April 28, 1961 — Following the 1960 season, the American League expanded from eight teams to 10 and increased the schedule from 154 games to 162 (a move which would have a huge impact on the 1961 home run chase…more on that to come).
New ball clubs were added in Washington and Los Angeles, and the original Washington Senators relocated to Minnesota to become the Twins. The National League expanded the following season, adding the New York Mets and the Houston Astros.
A draft was established to stock the new Senator and Angel ballclubs. The Yankees lost much of their bench and second-line pitching, as Bobby Shantz, Eli Grba, Duke Maas, Bob Cerv and Dale Long were all drafted, and veteran utility man Gil McDougald retired.
Manager Casey Stengel and general manager George Weiss were both given their walking papers, despite the fact the Yankees had won the AL pennant and advanced to the seventh game of the 1960 World Series. They were replaced by Ralph Houk and Roy Hamey. Johnny Sain took over from Ed Lopat as pitching coach, and Wally Moses became the new batting coach.
BETTER DAYS: With baseball and life in general on hold during the coronavirus crisis, the SportsLifer will take a daily look at the 1961 Yankees as they captured the attention of sports fans everywhere. It was the year of the great home run race, as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased Babe Ruth into history. Hopefully the SportsLifer can provide some nostalgic entertainment for fans who are starving for baseball, past and present. Play ball!
GM Brian Cashman has made many shrewd moves the past several years in making the Yankees a contender once again. The acquisition of Sonny Gray isn’t one of them.
Cashman dealt three prospects – James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo and Dustin Fowler — to the Oakland A’s for Gray before the trade deadline last July. At the time, most thought the Yankees were getting a solid, young No. 2 starter.
Instead, Sonny has evoked nightmare visions of guys like Ed Whitson, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, all of whom flopped in pinstripes.
Facing the Red Sox on the last day of June, Gray crumbled in the first inning. After retiring the first two batters, Gray loaded the bases and then surrendered a grand slam to Rafael Devers. He couldn’t get off the mound fast enough midway through the third inning, trailing 6-0 with boos cascading down from irate Yankee fans..
“That was embarrassing for me and for everybody in here,” Gray said in the home clubhouse after the 11-0 loss. “If I was out there, I probably would’ve booed me louder.”
Statistics tell the story, and it’s not good one. In fact, Gray’s performance as a Yankee has been historically bad. All Yankee pitchers are expected to pitch well at home….and show a propensity for beating the Red Sox. Gary has done neither.
Since coming to the Bronx, Gray has a 4-6 record and a 7.10 ERA, highest of any Yankee pitcher in history who has started at least eight games at Yankee Stadium.
This year, Sonny has an 8.25 ERA in eight home starts, the worst in Yankees history. Pavano was the previous leader in this dubious category with a 6.89 ERA.
Against Boston, the Yankees have lost all four of Gray’s starts in the past two seasons. His ERA against the Red Sox is 9.35, better only than Jose Contreras (16.43) and Andy Hawkins (14.44).
In eight career starts against the Red Sox overall, including his lone win while a member of the A’s, Gray is 1-6 with a 6.98 ERA.
“I mean, I haven’t beaten a lot of teams since I’ve been here. I’ve been bad against the Red Sox. I’ve been bad against a lot of teams,” Gray said. “So I don’t think you can say one particular team has my number. I’ve been bad against multiple teams.”
At least you got something right, Sonny.
It was 20 years ago today that I witnessed a piece of baseball history. On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Beanie Baby day at Yankee Stadium, Yankees southpaw David Wells carved out a slice of baseball immortality by pitching a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.
My sister Aimee came up with four tickets in the lower stands in right field, and my son Dan, then 12, nephew Sean, 7,and brother-in-law Jack saw a game for the ages.
That day, Wells threw the first perfect game for the Yankees in nearly 42 years, going back to Don Larsen’s masterpiece against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. Amazingly, Wells and Larsen graduated from the same high school, Point Loma, near San Diego.
There were several interesting sidelights to that game. For one, I just missed catching a home run ball by Bernie Williams in the fifth inning. If you go back and look at the videotape, I’m the guy in the orange windbreaker who gets shoved out of the way on Bernie’s blast.
A father sitting in the row in front of us kept getting up to buy food for his kids. Then after seven innings he announced he was leaving. My brother-in-law and I were incredulous. We both asked him if he knew what was going. He realized a no-hitter was in progress, but responded that he wanted to beat the traffic. Jack and I just shook our heads and laughed.
Lastly as we left the Stadium, I turned to Sean, who had just seen the second major league game in his life. I told him he could go to a game every day for the rest of his years and never see another perfect game.
Witnessing one bullpen failure after another in the playoffs makes baseball fans, especially Yankee fans, appreciate the great Mariano Rivera all the more.
Year after year, Rivera, pictured above with Jorge Posada and Scott Brosius after saving the final game of the 1999 World Series, compiled a post-season resume that is unrivaled in baseball history. In 96 playoff games and 141 innings, Mariano had a 0.70 ERA. He had 42 saves (same as his number) in 47 opportunities. Sure Mo blew a few – most notably against Arizona in the 2001 World Series in Game 7 and two games against Boston in the fabled ALCS 3-0 comeback. He was human.
That 0.70 ERA is the best all-time in MLB playoff history, ahead of such luminaries as Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson and Babe Ruth. And the 42 saves is more than twice as many as the runner-up, Brad Lidge.
Here’s another stat – Rivera allowed exactly two home runs in post-season, none after Jay Peyton took him deep in the 2000 World Series with the Mets. Heck, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has given up as many homers in this World Series alone.
Name the only franchise to win both American and National League pennants? It’s the Houston Astros of course. They Astros won the National League pennant but were swept by the White Sox in the 2005 World Series. And this year they were American League champs.
Next Yankee Manager
If the Yanks continue their Joe trend, then third base coach Joe Espada will be named the next manager, succeeding Joe Girardi. Girardi won one World Series in 10 years. He took over from Joe Torre, who won four World Series in 12 years. And another Joe – McCarthy – managed the Yankees for 16 years between 1931 and 1946, winning a franchise best 1460 games and seven World Series.
Going out on a limb here, and tabbing Al Pedrique as a dark horse candidate for the next Yankee manager. Pedrique has been successful managing the Yankees Triple A affiliate Scranton, and has groomed many of the young Yankee stars, including Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez. Greg Bird, Luis Severino and more.
Old School Baseball
Game One of the 2017 World Series ran just two hours and 28 minutes, the quickest playoff game in more than 20 years. The game brought back memories of the old days, when games typically ran two hours, sometimes less.
As a kid, I used to go to Sunday doubleheaders at Yankee Stadium, and most times be home before dinner. And the price was right – $1.50 to sit in the upper deck, half price with a high school card. Two games for 75 cents. Top that.
As the wild card showdowns are decided and the MLB playoffs get started, the pressure is squarely on two teams – the Cleveland Indians and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
When the Chicago Cubs knocked off the Indians in a thrilling seven-game World Series last fall, they also passed along the stigma of baseball’s longest championship drought. The Tribe has come agonizingly close several times – most notably last year and in 1997, when they lost to the Florida Marlins in seven games. Cleveland also won the AL pennant but lost the World Series in 1954 and 1995.
You’ve got to go back the Truman administration in 1948 to find the last Indians championship squad. That year Cleveland beat the Boston Braves in six games. Do the math, that’s 69 years ago.
The Dodgers managed to win just one World Series in Brooklyn, beating the Yankees in seven games in 1955, before moving to Los Angeles in 1958. LA won five championships in its first 30 years on the West Coast, but none since. In fact, the Dodgers last made the World Series in 1988, when they knocked off the heavily-favored Oakland A’s in five games.
Many feel the Dodgers are due, having won five straight NL West titles and being crowned the best team ever by Sports Illustrated in August. Following that cover piece, the Dodgers reached a high water mark of 91-36, then proceeded to lose 16 out of 17 games, including 11 straight.
The Indians set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak in September, marking the Tribe as the team to beat in the AL.
The Dodgers wound up with the best record in baseball, 104-58, while the Indians finished second best at 102-60. Pressure’s on.
New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge is having a breakthrough rookie season, belting prodigious home runs and exciting fans across the country as his #99 soars to the top of the MLB best-selling jersey list and he becomes the early leader in the American League MVP and Rookie of the Year races
However, more than four decades ago a guy named Judge was a shining baseball star. No, not Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who served as baseball’s first commissioner from 1920 to 1944 and is famous for handling the Black Sox scandal.
The other ballplaying Judge, Joe Judge, was a stellar first baseman who played nearly his entire 20-year career with the Washington Senators before retiring in 1934. This Judge compiled a .298 lifetime batting average and hit better than .290 for 11 straight seasons beginning in 1920.
Although Judge was not a home run hitter (he had just 71) he finished his career with 433 doubles, 159 triples, 2,352 hits, 1,034 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .420.
Joe Judge was known as one of the best fielding first baseman of his era, the Keith Hernandez of his day. Just 5’ 8 1/2” tall, Judge led AL first baseman in fielding six times and finished second in five other seasons. He retired with a .933 fielding percentage, a record that stood for 30 years. The lefty still ranks among the all time first base leaders in games (2,084), assists (1,301), putouts (19,264) and double plays (1,500).
The Brooklyn native had one of his best years in 1924, hitting .324 and helping the Senators win their only World Series. Judge batted .385 in the seven-game Series victory over the New York Giants.
Despite several injuries he batted .314 in 1925 as the Senators won their second straight pennant but fell to the Pittsburgh Pirates in another seven-game World Series.
Judge played the final two years of his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, and later coached baseball at Georgetown University until 1958. He died at age 68 in 1963 after suffering a fatal heart attack while shoveling snow at his home in Washington, DC.
I play in a 16-team league called FLAKS (Fantasy League All-Stars, Kontenders and Slackards) which this year is celebrating its 24th season. FLAKS is made up primarily of communications professionals. Many of us are former journalists who worked together at IBM at certain points. In the early years, before the Internet, we literally kept our own stats. Now every pitch is recorded.
Many years back FLAKS became an auction league. Each year, shortly before Opening Day, we gather together to draft our teams. Do the math. 16 teams, 25 players per team, that’s 400 players. And we bid on every player, one player at a time, one dollar at a time.
The draft normally takes up the better part of 12 hours. This year, for the first time, a dead man, the former Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, was drafted. And we had an epic bidding war for Kris Bryant of the Cubs, which wound up in a league record $60 price.
Following the draft, CBS Sports evaluates our draft. My team, SportsLifer, received a D this year, but fear not. Those grades are based on a snake draft, not auction. Last year CBS gave me an A, and yet a week into the season SportsLifer was in the basement. Eventually, after a series of trades and pick-ups, we managed to climb into a tie for seventh place and finished in the money.
This is my 2017 squad. Although not a superstar-studded roster, it appears to be a well-balanced squad. And it will evolve over the course of the season, one week a time. We’ll see what happens.
C — Gary Sanchez, NYY
1B –- Eric Hosmer, KC
2B — Jonathan Schoop, Bal
SS – Jonathan Villar, Mil
3B – Nick Castellanos, Det
OF – Dexter Fowler, StL
OF – Adam Jones, Bal
OF – Hunter Pence, SF
DH – Brandon Moss, KC (1B, OF)
1B – Josh Bell, Pitt
OF – Howie Kendrick, Phil
OF – Nick Markakis, Atl
OF — Tyler Naquin, Cle
OF – Josh Reddick, Hous
SP – Gerrit Cole, Pitt
SP – Johnny Cueto, SF
SP – JA Happ, Tor
SP — Rick Porcello, Bos
SP – Blake Snell, TB
RP – Mark Melancon, SF
RP – Jim Johnson, Atl
SP – Brandon Finnegan, Cin
SP – Mike Montgomery, Cubs
DL – Didi Gregorius, SS, NYY; Collin McHugh, SP, Hou
Marty Appel has hit another home run with his latest undertaking “Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character.” Appel, whose credits include “Munson” and “Pinstripe Empire,” the definitive history of the New York Yankees, digs deep into Casey Stengel’s life and uncovers multiple aspects of a life in baseball that spanned more than 50 years.
In 2009, MLB Network ran a series that highlighted many areas of the game. Stengel finished first in a category called “Characters of the Game.” He beat out luminaries such as Yogi Berra, Babe Ruth, Dizzy Dean, Leo Durocher and Satchel Paige.
Upon Casey’s death in 1975, Richie Ashburn, who played for Stengel with the original Mets, said: “He was the happiest man I’ve ever seen.”
Casey loved the writers who covered his teams – ‘my writers’ he would call them. He was a showboat and a rabble-rouser who wasn’t afraid to mix it up in a fight. He was a .284 hitter as a player, and managed the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees and Mets, achieving his greatest fame with the Yankees who won five straight World Championships between 1949 and 1953.
Here are 10 amazing factoids and associated Stengelese witticisms found in Casey’s bio:
1. Casey hit the first home run in Ebbets Field when the Brooklyn Superbas (soon to be called Dodgers) christened their new park with an exhibition game against the Yankees before the 1913 Series. Generous scoring ruled Stengel’s inside-the-park blast a home run.
2. A decade later, in 1923 Stengel hit the first World Series home run in the history of Yankee Stadium. This was also an inside-the-parker, and gave the New York Giants a 5-4 win over the Yankees. Stengel also homered in Game 3, and this blast into the right field seats gave the Giants a 1-0 win.
3. In 1933, Casey served as a pall bearer at the funeral of legendary Giants manager John McGraw. Other pall bearers that day included George M. Cohan, DeWolf Hopper (who wrote ‘Casey at the Bat’’), Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert, Dodgers manager Wilbert Robinson, Will Rogers, and football Giants owner Tim Mara.
4. One year, Stengel managed the Boston Braves to a sixth place finish, coming on the heels of four seventh place finishes. Early in the 1943 season Casey was hit by a taxi cab in Kenmore Square and broke his left leg. Acerbic Boston Record columnist Dave ‘The Colonel’ Egan wrote that “the taxi driver who knocked Stengel down and put him out of commission until July” should be voted the man who did the most for Boston baseball in 1943.
5. Before the first game of the 1952 World Series, Stengel, then manager of the Yankees, took Mickey Mantle out to right field in Ebbets Field to give him a tutorial on the angles of the concrete wall. Mantle looked at Casey as though he was screwy. “Guess he thinks I was born at age 50 and started managing immediately,” said Stengel.
7. After guiding the Yankees to 10 American League pennants in 12 years, Stengel was let go by the team after losing to the Pirates in a thrilling seven-game World Series in 1960. “I’ll never make the mistake of being 70 again,” Casey said.
8. In 1962, Casey took over the reigns of the expansionist New York Mets. The Mets were lovable losers (they lost 120 games in the inaugural season), but Stengel quickly made them popular. Take for instance Marvin Eugene Throneberry (whose initials were MET). In the first inning of a June game against the Cubs, Marvelous Marv steamed into third base with a triple. However he was called out when the umpire ruled he missed second base. When Casey came out to argue, the ump, Dusty Boggess, said, “Don’t bother Casey, he missed first base too.”
9. Casey invented his own form of speaking, called Stengelese. One of his favorite sayings was “Most people my age are dead at the present time.”
10. Just days before he passed away in the hospital at the age of 85, Casey decided to rise from his hand, stand barefoot in his hospital gown, and put his hand over his heart as the national anthem was played. Near his gravesite is a plaque that reads: “There comes a time in every man’s life and I’ve had plenty of them.”
Was Cubs-Indians Game 7 the best game ever? Not so fast.
I do feel sometimes we tend to rush to judgement and instant gratification. For example, ESPN is already calling Game 7 the greatest game ever.
For Cub fans maybe.
But we need to bottle it for a bit, savor it, then enjoy it like a fine wine.
There have been plenty of great games throughout the last dozen decades of baseball history.
After all, there have been six walk-off Game 7 wins in baseball history alone, going back to 1912 and the Red Sox beating Christy Mathewson in extra innings all the way to Luis Gonzalez besting the great Mariano Rivera and the Yankees in 2001.
The Bill Mazeroski home run in 1960 that gave the Pirates an improbable World Series win was unforgettable. Amazingly, not a single batter struck out in that contest.
Some other great games that weren’t necessarily Series clinchers include Pudge Fisk and the Red Sox in 1975, the Mets and Bill Buckner in 1986, Kirby Puckett and the Twins in 1991, and David Freese and the Cardinals beating the Rangers in 2011.
And don’t forget Don Larsen’s perfect game vs. Brooklyn in 1956. Only time it’s ever happened in a World Series.
Even though they weren’t true post-season games, Bobby Thomson’s home run against the Dodgers that helped the Giants win the pennant in 1951, and Bucky Dent’s Fenway blast that lifted the Yankees over the Red Sox in 1978 were certainly dramatic.
Maddon’s questionable moves
Congrats to the Cubs and their fans. Maybe it’s me, but Joe Maddon did all he could to hand the Series to the Tribe — from his needless use of Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 to lifting Kyle Hendricks early in Game 7 to the 3-2 safety squeeze in the ninth inning that backfired
The Cubs ultimately prevailed because they were the better team with superior talent, but the better manager, Terry Francona, was in the Cleveland dugout in this World Series.
They call it over-managing. In business terms, micro management. It’s the Whitey Herzog syndrome, in honor of the Kansas City manager, who made some questionable moves against the Yankees in the ALCS back in the 70s.
It will never be the same
Well now that the Cubs have won and broken the 108-year jinx things are bound to be different. There’s already talk of the next baseball dynasty.
However, consider this. After the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, they became just another successful franchise, lost in the shuffle of successful teams.
Just like the Sox, the Cubs have lost their lovable loser mojo.
Should Gary Sanchez, stalwart Yankees catcher, be American League Rookie of the Year?
Why not? In less than two months, Sanchez has already hit 19 home runs (fastest player ever to reach that number), to go along with 38 RBIs and a .337 batting average. He was named AL Player of the Month in August, when he also won consecutive Player of the Week honors.
And equipped with a strong throwing arm and pitch-calling capabilities, his defense is every bit as good as his offense.
If Sanchez plays in the rest of the Yankees games this year, he will wind up with 54….which is exactly one third of a season.
And despite limited duty, Sanchez numbers stack up well against Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer (10-7, 3:30 ERA), who has dropped four of his last five decisions. Others in the rookie mix include Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin (14-42-.3010, Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazaro (20-64-.275) and Twins outfielder Max Kepler (16-60-.232).
There is precedent for winning the Rookie of the Year award while playing less than 100 games. Just last year, Houston’s Carlos Correa appeared in 99 games. Will Myers (88 games in 2013), Ryan Howard (88 games in 2005) and Bob Horner (89 games in 1978) were all named top rookie.
Hall of Famer Willie McCovey played only 52 games for the Giants in 1959, yet was named NL Rookie of the Year. Stretch — who broke in on July 30 that year with a pair of triples in a 4-for-4 day against the Phillies — hit .354 with 13 HRs and 38 RBIs. McCovey earned all 24 votes for Rookie of the Year.
Some might argue that Cincinnati’s Vada Pinson, who had 20 homers, 84 RBIs and a .316 batting average, was the most deserving NL Rookie of the Year candidate in 1959. Pinson led the league in runs (131), doubles (47) and outfield putouts (423), earning him 11 MVP votes. However he failed to qualify for the Rookie of the Year award because his 96 at bats in 1958 were just beyond the 90 cutoff.
Bob Gibson of St. Louis made his MLB debut in 1959, although he won just three of eight games. Other notable NL rookies in 1959 were future Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson, who hit .218 in his only season with the Phillies, and speedster Maury Wills, who would later go on to break the single season stolen base record with the Dodgers.