Despite capturing the American League pennant and coming within one game of winning the World Series the previous year, the Yankees decided to relieve manager Yogi Berra of his duties at the conclusion of the 1964 campaign. Although New York’s front office officially announced the move after the Yankees lost the World Series to the Cardinals, its members actually made up their minds to replace Berra at the helm months earlier, after growing increasingly unhappy with the team’s performance during the regular season.
Ironically, the man general manager Ralph Houk chose to follow Berra was Johnny Keane, who had just “resigned” as manager in St. Louis, after learning the Cardinals intended to replace him with Red Schoendienst. Houk, who developed an admiration for Keane when the two men managed against one another in the American Association almost a decade earlier, actually reached out to Keane during the 1964 regular season to gauge his interest in managing the Yankees the following year. The hiring turned out to be a huge failure, since Keane’s temperament made him better suited to manage young players than established and aging stars. Keane’s tenure in New York lasted little more than one year, with Houk eventually replacing him with himself early in 1966.
Another significant change surrounding the Yankees heading into the 1965 campaign involved the team’s new ownership. News leaked out late in 1964 that, after 19 years of ownership, Dan Topping and Del Webb had sold the club to CBS. The sale was to be completed in two stages; in stage one, CBS purchased 80 percent of the team for $11.2 million. The network also had an option to buy the remaining 20 percent at a later date.
In addition to the tumult surrounding them off the field, the Yankees found themselves further compromised by the injury-riddled status of several of their aging veterans. Shortstop Tony Kubek never fully recovered from the cracked vertebrae he suffered while playing touch football in the Army in 1962. After playing in constant pain throughout the 1964 season, he decided to make 1965 his last year with the team. Kubek ended up hitting just .218 in his final season.
Elston Howard suffered an elbow injury in early May that required surgery. Although he returned to the team later in the year, Howard played in only 110 games, hit just nine home runs, knocked in only 45 runs, and batted just .233.
A string of injuries kept Mickey Mantle out of the lineup for almost two months. Appearing in only 108 games, Mantle ended up hitting only 19 home runs, driving in just 46 runs, and batting only .255.
An injured hand prevented Roger Maris from playing in all but 46 games. Arm problems plagued both Whitey Ford and Jim Bouton. Meanwhile, healthy veterans such as Al Downing, Joe Pepitone, and Bobby Richardson all experienced subpar seasons.
The injuries and numerous distractions proved to be too much for New York to overcome. The Yankees ended up finishing the regular season with a record of 77-85, in sixth place in the American League, 25 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins. The losing record was the franchise’s first in 40 years.
Tom Tresh and Mel Stottlemyre were the only bright spots on the team. Tresh led the Yankees in virtually every offensive category, finishing among the league leaders with 26 home runs, 94 runs scored, a .279 batting average, and 287 total bases. He highlighted his outstanding year by hitting four home runs during a doubleheader sweep of the White Sox on June 6th at Yankee Stadium. Tresh hit three homers in the second game. He also won the only Gold Glove of his career for his outstanding defensive play in left field. Teammates Pepitone and Richardson also earned Gold Gloves.
Meanwhile, Mel Stottlemyre finished among the league leaders with 20 wins, a 2.63 ERA, and four shutouts, while topping all A.L. hurlers with 18 complete games and 291 innings pitched. Stottlemyre also displayed his ability to swing the bat during a 6-3 victory over Boston on July 20th, when he became the first pitcher in 55 years to hit an inside-the-park grand slam home run. Stottleymre earned a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team, along with teammate Bobby Richardson. Stottlemyre, Richardson, Mantle, Howard, and Pepitone were all named to the A.L. All-Star Team.
Also of note is the fact that two youngsters who eventually made big names for themselves in New York made their first appearances in pinstripes in 1965. Playing in 14 games and accumulating 42 official at-bats, 21-year-old Roy White collected 14 hits, en route to compiling a .333 batting average. Bobby Murcer also made his major-league debut with the club. The 19-year-old shortstop batted .243 and hit his first big-league homer in his 37 at-bats.
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- Al Downing, Bobby Murcer, Bobby Richardson, Clete Boyer, Dan Topping, Del Webb, Elston Howard, Jim Bouton, Joe Pepitone, Johnny Keane, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Roger Maris, Roy White, Tom Tresh, Tony Kubek, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra