Despite failing to win the American League pennant for the first time in six years the previous season, the Yankees knew they didn’t have to make a lot of changes to their roster heading into the 1955 campaign. After all, New York won 103 games in 1954, being denied a sixth consecutive trip to the World Series only by the brilliant performance turned in by the Cleveland Indians, who finished the season with a record of 111-43.
The most significant move the Yankees made during the off-season was a huge multi-player deal they completed with the Baltimore Orioles that netted them pitchers Bob Turley and Don Larsen. The 24-year-old Turley experienced control problems in his one full season in Baltimore, walking a league-leading 181 batters en route to compiling a record of 14-15. However, the hard-throwing right-hander elicited a considerable amount of interest from the Yankees by also topping the circuit with 185 strikeouts. Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Larsen finished just 3-21 for the Orioles the previous season, leading all A.L. pitchers in losses.
The Yankees also made history by finally promoting Elston Howard from the minor leagues. Howard, the first African-American to ever don the Yankee pinstripes, spent the previous few years in the minors making the difficult transition from outfielder to catcher. After trading away the flashier, more loquacious Vic Power one year earlier because the front office felt he failed to properly represent the team’s conservative image, the organization turned to fellow prospect Howard, with whom it felt far more comfortable making the team’s first black player.
The additions the Yankees made to their roster helped them capture their sixth pennant in seven years by finishing the regular season with a record of 96-58, three games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians. Still, it took a late-season surge for the Yankees to separate themselves from the Indians, who spent a good portion of the year in the top spot. Only an eight-game winning streak by the Yankees that began with two weeks left in the campaign finally brought the pennant race to a close.
New York’s deep pitching staff, which posted a league-leading 3.23 team ERA, played a huge role in determining the final outcome. Whitey Ford placed among the league leaders with 18 victories, a 2.63 ERA, and 254 innings pitched, while also topping the circuit with 18 complete games. Bob Turley added 17 victories, compiled a 3.06 ERA, and finished near the top of the league rankings with 210 strikeouts, six shutouts, and 247 innings pitched. Tommy Byrne rebounded from a couple of subpar seasons to finish the year with a record of 16-5 and an ERA of 3.15. Working both as a starter and as a reliever, Don Larsen posted a record of 9-2. Meanwhile, 38-year-old reliever Jim Konstanty, acquired from the Phillies one year earlier, finished 7-2, with a 2.32 ERA and 11 saves.
On offense, second-year first baseman Bill Skowron assumed a more prominent role, batting .319 and driving in 61 runs, in just under 300 official at-bats. Playing second base most of the time, Gil McDougald batted .285 and scored 79 runs. Hank Bauer batted .278 and scored 97 runs. Elston Howard made significant contributions to the team, batting .290 and knocking in 43 runs, in only 279 official plate appearances. Yogi Berra had another solid year, batting .272, scoring 84 runs, and finishing among the league leaders with 27 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Mickey Mantle was even better, placing among the league leaders with a .306 batting average, 99 runs batted in, and 121 runs scored, while topping the circuit with 37 home runs, 11 triples, 113 bases on balls, a .433 on-base percentage, and a .611 slugging percentage. Yet, for some reason, Mantle finished just fifth in the A.L. MVP voting, while Berra won the award for the third time. Both men earned All-Star honors, appearing on the A.L. squad with teammates Ford and Turley. Ford also earned a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team.
The Yankees subsequently faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series for the fifth time in nine years, having won each of the previous four encounters. However, the Yankees came up short this time, falling to the Dodgers in seven games, after earlier taking a three-games-to-two lead in the Series. The Fall Classic’s pivotal moment occurred late in Game Seven, when Brooklyn left-fielder Sandy Amoros squelched a Yankee rally by starting a double play on a spectacular running catch in the left field corner. The play helped preserve Johnny Podres’ 2-0 victory, earning the Dodger pitcher Series MVP honors.By Bob_Cohen
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- 1955 World Series, Bill Skowron, Bob Turley, Brooklyn Dodgers, Don Larsen, Elston Howard, Gil McDougald, Hank Bauer, Jim Konstanty, Johnny Podres, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Sandy Amoros, Tommy Byrne, Vic Power, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra