With renovations under way at Yankee Stadium by the fall of 1973, the Yankees resigned themselves to the fact that they would be playing their home games at a ballpark other than The House That Ruth Built for the first time in more than 50 years. However, while the rest of the team prepared to move several miles south to Shea Stadium, manager Ralph Houk decided to hand in his resignation, ending in the process an association with the ball club that lasted more than a quarter-of-a-century. Having served as both GM and field manager at different times in New York, Houk had grown accustomed to having a great deal of control over the team. He, therefore, didn’t feel comfortable managing under George Steinbrenner, who insisted on meddling in the team's affairs and being consulted before every move. As a result, Houk left the only major league organization he had ever known and signed a three-year contract to manage the Detroit Tigers just 11 days later.
Steinbrenner didn’t wait long to find Houk’s replacement, signing Dick Williams to be the team’s new manager on December 18th. Williams led the Oakland A's to each of the previous two world championships, before he similarly grew weary of Oakland owner Charlie Finley’s meddlesome ways. Finley, though, contested the move since Williams still had one year remaining on his contract. The Oakland owner demanded compensation from New York in the form of players. Two days later, American League president Joe Cronin ruled that, since Williams was still technically under contract to the A's, he could not be signed by New York. The Yankees subsequently turned to Bill Virdon, the former centerfielder, who earlier coached and managed for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The tumult surrounding Steinbrenner during the off-season continued until just two days before Opening Day, when he was indicted for making illegal campaign contributions on behalf of Richard Nixon.
Meanwhile, the Yankees still had gaping holes to fill at several positions on the field. With the exception of third base, every spot in the infield needed to be upgraded. The front office also wanted to add a new right-fielder and another starting pitcher.
General Manager Gabe Paul addressed the right field situation with his first deal of the off-season on December 7th, acquiring outfielder Lou Piniella and relief pitcher Ken Wright from the Kansas City Royals for Lindy McDaniel. Paul made another move on March 23rd, when he purchased outfielder Elliott Maddox from the Texas Rangers for $60,000. The right-handed hitting Maddox had a reputation for being a very good outfielder, but a below-average hitter. The Yankees thought he would be a good player to have on their bench since he could play any of the outfield positions, or even third base. Maddox’s role changed significantly, though, when manager Virdon grew increasingly unhappy with the team’s mediocre play over the course of the season’s first few weeks.
Choosing to ruffle some feathers by restructuring his outfield, Virdon inserted Maddox in centerfield, shifted Bobby Murcer from center to right field, moved Lou Piniella from right to left field, and began platooning longtime leftfielder Roy White with
Ron Blomberg at the DH spot. Virdon’s strategy ended up improving the team dramatically, since Maddox not only played an outstanding centerfield, but, also, turned out to be one of New York’s most consistent hitters all year long.
GM Gabe Paul had one more move up his sleeve as well, trading four pitchers to Cleveland for first baseman Chris Chambliss and pitchers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. Although Chambliss struggled his first year with the Yankees, he ended up making major contributions to three pennant-winning teams and two world championship clubs in New York.
After playing mediocre ball for the first four months of the season, the Yankees came alive in the latter stages of the campaign, winning 33 of their final 47 contests. However, their late-season surge wasn’t quite enough, since they finished two games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the A.L. East, with a record of 89-73. The Yankees were a well-balanced team, placing third in the league with a 3.31 team ERA, while finishing sixth in the circuit with 671 runs scored.
Pat Dobson and George Medich led the pitching staff with 19 victories apiece. Dobson also finished second among the starters with a 3.07 ERA, while Medich threw a team-leading 17 complete games. After coming over to the Yankees at mid-season, Rudy May went 8-4 and led the starters with a 2.28 ERA. Sparky Lyle pitched exceptionally well out of the bullpen, posting a record of 9-3, saving 15 games, and compiling a 1.66 ERA.
Lou Piniella and Elliott Maddox were the team’s most consistent hitters. Piniella finished fourth in the American League with a .305 batting average, knocked in 70 runs, and scored 71 others. Maddox placed among the league leaders with a .303 batting average and a .397 on-base percentage, topped the Yankees with 75 runs scored, and provided outstanding defense in centerfield. At season’s end, he finished eighth in the A.L. MVP voting.
Somewhat disappointing, though, were the performances turned in by Bobby Murcer and Thurman Munson. Murcer led the team with 88 runs batted in and 166 hits, and he finished second on the club with 14 stolen bases. However, he grew increasingly frustrated over the course of the season with Shea Stadium’s swirling winds and relatively deep right field fence. Murcer hit only 10 home runs, batted just .274, and scored only 69 runs. Still, he did an excellent job in right-field, collecting 21 assists and earning his fourth consecutive selection to the A.L. All-Star Team.
Munson joined his teammate on the All-Star squad and also earned a spot on The Sporting News All-Star Team, even though he hit only 13 home runs, drove in just 60 runs, and batted only .261. He also was awarded his second consecutive Gold Glove, despite committing 22 errors in the field.
Nevertheless, most disheartening was the loss of Mel Stottlemyre for much of the year. After posting the final victory of his career nine days earlier, Stottlemyre made his final start on June 11th, leaving the game in the third inning after tearing his rotator cuff. He made one relief appearance shortly before the end of the season to test his injured pitching shoulder, but quickly realized his pitching days were over.By Bob_Cohen
- Bill Virdon, Bobby Murcer, Cecil Upshaw, Charles Finley, Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, Dick Williams, Doc Medich, Elliott Maddox, Gabe Paul, George Steinbrenner, Joe Cronin, Ken Wright, Lou Piniella, Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees, Pat Dobson, Ralph Houk, Ron Blomberg, Roy White, Rudy May, Shea Stadium, Sparky Lyle, Thurman Munson, Yankee Stadium