The greatest home run race of all time featured the M&M boys, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Maris hit 61 home runs in 1961 and Mantle belted 54.
Growing up a Yankee fan in New York, every day was Christmas day in 1961. Home runs were stocking stuffers, wins were gift-wrapped presents under the tree.
Ten years old, a kid in White Plains, collector of baseball cards, I marveled at the exploits of this great team.
I watched the games on WPIX-TV Channel 11 on a small, black and white Philco, or listened on the radio. Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto and Red Barber provided the play-by-play.
On the nights when the games ran past my bedtime, my father kept score and would leave out the score sheet for me in the morning. IThey did lose now and then, but it seemed as if the Yanks won every night.
Now, nearly 50 years later, the 1961 Yankees remain the best baseball team I have ever seen.
Maris and Mantle
It was the year of Maris and Mantle and the greatest home run race of all time.
Every day, or so it seemed, the Yankees were hitting balls out of the park. And if it wasn’t Rajah or The Mick, it was Moose Skowron or Elston Howard or Yogi Berra or Johnny Blanchard, the reserve catcher and pinch-hitter deluxe.
Maris hit 61 HRs that year, Mantle a career-high 54, Skowron 28, Berra 22, and Howard and Blanchard 21 apiece. The Yankees set the major league record with 240 home runs; Maris and Mantle hit 115 between them, still the highest number ever for two teammates.
The Yanks had Kubek to Richardson to Skowron, one of the great double play combinations. And Clete Boyer, the vacuum cleaner at third.
The Chairman of the Board, Whitey Ford, shown below, was 25-4 that season, a career year in a lifetime of career years. Ralph Terry was 16-3, Bill Stafford won 14 games and rookie Rollie Sheldon 11. Left-handed screwballer Luis Arroyo went 15-5 with 29 saves.
On September 1, 1961, the Detroit Tigers came into Yankee Stadium trailing the Bombers by just 1 1/2 games. The Yankees swept the three-game series, won 13 straight overall to bury the Tigers, and eased to 109 wins and the American League pennant..
Despite an injury to Mantle, they wiped out the Cincinnati Reds in five games to win the World Series.
I never did get to a Yankee game during that magical season. My Dad was going to take me to a game against Cleveland in early September, but I got sick the night before. I tried to hide a 102-degree fever, but was discovered and banished to the sick bed.
Had to watch the game on TV that Saturday afternoon when Maris hit homer #56 on the way to the American League record of 61 home runs in a single season. (Many would argue that Maris is still the single-season home run leader, and that the asterisk now belongs to people like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa.)
That year, Maris won his second consecutive American League MVP, and Ford was the Cy Young Award winner.
The 1961 Yankees — still the greatest team I’ve ever seen.