After failing to win the world championship the previous year despite outscoring the Pittsburgh Pirates by a combined margin of 55-27 in the World Series, the Yankees approached the 1961 campaign as if they had something to prove. Although they received stiff competition from a very strong Detroit Tigers team that won 101 games, the Yankees never looked back, compiling a record of 109-53 during the regular season, en route to finishing eight games ahead of the second-place Tigers.
Generally considered to be one of the greatest teams ever, the 1961 Yankees excelled in every aspect of the game. They had power to spare, establishing a new major league record by hitting 240 home runs as a team. They also had outstanding defense and very strong pitching, finishing second in the American League with a team ERA of 3.46.
Whitey Ford headed New York’s pitching staff, earning Cy Young honors and a fifth-place finish in the league MVP voting 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.
However, the 1961 Yankees are remembered primarily for their powerful offense – most notably the tandem of Mickey Mantle and Roger 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 breaking Babe Ruth’s long-standing single season home run record by hitting 61 round-trippers, 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.
Although Maris and Mantle garnered most of the media attention over the course of the season, the two sluggers had a considerable amount of help from the other members of the Yankee lineup. 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.
The Yankees’ star-studded roster made them a heavy favorite to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series. The Reds weren’t nearly as impressive as their American League counterparts over the course of the regular season, finishing the campaign with a record of 93-61, just four games ahead of the second-place Los Angeles Dodgers. They finished fourth in the National League with 710 runs scored, and they placed third in the senior circuit with a team ERA of 3.78. Still, Cincinnati could hardly be considered pushovers.
The duo of Joey Jay and Jim O’Toole headed Cincinnati’s pitching staff. Jay tied for the league lead with 21 wins and four shutouts, and he also finished among the leaders with 14 complete games. O’Toole’s 19 victories placed him third in the senior circuit, and he also finished near the top of the league rankings with 178 strikeouts and 253 innings pitched.
Cincinnati also had a very solid lineup that included star centerfielder Vada Pinson and N.L. MVP Frank Robinson. Pinson hit 16 homers, drove in 87 runs, scored 101 others, placed among the league leaders with a .343 batting average and 23 stolen bases, and topped the circuit with 208 hits. Robinson finished second in the league with 124 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, and a .411 on-base percentage, led the league with a .611 slugging percentage, and also placed among the leaders with 37 home runs, a .323 batting average, 22 stolen bases, and 333 total bases.
Compromised somewhat by the limited availability of Mickey Mantle, who made only six plate appearances during the Fall Classic due to a thigh infection, the Yankees had a difficult time scoring runs in the first two contests played at Yankee Stadium. Solo home runs by Elston Howard and Bill Skowron accounted for New York’s only two runs off Jim O’Toole in Game One. However, Whitey Ford made those scores stand up, shutting out the Reds 2-0 on only two hits. The shutout was Ford’s third straight in World Series play. New York scored only two runs again in Game Two, and this time the Reds pushed across six runs of their own to even the Series with a 6-2 victory. Joey Jay threw a complete-game four-hitter for the Reds.
The Reds continued to give the Yankees a difficult time when the Series moved to Cincinnati for Game Three, taking a 2-1 lead into the top of the eighth inning behind starter Bob Purkey. However, pinch-hitter Johnny Blanchard tied the game with a home run, before Roger Maris won the game the next inning with a solo blast of his own. Luis Arroyo got the win in relief, putting the Yankees up in the Series, two-games-to-one.
The Yankees subsequently asserted themselves in the next two contests, outscoring the Reds by a combined margin of 20-5. New York took Game Four by a score of 7-0, with Whitey Ford breaking Babe Ruth’s World Series record of 29 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings before he left the game in the sixth inning because of an ankle injury. Yankee power prevailed in Game Five, with New York touching up eight Cincinnati pitchers for 13 runs and 15 hits, en route to posting a 13-5 victory. The World Series triumph gave the Yankees their 19th world championship.
- 1961 World Series, Bill Skowron, Bill Stafford, Bob Purkey, Cincinnati Reds, Elston Howard, Frank Robinson, Joey Jay, Johnny Blanchard, Luis Arroyo, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Terry, Roger Maris, Vada Pinson, Whitey Ford, Yankee Stadium, Yogi Berra