Posts Tagged ‘Bill Skowron’

Hammerin’ Hank vs. The Mick: The Yankees

July 12, 2016
The "Old Perfessor" about 1953

The “Old Perfessor” about 1953

No team was ever as successful as the 1950s New York Yankees. The won the World Series in the first four years of the decade, lost a pennant to Cleveland, lost a World Series to Brooklyn, then won a fifth championship in 1956. But in all the winning they’d done since 1923, their first championship, they’d never played the Braves. They beaten every other National League team at least once. But the Braves, either the Boston team or the Milwaukee version, had never won a pennant in the same year that the Yankees won an American League pennant. That changed finally in 1957.

Manager Casey Stengel’s charges won 98 games and took the AL pennant by eight games over Chicago. They led the league in runs, hits triples, batting average, slugging, and OPS. They were third in home runs, fifth in doubles, and third again in stolen bases with all of 49. The staff led the AL in ERA, in strikeouts, gave up the least hits and runs.

The infield was still in transition. Gone were the stalwarts of the early ’50s, Billy Martin (although Martin played in 43 games) and Phil Rizzuto. The new guys up the middle were 21-year-old Bobby Richardson and long time jack-of-all-trades Gil McDougald. Richardson hit .256 with no power, no speed, and he didn’t walk much. McDougald hit .289 with 13 home runs, good for fifth on the team. He was second on the team with 156 hits and 5.8 WAR. Bill “Moose” Skowron held down first. His .304 average was second among the starters. He had 17 home runs, 88 RBIs, and 3.1 WAR to go with it. Andy Carey had more games at third than anyone else, although McDougald had done some work there also. Carey hit .255 with 0.8 WAR. As mentioned above Martin started the year in New York but was traded to Kansas City (now Oakland). He was joined on the bench by former starters Joe Collins and Jerry Coleman. Coleman’s .268 led the bench infielders.

Five men did most of the outfield work. The key was center fielder Mickey Mantle. He hit a team leading .365 with 34 home runs (also the team lead). He had 94 RBIs, 173 hits, scored 121 runs, had 11.3 WAR, ad 221 OPS+. All led the team. All that got him his second consecutive MVP Award. Hank Bauer flanked him in right. His average wasn’t much, but he had 18 home runs and was a good outfielder. Elston Howard did most of the left field work, but also served as the backup catcher. He was the Yankees’ first black player and still a long way from the MVP Award he’d win in the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter was the primary backup outfielder. If Howard was a long way from reaching his prime, Slaughter was a long way beyond his. He hit .254 with no power and had lost what speed he had while with St. Louis. Tony Kubek was new. He was used very much in a utility role dong work in left, center, and at all the infield positions except first. He hit .297 and showed 2.5 WAR. They also had “Suitcase” Harry Simpson (one of the great nicknames in baseball). He hit three triples for the Yankees (after coming over from Kansas City), but tied for the league lead with nine. He tied with Bauer and McDougald.

The man behind the mask was Yogi Berra. He was beyond his MVP years, but still formidable. He hit .251 but with 24 home runs (and 24 strikeouts) and 82 RBIs. His WAR was 3.0. Howard, as mentioned above, was his primary backup Darrell Johnson got into 21 games, hitting .217 with a home run.

It was a pitching staff without a true ace. In most years Whitey Ford would hold that position but in 1957 because of a shoulder problem he appeared in only 24 games (17 starts). He managed only 129 innings and an 11-5 record. His 1.8 WAR was fifth on the staff. Tom Sturdivant’s 16 wins topped the team while former Rookie of the Year Bobbie Shantz had the lowest ERA at 2.45. Bob Turley’s 152 strikeouts led the Yanks while Johnny Kucks and Don Larsen had ERAs over three.  Bob Grim and Art Ditmar did most of the bullpen work while former started Tommy Byrne gave the pen it’s lefty.

New York was defending champion. They’d won seven of the last eight AL pennants and six of the last eight World Series. They were favored to repeat.

 

Winning Late

July 8, 2013
Johnny Blanchard

Johnny Blanchard

The last post around here was about a team winning games by scoring early and shutting down the opponent for the rest of the game. I mentioned that there were other ways to win, including putting up runs late in the game. If the 1963 World Series was an example of scoring early and holding on, the 1961 World Series was an example of doing it the other way.

The New York Yankees were defending American League champs (having lost the previous Series). They were much the same team in 1961 with a major exception. Ralph Houk had replaced Casey Stengel as manager. The Yankees ownership said Stengel was too old to manage. The Ol’ Perfessor’s response was “That’s a mistake I’ll never make again.” It was a team designed to bash the opposition into submission. Roger Maris set the yearly home run record with 61 (and despite the steroid sluggers of recent vintage, still the record for some of us). Mickey Mantle had 54. Five other players, including backup catcher Johnny Blanchard, had more than 20 home runs.  The team led the AL in home runs, slugging, OPS, and total bases. The pitching staff consisted of Whitey Ford and a couple of players having career years.

The Cincinnati Reds were afterthoughts in 1961. They hadn’t won since 1940 and had finished sixth the year before. They were led by MVP Frank Robinson, center fielder Vada Pinson, and a young pitching staff (only Bob Purkey was 30). They led the National League in doubles, but finished second in slugging and OPS. The staff led the NL in shutouts and gave up fewer hits and runs than any other team.

As was usual for me back then, I would have to catch the first couple of innings on radio at school (and again I had teachers who let us listen), then miss an inning getting home. But then I could sit and listen to the rest of the Series and root for my favorites. Well, 1961 was one of those years I didn’t have a favorite. As a Dodgers fan you are never allowed to root for the Yankees, ever. I think it’s classified as a sin or something. And the Reds had no particular meaning for me, so I could just sit back and enjoy the Series without worrying too much who was going to win.

Game one started slow, as did most of the games (and if they didn’t there wouldn’t have been much reason for this entire post). The Yanks got a run in the fourth when Elston Howard homered off Jim O’Toole. In the sixth O’Toole gave up another homer, this one to Bill Skowron. It was all the Yankees needed. Ford gave up only two hits, both singles (one in the first, the other in the fifth), walked one, and struck out six. New York scored in the middle stages of the game to win it.

Game two was the lone Reds win. They put up six runs: two in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth, and two more in the eighth. The Yankees got two runs, both in the fourth (and both in typical fashion–a two-run homer by Yogi Berra).

Game three was on a Saturday, so I got the full game for a change. It may have been the best game. Cincinnati got an early run in the third on a single, a couple of outs, and a Frank Robinson single. New York stayed scoreless until the seventh when they scored their first run on something other than a homer. A single, a passed ball, and a Berra single plated the tying run. Cincy was back in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead with a double, an intentional walk, and another single. But in the eighth and ninth the Yankees reverted to form when one-run homers by Blanchard and Maris gave New York the win. Again, they, won by scoring later in the game (this time the final three innings).

The game seems to have broken the back of the Reds. On Sunday, they held New York scoreless into the fourth. Then the Yanks put up runs in each of the next four innings to put the game away, 7-0. This time they did it without benefit of the home run.

I was back to school for the fifth game on Monday. This time there would be no waiting for the middle and later innings to determine the winner. New York jumped on Cincy hurler Joey Jay for four runs (of five total) in the first inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by Blanchard and a Hector Lopez triple. They added another run in the second on a Maris double. The Reds gave it a go in the third when Robinson hit a three-run homer. But New York responded by plating five runs in the fourth. The inning was highlighted by an answering three-run homer, this one by Lopez. Again, the Reds tried to keep it close when they got two runs in the fifth on Wally Post’s two-run shot. But New York got the two runs back in the sixth to close the scoring. They won 13-5 to take both the game and the Series.

 The Series is usually seen as a Yankees beat down of the Reds. That’s true of the final two games, but the Reds win was 6-2 and the first two games were close. The Yanks won with homers and scored a lot of runs in the last half of the game. Whitey Ford was outstanding, winning the Series MVP. For Cincy the season was something of a fluke. They slipped back to third in 1962 and didn’t resurface with a pennant until the 1970s. The Yankees would go on to win both a pennant and the World Series in 1962, then pick up two more pennants in 1963 and ’64 (losing both to the pitching of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Bob Gibson) before they collapsed. After 1964 they would not win another pennant until 1976, when they would, ironically, face the Reds again.