1961 World Series
The 1961 season witnessed one of the most amazing performances in all of baseball as Yankees teammates Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris went head-to-head for the all-time, single-season homerun record set by another slugger in pinstripes named Babe Ruth. Both men were extremely gifted athletes on both sides of the ball and their friendship and competitiveness was second to none. The press had dubbed them "The M&M Boys" and their story is an incredible example of what impact sports can have when two teammates who are as opposite as can be, come together to create something special. In the previous season, in his first game in Yankee pinstripes, Maris singled, doubled, and smacked two home runs. His MVP numbers included a league leading one-hundred twelve runs batted in and thirty-nine home runs, only one behind league-leader Mantle although he missed eighteen games with injuries. However, in 1961, Maris stayed healthy and played in one-hundred sixty-one games, (his career high). As he and Mantle made their charge at Babe Ruth's home run record, the Yankees considered switching Maris (who batted third) and Mantle (fourth), to give "The Mick" (clearly the fan favorite) a better shot. Many experts feel that if the switch had been made, Maris almost certainly would not have broken the record.
Regardless of the decision, Mantle fell back in the middle of September when he suffered a serious infection in his hip. Maris kept it up and went into the one-hundred fifty-fourth game of the season in Baltimore with fifty-eight homers. He gave it his best shot that night, hitting No. 59 and then launched a long foul on his second-to-last at bat. Unfortunately, in his last at-bat (against Hoyt Wilhelm) he hit a disappointing, checked-swing grounder. Despite the setback, Maris remained determined and finally passed "The Bambino" on the last day of the season against the Red Sox's Tracy Stallard. Fittingly, it went about 340 feet into Yankee Stadium's right field porch. Maris also finished the regular season with back-to-back MVP honors, driving in a league leading one-hundred forty-two runs. As expected Ford C. Frick ruled that since Maris had played in a one-hundred sixty-two game schedule (as opposed to Ruth's one-hundred fifty-four game schedule), his record would be listed officially with a qualifying asterisk; this decision stood until 1991. Although, he never experienced the same hitting streak, his consistency as a power hitter continued and he hit two-hundred seventy-five home runs during his twelve year career.
As expected, the rest of the '61Yankees were at the top of their game (winning one-hundred nine) while attempting to forget the devastating loss in the previous years Series after the Pirates Bill Mazeroski hit "the shot heard round the world" in Game 7. New York, which had surprisingly dismissed Casey Stengel after the '60 Series, was now under the guidance of Ralph Houk. The new skipper was a former reserve catcher and coach for the Yanks who practiced a slightly more modern philosophy than his long-time predecessor. Whitey Ford continued to dominate on the mound and finished with an amazing 25-4 record and relief ace Luis Arroyo had a masterful season going 15-5, with a 2.19 ERA.
Their rivals, the Cincinnati Reds had climbed to the top of the National League on the solid arm of Joey Jay (a .500 career pitcher in Milwaukee but a twenty-one game winner in Cincinnati). Many fans felt that it would be a showdown between pitchers and did not anticipate any high-scoring events despite the lumber wielding line-ups. Whitey Ford proved the predictions right in the first game while holding the Reds to two measly singles for a 2-0 victory at home in the Bronx. Jim O'Toole had pitched extremely well throughout the opener, but fell victim to the '61 Yankees signature otherwise known as the home run. After all, they had belted two-hundred forty during the regular season and boasted the newly crowned "King of Swing" in Maris. The Red's newest ace, Jay was given the start for Game 2 and promptly answered back with a 6-2 masterpiece of his own. After trading runs early on, the Reds pulled ahead on catcher Elston Howard's passed ball, which followed singles by Elio Chacon and Eddie Kasko. Johnny Edwards extended the lead to 4-2 with a run-scoring single in the sixth and a throwing error by Yankees reliever Luis Arroyo as well as an RBI double by Edwards netted the Reds their final two runs in the eighth.
Game 3 returned the contest to Cincinnati for the first time in twenty-one years and the home team looked to maintain their momentum with a 2-1 lead going into the eighth inning. Bob Purkey had tossed an impressive four hitter, but was nailed by Johnny Blanchard, who had contributed mightily to the Yanks longball rally with twenty-one homers (in only two-hundred forty-three at-bats) during the regular season. The pinch-hitter / reserve catcher / outfielder stepped up in place of Bud Daley and belted his twenty-second home run deep into the right-field bleachers. Maris, who was hitless in ten Series at-bats led off the ninth and hammered his sixty-second of the year into the same seats as Blanchard. As the Reds took their turn, Arroyo was sent in to finish the job and induced pinch-hitters Dick Gernert and Gus Bell to ground out, ending the game.
Whitey Ford returned in Game 4 to build on his Series scoreless-inning streak of twenty-seven and eyed up another one of Babe Ruth's records of twenty-nine. The Yankees veteran had no problem adding five more innings before leaving in the sixth with an ankle problem. By then his team had a four-run lead thanks to Clete Boyer's two-run double in the sixth. Jim Coates who had replaced the "The Chairman" tossed four innings of one hit relief while Mantle, who was limited to six Series at-bats, was replaced by Hector Lopez, who hammered a two run single in the seventh on the way to a 7-0 final. In Game 5, the "Bronx Bombers" picked right up where they had left off scoring five runs in the first-inning. In the fourth, they added five more and steamrolled over the Reds 13-5 for the closing win and the title.
Although the "The M&M Boys" had managed only three hits and two RBIs in twenty-five at-bats, Blanchard and Lopez compensated with ten runs while going 7-19. Lopez had even gone further with an amazing seven RBIs in nine at-bats. As predicted originally, pitching was the determining factor in the '61 Series as Ford, Coates and Daley went twenty-five innings without surrendering a single earned-run.