Having come within two games of capturing the division title the previous season, it appeared that the Yankees had finally turned the corner and established themselves as a legitimate contender in the A.L. East. The Yankees won 33 of their final 47 games and weren’t eliminated from the divisional race until the next-to-last day of the season. For the first time in many years, it seemed as if the team had few holes to fill, prompting the members of the club to eagerly await the start of the 1975 campaign – their second at Shea Stadium.
In spite of New York’s strong second-half performance, the front office believed some improvements to the squad still needed to be made. In particular, it sought another starting pitcher to replace Mel Stottlemyre, who the team cut from its roster prior to the start of spring training after it became clear he hadn’t recovered from his torn rotator cuff.
The Yankees addressed their greatest need on December 31st, when they signed Jim "Catfish" Hunter to a historic five-year, $3.75 million contract. Hunter, the ace of the three-time world champion Oakland A's pitching staff, was coming off his finest season, having led the American League with 25 wins and a 2.49 ERA, en route to earning Cy Young honors. Hunter became available to the highest bidder on December 13th, when arbitrator Peter Seitz declared him a free agent after the right-hander’s representatives submitted a breach-of-contract claim against Oakland owner Charlie Finley, who failed to pay $50,000, half of Hunter's salary, to a life insurance fund.
Hunter’s signing followed another significant move the front office made during the off-season. Two months earlier, on October 22nd, the team elected to trade fan favorite Bobby Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for fellow superstar Bobby Bonds. The right-handed hitting Bonds was immensely talented, having surpassed 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same year twice in his six full seasons with the Giants. Nevertheless, his detractors pointed to his inordinately high strikeout totals (he led the N.L. in strikeouts three times, establishing new major league records for strikeouts in both 1969 and 1970, with totals of 187 and 189, respectively) and his inability to yet live up to his enormous potential.
The only other important event surrounding the team during the off-season occurred on November 27th, when baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended George Steinbrenner from the game for two years as a result of his conviction for making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon. Kuhn prohibited Steinbrenner from having any involvement in the day-to-day operations of the Yankees during the entire length of his suspension, although few people believed that "The Boss" intended to adhere strictly to the commissioner’s ruling.
The Yankees opened the regular season on April 8th with a 5-3 loss to the Indians in Cleveland. The game made history since Frank Robinson made his managerial debut for the Indians, thereby becoming the first black man ever to manage a major league ball club.
The Yankees played fairly well through mid-June, compiling a winning record during that time. However, the loss of centerfielder Elliott Maddox with a season-ending injury
hampered the team’s efforts the remainder of the year. Prior to tearing cartilage in his knee while falling on Shea Stadium’s wet outfield turf, Maddox was batting .307 and led New York with 36 runs scored and a .382 on-base percentage.
The Yankees played sub-.500 ball the next six weeks, causing them to fall 11 games out of first place by the end of July. With the team in desperate trouble, the front office elected to replace Bill Virdon at the helm with Billy Martin.
Martin, who spent the better part of his playing career with the Yankees, always considered himself to be a Yankee at heart, and he relished the opportunity to return to the team with whom he started his career. He spent the season’s final two months familiarizing himself with the Yankee roster and determining which players he intended to keep in the upcoming campaign. During that time, a slightly-built left-handed pitcher named Ron Guidry made his first start for the team during a 6-4 loss to the Red Sox at Shea Stadium. New York posted a record of 30-26 under Martin the remainder of the year, finishing the season with a record of 83-77, in third place in the A.L. East, 12 games behind the first-place Red Sox.
Both of New York’s major off-season acquisitions posted solid numbers for the team over the course of the season. Bobby Bonds earned A.L. All-Star honors by knocking in 85 runs and leading the club with 32 home runs, 93 runs scored, and 30 stolen bases. Meanwhile, Catfish Hunter earned the high salary the Yankees paid him by finishing
23-14, with a league-leading 30 complete games and 328 innings pitched. He also placed among the leaders with a 2.58 ERA and seven shutouts, en route to earning a spot on the All-Star Team, a second-place finish in the Cy Young voting, and a 12th-place finish in the A.L. MVP balloting.
However, New York’s best player was Thurman Munson, who established himself as the team’s best clutch hitter, and as its unquestioned leader. Munson placed among the league leaders with 102 runs batted in, a .318 batting average, and 190 hits. At season’s end, he received his third consecutive Gold Glove, his third straight nomination to The Sporting News All-Star Team, and a seventh-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.By Bob_Cohen
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- Bill Virdon, Billy Martin, Bobby Bonds, Bobby Murcer, Bowie Kuhn, Catfish Hunter, Charles Finley, Elliott Maddox, Frank Robinson, George Steinbrenner, Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees, Peter Seitz, Ron Guidry, Shea Stadium, Thurman Munson