The New York Yankees entered 1962 with virtually the same team that had overwhelmed the American League in 1961, with one major difference. All-Star shortstop Tony Kubek was lost to the army for most of the year.
The passage of time often provides perspective, but in Kubek’s case, that has not happened.
Derek Jeter and Phil Rizzuto are the two players who come to mind when discussing great Yankees’ shortstops. Kubek has become almost an afterthought. He deserves to be so much more.
Bill Skowron, coming off a 28-home run 1961 season, would be the first baseman, with rookie Joe Pepitone as the backup. Bobby Richardson would be at second base, Clete Boyer at third and switch-hitting rookie Tom Tresh won the shortstop job.
All-time single-season home run champion Roger Maris would be in right field, Mickey Mantle in center, with Yogi Berra and Hector Lopez platooning in left. Elston Howard was the catcher.
Whitey Ford, Bill Stafford, Ralph Terry and Bud Daley comprised the top four starters with Roland Sheldon, Jim Coates and Robin Roberts vying for a spot in the rotation or working out of the bullpen.
Fifteen-game winner Luis Arroyo, who had 29 saves in 1961, was the top reliever. Today, Arroyo would be called the closer.
1962 marked the beginning of a new spring training era for the New York Yankees. After 35 years at St. Petersburg, the team moved to Ft. Lauderdale.
On February 4, prior to the Yankees’ advance camp, manager Ralph Houk made his State of the Yankees speech. The man who took over the Yankees' helm when Casey Stengel was released for not beating the Pirates in the 1960 World Series, said that his only concern was replacing Kubek.
Tom Tresh and Phil Linz were mentioned as the primary candidates to play shortstop. Houk was adamant that shifting third baseman Clete Boyer to short was a last resort.
The sophomore manager was optimistic about the Yankees’ chances of repeating, but Houk would've been optimistic if he were managing the new team in Flushing that would go on to lose a record 120 games.
Roy Hamey, the Yankees' erstwhile general manager, was present when Houk made his little presentation.
The former Phillies employee, who replaced George Weiss when Weiss, along with Stengel, took the rap for the Yankees dominating the Pirates in all categories but wins in the 1960 Series, had a major problem.
Many Yankees, including Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Johnny Blanchard, Ralph Terry, Bill Stafford, Roland Sheldon, Bob Turley and Jim Coates remained unsigned. Before the era of free agency, teams did not offer players multiple-year contracts and most players negotiated on their own.
In 1961, Elston Howard batted .348 with 21 home runs and made $32,000. He wanted a $10,000 raise, but it was believed that Howard would settle for $8,000, which would make his salary $40,000.
As Phil Rizzuto used to say, "Holy cow."
The Roger Maris situation was even more amazing. Maris had just broken the most sacred record in all of sports, a record that was set by the most renown player ever.
Maris made $37,000 in 1961 and wanted to double his salary. It was a demand that would generate hostility.
Everyone loves to make predictions, but the best laid plans of managers and fans go the way of mice and men. What experts say will happen and what actually happens are rarely the same.
Maris hit 33 home runs and drove in 100 runs, but it was considered a poor season. After all, his home run total decreased by 28.
Injuries affected Mantle, who hit "only" 30 home runs. Elston Howard dropped from .348 to .279 and Luis Arroyo developed arm problems.
Whitey Ford was 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA, which was actually better than the 3.21 he posted when he won 25 games in 1961. Ralph Terry was the difference, winning 23 games.
The Yankees were expected to win in 1962 and they did, but the journey was not what most thought it would be.