The Yankees Way? A Brief Look At How The Championship Teams Were Built, Pt. 9: 1956
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 1956 teams, is part nine 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 1956 Yankees
After winning five consecutive World Series from 1949 through 1953, the Yankees found themselves as a second place team in 1954. Second place didn’t come because the Yankees faltered. In fact, in 1954, the Yankees won 103 games which happened to be more than they won in any other season in the 1950’s…including the years they reached and/or won the World Series. In fact, the 103 wins were the most the Yankees had won in any season since 1942. The only problem was that, in 1954, the Cleveland Indians were even better than the Yankees having won 111 games leaving the Yankees a full eight games out of first place.
The Yankees returned to their rightful place atop the American league in 1955 by going 96-58 topping the second place Indians who finished 93-61. The 1955 World Series was legendary, though, not because the Yankees won, but because they lost to the “Boys of Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Yankees were finally World Champions again in 1956. That season, they went 97-57. (The Indians were again runners-up at 88-66, a full nine games out.) The Yankees defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers (in Brooklyn’s last World Series ever in seven games. That World Series was highlighted by Don Larsen’s Perfect Game in Game Five.
Catcher – This position was again primarily manned by one player – future Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra. In 1956, Berra played in 140 games hitting .298/30/105. After winning the AL MVP in 1954 and 1955, Berra was the runner-up in 1956. 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’ abd baseball’s most legendary stars.
First Base – The Yankees first baseman in 1956 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 1956, Skowron has one of his finest seasons hitting .308/23/90.
Second Base – Billy Martin was the Yankees’ primary second baseman in 1956. He played 105 games at second that year batting .264/9/49. The Yankees purchased Martin (along with Jackie Jensen) from Oakland in the Pacific Coast League in October 1949. While in Oakland, Billy had played for Casey Stengel,
Jerry Coleman, a homegrown Yankee, backed-up Martin.
Shortstop – Phil Rizzuto’s final season was 1956. He appeared in only 30 games at shortstop that year. His career came to a close when the Yankees re-acquired Enos Slaughter, a former National League great (and future Hall-of-Famer) at the end of his career.
In 1956, the Yankees’ primary shortstop was Gil McDougald, 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 .311/13/56 in 1956 which might have been his finest season.
Third Base – By 1956, the Yankees had Andy Carey starting at third base. Carey was an excellent defender who also hit pretty well. In 1956, he hit .only 237/7/50, but his lifetime batting average was .260. 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.
Quick Note – This Yankees infield basically stayed intact through much of the 1950’s. It was a homegrown collection of lesser stars but quality all-around players who could hit, play defense, and formed a solid core that helped the Yankees win, and win often in their most successful decade.
Left Field – The primary left fielder on the Yankees was catcher by trade, but due to the fact that the Yankees had Yogi Berra behind the plate and the fact that this player was too good to keep on the bench, in the minors, or to trade, Elston Howard began his career as an outfielder. Howard came up in 1955, and by 1956 was the primary right fielder. He, too, was a home grown Yankee having been purchased by the Yankees from Kansas City of the Negro Leagues. While he appeared in 98 games in 1956, only 62 were in left field, although that was more than any other Yankees player. In 1956, Howard hit .262/5/34. His best days were yet to come.
Norm Siebern played 51 games in left field. A lefty batter, it seems he platooned a bit with the righty Elston Howard. Siebern came to the Yankees in 1956 through their minor leagues. (Were they all home-grown in 1956?) Siebern hit .204/4/21 in 1956. In 1959, he would be part of the trade that brought Roger Maris to the Bronx.
Center Field – By 1956, Mickey Charles Mantle was star and 1956 might have been his best season. In 1956 Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown by putting up the following numbers: .353/52/130. He was the American League Most Valuable Player. He would also win the MVP in 1957. Mantle was a lifelong Yankee who was signed by the club as an amateur in 1949. Mantle, of course, is enshrined in the Hall-of-Fame.
Right Field – The tough Marine, Hank Bauer was the right fielder in 1956. That year he hit .241/26/84. He was signed by the Yankees in 1946, after World War II. He arrived with the Yankees in 1948 and was a star for them for many years.
How About That – Each of the starting players on the 1956 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 1956, Whitey Ford had also become a star. he was the unquestioned ace of the staff. In 1956, Ford threw to a 19-6, 2.47 record. Those 19 wins were the most he’d have in any season until 1961. (This was, in large part due to the way he was used by Casey Stengel – most often pitching only against the others clubs’ aces.) Ford was a homegrown Yankee.
Johnny Kucks – A right-handed pitcher in his second season (after coming up through the Yankees system). Kucks had his best year in 1956 going 18-9, 3.85. He would eventually be traded in a package that brought the Yankees Ralph Terry.
Don Larsen – If Don Larsen didn’t have his best season in 1956 (and he probably did going 11-5, 3.26) he did have his greatest moment by throwing his World Series perfect game. Larsen came to the Yankees in a gigantic trade they made in November 1954 with the Baltimore Orioles. All told seventeen (yes, seventeen) players were part of that trade.
Bob Turley – The eventual 1958 American League Cy Young Award winner, Bob Turley came to the Yankees in that big trade in November 1954 with the Baltimore Orioles. He would pitch with the Yankees through 1962. 1956 was nothis best year as he went 8-4, 5.05 as the number five starter.
Tom Sturdivant, a home-grown, Yankee had his best years in 1956 and 1957 winning 16 games in both of those years. He went 16-8, 3.30 in 1956 and was even better in 1957 going 16-6, 2.54. He would be part of the Ralph Terry trade in 1959.
The main Yankees relief pitchers in 1956 were Tom Gorman (41 games), Tommy Byrne (37 games), and Rip Coleman (29 games). They were all signed as amateur free agents by the Yankees and…were home-grown contributors to the team.
Conclusion – If ever there was a Yankees team that was replete with homegrown players, this would be it. This team disproves the hypothesis that the great Yankees teams were all built through their financial might, except for the fact that 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 in their vast minor league system.