1961 New York Yankees
From BR Bullpen
| 1961 New York Yankees |
|Major league affiliations|
|Owner(s)||Dan Topping and Del Webb|
|Baseball-Reference||1961 New York Yankees|
 1961 New York Yankees / Franchise: New York Yankees / BR Team Page
The New York Yankees' 1961 season was the 59th season for the Yankees. The team finished with a record of 109-53, winning their 26th pennant, finishing 8 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers. New York was managed by Ralph Houk. The Yankees played at Yankee Stadium. In the World Series, they defeated the Cincinnati Reds in 5 games.
 Season Highlights
The 1961 season is best remembered for the home run race between Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. Maris eventually beat Babe Ruth's previous single-season record, achieving 61 home runs on the last game of the season; Mantle ended the year with 54. 1961 was an expansion year, with the American League increasing from 8 to 10 teams, the first expansion in the 61-year history of the league. The old schedule of 154 games (7 opponents X 22 games apiece) was replaced by 162 games (9 opponents X 18 games apiece) which led to some controversy due to the 8 extra games from which Maris benefited to try to surpass Ruth's total of 60, set in 154 games in 1927. At the time, Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that if the record was surpassed in more than 154 games, it should be marked in the record book with an asterisk and Ruth's record listed as well. However, Maris' record is now considered the sole American League single-season record. At the time it was also the major league record, but it was broken by Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 (and was later bettered by Barry Bonds).
1961 was the first season for manager Ralph Houk, who replaced the legendary Casey Stengel after the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series in dramatic fashion to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Stengel was known for his relentless substitution of players and creative use of a pitching staff. Houk's style was very different: he preferred a set line-up and in fact received little contribution from his bench, with the exception of back-up catcher Johnny Blanchard who had a career year with 21 home runs in 243 at-bats.
The 1961 Yankees rank among the greatest home run-hitting teams of all time: they hit 240 dingers, 51 more than their closest competitors in the AL that season, the Los Angeles Angels who played in a bandbox of a stadium. This was a Major League record at the time that would not be bettered until the home run-happy 1990s. The main contributors were Maris and Mantle, with 61 and 54 respectively (the most ever by two teammates), with the help of 1B Moose Skowron (28), LF Yogi Berra (22), catcher Elston Howard (21) and the aforementioned Blanchard (21). Maris was voted the AL MVP for the second consecutive season; his batting line for the year was .269/.372/.620 with 61 home runs and 142 RBI (but only 16 doubles). The team's tremendous home run production has obscured the fact that the Yankees' offense was nowhere near the all-time best. In fact, Bill James has argued that they did not have a particularly good offense, as witnessed by their very pedestrian total of 827 runs scored, which did not even lead the 1961 AL. The culprits were the team's two table-setters, 2B Bobby Richardson and SS Tony Kubek who hit lead-off and second with dreadful on-base percentages (.295 and .306, respectively), while 3B Clete Boyer added a punchless .224 batting average to the mix. The Yankees were last in the league in doubles and stolen bases, showing a complete lack of team speed.
The pitching staff was dominated by two men who had fabulous years: starter Whitey Ford, freed from Stengel's peculiar usage patterns, started a career-high 39 games and was excellent, going 25-4, 3.21 with 209 strikeouts in 283 innings and earned the Major League Cy Young Award; relief ace Luis Arroyo, picked up from the minor league scrap heap at the end of the 1960 season, was just as good, going 15-5 with a league-leading 29 saves and a 2.19 ERA in 119 innings. He was one of the only men who threw a screwball in the Major Leagues at the time, and the strange pitch mesmerized opposition batters that year. The rest of the staff included Ralph Terry, who went 16-3, 3.15, and two journeymen who used their teammates' home run barrage to put up the best years of their careers: Bill Stafford was 14-9, 2.68 in 25 starts, and Rollie Sheldon who went 11-5, 3.60, in 21 starts. The rest of the staff was rather mediocre, however, and included a few washed-up veterans like Bob Turley, Art Ditmar and Bud Daley and mediocrities like Jim Coates, Hal Reniff and Tex Clevenger. However, Houk gave these pitchers a simple assignment: throw strikes and keep the opposition to three or four runs, and the offense will win it for you... and it worked.
The Yankees did have an excellent infield defense, as Boyer, Richardson and Kubek made up for their bats with excellent glove work, Skowron was solid at first, and Howard was an outstanding defensive catcher. The outfield defense was poor, however, as Mantle had already lost a lot of speed, Maris was adequate only because of Yankee Stadium's small right field area, and Berra was a 37-year old catcher trying to play left field. Back-up outfielder Hector Lopez was a terrible fielder as well.
So, a team that is usually classified among baseball's greatest of all time (for example in Donald Honig's book about baseball 10 greatest teams) had in fact a number of clear weaknesses, even if it did take advantage of expansion to rack up an impressive total of 109 victories. That said, a completely-forgotten Detroit team picked up 101 wins in the same league, showing that the level of competition was rather poor. They also had the chance of facing in the World Series a team - the 1961 Cincinnati Reds - which was among the weakest ever to play in the October classic, giving the impression that they steamrolled all of their opponents when in fact they were a very beatable team if conditions had been only slightly different.
 Award and Honors
- AL All-Stars: Luis Arroyo, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard, Tony Kubek, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Bill Skowron
- AL MVP: Roger Maris
- ML Cy Young Award: Whitey Ford
- AL Gold Glove: Bobby Richardson (2B)
- ML Manager of the Year Award: Ralph Houk
 World Series
|1||Reds – 0, Yankees – 2||October 4||Yankee Stadium||62,397|
|2||Reds – 6, Yankees – 2||October 5||Yankee Stadium||63,083|
|3||Yankees – 3, Reds – 2||October 7||Crosley Field||32,589|
|4||Yankees – 7, Reds – 0||October 8||Crosley Field||32,589|
|5||Yankees – 13, Reds – 5||October 9||Crosley Field||32,589|
 Further Reading
- Robert Creamer and Ralph Houk: Season of Glory: The Amazing Saga of the 1961 New York Yankees, G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, NY, 1988.
- Donald Honig: Baseball's 10 Greatest Teams, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1982.
- Bill James: "The Greatest Team What Ever Was", in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, The Free Press, New York, NY, 2001, pp. 257-263.