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After defeating the San Francisco Giants in the previous year’s World Series, the Yankees entered Spring Training in 1963 hoping to win their third consecutive world championship under manager Ralph Houk.  Missing from Yankee camp, though, was Bill Skowron, who the team traded during the off-season to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams.  The 32-year-old Skowron experienced a great deal of success in his nine years in New York, earning All-Star honors five times, while contributing to seven pennant-winning teams and four world championship ball clubs.  However, team management decided to entrust the starting first base job to 22-year-old Joe Pepitone, who had a tremendous amount of natural ability.  Although the Brooklyn-born Pepitone batted just .239 for New York the previous season, he displayed the quick, powerful left-handed swing Yankee brass became enamored with by hitting seven home runs in only 138 official at-bats.  An exceptional fielder as well, Pepitone appeared to have all the physical tools to become the team’s next star player.

Although the Yankees entered the campaign with a considerable amount of optimism, they became somewhat disheartened when injuries to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris forced them to arrive at the inevitable conclusion that they would have to attempt to defend their title without the services of their two best players for much of the year.  Mantle ended up appearing in only 65 games, while Maris played in just 90 contests. 

The losses of Mantle and Maris dealt a severe blow to the Yankee offense, which scored 103 fewer runs than it posted the previous year.  Nevertheless, the Yankees still managed to finish second in the American League in runs scored.  Meanwhile, New York pitchers permitted the opposition to cross the plate 133 fewer times than they did the prior season, en route to posting the second lowest team ERA in the league.  In the end, the depth of the Yankee roster and the quality of their pitching enabled them to overcome the losses of Mantle and Maris.  The team finished first in the American League, with a record of 104-57, 10 ½ games ahead of the second-place Chicago White Sox.

New York’s deep pitching staff was led by Whitey Ford, who topped all A.L. hurlers with a record of 24-7 and 269 innings pitched.  He also compiled an outstanding 2.74 ERA, en route to earning a third-place finish in the league MVP voting.  Ralph Terry followed up his exceptional 1962 campaign with another solid season, posting 17 victories and a 3.22 ERA, while finishing second to Ford with 268 innings pitched and leading the league with 18 complete games.  Jim Bouton quickly developed into one of the junior circuit’s best pitchers, placing among the league leaders with a record of 21-7, a 2.53 ERA, six shutouts, and 249 innings pitched.  Al Downing also earned a spot in the starting rotation, after failing to do so in his two earlier trials with the ball club.  The hard-throwing 22-year-old left-hander finished 13-5, with a 2.56 ERA.  He also struck out 171 batters in only 176 innings of work.  Meanwhile, 24-year-old Hal Reniff helped solidify the bullpen by saving 18 games and posting a 2.62 ERA.

Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh provided the offense with some much-needed power in the absence of Mantle and Maris.  Tresh hit 25 home runs and placed among the league leaders with 91 runs scored.  Pepitone hit 27 homers and led the club with 89 runs batted in.  Yogi Berra also performed well in his final year as an active player.  Serving mostly as a backup behind the plate and as a pinch-hitter, Berra batted .293, hit eight homers, and drove in 28 runs, in only 147 official at-bats.  Elston Howard, though, was the man who established himself as the offensive leader of the team.  After spending the first half of his career either serving as Berra's backup, or being platooned by manager Casey Stengel, Howard stepped to the forefront as the Yankees looked for someone to lead them to their fourth straight pennant.  Howard batted .287, knocked in 85 runs, finished among the league leaders with 28 home runs, earned the first of two consecutive Gold Gloves, and did a superb job of handling New York’s pitching staff.  For his efforts, Howard earned A.L. MVP honors and spots on both the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star Team.  Teammates Pepitone, Richardson, Tresh, Mantle, and Bouton also were named to the A.L. team, while Pepitone, Richardson, and Ford joined Howard on The Sporting News squad.

Mantle and Maris returned to the Yankees in time to participate in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Their presence hardly mattered, though.  Dodger pitchers dominated Yankee batters throughout the Series, surrendering a total of only four runs to New York during the four-game sweep.  Sandy Koufax hurled two complete-game victories, while Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres baffled New York’s lineup in the other two contests.  The sweep marked the first time ever the Yankees were eliminated from the Fall Classic in four straight games.

 

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
1963 World Series, Al Downing, Bill Skowron, Bobby Richardson, Don Drysdale, Elston Howard, Hal Reniff, Jim Bouton, Joe Pepitone, Johnny Podres, Los Angeles Dodgers, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Ralph Terry, Roger Maris, Sandy Koufax, Tom Tresh, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra

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