This Week in 1960s Baseball
Career Year: Elston Howard – 1963
For four straight seasons, from 1960 to 1963, the New York Yankees won the American League pennant. Nothing unusual for those Yankee teams.
In those four seasons, the Yankees also fielded the American League’s Most Valuable Player, starting with Roger Maris in 1960 and 1961, then Mickey Mantle in 1962. Injuries would strike down the mighty M&M duo for much of the 1963 season, but the Yankees finished at the top in both the regular season standings and in the MVP sweepstakes.
The single everyday player most responsible for the Yankees’ success in 1963 – and for extending the Yankees’ MVP streak – was one of the most unlikely of Yankee superstars. Continue reading
This Week in 1960s Baseball
The winning pitcher was Luis Arroyo (13-3).
The Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning on home runs from Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. New York added another run in the fifth inning on Bobby Richardson’s two-out RBI single. Continue reading
Glancing Back, and Remembering John Blanchard
It was John Blanchard’s misfortune to play for some of the best New York Yankees teams of all time, in positions stocked with MVPs and Hall of Famers. As a catcher, he played back-up to HOFer Yogi Berra and Elston Howard, who collected four MVP awards between them. As an outfielder, he was competing with HOFer Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris (five MVPs between them) as well as Tom Tresh and Berra.
Never a strong defensive player, in the outfield or behind the plate, what Blanchard could do was hit with power. Given enough at-bats, he fully demonstrated his hitting ability, especially as a pinch hitter, and especially in clutch situations. He was an integral part of the Yankees’ success in the early 1960s, even with limited playing time.
Blanchard was signed by the Yankees in 1951 and had an outstanding season for Joplin in 1952, hitting .301 with 30 home runs and 31 doubles. He spent the next two years in military service and made his first appearance in a Yankees uniform in 1955. From 1956 through 1958, he hit well in the Yankees’ farm system, and was promoted to the big league club for good in 1959.
He spent more time sitting than playing in New York, never appearing in more than 93 games in any single season. He hit .242 in 99 at-bats in 1960, with four homers and 14 RBIs. He got more playing time and more at-bats in 1961, responding with the best season of his career: a .305 batting average with 21 home runs and 54 RBIs. Four of his homers came as a pinch hitter. That season the Yankees set a major league record with 240 team home runs, and six different players hit 20 or more round-trippers. During the 1961 World Series, Blanchard appeared in four games, hitting .400 with a double, two home runs and three RBIs.
In 1962, Blanchard’s batting average slipped to .232 with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs. He hit 16 homers with 45 RBIs in 1963, but his role was delegated more and more to pinch hitting, at which he was always a threat. In 1964 he produced seven home runs and 28 RBIs in only 161 at-bats.
In May of 1965 the Yankees traded Blanchard with pitcher Rollie Sheldon to the Kansas City Athletics for catcher Doc Edwards. Blanchard appeared in only 52 games for the A’s before being sold to the Milwaukee Braves in September. He retired after the 1965 season.
In eight big league seasons, Blanchard hit .239 with 67 home runs and 200 RBIs. Blanchard appeared in five World Series with the Yankees, hitting a combined .345. He holds the major league record with 10 World Series pinch-hit at-bats.
The Glove Club: Bobby Richardson
Of the great New York Yankees teams of the 1960s, the most under-rated player – amid a roster of perennial All-Stars – was second baseman Bobby Richardson.
A career .266 hitter, Richardson twice batted .300 or better (and led the American League with 209 hits in 1962). But his bat wasn’t what kept him in the lineup. Nor was it needed. In a lineup that featured hitters such as Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra and Tom Tresh, the Yankees had plenty of run-producing support.
What made Richardson most valuable to five consecutive American League pennant winners was his consistent defense at second base. He was the Gold Glove winner at that position every year from 1961-1965. And he rarely took a day off, averaging 159 games per season over that five-year period. He retired with a .979 fielding percentage.
He was the anchor in an infield that featured Skowron (and later, Joe Pepitone) at first base, Clete Boyer at third, and Tony Kubek (with help from Tresh) at shortstop. All of them were All-Stars, as was Richardson (seven times).
In the World Series (Richardson played in seven), he was a dynamo at-bat and in the field. His bat in the 1960 World Series (11 hits, 12 RBIs) made him the Most Valuable Player (the only World Series MVP selected from the losing team). And he set a record with 13 hits in the 1964 World Series.
Of course, it was his final-out catch of a blistering Willie McCovey line drive that saved the 1962 World Series for the Yankees, the only major league team he ever played for.
Glancing Back, and Remembering Bill Skowron
Throughout the late 1950s and into the early 1960s, as the New York Yankees were capturing one American League Championship after another, Bill “Moose” Skowron was a major run-producer and a middle lineup threat who presence allowed sluggers such Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Roger Maris to see consistently better pitches.
Skowron was signed by the Yankees off the campus of Purdue University in 1950. He was called up to the big league club in mid-season 1954, batting .340 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs in 87 games. Skowron hit .319 as the Yankees’ part-time first baseman in 1955, and batted .308 as the team’s everyday first baseman in 1956, hitting 23 home runs and driving in 90 runs.
Skowron’s offensive number declined slightly in each of the next three seasons, though he was named to the American League All-Star team each year from 1957 through 1961. After missing nearly half the 1959 season due to injuries, Skowron had a big comeback year in 1960, hitting .309 with 26 home runs and a career-best 91 RBIs. He followed up in 1961 with another strong season, batting .267 with 28 homers and 89 RBIs. After the 1962 season, when Skowron hit 23 home runs with 80 RBIs, the Yankees traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Stan Williams.
The Dodgers already had the National League RBI leader in Tommy Davis (with a franchise record 153 RBIs in 1962). Skowron’s bat was expected to produce more runs while protecting Davis in the batting order.
But Skowron struggled against National League pitching. He appeared in only 89 games for the Dodgers, hitting .203 with four home runs and 19 RBIs. He did hit .385 against his former team in the 1963 World Series, including a three-run homer in Game Two.
Skowron would play in Los Angeles only in 1963. He was purchased by the Washington Senators in December, and then traded in mid-season to the Chicago White Sox. He had one productive season in Chicago, hitting .274 in 1965 with 18 home runs and 78 RBIs. But after that, the hits and runs seemed to be gone from his bat, and he retired after spending part of the 1967 season with the California Angels.
While a good hitter against all kinds of pitching during his prime, Skowron was one of those players who raised his game a notch in the post season. In addition to his accomplishments for the Dodgers in the 1963 World Series, Skowron had several good series for the Yankees. In 35 World Series games in Yankee pinstripes, Skowron hit .283 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs.