By 1963 the New York Yankees were well established as baseball’s greatest dynasty. Stretching back to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the Yanks won championships with great regularity picking up three titles in the 1920s, five in the 1930s, four in the 1940s, and six in the 1950s. By 1963, they’d won two more in the 1960s (1961 and 1962) and were back in the World Series for the fourth consecutive time.
Manager Ralph Houk was an old backup catcher for the Yanks. In his third (and final) season in the Bronx he led his team to the American League pennant in all three of his seasons skippering them. So far he’d proven a worthy successor to Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel.
His catcher was league MVP Elston Howard (the first black player to be AL MVP). He hit .287 with a team leading 28 home runs and 85 RBIs were second on the team. He had an OPS+ of 141 and a team leading 5.2 WAR (BBREF version). His backup was 38-year-old Hall of Famer Yogi Berra. Berra was in his final season but still managed to hit ..293 with a 139 OPS+ (1.3 WAR) and a .497 slugging percentage.
They caught a staff the consisted of one Hall of Fame lefty and a handful of pretty good pitchers. The Hall of Fame lefty was Whitey Ford. He went 24-7 with a 2.74 ERA, a staff leading 189 strikeouts, a 1.099 WHIP, and ERA+ of 129, and 4.3 WAR (good for second on the staff). It was second to Jim Bouton whose WAR was 4.8. Bouton was 21-7 with an ERA of 2.53, a 1.115 WHIP, 148 strikeouts, an ERA+ of 140, and a team leading six shutouts. The third pitcher was Ralph Terry who went 17-15 with an ERA of 3.22 and 114 strikeouts. Al Downing (before he threw the 715th home run pitch to Hank Aaron) was a 22-year-old rookie (he pitched 10 innings over the previous two seasons) who had 13 wins, 171 strikeouts, and whose 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings led the AL. Stan Williams at 9-8 was the only other pitcher with 20 or more starts. Righty Hal Reniff led the team with 18 saves, while lefty Steve Hamilton was second with five.
Around the horn, the infield consisted of first year starter Joe Pepitone, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, and Clete Boyer. Pepitone led the group with 27 home runs (second on the team) and a team leading 89 RBIs. His .271 average was also first for the group. Boyer had 12 home runs for second among the infielders, but had the lowest batting average with .251. He more than made up for that with his glove. The entire infield suffered from a common problem. None of them got on base all that much. Pepitone’s .304 was easily the highest OBP. Both Richardson and Kubek had a .294 OBP (you suppose they compared notes out at second?), while Boyer was a point higher at .295. In order first to third they had 23, 25, 28, and 33 walks. The infield bench was thin with only Phil Linz and Harry Bright getting into more than 15 games. Bright did the backup work at first, hit .236, and had seven homers. Linz backed up the rest of the infield. He hit better (.269) but had no power. At least his OBP hit .349.
The outfield was a shambles. Tommy Tresh held down center field, hit .269 with 25 home runs, 71 RBIs, more walks than strikeouts, an OPS+ of 140, and 4.1 WAR. Injuries to regular center fielder Mickey Mantle kept him to 65 games, but they were Mantle-like games. He hit .314 with 15 home runs, 35 RBIs, and OPS of 1.063, a team leading 196 OPS+, 40 walks (good for second on the team), and 2.9 WAR. Injuries also hampered regular right fielder Roger Maris. He hit ..269 (146 OPS+), had 23 home runs, 169 total bases, and 3.5 WAR. With regular left fielder Tresh in center, Hector Lopez did the bulk of the work in left. He hit .249 with 14 home runs, an OBP of .304, 52 RBIs, and -0.2 WAR. Ex-backup catcher John Blanchard and Jake Reed provided the outfield subs, with Blanchard doing much of the pinch hit work. He hit .225, had 16 home runs in 218 at bats, had an OPS+ of 113, and -0.2 WAR. Reed’s WAR was better at 0.2, while he hit .205 without a home run and one RBI. No other player was in more than 14 games.
The Yanks won 104 games in 1963 and were favorites to repeat as World Champions. They were second in most major hitting categories and first or second in most major pitching categories. They were, however, last in the league in walks and first in the AL in strikeouts. That could prove a problem in the World Series against a pitching heavy team. As luck would have it, they were up against an old opponent, the Dodgers, now displaced from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. It would be the first confrontation between the teams since the move West. But with Mantle back healthy and a solid staff they expected to win.