After finishing the previous season with a losing record for the first time in 40 years, the Yankees entered the 1966 campaign with an air of uncertainty surrounding them. Foremost on everyone’s mind was whether the team’s poor performance was merely an aberration, or whether it instead represented a portent of things to come. Had injuries to star players such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard merely set the team off course temporarily, or had the club’s core group of veteran players grown old together all at once?
The Yankees received the answer to that question almost immediately, when they won only four of their first 20 games. The team’s poor start prompted general manager Ralph Houk to relieve Johnny Keane of his managerial duties. Hoping he might be able to breathe some life into the team himself, Houk exchanged his business suit for a Yankee uniform, assuming managerial responsibilities of the team once more.
The change in managers did little to help the Yankees. They posted a record of just 66-73 under Houk the remainder of the year, finishing the campaign with a mark of 70-89, in 10th and last place in the American League. The last-place finish was the franchise’s first since the team changed its name from the Highlanders to the Yankees in 1913.
Nothing really went right for the team all year long. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris again missed extensive playing time due to injuries. Mantle played well when he found himself able to take the field, hitting 23 homers, driving in 56 runs, and batting .288 in only 333 at-bats. Nevertheless, he was just a shadow of his former self. Limping more noticeably than ever before, Mantle no longer possessed either the fielding or the base-running skills he once had.
Meanwhile, Maris came to the plate only 348 times, hit just 13 home runs, knocked in only 43 runs, and batted just .233. Robbed of his home-run power by the injured hand he suffered the previous season, Maris no longer found himself able to drive the ball out of the ballpark on a regular basis. Furthermore, fans of the team believed most of the negative things the New York media wrote about him in the newspapers and, as a result, they booed him mercilessly every time he stepped into the batter’s box.
The pitching staff experienced its share of problems as well. Whitey Ford's circulatory problems in his pitching arm grew progressively worse, forcing him to be removed from the starting rotation in mid-May. Although Ford pitched fairly effectively out of the bullpen for much of the season, he eventually had to have shoulder surgery on August 25th. Ford finished the season with a 2-5 record and a 2.47 ERA. Jim Bouton also continued to be plagued by arm problems. After missing the season’s first two months, Bouton ended the campaign with a record of just 3-8.
Even Mel Stottlemyre suffered through a difficult year. Experiencing adversity for the first time in his young career, Stottlemyre finished the season with a record of 12-20 and an ERA of 3.80, although he managed to lead the team with 251 innings pitched and three shutouts.
Rookie left-hander Fritz Peterson represented one of the few bright spots on the team. Peterson compiled a record of 12-11, along with a 3.31 ERA and a team-leading 11 complete games. Fellow rookie Stan Bahnsen appeared in only four games but made quite an impression in his major-league debut. The hard-throwing right-hander took the mound for the first time on September 9, during a 2-1 Yankee victory at Fenway Park. Entering the game in relief, Bahnsen proceeded to strike out all three batters he faced, with two of his victims being sluggers Carl Yastrzemski and Tony Conigliaro.
Joe Pepitone was the team’s top offensive performer, leading the club with 31 home runs, 83 runs batted in, and 85 runs scored. He also earned his second consecutive Gold Glove for his outstanding work at first base.
Most of the season’s other high points involved Mickey Mantle, who tied Babe Ruth on July 23rd on the Yankees’ all-time list of games played. Mantle also hit the ninth grand slam home run of his career on the same day. Less than a week later, on July 29th, Mantle moved ahead of Lou Gehrig into sixth-place on the all-time home-run list when he hit the 494th homer of his career during a 2-1 Yankee victory over the White Sox at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
Although neither man performed particularly well, Bobby Richardson and Mel Stottlemyre were both named to the A.L. All-Star Team. Richardson, who batted .251 and scored 71 runs, also was selected to The Sporting News All-Star Team. Yet, even though he turned just 31 years of age a few days earlier, Richardson decided to officially announce his retirement on August 31.
When all was said and done, the team that had come within one game of winning the World Series just two years earlier had become arguably the worst team in baseball. Like a captain deserting his sinking ship, Dan Topping sold his 10 percent stock interest in the team to CBS and resigned as club president on September 19. CBS executive Mike Burke succeeded Topping as president of the team. He named Lee MacPhail the club’s new GM shortly thereafter.
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- Babe Ruth, Bobby Richardson, Carl Yastrzemski, Dan Topping, Elston Howard, Fritz Peterson, Jim Bouton, Joe Pepitone, Johnny Keane, Lee MacPhail, Lou Gehrig, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, Mike Burke, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Roger Maris, Stan Bahnsen, Tom Tresh, Tony Conigliaro, Whitey Ford