After leading the Yankees to three straight pennants and two world championships in his three years as manager, Ralph Houk decided to move into the team’s front office as general manager at the conclusion of the 1963 campaign. Shortly after assuming the responsibilities previously held by Roy Hamey, Houk hired the recently-retired Yogi Berra to replace him in the dugout. Berra piloted an aging Yankees ball club through a tumultuous 1964 campaign that saw them spend most of their time looking up in the standings at the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles. Only a late-season surge that included an 11-game winning streak enabled the Yankees to edge out Chicago and Baltimore for the American League pennant. New York finished the year with a record of 99-63, one game ahead of Chicago and two games in front of Baltimore. Nevertheless, Houk and Yankee ownership grew increasingly disenchanted over the course of the season with the lack of control they believed Berra exercised over the team. As a result, they made a decision by the middle of the year to fire him at season’s end, regardless of how the Yankees performed the rest of the way.
New York’s loss to St. Louis in the World Series allowed Houk and team ownership to save face when they relieved Berra of his duties at the end of the year. Yet, Berra’s dismissal was quite unjust, since he actually did well to direct the team to its fifth consecutive league championship. New York still had one of the league’s top offenses, along with one of the circuit’s best pitching staffs. But Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, and Tony Kubek were all either injured much of the time, or were approaching the latter stages of their respective careers.
Still, the Yankees had a considerable amount of talent on their roster. Ford led a pitching staff that finished third in the league with a team ERA of 3.15. Despite being plagued by circulatory problems in his pitching arm for much of the year, Ford won 17 games and placed among the league leaders with a 2.13 ERA and eight shutouts. Jim Bouton led the team with 18 victories and 271 innings pitched. Al Downing finished 13-8, with a league-leading 217 strikeouts. Called up from the minor leagues in early August to replace a struggling Ralph Terry in the starting rotation, 22-year-old rookie right-hander Mel Stottlemyre displayed the poise of a veteran, going 9-3, with a 2.06 ERA.
On offense, Joe Pepitone finished second on the team with 28 home runs and 100 runs batted in. After slumping during the season’s first half, Roger Maris rebounded in the final two months to hit 26 homers, drive in 71 runs, score 86 others, and bat .281. Elston Howard knocked in 84 runs and finished third in the league with a .313 batting average, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting. Mickey Mantle finished second in the balloting after placing among the league leaders with 35 home runs, 111 runs batted in, 92 runs scored, a .303 batting average, and a .591 slugging percentage. He also topped the circuit with a .426 on-base percentage. Mantle, Howard, Ford, Pepitone, and Richardson all earned spots on the American League All-Star Team. Mantle, Howard, and Richardson were also named to The Sporting News All-Star Team.
New York’s subsequent meeting with St. Louis in the World Series turned out to be a see-saw affair that featured numerous shifts in momentum. The Cardinals finally prevailed in Game Seven when a weary Bob Gibson exhibited his will and tremendous heart by going the distance in a 7-5 St. Louis victory. Mickey Mantle hit his final three home runs in World Series competition, establishing himself in the process as the all-time leader in that category in Series play. Little did anyone know at the time that Mantle would never make it back to the Fall Classic.
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- 1964 World Series, Al Downing, Bob Gibson, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, Jim Bouton, Joe Pepitone, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Roger Maris, St. Louis Cardinals, Tom Tresh, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra