A changing of the guard gradually took place in the Bronx over the course of the 1951 campaign, as an aging and oft-injured Joe DiMaggio found himself replaced as the Yankees’ marquis attraction by a young, fleet-footed, power-hitting switch-hitter named Mickey Mantle. Appearing in only 116 games in his final season in New York, DiMaggio batted just .263, hit only 12 home runs, and drove in just 71 runs. The 36-year-old centerfielder’s poor performance prompted him to announce his retirement at season’s end. Mantle also struggled at the plate in his first year in pinstripes, hitting 13 homers, knocking in 65 runs, and batting .267. Nevertheless, the 19-year-old’s immense talent gave the Yankees and their fans high hopes for the future.
Meanwhile, the Yankees captured their third consecutive American League pennant under manager Casey Stengel, finishing five games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians, with a record of 98-56. The Boston Red Sox finished third, 11 games back, and the Chicago White Sox came in fourth, 17 games off the pace.
Employing a system of platooning to maximize the strengths of the players he had available to him, Stengel did an expert job of managing a team that lacked the star power of some of the squads his Yankee predecessors Miller Huggins and Joe McCarthy led to championships. No member of the club knocked in as many as 90 runs during the regular season. Yet, somehow, New York managed to score 798 runs – the second-highest total in the American League. With DiMaggio clearly in the twilight of his career and Mantle still trying to find his niche, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto stepped to the forefront as New York’s leaders on offense. Rizzuto followed up his MVP campaign of 1950 by batting .274, scoring 87 runs, and finishing third in the league with 18 stolen bases. Berra established himself as the team’s top performer, capturing A.L. MVP honors by hitting 27 homers, driving in 88 runs, scoring 92 others, batting .294, and doing an outstanding job of handling New York’s pitching staff.
The Yankees’ greatest strength actually turned out to be their pitching staff, which surrendered only 621 runs to the opposition – the second-lowest total in the league. New York’s rotation featured three of the top starting pitchers in the American League. Vic Raschi finished 21-10 with a 3.27 ERA, and he led the league with 164 strikeouts. Eddie Lopat went 21-9, with a 2.91 ERA and 20 complete games. Allie Reynolds compiled a record of 17-8, a 3.05 ERA, 16 complete games, and a league-leading seven shutouts. He also tossed two no-hitters, throwing the first against the Indians in Cleveland on July 12 during a 1-0 Yankee victory. Reynolds threw his second no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on September 28 during an 8-0 victory. Reynolds’ exceptional performance earned him a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
The Yankees entered the World Series against the New York Giants hoping to win their third straight world championship. The Giants, though, had other ideas, taking a two-games-to-one lead in the Fall Classic, before the Yankees finally righted themselves. After going hitless in the first three games, Joe DiMaggio led the Yankees to a 6-2 victory in Game Four by driving in three runs with a home run and a single. The Yankees then won Game Five in a 13-1 blowout, before taking the sixth contest by a slim 4-3 margin. Phil Rizzuto earned Series MVP honors by batting .320, hitting a homer, driving in three runs, and scoring five others.
Although the Yankees represented the American League in the World Series, it could be argued that the Cleveland Indians were a more talented ball club. Cleveland’s league-leading pitching staff included no fewer than three 20-game winners. Though no longer blessed with the blazing fastball he had in his youth, Bob Feller compiled a record of 22-8, to lead all A.L. hurlers in victories and winning percentage (.733). Early Wynn and Mike Garcia both finished the year 20-13, and Wynn topped the circuit with 274 innings pitched while also placing among the leaders with a 3.02 ERA and 21 complete games. Bob Lemon rounded out Cleveland’s extremely deep starting rotation, chipping in with 17 victories.
Meanwhile, Al Rosen, Larry Doby, and Luke Easter led the Indians on offense. Rosen hit 24 home runs and knocked in 102 runs. Doby batted .295 and hit 20 homers. Easter finished first on the team with 27 home runs and 103 runs batted in.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• July 1 - In the first game of a doubleheader, Bob Feller tossed the third no-hitter of his career for the Indians in a 2-1 win over the Detroit Tigers.
• September 14 - Bob Nieman of the St. Louis Browns became the first player in Major League history to hit two home runs in his debut. Bert Campaneris (1964) and Mark Quinn (1999) later accomplished the feat as well.
• Ferris Fain of the A's led the American League with a .344 batting average.
• Bill Veeck bought the Browns after having sold the Indians.
• Veeck signed midget Eddie Gaedel to a major league contract. Gaedel appeared in one game as a pinch hitter, drawing a base on balls, before having his contract voided by the commissioner’s office.
• Ford Frick was named new commissioner after major league owners elected not to renew Happy Chandler's contract.
• New York’s Gil McDougald earned A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Despite pitching for the last-place Browns, who finished the season with only 52 victories, Ned Garver won 20 games.
• The Hall of Fame inducted Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx.
• After being traded to the A’s from the White Sox for Minnie Minoso, Gus Zernial led the American League with 33 home runs and 129 runs batted in.
• Minnie Minoso placed among the league leaders with a .326 batting average and 112 runs scored, and he topped the circuit with 14 triples and 31 stolen bases.
• Detroit's George Kell led the league with 191 hits and 36 doubles.
• Ted Williams hit 30 home runs, knocked in 126 runs, scored 109 others, batted .318, and led the American League with 295 total bases, a .556 slugging average, a .464 on-base percentage, and 144 walks.
• Boston's Dom DiMaggio led the American League with 113 runs scored.
• White Sox Saul Rogovin led the American League with a 2.78 ERA.
• Yankee rookie Mickey Mantle suffered a knee injury when he stepped on a sprinkler unit in the outfield during the World Series
- 1951 World Series, Al Rosen, Allie Reynolds, American League, Bill Veeck, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Bob Nieman, Casey Stengel, Cleveland Indians, Dom DiMaggio, Early Wynn, Ed Lopat, Eddie Gaedel, Ferris Fain, Ford Frick, George Kell, Gil McDougald, Gus Zernial, Jimmie Foxx, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby, Luke Easter, Mel Ott, Mickey Mantle, Mike Garcia, Minnie Minoso, Ned Garver, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Saul Rogovin, Ted Williams, Vern Stephens, Vic Raschi, Yogi Berra