It was a season that was destined to be forgotten, despite the fact that the New York Yankees won the World Series for the second consecutive season.
In 1961, the Yankees won 108 games and then beat the upstart Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, capping their best season since 1927.
Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record, Mickey Mantle had the type of season predicted for him in 1951 and Whitey Ford finally won 20 games. It couldn’t get any better.
Nineteen sixty two wasn’t a spectacular Yankees season, but it still was a great success because when it ended, the Yankees had defended their World Championship.
The 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.
Bill Skowron, coming off a 28 home run season, would be the first baseman, with rookie Joe Pepitone the backup.
Bobby Richardson was at second base, Clete Boyer at third and Elston Howard at catcher, backed up by Johnny Blanchard.
Roger Maris would be in right field, Mickey Mantle in center, with Hector Lopez and Yogi Berra sharing left.
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. Fifteen game winner Luis Arroyo, who had 29 saves, was the top reliever.
Nineteen sixty two marked the beginning of a new spring training era for the New York Yankees. After thirty five years at St. Petersburg, the team moved to Ft. Lauderdale and into a million dollar ballpark.
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, stated that his only concern was replacing Kubek.
Tom Tresh and Phil Linz were 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 that was Ralph Houk, who would be optimistic if he were managing the new team in Flushing that would go on to lose a record 120 games in its first season..
Roy Hamey, the Yankees erstwhile general manager, was present when Houk made his little presentation. Hamey was concerned that 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 had batted .348 with 21 home runs. He was paid $32,000. Ellie wanted a $10,000 raise, but it was believed that he would settle for $40,000. How different it is today...
The Roger Maris situation was even more amazing. Remember, Maris broke the most sacred record in all of sports, a record that was set by the most renowned player ever.
Maris made $37,000 in 1961 and wanted to double his salary. It was a demand that generated tremendous hostility.
The Yankees struggled a bit during the season, winning “only” 96 games to finish five games ahead of the second place Minnesota Twins.
Mickey Mantle was the MVP, made the All-Star team and won a gold glove. His home run total dropped from 54 to 30.
Roger Maris had a solid, if unappreciated season, hitting 33 home runs and 100 RBIs. He drew 87 walks while striking out 78 times.
Rookie Tommy Tresh took over for Kubek at shortstop, batted .286, hit 20 home runs and batted in 93. He was the American League Rookie of the Year.
Ralph Terry led the pitching staff with 23 wins, followed by Ford’s 17 and Bill Stafford’s 14. Marshall Bridges took over as the main relief pitcher from sore-armed Luis Arroyo.
The Yankees met the San Francisco Giants in the World Series. In a hard fought seven games, the Yankees prevailed.
The Series was so close that if a Willie McCovey line drive had been two feet higher or two feet to either side of Bobby Richardson, 2010 wouldn’t have been the first World Series the Giants would ever win.
Drebinger, John. “Yanks Begin Training Today At New Fort Lauderdale Camp; Hamey Also on Hand; Howard Seeks Raise.” New York Times 5 February 1962: p.42.
Effrat, Louis. “Yanks See Only One Problem: Replacing Kubek at Shortstop; Two Rookies to Try Out; Terry to Work on Monday.” New York Times 1 Feb. 1962: p.43.