After finishing second in the American League East with 93 victories the previous season, the Yankees entered Spring Training prior to the start of the 1971 campaign with renewed hope. New York’s pitching staff remained solid, with Mel Stottlemyre, Fritz Peterson, and Stan Bahnsen positioned at the top of the starting rotation. Meanwhile, the offense made great strides in 1970, led by Roy White, Bobby Murcer, and A.L. Rookie of the Year Thurman Munson. The front office believed it needed only to fill a couple of holes to make the ball club a legitimate contender for the Eastern Division title.
The Yankee brain-trust made its most significant move shortly after the 1971 regular season got underway, trading pitchers Rob Gardner and Ron Klimkowski to Oakland for veteran outfielder Felipe Alou. The 36-year-old Alou earned N.L. All-Star honors three times earlier in his career with the Giants and Braves, finishing as high as fifth in the league MVP voting in 1966, when he hit 31 home runs and batted .327 for Atlanta, while topping the senior circuit with 122 runs scored and 218 hits. Still a solid right-handed hitter, Alou was expected to garner a significant amount of playing time in the outfield and at first base.
Alou ended up having a good year for the Yankees, finishing third on the team with 69 runs batted in and a .289 batting average. However, his strong performance failed to mask the team’s other shortcomings. New York continued to get very little offensive production from its infield, Thurman Munson suffered through a subpar sophomore campaign, and bullpen closer Lindy McDaniel, so effective one year earlier, finished
5-10, with a 5.04 ERA and only four saves. As a result, the Yankees finished the season with a record of only 82-80, in fourth place in the A.L. East, a full 21 games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles.
Nevertheless, a few players on the team distinguished themselves over the course of the regular season with their outstanding play. Roy White had another very good year, finished second on the club with 19 home runs, 84 runs batted in, 86 runs scored, a .292 batting average, and a .388 on-base percentage. He also set an American League record with 17 sacrifice flies and went through the entire season (314 total chances) without committing a single error in the outfield.
Starters Mel Stottlemyre and Fritz Peterson both pitched extremely well all year long. Stottlemyre led the team with 16 victories, a 2.87 ERA, 19 complete games, and seven shutouts. Peterson finished second on the club to Stottlemyre with 15 wins, 16 complete games, and four shutouts, led the team with 274 innings pitched, and compiled a 3.05 ERA.
Meanwhile, Bobby Murcer established himself as the Yankees’ best player. After showing glimpses of the talent that prompted the Yankee front office to promote him as the next great Yankee in each of his first two seasons, Murcer developed into a full-fledged star in 1971. He finished a close second to Minnesota’s Tony Oliva in the A.L. batting race with an average of .331, hit 25 home runs, and placed among the league leaders with 94 runs batted in, 94 runs scored, 91 walks, 287 total bases, and a .543 slugging percentage. Murcer also led the league with a .429 on-base percentage. His exceptional all-around performance earned him a seventh-place finish in the league MVP voting, and spots on both the A.L. All-Star Team and The Sporting News All-Star Team.By Bob_Cohen
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- Bobby Murcer, Felipe Alou, Fritz Peterson, Lindy Mcdaniel, Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees, Rob Gardner, Ron Klimkowski, Roy White, Stan Bahnsen, Thurman Munson, Tony Oliva