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Letters of Intent
By Bob Elliott
There are always surprises in spring training.
(“To Syracuse?” no … “Knoxville?” No … “Dunedin?” Yes … “For the good weather?” No. “Oh!”)
Seeing a hitter, a lefty and infielder so impressive it meant going looking for a guide to fine the name of this can’t miss player.
And then there was the day walking into the coaches room at the Blue Jays minor league complex … back when you could walk into the coaches locker room. I heard someone cussing en Francais.
After covering the Montreal Expos the words were familiar.
It was dulcid tones of my mentor Serge Touchette, his mentor J.P. Sarault, Montreal’s two finest ball writers, and broadcaster Jacques Doucet.
It was the words of Bill Monbouquette, swearing en Francais … with his New England accent.
In a room which sometimes held the sharp tongues and wit of Bobby Mattick, Mel Queen, Bob Bailor, Richie Hebner and Big John Mayberry, the man they called Monbo held his own and won speaking French. He was a coach for 12 seasons in the Jays system and when manager Cito Gaston’s was hospitalized (back) in 1991, Monbo was recalled to be bullpen coach.
Monbo related to the teen-age bonus babies and big leaguers with 10 years in.
Monbouquette was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia in 2008.
“Just another fight,” Monbouquette told me in July a day before a trip to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a round of chemotherapy. “I’d tell the kids I’ve had more fights than Willie Pep. They say: ‘Who was Willie Pep?’
Pep was a world champeen featherweight with 242 fights in his 26-year ring career.
“Only difference between Willie and I, Willie won most of his fights,” Monbo said.
Pep never knocked down New York Yankees Billy Martin in his first game as Monbo did.
Each spring Monbo would see Ron Taylor, the Jays club doctor.
“The two of us hooked up in a good one didn’t we, that battle opening day 1962 at Fenway,” Monbo would say to Taylor and room.
They took turns on the mound in the first, Monboquette for his hometown Sox, and the rookie Taylor, in his major-league debut for the Cleveland Indians.
They were there in the 11th with only zeros on the hand-operated scoreboard.
Hebner, a Jays minor-league hitting instructor, would ask Monbo about his alumni high school hockey in the early 1990s? It had been decided pre-game there wouldn’t be contact as the Medford High varsity played the alumni.
“This kid starts hacking me, calling me a ‘slow, old man,’” Monbo said. “We go into the corner, I gave him a little bump.”
After the period the varsity coach came to the alumni room, said he was not putting his team onto the ice if they were going to injure his players. Someone explained what the wise-cracking kid had said to Monbo.
“Didn’t know that,” the coach said. “See you guys out on the ice.”
Monbo played down the incident saying “Ah, that was back when I was feisty.”
Back when he was feisty, Monbo pitched a no-hitter in to beat Hall of Famer Early Wynn and the Chicago White Sox 1-0 in 1962. He whiffed Luis Aparicio for the final out. Besides Cooperstown-bound Aparicio, Nellie Fox was in the Chicago lineup.
Monbo pitched 11 seasons winning 114 times pitching eight years with Boston, two with the Yankees, two with the Detroit Tigers and one with the San Francisco Giants. He was teammates with HoFers Ted Williams, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, Dick Williams, Eddie Matthews, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Bobby Cox, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.
When Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners pitching he set a Red Sox franchise record held by Monbo, who fanned 17 in 1961 against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium in a 2-1 Boston win. Monbo struck out Billy Klaus and Willie Tasby three times each; Dale Long, Gene Green and Pete Burnside twice, Gene Woodling, Jim King, Jim Mahoney, Marty Keough and Coot Veal once each.
Monbouquette, 78, died on Sunday at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
The funeral was Saturday with Blue Jays president Paul Beeston making the trip to pay his respects.
Symapthies are extended to his wife, Josephine, three children and three grandchildren.