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     New York’s ninth-place finish and 72-90 record in 1967 marked just the third time in franchise history that the team posted a losing record and finished in the American League’s second division three straight times, with the last such streak taking place from 1912 to 1915.  The Yankee front office knew it needed to do a considerable amount of work to restore the team to prominence.  However, unlike the previous off-season, when the organization went on a trading spree, it decided to adopt a more conservative approach that included promoting from within and trying to develop the young talent that already existed on the roster.  New York made only three relatively minor deals during the off-season, acquiring 29-year-old light-hitting shortstop Gene Michael from the Dodgers, 27-year-old minor league third baseman Bobby Cox from the Braves, and 26-year-old reserve outfielder Andy Kosco from the Twins.  The Yankees, therefore, entered the 1968 campaign depending heavily on a return to top form by Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh, both of whom suffered through miserable 1967 seasons.  New York also hoped that youngsters such as Bill Robinson and Roy White might help to bolster the team’s anemic offense by finally realizing their full potential.        

     New York’s plans received their first serious blow when Al Downing developed soreness in his pitching shoulder during spring training.  The team's most effective starter in 1967 subsequently missed almost two-thirds of the regular season.  The Yankee offense also took a hit when Joe Pepitone fractured his left elbow just three games into the season, forcing him to sit out the next two months.

     With the Yankee lineup once again struggling to score runs, manager Ralph Houk elected to move Tom Tresh in from left field to replace Gene Michael at shortstop.  Although Tresh failed to regain the form that made him an All-Star earlier in his career, he contributed more to the team on offense than the light-hitting Michael.  More importantly, his shift to the infield enabled Roy White to garner significantly more playing time in left field.  The 24-year-old White ended up establishing himself as New York’s best player, leading the team in most offensive categories, including a .267 batting average, 62 runs batted in, and 89 runs scored.  He also finished second to Mickey Mantle on the club with 17 home runs.  

     Nevertheless, the Yankee offense remained arguably the worst in the major leagues.  Even though offensive numbers were down throughout all of baseball in a season that came to be known as The Year of the Pitcher, New York’s lineup was particularly feeble.  Although the Yankees finished a respectable fourth in the league with 109 home runs, while also placing sixth in runs scored (536), their .214 team batting average was the lowest in the major leagues – 16 points below the American League average of .230.  After returning to the team following his injury, Joe Pepitone hit just 15 home runs, knocked in only 56 runs, and batted just .245.  Tom Tresh hit 11 homers, drove in 52 runs, and batted only .195.  Although Mickey Mantle placed among the league leaders with 106 walks and a .367 on-base percentage, he finished the year with only 18 home runs, 54 runs batted in, and a .237 batting average.

     Fortunately for the Yankees, their pitching staff fared much better than their lineup. New York hurlers posted a team ERA of 2.79, which represented the fifth-lowest figure in the junior circuit.  Reliever Lindy McDaniel, acquired from the San Francisco Giants shortly after the All-Star break, pitched exceptionally well for the team over the season’s final two months, compiling a 4-1 record, with 10 saves and a 1.75 ERA.  At one point, the veteran hurler tied a league record by retiring 32 consecutive batters over four appearances. 

     Rookie right-hander Stan Bahnsen joined Mel Stottlemyre in giving the Yankees a formidable one-two punch at the top of their rotation.  Bahnsen finished the year with a 17-12 record, led the staff with a 2.06 ERA and 162 strikeouts, and allowed just 216 hits in 267 innings of work, en route to earning A.L. Rookie of the Year honors.  Meanwhile, Stottlemyre continued to serve as the staff ace, placing among the league leaders with 21 victories, 278 innings pitched, 19 complete games, and six shutouts, while compiling an ERA of 2.45.  Stottlemyre’s outstanding performance earned him a spot on the A.L. All-Star Team and a 10th-place finish in the league MVP voting.

     The efforts of the Yankee pitching staff enabled the team to finish the regular season with a winning record for the first time in four years.  New York finished the campaign with a record of 83-79, in fifth place in the American League, 20 games behind the pennant-winning Detroit Tigers.  Ironically, the Yankees played some of their best ball against the Tigers, sweeping the eventual world champions in a four-game series played at Yankee Stadium in late August.  Highlights of the series included a 2-1 victory for Mel Stottlemyre over 31-game winner Denny McLain, and a Sunday doubleheader sweep that featured a relief appearance by slugging outfielder Rocky Colavito, who the Yankees obtained from Cleveland late in the year.

     Most of the season’s other high points involved Mickey Mantle, who spent his last year in pinstripes in 1968.  On August 22nd, Mantle hit the 534th home run of his career, tying him with Jimmie Foxx for third-place on the all-time list, behind only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.  It wasn’t until September 19th that Mantle took over sole possession of the third spot, but he did so in memorable fashion.  With Detroit’s Denny McLain comfortably in the lead against the Yankees at Tiger Stadium en route to posting his 31st victory, the Tiger hurler called his catcher out to the mound to tell him to inform Mantle that he intended to throw his hero nothing but fastballs.  After failing to connect with the first two pitches, Mantle hit an upper-deck homer and subsequently tipped his cap to McLain as he rounded third base.  The Yankee icon hit one more home run before officially announcing his retirement at a press conference held on March 1, 1969. 

By Bob_Cohen
 

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Tagged:
Andy Kosco, Babe Ruth, Bill Robinson, Bobby Cox, Denny McLain, Detroit Tigers, Gene Michael, Joe Pepitone, Lindy Mcdaniel, Mel Stottlemyre, Mickey Mantle, New York Yankees, Ralph Houk, Rocky Colavito, Roy White, Stan Bahnsen, Tom Tresh, Willie Mays
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