Entering Spring Training prior to the start of the 1951 campaign, the Yankees expected most of the discussion surrounding them to involve their chances of repeating as American League champions for the third straight time. However, most of the talk at camp instead involved 19-year-old rookie Mickey Mantle, who manager Casey Stengel suggested had the ability to become Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio all rolled into one. The switch-hitting Mantle’s blinding speed and tremendous power from both sides of the plate gave him unlimited potential, setting him up to follow in the footsteps of the aging DiMaggio as the team’s next great player. However, Mantle ended up struggling at the plate during his initial trial in the Bronx, prompting the Yankees to send him back to the minor leagues for a period of time, until the rookie’s shattered self-confidence returned.
The Yankees had other obstacles standing in their path as they attempted to begin their march towards another world championship. Whitey Ford, who pitched so brilliantly for them during the second half of the 1950 season, was lost to the team for two years after being called into the military. Joe DiMaggio found it increasingly difficult to live up to the high standards he set for himself earlier in his career. Slowed by injuries and advancing age, the 36-year-old DiMaggio appeared in only 116 games for the team over the course of the season, batting just .263, hitting only 12 home runs, and driving in just 71 runs. The centerfielder’s poor performance prompted him to announce his retirement at season’s end.
No Yankee player knocked in as many as 90 runs during the regular season. Yet, somehow, the team managed to score 798 runs – the second-highest total in the American League. Yogi Berra was easily New York’s best player, batting .294 and leading the squad with 27 home runs, 88 runs batted in, and 92 runs scored. Despite posting those relatively modest numbers, Berra was named the league’s Most Valuable Player by the members of the BBWAA. Phil Rizzuto and rookie Gil McDougald provided the most help to Berra in the Yankee lineup. Rizzuto batted .274, scored 87 runs, and finished third in the league with 18 stolen bases. After being overlooked in favor of the more talented Mantle the entire pre-season, McDougald captured A.L. Rookie of the Year honors by batting .306, driving in 63 runs, and scoring 72 others. Mantle ended up hitting 13 homers, knocking in 65 runs, and batting .267 in his first big-league season.
It truly was the Yankees pitching staff that enabled them to capture their third straight American League pennant by finishing first in the junior circuit with a record of 98-56, five games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians. New York pitchers compiled the third-lowest team ERA in the league – a mark of 3.56 that only Cleveland and Chicago hurlers surpassed. Meanwhile, Yankee pitchers threw a league-leading 24 shutouts. New York’s “Big Three” of Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and Allie Reynolds pitched exceptionally well throughout the campaign. Raschi finished 21-10, with a 3.27 ERA and 15 complete games. Lopat finished 21-9 and placed among the league leaders with a 2.91 ERA and 20 complete games. Reynolds won 17 games, posted an ERA of 3.05, threw 16 complete games, and led the league with 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 and a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team at season’s end. Phil Rizzuto joined him on the squad. Meanwhile, Rizzuto,Berra, DiMaggio, and Lopat were all named to the American League All-Star Team.
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.By Bob_Cohen
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- 1951 World Series, Allie Reynolds, Ed Lopat, Gil McDougald, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, New York Giants, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Vic Raschi, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra