Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Houk’

The End of A Dynasty: the 1963 Yankees

September 1, 2015
Elston Howard

Elston Howard

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. Blanchard 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.

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The Last Segregated World Series: Casey’s Crew

May 8, 2015
Hank Bauer

8 Hank Bauer

In the 1950 World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies were tasked with defeating the current World Champion New York Yankees. The Yanks were winners of two of the previous three World Series and were a formidable foe.

They were led by retired player and former dental student (Thanks, Bloggess) Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel. He’d taken the reigns in New York in 1949 and led his team to a championship. In 1950 they were one game better than in 1949.

He had Joe Collins and Hall of Famer Johnny Mize at first. Both played about the same amount of games and both hit left-handed. Collins was a slightly better fielder and Mize the better hitter. For the season Mize hit .277 and was third on the team with both 25 home runs and 72 RBIs. His .946 OPS and 142 OPS+ were both second on the team. Jerry Coleman played second, hit .287 with no power, and was finding himself pushed by 22-year-old rookie Billy Martin. No one was pushing Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto. He hit .324, led the team in both hits (200) and runs (125), played a good shortstop, and won the American League MVP for 1950 (his only MVP award). Billy Johnson and Bobby Brown (later AL President) were in a rough platoon system at third. Johnson hit .260, Brown .267.

Four men did most of the outfield work. Hall of Fame center fielder Joe DiMaggio was 35 and a year from retirement, but he hit .301, led the team with 35 home runs and a .979 OPS. His 122 RBIs were second on the team and his 5.3 WAR was third. In typical DiMaggio fashion he posted 80 walks to go along with only 33 strike outs. Hank Bauer was settling in as the new right fielder. He had 13 homers and hit .320. Gene Woodling did more work in left field than anyone else, hit .283 with only six home runs and made two errors all season. Cliff Mapes was the fourth outfielder, but got into 108 games. He had 12 home runs, but hit only .247.

The only other everyday players who appeared in 20 or more games were Jackie Jensen and Tommy Henrich. Jensen was a rookie outfielder who hit all of .171. Henrich was in his final season. He started 30 games at first, but spent most of his time as the main left-handed pinch hitter. He hit .272 with six home runs, a .918 OPS, and only six strikeouts to go with 27 walks. He had 41 total hits for the season, twenty were for extra bases: six doubles, eight triples, and the already mentioned six home runs. A lot of people forget that Henrich, never noted for his base stealing speed led the AL in triples twice (1947 and 1948).

Yogi Berra did almost all the catching. He had a great year hitting .322 (second to Rizzuto), with 28 home runs (second to DiMaggio), and a team leading 124 RBIs. His OPS was .915 and his WAR 5.6 (again second to Rizzuto’s 6.7). He struck out all of 12 times in 656 plate appearances and walked 55. His backups were future Yanks manager Ralph Houk and Charlie Silvera. Between them they got into 28 games (Houk started one game, Silvera seven).

The New York pitching corps was aging, unlike Philadelphia’s. Of the six men who started 10 or more games, only one was under 30. If you kick that up to all the men who pitched in 10 or more games, there were only two (and Bob Porterfield only pitched 20 innings over 10 games). Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, Tommy Byrne, and Allie Reynolds all started at least 29 games with Byrne, at age 30, being the youngest (Reynolds at 33 was the oldest). Raschi had 21 wins but an ERA of 4.00. Lopat was 18-8 but had given up more hits than he had innings pitched (WHIP of 1.307). Reynolds led the team with 160 strikeouts and Byrne had 160 walks (with 118 strikeouts). Fred Sanford only started 12 games but walked more than he struck out. The other guy (and the other pitcher under 30) was a rookie named Whitey Ford. He went 9-1 over 20 games (12 starts), had a 2.81 ERA, and was on the way to a Hall of Fame career.

The bullpen was still anchored by Joe Page. He’d posted 13 saves, but his ERA was north of five and he had given up 66 hits in 55 innings. Tom Ferrick was 35 and had posted nine saves, for second on the team. And by way of trivia, Lew Burdette, age 23 pitched 1.1 innings over two games in his rookie campaign. In 1957, now playing at Milwaukee, he would handcuff his former team to lead the Braves to a World’s Championship.

They were a formidable team, World Champs, and ready to defend. They were favored over Philadelphia, which was considered an upstart.

The First Integrated World Series: the Yanks

April 16, 2015
The Yankee Clipper

The Yankee Clipper

There was less disarray among the 1947 New York Yankees than there was with Brooklyn, but it was in some turmoil because it was a team in transition. Between 1921 and 1943 New York had never gone more than three seasons without a pennant. By failing to win in 1944, 1945, and 1946, they’d just matched that record. The idea of going four in a row was anathema. So it brought on changes within the team.

The most noticeable change, in many ways, was the man in charge in the dugout. After 16 years as manager, Joe McCarthy was gone. A combination of losing, poor teams during the war, his drinking, and new management had sent McCarthy and his seven world championships into retirement. In his place was rookie manager Bucky Harris. Now Harris was a rookie manager only in the sense of being new to the Yanks. He’d managed the Senators as far back as their single World Series title in 1924 and had spent other years managing in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia. On the hot seat after replacing the manager with the most championships ever and leading a team used to winning, Harris was able to provide stability to his team.

The infield was changed from the glory years. George McQuinn was at first after playing the same position for the Browns and Athletics. He hit over .300 and his 13 home runs tied for third on the team. Snuffy Stirnweiss had been around for a while. He’d taken over at second during the war years and was terrific. He’d picked up a batting title in 1945. Then reality set in. The major players were back from the war; the dominant pitchers were back on the mound. Stirnweiss suffered against them. His WAR (BBREF version) went from the mid-eights to the mid-threes. It was still better than backup Lonny Frey, seven years removed from his term with the world championship Reds of 1940. He’d come to New York in mid-season and hit .179. Phil Rizzuto hit .273, led the team in stolen bases, and was one of the better shortstops of the era. The primary third baseman was Billy Johnson. He had 10 home runs, had an ERA+ of 114 and was being challenged by Bobby Brown (who would later be President of the American League).

The outfield saw more stability. Johnny Lindell was now the regular in left field. He hit .275 with 11 home runs. He was the replacement for Charlie Keller. Keller was having back problems and so only saw action in 45 games. He only hit .238 but tied for third on the team with 13 home runs. His .550 slugging percentage and .954 OPS led the Yanks. Right field remained with Tommy Henrich. He led the team with 98 RBIs, and with 109 runs scored. His 158 hits was second on the team as were his 16 homers. And of course he was second in both to Joe DiMaggio. The Yankee Clipper hit .315, had 20 home runs, 97 RBIs, 168 hits, walked 64 times then had 31 doubles and 32 strikeouts. Just a more or less normal DiMaggio year.

No where was in greater transition than the catching job. Aaron Robinson began the year as the primary catcher. He was 32, hit .270, was a decent catcher, and by the end of the year was losing his job to second year man, the 22-year-old Yogi Berra. Berra hit .280, had 11 home runs, 54 RBIs, and 41 runs scored in 293 at bats. His catching numbers were on par with Robinson’s and in some cases (passed balls and caught stealing percentage) slightly better. The third catcher was Ralph Houk. He didn’t play much in 1947, but he would later manage the Yanks to three pennants and two World Series championships. Future All Star Sherm Lollar got into 11 games behind the plate.

But easily the most notable transition was in the pitching staff. Gone were the stalwarts of the 1930s and early 1940s, Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. Allie Reynolds was now the ace. He came over from Cleveland at the beginning of 1947,went 19-8 and posted an ERA+ of 110. He walked 123 while striking out 129 and gave up more hits than he had innings pitched. Vic Raschi was only 7-2 in his rookie year (he’d pitched two games the year before), but was already 28. He would join Reynolds as one of the mainstays of the early 1950s Yanks. Spec Shea was the second pitcher. He went 14-5 and had both 89 walks and 89 strikeouts. Bill Bevens, like Shea, had the same number of walks as strikeouts. In his case 77 of each. He was a journeyman who went 7-13 during the regular season, but would make the most of his one starting opportunity in World Series play. Spud Chandler and Bobo Newsom, both aged 39, rounded out the starters. Fireman Joe Page was the primary reliever, garnering 17 saves, while relieving in 44 of 56 games. Karl Drews started 10 games and pitched in 30. No one else appeared in more than 25 games. Tommy Byrne, who would come to fame on the 1950s Yanks got into four games. Except for Page (and Byrne) all of them were right-handed.

They were a formidable team and favored in the Series. Since 1927 they’d won nine World Series and lost only one. In 1941 they’d beaten the Dodgers in five games. Most writers expected them to do so again, although it might take more than five games.

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.

RIP Ralph Houk

July 23, 2010

Ralph Houk as Detroit manager

I see that Ralph Houk died Wednesday at age 90.  He spent most of his career as a backup catcher behind Yogi Berra during the 1940s and 1950s. He got into all of 91 games over eight years, hit .272, had no home runs, and picked up a World Series ring in 1947, 1949-1953. He managed to get into two World Series games, one in 1947, the other in 1952. He pinch hit both times and made an out each.

He was, in other words, a pretty mediocre ballplayer. He was, however, a heck of a manager. When Casey Stengel retired (forcibly) after 1960, Houk was his replacement with the Yankees. He promptly led the Yanks to World Series victories in 1961 and 1962, then won the pennant in 1963, losing the Series to Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers. He retired after that season, replaced as Yankees manager by Berra. He returned to New York in mid-1966, remaining through 1973. He managed Detroit from 1974 through 1978, finishing as high as fourth once. His managerial career ended in Boston with a stint in the dugout from 1981 through 1984. He finished as high as second in the latter half of the 1981 split season. His career managerial record gave him a .541 winning percentage.

In 1986 he joined the Minnesota Twins front office. He helped put together the team that would win the 1987 World Series and provide the major parts for the 1991 World Series winner. Then he retired from baseball for good.

Obviously his glory period was the 1961-63 era with New York. He managed the famous 1961 home run record race, helping Roger Maris to cope with the press, the crowds, and the nonsense. For all that he’s easily the least famous Yankees manager to win a World Series (OK, maybe Bucky Harris in 1947). I guess somebody has to be, but I always liked Houk. He was apparently a good clubhouse man and took care of his players. Following up Casey Stengel was hard enough, but winning on top of that was even harder.

I rooted for him in 1962 and against him in 1963. Despite that, he was  a man I admired. May he rest in peace.