The New York Yankees spent most of the 1964 campaign looking up in the standings at the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, Chicago held a 6 ½ game lead over New York as late as the third week of August. However, the Yankees won 30 of their final 40 games under first-year manager Yogi Berra, to capture their fifth straight American League pennant. New York finished the regular season with a record of 99-63, just one game ahead of the White Sox and only two games in front of the third-place Orioles.
The American League’s most well-balanced team, the Yankees finished second in the circuit with 730 runs scored, and they also posted the third-lowest team ERA (3.15) of any club in the league. Despite being plagued by circulatory problems in his pitching arm throughout the season, Whitey Ford continued to anchor New York’s pitching staff. Ford finished the year with a record of 17-6 and placed among the league leaders with a 2.13 ERA and eight shutouts. Jim Bouton compiled an ERA of 3.02 and led the team with 18 victories and 271 innings pitched. Al Downing won 13 games and led the league with 217 strikeouts. After joining the team in early August, rookie right-hander Mel Stottlemyre went 9-3 with a 2.06 ERA.
On offense, Joe Pepitone hit 28 homers and drove in 100 runs. Roger Maris homered 26 times, scored 86 runs, and batted .281. Reigning A.L. MVP Elston Howard knocked in 84 runs and finished third in the league with a .313 batting average. Mickey Mantle had his last big year, topping the circuit with a .426 on-base percentage and finishing among the leaders with 35 home runs, 111 runs batted in, 92 runs scored, a .303 batting average, and a .591 slugging percentage. Mantle placed second in the A.L. MVP voting, while Howard finished third.
The Yankees entered the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals hoping to redeem themselves for their poor performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the previous year’s Fall Classic. The Series turned out to be a see-saw affair that featured numerous shifts in momentum. The Yankees took a two-games-to-one lead when Mickey Mantle delivered a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Three. However, the Cardinals gained momentum in Game Four when Ken Boyer turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 St. Louis victory by hitting a grand-slam home run against Yankee starter Al Downing. The teams split the next two contests, setting the stage for a decisive Game Seven. Bob Gibson and Mel Stottlemyre took the mound for their respective teams working on only two days’ rest. Pressed into service for the third time in the Series due to the unavailability of a sore-armed Whitey Ford, Stottlemyre found himself unable to contain the St. Louis offense, which built an early 6-0 lead. The Yankees tried to make a game of it, closing the gap to 7-5 against a weary Gibson. But the Cardinals right-hander displayed tremendous will and determination in closing out the contest and the Series for his team. Mickey Mantle hit his final three home runs in World Series competition, establishing himself in defeat as the all-time leader in that category in Series play. Little did anyone know at the time that Mantle would never make it back to the Fall Classic.
Even though the Yankees captured the league championship and Mantle performed extremely well for the pennant-winners, Baltimore’s Brooks Robinson earned A.L. MVP honors. In his finest season, the Gold Glove third baseman hit 28 home runs, led the league with 118 runs batted in, and placed among the leaders with a .317 batting average, 194 hits, and 319 total bases. Boog Powell also had a big year for the third-place Orioles, batting .290, topping the circuit with a .606 slugging percentage, and finishing near the top of the league rankings with 39 home runs and 99 runs batted in, even though he compiled only 424 official at-bats.
The Minnesota Twins featured the league’s most explosive offense for the second straight year, topping the circuit with 737 runs scored and 221 home runs. Harmon Killebrew knocked in 111 runs and led the league with 49 homers. A.L. Rookie of the Year Tony Oliva hit 32 home runs, drove in 94 runs, and led the league with a .323 batting average, 109 runs scored, 217 hits, 43 doubles, and 374 total bases, en route to earning a fourth-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting.
Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox again boasted the league's best pitching staff, leading the A.L. with a team ERA of 2.72. Gary Peters finished 20-8 with a 2.50 earned run average. Juan Pizarro posted a mark of 19-9, along with an ERA of 2.56. Right-hander Joe Horlen won 13 games and finished second in the league with a 1.88 ERA.
The fifth-place Angels had the league’s top hurler in Dean Chance, who earned Cy Young honors by going 20-9, with a league-leading 1.65 ERA, 278 innings pitched, and 11 shutouts.
Other notable events from around the league and players who distinguished themselves over the course of the season included:
• July 23 – Bert Campaneris of the Kansas City Athletics became the second player in major league history to hit two home runs in his major league debut, joining Bob Nieman, who accomplished the feat in 1951. Mark Quinn joined the select group in 1999.
• August 20 – The Chicago White Sox completed a four-game sweep of the New York Yankees with a 5–0 shutout at Comiskey Park. As New York’s team bus subsequently headed to O'Hare International Airport, Phil Linz took out his harmonica and began to play a plaintive version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Manager Yogi Berra told Linz to put the instrument away; when asked what Berra had said, Linz was told by Mickey Mantle to "play it louder." Linz did so, prompting an unusually angry Berra to storm to the back of the bus and slap the harmonica out of Linz's hands; the instrument struck Joe Pepitone's knee. The "Harmonica Incident" convinced the Yankee front office that Berra had lost control of the team and lacked the ability to command respect from his players. As a result, the decision was made to fire Berra at the end of the season.
• October 16 – The day after the final game of the World Series, the managerial posts of both pennant winning teams became vacant. In the morning, St. Louis skipper Johnny Keane surprisingly handed in his resignation. Hours later, New York Yankee general manager Ralph Houk fired Yogi Berra as his manager, citing Berra's lack of control over his team and his inability to command respect from his players. Less than a week later, Houk replaced Berra with Keane; meanwhile, Berra reunited with Casey Stengel as a coach with the New York Mets.
• November 2 – CBS Broadcasting Inc. became the first corporate owner of a Major League team when it purchased 80 percent of the New York Yankees assets for $11,200,000.
• December 4 – Major League Baseball owners decided to use a free agent draft beginning in January 1965.
• Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson established a new World Series record by collecting 13 hits.
• Despite pitching for a team that won only 72 games, Boston's Dick Radatz posted 16 victories and saved a major-league-leading 29 games.
• Wally Bunker, age 19, finished 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA for the Orioles. Bunker’s 19 victories were the most in the 20th century by a teenage pitcher.
• Mickey Mantle received his first $100,000 contract.
• Baltimore's Luis Aparicio led the American League in steals (57) for a record ninth consecutive year.
• John Wyatt of Kansas City became the first pitcher in major league history to appear in at least half of his team's games (81 of 162).
• The Hall of Fame inducted Luke Appling, Red Faber, Burleigh Grimes, Miller Huggins, Tim Keefe, Heinie Manush, and Monte Ward.
• Baltimore’s Jerry Adair set a new major league record for second basemen by compiling a .994 fielding average.
• Brooks Robinson led the American League in games played for the fourth consecutive year.
• Chicago White Sox 41-year-old reliever Hoyt Wilhelm won 12 games, saved 27 others, and compiled a 1.99 ERA.
- 1964 World Series, Al Downing, American League, Bert Campaneris, Bob Gibson, Bobby Richardson, Boog Powell, Brooks Robinson, Camilo Pascual, Carl Yastrzemski, Dean Chance, Dick Radatz, Elston Howard, Gary Peters, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Jerry Adair, Jim Bouton, Joe Horlen, Joe Pepitone, John Wyatt, Johnny Keane, Juan Pizarro, Ken Boyer, Luis Aparicio, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Phil Linz, Ralph Houk, Roger Maris, St. Louis Cardinals, Tony Oliva, Wally Bunker, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra