I Meet The 1961 New York Yankees
It was during the 1961 season that I arrived at my present state of baseball consciousness. That was the year the American League expanded from eight teams to ten, and many of the league’s hitters feasted on the diluted pitching caused by the presence of around twenty pitchers who weren’t good enough for the majors in the past. A New Yorker, I watched the Yankees because they were the only team in town. They were an awesome aggregation that would go 109-53 during the season and dispatch a surprising National League Champion, the Cincinnati Reds, in a five-game World Series that fall.
The highlight of the 1961 campaign was the three man race waged by Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth to see who would either take or retain the title of regular season, home-run champion. That’s Maris and Mantle posing together in the picture you see above. I watched the whole thing unfold from a careful distance, witnessing the drama but not becoming attached to it. I simply couldn’t get excited about a team whose game plan was to open a small, early lead, something like 8 to 0, and slowly pull away. That Yankee team was a steamroller that beat all comers, drubbing them into submission with excellent defense, fine pitching and awesome home run power. Even with all that excellence splashed across the TV landscape on WPIX, I still had no passion for them. The New York Yankees were not my team. I didn’t have a team.
But I still watched. I remember seeing Maris hit # 61 off of Tracy Stallard. I repeatedly saw Tony Kubek go deep into the hole from his position at shortstop, make a diving stop, stand and set, and throw the ball to second baseman Bobby Richardson, who after stepping on the bag would pivot gracefully and release an on-target throw to first baseman Moose Skowron to complete yet another double play. Clete Boyer was a vacum cleaner at third base; it was almost impossible to get any ball past him. I can still plainly see in my mind’s eye Manager Ralph Houk walking slowly out to the mound to take the ball from Whitey Ford, who would go 25-4 that season, and give it to reliever Luis Arroyo, who would close out the game. I remember Elston Howard was the regular catcher and Yogi Berra was almost always in the outfield, usually in left. Maris was in right and Mickey Mantle patrolled center. That was the year Mantle’s season ended early due to a hip infection, halting him at 54 home runs and causing disappointment among most Yankee fans who wanted The Mick, and not Maris, to break Ruth’s record.
Yes, it was quite a year. Yet even with newly discovered baseball cards finding a home among the spokes of my bicycle’s tires, and the 1961 Yankees a mere flick of the TV switch away, something was missing. That was about to change, for a new season was just around the corner, and with it, the debut of a new franchise. The 1962 New York Mets were about to bumble their way into my life, changing it forever. That post is next.