From Goat to Great

 

Career Year: Ralph Terry – 1962

Ralph Terry was probably the most under-appreciated New York Yankees pitcher of the 1960s.

Despite his numbers, he was never considered the ace of the Yankee staff. That acknowledgement always belonged to Whitey Ford while Terry was a Yankee. And even in 1962, when Terry was clearly the best starting pitcher in the American League, he was completely ignored by the baseball writers in the voting for the Cy Young Award.

In that season, he was baseball’s Rodney Dangerfield: he won everything but respect.

The Yankees signed Terry out of high school in 1953. He progressed steadily through the Yankees’ farm system, making his major league debut at the end of the 1956 season and earning a spot on the Yankees’ pitching roster for 1957. He made only two starts before being traded in June to the Kansas City Athletics. Terry was a combined 15-28 in a season and a half in Kansas City, and then was traded back to the Yankees (with outfielder Hector Lopez) in 1959, where he would stay for the next five seasons.

Ralph Terry was the American League’s best starting pitcher in 1962. He led the league in wins, starts and innings pitched.

Terry gradually worked his way into the Yankees’ starting rotation in 1960, going 10-8 that season with a 3.40 ERA. He also threw the last pitch of the 1960 season: a fastball that Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski turned into a World Series winning home run. Terry became the goat of the Yankees’ stunning World Series upset, and it was an “accomplishment” that he could never completely erase from his baseball resume.

The numbers he put up over the next two seasons should have erased it. Terry was 16-3 with a 3.15 ERA for the Yankees in 1961. But his 1962 season would turn out even better.

Coming out of the bullpen, Terry was the winning pitcher on Opening Day, and then won three out of four starts in April. He was 1-3 with a 3.88 ERA in May and 4-3 with a 2.26 ERA in June. He won five games in July (with a save) and five more in August.

All season long, he simply went out every fourth day and gave a strong performance. With the formidable Yankee team behind him, that meant racking up wins, and Terry did: he was 19-10 with a 3.27 ERA at the end of August. He was 4-2 in seven September starts.

Terry finished the 1962 regular season at 23-12 with a 3.19 ERA, winning more games than any other American League pitcher. He led the American League in starts (39) and innings pitched (298.2). He was third in strikeouts (176) and fourth in complete games (14). But his season wasn’t over.

Ralph Terry (pictured here with Yankees manager Ralph Houk) was 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts during the 1962 World Series. His 2-1 complete game victory in the finale was one of the great clutch performances in World Series history, and one that helped earn him the MVP.

Terry appeared in only two games in the 1961 World Series, taking the loss (the Yankees’ only loss) in Game Two. The 1963 World Series was different. Terry made three starts against the San Francisco Giants (all against 24-game winner Jack Sanford) and won two games with a shutout and a 1.80 ERA. He pitched a complete game in the 2-1 finale, and was named the 1962 World Series Most Valuable Player.

When it was time for the baseball writers to vote for the Cy Young Award winner, Don Drysdale and his remarkable 25-9 season won 70 percent of the votes. (In 1962, there was still only one Cy Young Award for the best pitcher in all baseball.) Sanford, Billy Pierce and Bob Purkey all received votes. Terry – a 23-game winner and World Series MVP – received not one. Apparently, in the eyes of those writers, Terry’s feats during the 1962 season were not enough to wash away his reputation as the goat who lost the 1960 World Series and sent Casey Stengel into (temporary) retirement.

 

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