Having finished last in the American League the previous season for the first time since changing their names from the Highlanders in 1913, the Yankees knew they needed to make extensive changes to their roster if they had any hope of attaining a level of respectability in 1967. Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard were all in the twilight of their careers, and no one within the organization appeared ready to step in and take their places. Bobby Richardson announced his retirement late in 1966, leaving Joe Pepitone, Tom Tresh, and Clete Boyer the only remaining members of that year’s Opening Day lineup less than 32 years of age. New York’s situation seemed even more precarious since it remained doubtful as to whether or not the team’s new ownership had the ability to devise a proper strategy to restore the once-proud franchise to prominence in the American League.
The new Yankee brain-trust made its first move on November 29th, when it traded third baseman Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for top outfield prospect Bill Robinson. As soon as the Yankees acquired the right-handed hitting Robinson, they began touting him as “the next Mickey Mantle.” Shortly thereafter, New York attempted to fill the vacancy left at third base with the departure of Boyer by making a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals for journeyman third baseman Charley Smith. To acquire the 29-year-old Smith, who batted .266, hit only 10 home runs, and knocked in just 43 runs for the Cardinals the previous season, the Yankees parted with Roger Maris, who had become the most hated man in New York.
Further changes awaited the Yankees when they arrived at Spring Training. Manager Ralph Houk announced his intention to shift Mickey Mantle to first base, in order to save wear and tear on his oft-injured legs. Correspondingly, Joe Pepitone, who spent some time in the outfield his first year in New York, moved to centerfield.
The many changes the Yankees instituted made virtually no impact on the outcome of the season. New York’s anemic offense scored only 522 runs – the lowest total of any team in the league. Although the pitching staff fared somewhat better, compiling the fourth-lowest team ERA in the junior circuit (3.24), the Yankees’ inability to score runs relegated them to a ninth-place finish, with a record of 72-90.
Bill Robinson turned out to be a huge disappointment, as he struggled throughout the campaign to live up to his advanced billing. Robinson hit only seven home runs, drove in just 29 runs, and batted only .196 in 342 official at-bats. By season’s end, he found himself languishing on the bench.
Meanwhile, Mickey Mantle found playing first base to his liking, since it enabled him to stay off the disabled list the entire year. Nevertheless, he finished the season with only 22 home runs, 55 runs batted in, and a .245 batting average. However, Mantle did experience one moment of glory, becoming just the sixth player in major league history to hit as many as 500 home runs. The Yankee icon delivered the blow batting left-handed against pitcher Stu Miller during a 6-5 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on May 14th.
A little over two weeks later, on May 30th, Mantle’s longtime teammate and close friend Whitey Ford announced that his elbow injury made it impossible for him to pitch any longer. He retired from the game with more victories (236) than any other Yankee pitcher in history.
Another Yankee veteran played his last game for the team in 1967. After batting just .196 the first four months of the season, Elston Howard became a member of the Boston Red Sox when the Yankees dealt him to the eventual pennant-winners on August 3rd. Although Howard hit only .147 for the Red Sox over the final two months of the season, his guidance and veteran leadership helped them edge out Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago for the league championship.
The only real bright spots for the team were the performances of pitchers Mel Stottlemyre and Al Downing. Rebounding from a subpar 1966 campaign, Stottlemyre compiled a 2.96 ERA and led New York with 15 victories and 255 innings pitched. Downing had his finest season in pinstripes, finishing 14-10, with a team-leading 2.63 ERA, 171 strikeouts, 10 complete games, and four shutouts. The left-hander joined Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees on the A.L. All-Star Team.
- Al Downing, Bill Robinson, Bobby Richardson, Charley Smith, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, Joe Pepitone, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Roger Maris, Tom Tresh, Whitey Ford