With the American League expanding to 10 teams in 1961, offensive production increased dramatically in the junior circuit due to a watering down of pitching staffs. Although the National League was still a year away from increasing its number of teams from eight to ten, the senior circuit featured a number of exceptional offensive performances as well. Roberto Clemente had his finest season to-date for the sixth-place Pittsburgh Pirates, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 89 runs, scoring 100 others, and leading the league with a .351 batting average. Ken Boyer hit 24 homers, knocked in 95 runs, scored 109 others, and batted .329 for the fifth-place Cardinals. Hank Aaron, whose Braves finished fourth, hit 34 homers, drove in 120 runs, scored 115 others, batted .327, and led the league with 39 doubles. Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays both had big years for the Giants, who topped the circuit with 773 runs scored en route to finishing third in the league, eight games out of first. Cepeda earned a second-place finish in the MVP voting by leading the league with 46 home runs and 142 runs batted in, scoring 105 runs, and batting .311. Mays hit 40 homers, knocked in 123 runs, batted .308, and topped the circuit with 129 runs scored.
In the end, though, pitching and defense proved to be the determining factors in the National League pennant race. Although the Cincinnati Reds finished just fourth in the league in runs scored (710), they allowed their opposition to cross the plate fewer times than any other team in the circuit (653). As a result, the Reds captured their first N.L. flag in 21 years, finishing the regular season with a record of 93-61, four games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers.
Joey Jay had a career-year on the mound for Cincinnati, tying for the league lead with 21 victories and four shutouts, en route to earning a fifth-place finish in the N.L. MVP balloting. Jim O’Toole finished third in the league with 19 wins and placed second in the circuit with a 3.10 ERA. Bob Purkey gave the Reds another reliable starter, finishing third on the staff with 16 victories.
Meanwhile, Gordy Coleman, Gene Freese, Vada Pinson, and Frank Robinson paced Cincinnati on offense. Coleman and Freese each hit 26 homers and drove in 87 runs. The speedy Pinson hit 16 home runs, knocked in 87 runs, scored 101 others, finished second in the league with a .343 batting average, 34 doubles, and 23 stolen bases, and topped the circuit with 208 hits. Pinson’s outstanding performance enabled him to finish third in the MVP voting. Winning the award was Frank Robinson, who led the league with a .611 slugging percentage and placed among the leaders with 37 home runs, 124 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, a .323 batting average, 22 stolen bases, and a .411 on-base percentage.
The Reds subsequently faced the New York Yankees in the World Series, where their strong pitching staff met its ultimate challenge. After holding up rather well through the first three contests, Cincinnati pitchers allowed the Yankees seven runs on 11 hits in a 7-0 Game Four defeat, during which New York starter Whitey Ford broke Babe Ruth’s World Series record of 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings pitched. The Yankee ace ran his streak to 32 innings before leaving the game in the
sixth inning with an ankle injury. Yankee bats then exploded for 15 hits during a 13-5 trouncing of the Reds in Game Five, which clinched New York’s 19th world championship.
Other outstanding performers, notable events, and points of interest from around the league follow:
• Chicago Cubs outfielder Billy Williams (25 home runs, 86 RBIs, .278 average) earned N.L. Rookie of the Year honors.
• Willie Mays hit four home runs against the Braves on April 30.
• The Phillies lost a major league record 23 straight games at one point during the season.
• Warren Spahn tied Joey Jay for the league lead with 21 victories. Spahn led the league in wins a major-league record eight times.
• Spahn also led all N.L. hurlers with 21 complete games and a 3.01 ERA.
• Spahn no-hit the Giants on April 28.
• Spahn won his 300th game, becoming the first National League southpaw to reach the magical 300-mark.
• The National League won the first All-Star Game of the year, 5-4, in 10 innings at San Francisco. At one point during the contest, Candlestick Park’s infamous wind blew pitcher Stu Miller off the mound.
• The second All-Star Game ended in a 1-1 tie at Boston, with rain halting play after nine innings.
• Milwaukee's Eddie Mathews surpassed 30 home runs for a National League record ninth consecutive year.
• Roberto Clemente won his first Gold Glove as a National League outfielder.
• Bill Dewitt became the new owner of the Cincinnati Reds.
• Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette led all N.L. hurlers with 272 innings pitched.
• Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers led the National League in strikeouts for the first time, fanning a total of 269 batters.
• Dodger outfielder Wally Moon batted .328 and led the National League with a .438 on-base percentage.
• Dodger shortstop Maury Wills led the league with 35 stolen bases.
- 1961 World Series, Bill DeWitt, Billy Williams, Bob Purkey, Cincinnati Reds, Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, Gene Freese, Gordy Coleman, Hank Aaron, Joey Jay, Ken Boyer, Lew Burdette, Maury Wills, New York Yankees, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Stu Miller, Vada Pinson, Wally Moon, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Willie Mays