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The defeat of the heavily-favored Yankees by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series ended up costing manager Casey Stengel his job.  Stengel, who elected to wait until Game Three of the Fall Classic to start Whitey Ford for the first time, started his best pitcher again in Game Six.  Stengel’s strategy backfired, since it left Ford unavailable to start the decisive seventh contest.  Most observers felt that New York would have won the Series had Ford been able to start three games, especially since he shut out the Pirates each time he took the mound.  Citing Stengel’s advanced age, Yankee brass decided to replace him at the helm at season’s end with the considerably younger Ralph Houk, who spent two years serving under Stengel on his coaching staff.

Houk, a former backup to Yogi Berra behind the plate from 1947 to 1954, also spent his last few years as an active player serving as New York’s full-time bullpen coach.  He began his managerial career in 1955, taking over as skipper of the Yankees’ AAA affiliate, the Denver Bears of the American Association.  After managing the Bears for three years, Houk joined Stengel in New York, serving as his first-base coach from 1958 to 1960.  Upon Stengel’s dismissal, the Yankees immediately promoted Houk to the position of manager.

Considered to be an excellent handler of men and a true “player’s manager,” Houk proved to be the antithesis of Stengel.  Whereas his predecessor tended to get the most out of his players by withholding praise and forcing them to subjugate their egos, Houk attempted to instill confidence in the men who took the field for him each day.  He called Mickey Mantle into his office before the season began to let his best player know that the Yankees needed a big year from him if they had any hopes of repeating as American League champions.  Houk also elected to switch Mantle and Maris in the batting order, moving Maris up to the number three spot and batting Mantle cleanup.  In addition, the new Yankee manager employed more of a set lineup, making Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer the full-time starters at second base, shortstop, and third base, respectively.     

The Yankee players responded well to Houk, with Mantle and Maris in particular flourishing under his leadership.  The two men waged a year-long assault on Babe Ruth’s existing single-season home run record, with Maris hitting his 61st homer on the season’s final day to surpass the Babe.  In an expansion year that featured several outstanding individual offensive performances around the major leagues, Maris and Mantle established themselves as baseball’s marquis attraction.  The efforts of the two men enabled the Yankees to distinguish themselves as one of the greatest teams ever.  New York finished the regular season with a record of 109-53, eight games ahead of a very strong Detroit Tigers team that placed second in the league with 101 victories.  The Yankees established a new major league record in the process by hitting 240 home runs as a team.

Although the tandem of Mantle and Maris was the driving force behind New York’s incredible year, several other players made major contributions to the success of the ball club.  Elston Howard hit 21 home runs, knocked in 77 runs, and batted .348, en route to earning a 10th-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.  Bill Skowron finished third on the team with 28 homers and 89 runs batted in.  Yogi Berra hit 22 home runs and drove in 61 runs, in fewer than 400 official at-bats.  Backup catcher Johnny Blanchard hit 21 homers, in only 243 official plate appearances.  Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer gave the team arguably the finest defensive infield in the game.  Whitey Ford earned Cy Young honors and a fifth-place finish in the league MVP balloting by leading all A.L. hurlers with a record of 25-4 and 283 innings pitched, while striking out a career-high 209 batters.  Bill Stafford won 14 games and finished second in the league with a 2.68 ERA.  Ralph Terry bounced back after surrendering Bill Mazeroski’s World Series clinching home run by posting 16 victories.  Meanwhile, journeyman reliever Luis Arroyo had easily his greatest season, winning 15 games coming out of the bullpen, compiling a 2.19 ERA, and leading the league with 29 saves.

In the end, though, everything came back to Mantle and Maris.  Mantle finished second in the league with 54 home runs and a .452 on-base percentage, topped the circuit with 132 runs scored, 126 bases on balls, and a .687 slugging percentage, and placed among the leaders with 128 runs batted in, a .317 batting average, and 353 total bases.  In addition to leading the league with 61 homers, Maris topped the circuit with 142 runs batted in and 366 total bases, and he tied Mantle for the league-lead with 132 runs scored.  The two men finished first and second in the A.L. MVP voting, with Maris barely edging out Mantle for the honor.  Both players earned spots on the league All-Star Team, being joined on the squad by teammates Skowron, Kubek, Howard, Berra, Ford, and Arroyo.  Mantle, Maris, Howard, Ford, Kubek, and Richardson also were named to The Sporting News All-Star Team.

The World Series turned out to be more of a coronation than a competition.  The Cincinnati Reds put up a good fight for the first three games.  However, Whitey Ford’s second shutout of the Fall Classic in the fourth contest put the Reds at a 3-1 disadvantage heading into Game Five.  Yankee power prevailed in the final game, with New York pounding out 15 hits, en route to closing out the Series with a 13-5 victory.         

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1961 World Series, Bill Skowron, Bill Stafford, Bobby Richardson, Casey Stengel, Cincinnati Reds, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, Johnny Blanchard, Luis Arroyo, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Ralph Terry, Roger Maris, Tom Tresh, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra
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