A Brief Look At How The Yankees Championship Teams Were Built (Pt. 11)
by Paul Semendinger
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1961-62 teams, is part eleven the series.
The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time - batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years. (I used Baseball-Reference.com to determine all these stats and the transaction data. Some other information came from the SABR Biography Project.)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 1961-62 Yankees
The 1961 Yankees team, the year the M&M Boys each had great seasons and Whitey Ford may have been his best, is considered by many one of the greatest baseball teams of all time.
The 1961 Yankees went 109-53. They finished eight games ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the American League and then went on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the World Series.
The 1962 Yankees went 99-66. They finished five games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the American League and then went on to defeat the San Francisco Giants in an epic seven game World Series. This would be the Yankees’ last World Championship until 1977.
Catcher - By 1961, Elston Howard was the Yankees’ starting catcher. Yogi Berra was now Elston Howard’s back-up. In 1961, Howard had a fantastic year hitting .348/21/77. In 1962 he hit a respectable (but not nearly as impactful) .279/21/91. Howard was a home grown Yankee having been purchased by the Yankees from Kansas City of the Negro Leagues.
First Base - The Yankees first baseman in 1961 and 1962 was the strong right-handed hitting Bill “Moose” Skowron. Skowron was another homegrown Yankee having been signed by them prior to the 1950 season. He worked his way through the minors appearing first in the big leagues in 1954. He would man first base for the Yankees through the 1962 season. In 1961, Skowron hit .267/28/89. In 1962 he hit .270/23/80.
Second Base - Bobby Richardson, who had been the 1960 World Series MVP in a losing cause, was the starting second baseman for these teams. Richardson put up the following numbers: .261/3/49 (1961) and .302/8/59. Richardson was a home grown Yankee who rose through their powerful minor league system.
Shortstop - Tony Kubek, a home grown Yankee, took over shortstop in 1957 and promptly won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Kubek was the Yankees’ shortstop through the mid-1960’s. He would play his entire career as a Yankee. In 1961, Kubek batted .276/8/46. He was called to active duty in the U.S. Army for much of the 1962 season. In 1962, Kubek would appear in only 45 games.
The Yankees’ shortstop in 1962 was Tom Tresh. Tresh was another home grown Yankee. As often happened in those years, Tresh filled in by playing excellent baseball. He batted .286/20/93 and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Third Base - The third baseman for the Yankees for much of the 1960’s was Clete Boyer. In 1961 he hit .224/11/55. In 1962 he went .272/18/68. Boyer, though, was not known for his bat. He was, arguably, the best fielding third baseman in baseball…at least the best one not named Brooks Robinson. Boyer was acquired by the Yankees from the Kansas City A’s in one of those big multi-player deals (this was involved eleven players) in 1957.
Left Field - Future Hall-of-Famer, Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, was no longer the Yankees’ primary catcher. His role was now as a back-up catcher and outfielder. He was the primary left fielder in 1961 appearing in 81 games there that year. In 1962, Berra played only 28 games in left field as his career was winding down. In 1961, he batted .271/22/61 followed by .224/10/35 in 1962. Yogi Berra was home-grown Yankee being signed by the franchise in 1942. He came up through the minors before becoming one of the Yankees' and baseball’s most legendary stars.
Hector Lopez mostly covered left field when Yogi didn’t. He played 65 games in left in 1961 (.222/3/22) and 64 games there in 1962 (.275/6/48). Lopez was acquired by the Yankees (along with Ralph Terry) in 1959 from the Kansas City A’s.
Center Field - The Mick. Mickey Mantle. Mantle was a lifelong Yankee who was signed by the club as an amateur in 1949. He was still great in 1961 and 1962 putting up the following numbers: .317/54/128 (1961) and ..321/30/89.
Right Field - The M&M Boys were Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris. The Yankees acquired Roger Maris from (who else) the Kansas City A’s in December 1959. The Yankees sent Hank Bauer and Don Larsen to the A’s as part of that package. Maris won the American League MVP in 1960 and then had his greatest season in 1961 when he (of course) hit 61 homers and won the MVP again. In 1962, Maris hit .256/33/100.
Whitey Ford - The Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford was amazing in 1961 going 25-4, 3.21. He followed that up with a 17-8, 2.90 year in 1962. Ford was, of course, a homegrown Yankee and a future Hall-of-Famer.
Ralph Terry - A strong right-handed pitcher (and the guy who gave up the home run to Bill Mazerowski to lose the 1960 World Series), Terry was acquired by the Yankees (along with Hector Lopez) from the Kansas City A’s in 1959. He had 27 starts in 1961 (16-3, 3.15) and 39 starts in 1962 (23-12, 3.19).
Bill Stafford - One of the lesser known pitchers from this era, Stafford made 25 starts in 1961 and 33 in 1962. He pitched for the Yankees as an important member of their starting rotation through 1965. He was a home grown Yankee.
Rollie Sheldon - A righty who came up through the Yankees’ system made 21 starts for the 1961 Yankees. He went 11-5, 3.60 in 1961. He made 16 starts with less success in 1962 going 7-8, 5.49.
Jim Bouton was another home grown Yankee pitcher. He made 16 starts in 1962 (7-7, 3.99). Bouton would have good years in 1963 and 1964, but he’d later become (much) more famous with his pen as he wrote Ball Four.
Bob Turley - The 1958 American League Cy Young Award winner, Bob Turley came to the Yankees in a huge 1954 trade with the Baltimore Orioles. He appeared in 39 games over these two seasons making 20 starts.
Bud Daley - A lefty, Daley appeared in 66 games over these two seasons (making 23 starts). He came to the Yankees during the 1961 season in a trade with the…Kansas City Athletics.
Luis Arroyo - The Yankees closer came to the Yankees in July 1960 in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. His greatest season was 1961 as he went 15-5, 2.19 (and is now also credited with 29 saves). In 1962, Arroyo went 1-3, 4.81 with 7 saves.
Conclusion - These Yankees teams had a bunch of home grown stars, some among the best players in baseball history, but it can be argued that without the Yankees’ connection to the Kansas City A’s, these championship teams could not have been built. The Yankees’ financial might allowed the A’s to become a sort-of Major League minor league franchise for them. The A’s the Yankees with stars and key contributors to these championship teams.