a close second in the International League’s North Division in the 1973 regular season, the PawSox, as they were known, beat the Tidewater Tides and Charleston Charlies to win the IL’s Governors’ Cup playoffs.2 They then beat the Tulsa Oilers to capture the Junior World Series, a tournament that matched the playoff winners of the IL and the American Association. In the clinching game, Pawtucket rode to victory behind Behney’s complete game and a home run by future Hall of Famer Jim Rice. Pawtucket manager Darrell Johnson got a plum promotion to Boston’s managing job for 1974, replacing Eddie Kasko.

Perhaps the only time the Boston-Pawtucket alliance fell short in 1973 was on Friday, May 25, when the Red Sox visited Pawtucket for an in-season exhibition. Pawtucket treated 7,302 home fans to a 3-2 win over the parent club, but temperatures in the 40s chilled the celebration.3 Ray Fitzgerald of the Boston Globe wrote: “McCoy Stadium seemed like a good place to be, a place where you could have fun for a couple of bucks, but it would help if winter went away.”4

Boston scheduled its 1974 return visit for May 6 – more than two weeks earlier than the previous year, and a Monday night to boot. Temperatures again dropped into the 40s, and this time, only 2,451 fans turned out.5 (This marked an improvement over the previous night, when just 229 fans showed up in similar weather to watch the PawSox play the Memphis Blues.6)

Both Boston and Pawtucket were struggling in the early going, parked in last place in their respective divisions. Johnson’s Boston team had an 11-15 record, 3½ games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East Division. The PawSox, led by future Boston manager Joe Morgan,7 had a 4-11 record and were 4½ games behind first-place Syracuse, a Yankees affiliate, in the IL’s Northern Division.8 Neither team had been hitting well.9 While Rice had been contributing in Pawtucket, the organization’s other highly touted outfield prospect, Fred Lynn, was sidelined with a leg injury.10 Lynn did not appear in the May 6 game. 

Johnson brought all of his regulars to Pawtucket, and the minor-league fans got a few innings’ look at the likes of Fisk, Burleson, Carl Yastrzemski, Tommy Harper, and Rico Petrocelli before they were rotated out for second-stringers. Outfielders Rick Miller and Bernie Carbo played the full nine innings. On the mound, righty Dick Drago got the start. Thus far in 1974, he’d compiled a 2-1 record, one save, and a 2.82 ERA against AL competition. Drago had started only one of his six appearances; on this night, he worked two innings before giving way to relievers.

Morgan started 24-year-old lefty Jim Burton, formerly of the University of Michigan, who was Boston’s first-round pick in the secondary phase of the June 1971 draft.11 Burton had not yet appeared in the majors as of May 1974 and was trying to get his career back on track after a subpar season (4-11, 5.13 ERA in 24 games) with Double-A Bristol (Connecticut) in 1973. Burton had not been on Boston’s 1974 spring-training roster and did not have a biography in the team’s media guide or yearbook, indicating that the parent club still considered him a step away from contributing at the major-league level.12 He had suffered from back problems in the spring of 1974 and the exhibition was only his second appearance of the season.13

Boston got on the scoreboard quickly in the top of the first inning. Miller and Carbo hit consecutive singles, bringing up Yastrzemski, whose .353 average ranked third in the AL. “Yaz,” unfazed by hearty booing, hit a run-scoring groundout for a 1-0 Boston lead.14

After a perfect first inning, Drago ran into trouble in the second. Rice led off with a single to center field, bringing up catcher Chuck Erickson, a 23-year-old who had hit 16 homers and collected 101 RBIs with Class A Winston-Salem the previous season. Erickson hit a no-doubt homer to left field to give Pawtucket a 2-1 advantage.

The game fell into an offensive lull from there. Drago retired the next three PawSox and gave way to Rogelio Moret, who’d pitched for Pawtucket in 1970. Moret pitched two shutout innings of one-hit ball.

Lefty Lance Clemons took over from there, holding Pawtucket off the scoreboard in the fifth. Clemons had pitched for the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals in 1971 and 1972 and made four appearances with the Red Sox in April 1974, racking up a 12.60 ERA.15

While Boston tag-teamed the pitching duties, Burton shone on the mound for Pawtucket. He held Boston hitless from the second inning through the fifth. Cooper, who had hit 15 homers for Pawtucket in 1973, broke the streak when he led off the sixth inning with a game-tying, 400-foot homer to left-center field. Later in the inning, an error by second baseman Chuck Goggin and several walks brought in another run to make the score 3-2. Morgan summoned Behney to relieve with the bases loaded.

Before being drafted by Cincinnati in 1968, Behney had starred at Verona (New Jersey) High School, where he pitched four straight no-hitters, and Michigan State University.16 He pitched five games with the Reds in late 1970 but stuck fast at Triple A in subsequent seasons.17 The 1974 Boston yearbook listed Behney among the team’s prospects, but described him in language befitting a veteran depth pickup: “A breaking ball pitcher, with good control, he will have to be extra-impressive in spring training to break into a pitching-rich staff.”18 Instead, Behney was hindered by elbow pain in the spring of 1974, and the exhibition was his first game appearance of the season.19

By coincidence, Behney was called in to pitch to Miller; the two had been teammates at Michigan State in 1968.20 Behney’s first pitch was a ball. The second sailed wild, landing in the vicinity of the Boston dugout, as Behney fell to the ground clutching his pitching arm. A run scored on the wild pitch, giving Boston a 4-2 lead.21 Behney was taken to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fracture of the left humerus, the bone that connects the shoulder and the elbow. He later described the feeling in stark terms: “Just as I came over the top with [the pitch], I got this feeling that my whole arm, every muscle, had been ripped from the socket, that my arm had fallen off.”22

The somber task of relieving Behney fell to 23-year-old righty Barry Sbragia, a Californian in his third of four minor-league seasons. Sbragia pitched the final 3⅓ innings, scattering a hit apiece in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings.23 An unsuccessful double steal by Cooper and Bob Montgomery stifled a Boston rally in the seventh, while Sbragia picked Juan Beníquez off first in the eighth.

With Clemons and Sbragia closing things out, the game wrapped up in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Clemons earned the win, allowing four hits in five innings, while Burton took the loss. Morgan praised Burton and Sbragia, saying Burton “didn’t panic against those guys and threw strikes” while Sbragia’s outing was “the best he’s done all year by nine miles.” Boston dabbled with using veteran infielder-outfielder Danny Cater at catcher in the late innings, an experiment that was not repeated in regular-season play.24

Behney told reporters he wasn’t done pitching: “I hope to be throwing again in a couple of months. … It is going to be more psychological than physical, but I have to be prepared for that. I can’t worry about hurting my arm again.”25 Boston moved Behney off its 40-man roster that September and released him the following April, though, and he did not return to the pro ranks.26


Boston ended 1974 in third place in the AL East at 84-78, seven games behind the Baltimore Orioles. Pawtucket slumped all the way to last in the Northern Division at 57-87, 31 games behind first-place Rochester.

Boston’s 1975 exhibition game in Pawtucket was played on June 5, perhaps in hopes of better weather. It didn’t help: Torrential rain limited the game to 6½ innings as Boston, the eventual AL champion, won 10-1. Pawtucket’s Bill Kouns hit Beníquez in the wrist with a pitch, raising injury fears, but Beníquez was not significantly hurt and played the next day.27



This story was fact-checked by Gary Belleville and copy-edited by Len Levin.


Sources and photo credit

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted and for general player, team, and season data.

Neither Baseball-Reference nor Retrosheet provides box scores of exhibition games, but the May 7, 1974, edition of the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times published a box score.

Photo of Mel Behney reproduced from page 25 of the 1974 Boston Red Sox team yearbook, accessed in July 2023 via the Internet Archive (



1 Ted Mulcahey, “Pawtucket Sox Bow to Boston,” Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Times, May 7, 1974: 14.

2 The information on Pawtucket’s 1973 season in this paragraph and the next is based on Kurt Blumenau, “September 21, 1973: Jim Rice’s Homer Helps Pawtucket Red Sox to Junior World Series Win,” SABR Games Project, accessed March 19, 2024,

3 Peter Gammons, “Pawtucket Spanks Parents 3-2; Cater Steals 3d, Smith Returns,” Boston Globe, May 26, 1973: 22; Ted Mulcahey, “Pawtucket Sox Nip Bosox,” Pawtucket Times, May 26, 1973: 14.

4 Ray Fitzgerald, “Pawtucket: Fan Potential, Yes, but What Sox Farm Needs Is a Thaw,” Boston Globe, May 26, 1973: 22.

5 Mulcahey, “Pawtucket Sox Bow to Boston.”

6 Ted Mulcahey, “Pawt. Sox, Bosox Play Here Tonight,” Pawtucket Times, May 6, 1974: 16.

7 As it happened, Morgan in 1973 had been manager of the Charleston Charlies, one of the teams Pawtucket defeated in the IL playoffs. The Charlies were a Pittsburgh Pirates farm team.

8 International League standings as of May 6, 1974, taken from the Rochester (New York) Democrat and Chronicle, May 6, 1974: 1D.

9 Peter Gammons, “The Bats Are Limp in Pawtucket, Too,” Boston Evening Globe, May 7, 1974: 52.

10 In “The Bats Are Limp in Pawtucket, Too,” Gammons described Lynn’s injury as a groin injury. The Pawtucket Times’s Ted Mulcahey characterized it as a thigh injury in “Pawtucket Sox, Charleston Play Pair Tonight at McCoy,” Pawtucket Times, May 8, 1974: 24. PawSox catcher Tim Blackwell also missed the exhibition with a hand injury.

11 A preview story in the Pawtucket Times suggested that Behney was considered for the start, with Burton, Sbragia, and veteran Bob Veale likely to pitch in relief for Pawtucket. Clemons was put forth as a potential starter for Boston but ended up relieving instead. Mulcahey, “Pawt. Sox, Bosox Play Here Tonight.”

12 1974 Boston Red Sox yearbook and media guide, accessed via the Internet Archive.

13 Mulcahey, “Pawtucket Sox Bow to Boston.”

14 Unless otherwise noted, all game action in this story is based on Mulcahey, “Pawtucket Sox Bow to Boston.”

15 Clemons subsequently made two more appearances with the Red Sox, on May 11 and October 2. They were his final major-league games.

16 “Behney” (player biography), 1974 Boston Red Sox yearbook: 25.

17 Cincinnati traded Behney to Boston in March 1973, receiving veteran role players Phil Gagliano and Andy Kosco in return. Gagliano and Kosco both appeared for the National League West champion Reds in the 1973 NL Championship Series, which the Reds lost to the New York Mets.

18 “Behney” (player biography), 1974 Boston Red Sox yearbook.

19 Associated Press, “Baseball Roundup,” Boston Evening Globe, March 5, 1974: 26; Peter Gammons, “Marichal Serves Up a Sample of Glory,” Boston Evening Globe, March 21, 1974: 29; Mulcahey, “Pawt. Sox, Bosox Play Here Tonight.”

20 2023 Michigan State University baseball record book: 46-47. Accessed July 2023. The 1968 Michigan State team also included third baseman Steve Garvey; converted to first base, Garvey was the 1974 National League Most Valuable Player and an NL All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

21 The Pawtucket Times noted that “players from both teams rushed to Behney’s aid”; however, the Boston runners on the basepaths took care of competitive business first and advanced on the wild pitch.

22 “Behney Confident,” The Sporting News, June 1, 1974: 38.

23 The box score printed in the Pawtucket Times lists Behney as having surrendered a base on balls, suggesting that Sbragia completed a walk to Miller after entering the game.

24 Cater played 1,289 big-league games over 12 seasons and never appeared at catcher. News coverage of Boston’s 1974 spring training indicated that Cater was being trained as a potential backup backstop. Clif Keane, “A Hairy Situation in Red Sox Camp,” Boston Globe, February 23, 1974: 21.

25 “Behney Confident.”

26 As of April 2024, Baseball-Reference had no listing for Behney pitching professionally after 1973. The Sporting News archives show no mention of him following September 1974, and a search of turned up no mentions of Behney returning to the mound in 1974 or beyond. Peter Gammons, “Hurler Lee Leads Critic Chorus in Bosox Swoon,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1974: 19; The Sporting News contract card for Mel Behney, accessed April 2024.

27 Ted Mulcahey, “6,276 See Red Sox Exhibition,” Pawtucket Times, June 6, 1975: 11.

Additional Stats

Boston Red Sox 4
Pawtucket Red Sox 2

McCoy Stadium
Pawtucket, RI

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