Year In Review : 1961 National League
Off the field…
A new American based humanitarian organization called the "Peace Corps" was started at the insistence President John F. Kennedy. The program encouraged young people, most just out of college, to volunteer a year of their time to work as teachers, health care providers or other advisors for poor nations in Africa, Asia and South America.
The United States government pledged to increase its military presence to aid South Vietnam in the fight against the Viet Cong rebels. Although not "officially engaged" in a formal state of war, the new agreement provided increased funding for the Vietnamese army and more U.S. advisors in the field.
An unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government of Cuban premier Fidel Castro by United States-backed rebels took place in April. An invasion force consisting of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles, armed with U.S. weapons, landed at the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the south coast hoping to find support from the local population. Within hours, most were wiped out by Castro's own troops or taken prisoner for ransom. Acting President John F. Kennedy took full responsibility for the disaster, even though the plans had been put in place during the Eisenhower administration.
In the American League…
New York's newly crowned single-season home run champion* Roger Maris beat out Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle by 4 votes for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
On September 15, the New York Yankees also broke the all-time home run record (for a team) with 223 round-trippers. The combined franchise mark had been previously held by the 1947 New York Giants and the 1956 Cincinnati Reds.
Baltimore Orioles slugger Jim Gentile tied Ernie Banks' Major League record for most grand slams in a season after hitting his 5th off of the Chicago White Sox' Don Larsen.
In the National League…
On September 15, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax set down 10 Milwaukee Braves bringing his season total to 243 — a National League record for left-handed pitchers. The New York Giants' Rube Marquard had held the National League lefty record previously after fanning 237 in 1911.
The San Francisco Giants set a new precedent for Major League salaries after signing Willie Mays to an $85,000 contract — the highest in their history and the most paid to any player in 1961.
The National League's newest franchise was officially christened as the "Mets" after New York fans were asked to vote on a list of finalists submitted by mail. Other names selected for the ballot included the "Burros", "Skyliners", "Rebels" and "Skyscrapers".
Around the League…
Political tensions between the United States and Cuba initially prevented all Cuban players, including Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox and Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos of the Minnesota Twins, from returning to the U.S. for the 1961 season. After several negotiations, a high-ranking foreign ministry official finally permitted their unconditional return.
"The M&M Boys" (Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris) became THE single most important story in the 1961 season as both New York Yankee teammates raced to beat Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record of sixty. After going head-to-head for several months, Mantle fell out of the race due to a serious hip infection that required hospitalization. Maris pressed on and finally topped "The Bambino" during the final game of the season with number 61* off Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that Maris' record would be recorded with an asterisk in the books, making it a separate and distinctive record due to the new one-hundred sixty-two game schedule. Years later, acting Commissioner Fay Vincent reversed the ruling, "removing the asterisk" and recognizing Maris as an official record-breaker.
In response to the rash of home runs around the league, both American League President Joe Cronin and National League President Warren Giles agreed to order tests to determine if the "1961 baseball" was "livelier" than those of past seasons. The investigation conducted by technologists at Foster D. Snell Inc. concluded that the ball was slightly larger and several ounces lighter than the one used by Babe Ruth in the 1920's.
After 9 innings, the season's second All-Star Game was called at a 1-1 tie due to heavy rain at Boston's Fenway Park.