The Yankees Way? A Brief Look At How The Championship Teams Were Built, Pt. 10: 1958
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1958 team, is part ten in 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.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 1958 Yankees
The 1950’s began with a bang for the New York Yankees. They won the World Series in 1950, 1951, 1952, and 1953. The Yankees won 103 games in 1954, but finished in second place. The Yankees reached the World Series in 1955 but lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers. In 1956, the Yankees got their revenge, besting the Dodgers in seven games.
The Yankees reached the World Series again in 1957, only to find defeat again – this time at the hands of the Milwaukee Braves. In 1958, the Yankees would get their revenge on the Braves defeating them in seven games. This would be the last time the Yankees would ever face the Milwaukee Braves in the World Series. The team eventually moved to Atlanta (of course). The Yankees would see that Atlanta team in the World Series in 1996 and 1998.
During the regular season, the 1958 Yankees managed a record of “only” 92-62. Still, that was good enough for first place, by a good margin. The second place Chicago White Sox finished 82-72, a full ten games out.
The 1958 Yankees were the last Yankees team of the 1950’s to win a World Series. In 1959, the “Go Go” White Sox won the pennant as the Yankees managed only 79 wins that year. It looked like the Yankees’ dynasty was in trouble… but the early 1960’s were coming and so was one of the Yankees’ greatest teams.
Catcher – Future Hall-of-Famer, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, was still the Yankees’ primary catcher in 1958, but times were starting to change. Berra played in only 88 games behind the plate. He appeared in 21 games in 1958 as a right fielder and also played in two games at first base. In 1958, Berra batted .266/22/90. 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.
By 1958, Elston Howard was transitioning into the eventual Yankees’ starting catcher. Howard was a home grown Yankee having been purchased by the Yankees from Kansas City of the Negro Leagues. Howard caught in 67 games behind the plate in 1958. Howard also played in 24 games in the outfield and five games at first base. It is clear that manager Casey Stengel was looking to find ways to get both Berra and Howard into the lineup consistently. In 1958, Elston Howard hit .314/11/66. He was a player on the rise!
First Base – The Yankees first baseman in 1958 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 1958, Skowron a typically solid year batting .273/14/73
Second Base – By 1958, the Yankees second baseman of the first half of the decade, Jerry Coleman and Billy Martin were long gone and their next great second baseman, Bobby Richardson, another homegrown Yankees great, was just arriving on the scene. As such, the Yankees turned to their “every man” Gil McDougald to hold down the position in 1958. Gil McDougald was an excellent player who in his career started all over the infield for the Yankees playing well in every spot. A homegrown Yankee himself, McDougald hit .250/14/65 in 1958.
In 1958, Bobby Richardson played in 51 games at second base, 13 games at third base, and 2 games at shortstop. He would be the starting second baseman the next time the Yankees won the World Series.
Shortstop – Tony Kubek, a home grown Yankee, took over shortstop in 1957 and promptly won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Kubek would be the Yankees’ shortstop through the mid-1960’s. He would play his entire career as a Yankee. In 1958, his sophomore season, Kubek batted .265/2/48.
Third Base – Andy Carey was still starting at third base in 1958. He became the starting third sacker in 1954 and would remain there through the 1959 season. Like all of the players above, Carey was a homegrown star. In 1958, he hit .286/12/45.
Left Field – Norm Siebern was the primary left fielder in 1958. Siebern arrived on the Yankees in 1956 after rising through their minor leagues. Siebern hit .300/14/55 in 1958. In 1959, he would be part of the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Bronx.
Center Field – After winning the MVP in 1956 and 1957, Mickey Mantle dropped to fifth place in the voting in 1958. He hit .304/42/97. Mickey Mantle led the American League in Runs (127) and Walks (129) as well as homers that year. Mantle was a lifelong Yankee who was signed by the club as an amateur in 1949.
Right Field – The tough Marine, Hank Bauer continued as the right fielder in 1958. That year he hit .268/12/50. He was signed by the Yankees in 1946, after World War II. He arrived with the Yankees in 1948 after rising through their minor leagues. In 1959, Bauer would also be part of the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Yankees.
How About That Again – Each of the starting position players on the 1958 Yankees was a home-grown star. The Yankees’ financial strength and their deep minor leagues helped produce an organization that seemed to just churn out great players. This is truly amazing. (It’s also something for smart clubs to look at as Major League Baseball is discussing reducing affiliated minor league clubs.)
Whitey Ford – By 1958, Whitey Ford was the unquestioned ace of the staff, but he didn’t have the team’s best record and he wouldn’t win the Cy Young Award. In 1958, Ford threw to a 14-7, 2.01 record. Ford was, of course, a homegrown Yankee and a future Hall-of-Famer.
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. 1958 was Turley’s greatest season as he went 21-7, 2.97.
Don Larsen – The owner of the 1956 World Series Perfect Game, Don Larsen also came to the Yankees in the huge trade they made in November 1954 with the Baltimore Orioles. All told seventeen (yes, seventeen) players were part of that trade including Larsen and Bob Turley. In 1958, Don Larsen went 9-6, 3.07.
Duke Maas – After Bob Turley (33) and Whitey Ford (30), the pitcher who had the most starts for the Yankees in 1958 was Duke Maas with 22. He went 7-3, 3.82. Maas came to the Yankees in June 1958 in a trade with the Detroit Tigers. He would remain a Yankees until 1961. (Interestingly, the Los Angeles Angels picked Maas in the expansion draft on December 14, 1960, but he would be traded him back to the Yankees in early April 1961.
Tom Sturdivant, a home-grown Yankee, started 15 games for the 1958 Yankees. He went 3-6, 4.20. Sturdivant would be part of the trade that brought Ralph Terry to the Yankees in 1959.
Ryne Duren was the Yankees main relief pitcher in 1958. He was originally signed by the St. Louis Browns (who became the Baltimore Orioles). Duren also pitched for the Kansas City A’s before coming to the Yankees in June 1957 in a trade that sent Billy Martin (and Ralph Terry, who would return) to the A’s. Duren appeared in 44 games in 1958 pitching to a 2.02 ERA.
Of the Yankees other primary relief pitchers, only one was signed by the Yankees and came up through their minor league system. This pitcher was Johnny Kucks who appeared in 34 games.
The other Yankees primary relievers were Art Ditmar (38 games) who was acquired in a 13-player trade with the Kansas City A’s that also brought the Yankees Bobby Shantz (33 games) and Virgil Trucks (25 games) who came to the Yankees in 1 1958 trade…also with the Kansas City A’s.
Conclusion – This was another Yankees team that was was comprised, almost exclusively (minus a few pitchers) of homegrown players. This team (along with the 1956 Yankees) somewhat disproves the hypothesis that the great Yankees teams were all assembled through their financial might. Still, it was at least partially due to the Yankees financial strength that they were able to sign as many great prospects as they did and develop them through their vast minor league system. In addition, it becomes clear here that the Yankees were beginning to use the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City A’s almost as farm teams themselves. When the Yankees needed players they often found them on one of those two teams.