Results tagged ‘ Elston Howard ’
As it turned out, Mark Teixeira got his wish. When he hit a game-winning grand slam Wednesday night against the Red Sox, Tex said afterward that he hoped it would be the last home run of his career.
Plenty of Yankees fans would have hoped Texeira might launch one more drive into the seats Sunday in his last major-league game. Alas, it was not to be. Teixeira had three plate appearances and grounded out twice and flied out once before he came off the field to a standing ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd of 33,277 at the start of the seventh inning as Tyler Austin replaced him at first base.
The slugging for the Yankees in Sunday’s season finale was by Brian McCann, who led off the fourth inning with his 20th home run of the season. It was the ninth consecutive season of 20 or more homers for Mac and the 10th of his career, which made him the fourth catcher in big-league history with at least 10 20-homer seasons. The others are Hall of Famers Mike Pizza and Johnny Bench with 11 apiece and Yogi Berra with 10.
With Gary Sanchez also having goes deep 20 times, the Yankees became the third team in history to have two hitters who played at least half their games behind the plate to hit at least 20 home runs in the same season. The Yankees had Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard with 21 each in 1961. The Milwaukee Braves had Joe Torre, later the Yankees manager, with 27 and Gene Oliver with 21 in 1965.
A catcher had the big game for the wild-card Orioles in their 5-3 victory. Matt Wieters socked a two-run home run off Yankees starter Luis Cessa in the fourth inning and greeted reliever Tommy Layne with another two-run blast in the sixth. It was the seventh career multi-homer game for the switch-hitting Wieters and the first from both sides of the plate.
Teixeira, who holds the major-league record for homering from each side of the plate in a game (15 times), finished the season with a .204 batting average within 15 home runs and 44 RBI. Tex was a .268 career hitter with the same total of hits as games played (1,862) with 409 homers and 1,298 runs batted in.
In a pregame ceremony, Teixeira was on the field with his wife, Leigh, and their children, Jack, Addy and Will, when he was presented with a framed No. 25 jersey commemorating his final game by Yankees managing general partners Hal Steinbrenner and Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal and Christina Steinbrenner, Hal’s wife. Tex also received a framed base signed by all of the 2016 Yankees that was presented by CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner, his last remaining teammates from the World Series championship team of 2009. Harlem RBI, the organization for which Teixeira donated $1 million and raised more than $10 million over the years, presented him with a signed thank-you card signed by hundreds of youngsters from Harlem and the Bronx who have benefit from his efforts on their behalf.
The Yankees’ fourth-place finish in the American League East this year was their lowest position since 1992, when they were fourth in the then seven-team AL East.
During Saturday’s ceremony at Yankee Stadium for former All-Star catcher Jorge Posada, whose uniform No. 20 was retired and who received a plaque in Monument Park, I got a text from my son Corey, who was watching on television from his home on Long Island.
“Watching this makes me feel very old!”
Corey is only 33. If he thought he felt old, how about me? I met Posada at his first spring training camp with the Yankees 20 years ago. There is a photo in the office of my Queens apartment of me presenting the James P. Dawson Award to Posada as the outstanding rookie in training camp for 1997 before a spring training game at Tampa, the year before there was a major league franchise in that area.
And now there was Posada, still trim but his wavy black hair turning grey, standing behind a podium surrounded by former teammates, Yankees dignitaries and his family drinking in praise from a sellout crowd in the Bronx talking about a career that does not seem all that long ago.
One of the feelings that these celebrations at the Stadium convey is the passage of time. Posada was an integral part of a period in Yankees history that was indeed glorious and to people of Corey’s generation a dominant part of their personal scrapbook, the way previous generations venerated the careers of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry and Don Mattingly.
“I can’t believe I’m standing up here right now,” Posada told the crowd. “And I can tell you, I’ve never been nervous on a baseball field. Being here seems surreal. I can honestly tell you, this is one of the happiest days of my life.”
His partners in the Core Four — Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, who will be honored Sunday — were in attendance as well as former teammates Bernie Williams, David Cone, Hideki Matsui and Paul O’Neill; former manager Joe Torre; former trainer Gene Monahan; former player, coach, manager and executive Gene Michael and general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal.
Posada was truly moved at being considered part of the legacy of great Yankees catchers that began with Bill Dickey and continued through Berra, Elston Howard and Munson, whose widow, Diane, was also on the field. Posada kept a baseball card of Munson in his locker throughout his playing career.
“I never saw myself as part of that group,” Posada said. “Just a lot of respect for the guys. It’s just being there with them now is such a great honor. I’m never going to forget this day.”
Berra, hobbled by painful knees, was unable to attend but sent Posada a personal message that was displayed and narrated on the video board in center field.
“You were a really good ball player for a long time,” Berra wrote. “I’m proud of you, kid.”
Posada could not help but appreciate the irony that he had resisted at first the Yankees’ suggestion that he convert to catcher from second base, his natural position, while in the minor leagues in 1991. He recalled a conversation he had with Mark Newman, then the Yankees’ director of player personnel.
“He said, you have a great arm. You’re going to be very strong because your legs are very strong. You haven’t been catching, so you’re going to be very durable. Your knees are not [worn out]. They haven’t caught.’ And he said, ‘It’s the fastest way to get to the big leagues.’ When he said that, that was it. That was it for me. I wanted to get to the big leagues. That’s all I wanted.”
Posada went on to play 17 seasons behind the plate, all for the Yankees, and batted .273 with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBI. He was a five-time All-Star, won five Silver Slugger Awards and wore four World Series rings. Only twice did the Yankees fail to reach postseason play in Posada’s time. He played in 125 postseason games, including 29 in the World Series.
Posada evoked DiMaggio when he said, “Today, I must say I want to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee.”
He was all Georgie when he said, “Ever since I can remember, all I wanted to ever do was play baseball. Honestly, I didn’t have a Plan B.”
That was a break for all of us, no matter how old it made us feel Saturday.
Jorge Posada’s Plaque
JORGE RAFAEL DE POSADA VILLETA
NEW YORK YANKEES
1995 – 2011
A MEMBER OF FIVE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS AND A FIVE-TIME SILVER SLUGGER AWARD- WINNER, POSADA WAS A HOMEGROWN YANKEE, PLAYING ALL 17 OF HIS MAJOR LEAGUE SEASONS IN PINSTRIPES.
CONTINUING THE LEGACY OF GREAT YANKEES CATCHERS, HE APPEARED IN 1,829 CAREER GAMES, COMPILING A .273 BATTING AVERAGE, WITH 275 CAREER HOME RUNS, 1,065 RBI, AND A .374 ON-BASE PERCENTAGE.
THE FIVE-TIME ALL-STAR SET CAREER HIGHS WITH 30 HOME RUNS AND 101 RBI IN 2003, FINISHING THIRD IN AL MVP VOTING AND MATCHING YOGI BERRA’S SINGLE-SEASON RECORD FOR MOST HOME RUNS BY A YANKEES CATCHER.
IN 2007, POSADA HAD A HISTORIC SEASON, BATTING .338, WITH 20 HOME RUNS, 90 RBI, 42 DOUBLES, AND A .426 ON-BASE PERCENTAGE.
DEDICATED BY THE NEW YORK YANKEES
AUGUST 22, 2015
There is a very good article in the April edition of Yankees Magazine by Bergen Record baseball columnist Bob Klapisch, “Honoring Ellie,” that details the life and career of the late Elston Howard, the first African-American player in franchise history.
Tuesday marked the 60th anniversary of Howard’s first game with the Yankees April 14, 1955, an 8-4 Red Sox victory at Fenway Park. Howard entered the game as a defensive replacement for Irv Noren in left field in the sixth inning. Two innings later, Howard got his first major-league hit and RBI in his first time up in the big leagues with a single that scored Mickey Mantle from second base.
Howard was used in the outfield and first base as well as serving as Yogi Berra’s primary backup catcher in the 1950s until he took over as the No. 1 catcher in 1960 with Yogi moving into a platoon in left field with Hector Lopez and catching on occasion.
Howard won two Gold Gloves for his defensive work behind the plate and was a major contributor to nine American League pennan-winning teams in his first 10 seasons with the club. The New York Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America honored him with its Babe Ruth Award as the outstanding player of the 1958 World Series. Five years later, Howard was again tabbed by the BBWAA as the AL Most Valuable Player for a 1963 season in which he batted .287 with 28 home runs and 85 RBI.
Ellie played in 11 All-Star Games and in 10 World Series overall (including 1967 after being traded to the Red Sox). A clubhouse leader as a player from 1955-67 and as a Yankees coach from 1969-79, Howard’s dignified manner and competitive spirit set a powerful example.
A little-known fact about Ellie is that he was credited with having developed the “doughnut,” the weighted circular device players use on their bats in the on-deck circle. Howard died in 1980 at the age of 51.
Stephen Drew’s pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam in the seventh inning Monday night at Baltimore marked the first pinch-hit grand slam for the Yankees since Jorge Posada June 6, 2001, also against the Orioles and Mike Trombley. According to the Elias Bureau, since 1980, the only other Yankees players to hit a pinch-hit, go-ahead grand slam are Posada and Glenallen Hill (2000). It was Drew’s third career grand slam, his first for the Yankees and first overall since May 15, 2013 for the Red Sox at St. Petersburg, Fla. It was Drew’s second career pinch-hit home run. The other was Sept. 30, 2006 for the Diamondbacks off the Padres’ Cla Meredith.
The Yankees are back to being the Bronx Bombers. With 12 home runs in seven games this season, the Yanks are tied with Baltimore for the major league lead. They did not reach a dozen homers in 2014 until their 12th game. . .Michael Pineda struck out nine batters without issuing a walk Monday night at Camden Yards. CC Sabathia, Tuesday night’s scheduled starter, had eight strikeouts and no walks last Thursday against the Blue Jays. Only two other pitchers in the majors have recorded games with no walks and at least eight strikeouts: the Dodgers’ Brandon McCarthy and the Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez.
The Yankees will honor the late Nelson Mandela with a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park in ceremonies prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Cubs as part of the Jackie Robinson Day tribute in which all players will don uniform No. 42.
The plaque will celebrate the former South African leader and commemorate his June 21, 1990 visit and address at the Stadium. On that historic day, Yankee Stadium was opened to fans, who were treated to musical performances from Richie Havens, Tracy Chapman, Mighty Sparrow and Judy Collins.
Mandela arrived at the Stadium at the end of the concert, following a day of meeting and addressing New Yorkers in various locations around the city. He spoke to the assembled crowd, then donned a Yankees cap and Yankees jacket and said, “You know who I am. I am a Yankee.” At the time of his appearance, Mandela was just four months removed from having spent 27 years in prison.
Scheduled to be on hand for a late-afternoon press conference at the Stadium were Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, team president Randy Levine, entertainer-activist Harry Belafonte, Zondwa Mandela (grandson of Nelson Mandela), George Monyemangene (South Africa Consul General), Sharon Robinson (daughter of Jackie Robinson) and Rev. Al Sharpton. Commissioner Bud Selig was to have attended the news conference, but he returned to Milwaukee after the originally scheduled ceremony was postponed due to Tuesday night’s rainout.
The Yankees’ first African-American player was Elston Howard, who made his major-league debut 59 years ago this week. He had 1-for-1 with one run batted in April 14, 1955 in an 8-4 loss at Boston.
With a lefthander, Eric Bedard, starting for the Astros Wednesday night, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to decide which left-handed hitting outfielder to give the night off. He chose Brett Gardner for two reasons: (1) Gardner could use the blow and (2) Ichiro Suzuki is hot.
Ichiro has really stepped it up this homestand. He entered the game on an 8-for-19 (.421) stretch that shot his batting average up to .268, which was 68 points higher than it was a week ago. With hits in each of his first two at-bats, Suzuki’s average just kept climbing nearer to the .300 level with which he was so familiar in his years with the Mariners.
Suzuki led off the game with a triple off the auxiliary scoreboard in right-center field. He scored moments later on a single to left by Jayson Nix. Bedard, who did not walk a batter in his prior start at Boston despite throwing 91 pitches in three innings, walked the bases loaded with none out in the second.
The first walk was to Travis Hafner, whom Girardi left in the batting order as the designated hitter while using righty-swinging Ben Francisco in right field. The Astros used an exaggerated shift against Hafner, who I think would be smart to consider bunting in those situations. After all, he was leading off the inning, so getting on base is the priority. The Astros were giving him the entire left side of the infield.
The Yankees got only one run out of the rally, on a sacrifice fly by Chris Stewart, who is doing a terrific job in making up for the loss to injury (fractured right hand) of Francisco Cervelli. The Yanks reloaded the bases with two out on an infield single by Suzuki when Bedard and first baseman Carlos Pena miscommunicated on a play at the bag while Ichiro sped to another hit. It proved inconsequential as Nix popped out.
The game was beginning to look like one of those runaways when Robinson Cano and Francisco homered in the fourth inning for a 4-0 Yankees lead. Cano’s homer was career No. 185 for 16th place on the Yankees’ all-time list. He also moved ahead of Elston Howard for 20th place on the Yankees’ career RBI list with 733.
Francisco’s homer was his first with the Yankees, and it must have felt wonderful. He entered the game batting .103 and may just be the odd man out whenever Curtis Granderson comes off the disabled list, which is likely sometime this month.
Making his first start of the season, David Phelps was certainly appreciative of the early run support. The righthander cruised through three innings in pitching to the minimum number of batters and allowing one hit before the wheels started to fall off in the fourth. Phelps was stung for four hits and didn’t help himself by hitting two batters, one of which forced in a run, as the Astros tied the score.
Nice weather has finally reached the area. You could tell the difference with all the home runs hit at Yankee Stadium Thursday night. Though it cooled off somewhat in the latter innings, a game time temperature of 65 degrees signaled the possibility that the ball would carry much better than in previous homestands when temperatures barely got out of the 40s.
Over the first four innings, five baseballs left the yard. Hiroki Kuroda, who handled the Blue Jays with ease last week at Toronto, was down quickly, 3-0, on a two-run home run in the first inning by Edwin Encarnacion and a solo shot in the second by Brett Lawrie. Encarnacion’s blow made up for a terrible series last week at Rogers Centre in which he was hitless in 12 at-bats.
But just as quickly, the Yankees struck back with the long ball against Mark Buehrle, a good sign for the team against a lefthander. Southpaws have been tough on the Yanks, particularly lately with Kevin Youkilis out of the lineup. He did not play again Thursday night because of continuing back stiffness.
Vernon Wells hit a towering drive over the center field wall leading off the second inning for his sixth home run, which tied him for the club lead. Temporarily, that is. Robinson Cano thrust the Yankees in front in the third inning with a three-run shot to right. Cano’s seventh home run this season was career No. 184, which tied him with Charlie Keller for 18th place on the Yankees’ all-time list. Next up in 17th place at 185 is Paul O’Neill.
Cano also moved up the Yankees’ career RBI list and into the top 10. His 732 RBI tied him with Elston Howard for 10th place. Give Cano credit. This was the time of year with all the injured Yankees that Cano might have felt pressure to do too much and chased bad pitches, but he has displayed patience and is off to a very productive start, batting .322 with seven homers and 17 RBI.
A lot of that has to do with the protection Cano has received in the lineup from Wells (.293, six home runs, 10 RBI) and Travis Hafner (.300, five home runs, 10 RBI), who was on the bench Thursday night with the Jays starting a lefty.
Francisco Cervelli continued the Yankees’ home run parade with a shot off the barrier in front of the left field bleachers. The catcher’s third home run of the season apparently upset Buehrle, who hit Cervelli with a pitch in his next at-bat. After yielding a single to the next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, Buehrle was taken out of the game and said something to Cervelli at third base as he headed for the dugout.
The Yankees are hopeful they can get the other Francisco, Ben, going. Hafner’s designated hitter partner has struggled. He got a hit with a bunt single that was not awarded until an umpire was overruled by one of his mates. First base umpire Chad Fairchild called Francisco out at first base on a bang-bang play. Replays indicated Encarnacion at first base may not have had control of the ball as Francisco hit the bag. Second base ump Jeff Kellogg, the crew chief, huddled the umpires together, and the call was reversed.
It was the proper call, but Blue Jays manager John Gibbons didn’t think so. He got ejected by Kellogg after a heated argument. The season has not gone the way Gibbons hoped back in spring training. The Jays, who had been picked in many preseason publications as the favorite in the American League East, are 9-14 and have lost three of four games to the Yankees.
Francisco was just thankful to be standing on a base instead of walking back to the dugout. For all of Gibbons’ screaming, the play was not involved in the scoring. Thanks to the weather in the early innings, this was a home run game, and despite the perception that the Yankees are weaker in the power department their 31 homers are the most in the league.
Jorge Posada’s appearance at Yankee Stadium Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the home opener led to some discussion in the press box about how the former All-Star catcher might do five years from now when he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot. I suspect he will get some decent support but ultimately will fall short, although I would be very happy to be wrong about that.
It made me think about Elston Howard, another perennial All-Star catcher for the Yankees as well as the 1963 American League Most Valuable Player. Howard never did get elected, but to his credit he remained on the ballot for the full 15 years of eligibility. And in thinking about Howard, it so happens that Saturday marked the 57th anniversary of his first major-league game, which was a significant day in Yankees history because he was the first African-American player in the club’s history.
Howard broke in with the Yanks April 14, 1955 at Boston’s Fenway Park. It was the team’s second game of that season. They had clobbered the Washington Senators, 19-1, the day before in the home opener, but Howard did not get into the game. He didn’t start the game against the Red Sox, either.
Remember, Yogi Berra was the Yankees’ regular catcher in those days and that year would win his third AL MVP Award. Howard was primarily an outfielder at that time (he would later play some at first base) and caught in only nine games in 1955 – four as a starter.
Yankees manager Casey Stengel inserted Howard into the game as a defensive replacement for left fielder Irv Noren in the sixth inning. Howard batted against Boston righthander Willard Nixon, the winning pitcher in the Red Sox’ 8-4 victory, got his first hit and run batted in when he singled in Mickey Mantle from second base in the eighth inning.
Howard played in the first of his 10 World Series that year and unfortunately made the final out of Game 7 on a grounder to Brooklyn Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Ellie and Pee Wee share a dubious distinction as the players who were on the losing side most often in World Series play – six times. Howard did get to play on four World Series champions whereas Reese only had that 1955 ring.
Berra and Howard shared catching duties in 1958, ’59 and ’60 before Ellie took over as the regular in 1961 and hit .348 while Yogi went into a left field platoon with Hector Lopez. In 1963, Howard had career highs in home runs (28) and RBI (85) and batted .287 to earn MVP honors.
As it turned out, Howard’s last game was also at Fenway Park – Game 7 of the 1967 World Series. The Yankees had traded him to Boston Aug. 3 that year, and he played a big part in the Red Sox’ “Impossible Dream” season as they won their first pennant in 21 years but lost to the Cardinals in seven games in the World Series.
Ellie eventually returned to the Yankees as a long-time coach before his death in 1980 at the age of 51. His uniform No. 32 was retired in 1984 on the same day the Yankees also retired No. 9 for his old teammate, Roger Maris.
Fans planning to attend Sunday’s 65th annual Old Timers’ Day are encouraged to get to Yankee Stadium early. Gates will open at 10 a.m. with the Old Timers’ Day ceremonies to start at 11:30 a.m., followed by the traditional, two-inning Old Timers’ Day game. The regularly scheduled inter-league game between the Yankees and the Rockies will have a first pitch of 2:20 p.m. The entire day’s activities will be cablecast on the YES Network.
Bernie Williams and former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre will be making their Old Timers’ Day debuts. “Sweet Lou” will be putting on a Yankees uniform for the first time since 1988. Torre, whose Yankees teams defeated Piniella’s Seattle Mariners in the 2000 and 2001 post-seasons, is still active in the game as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations.
They will be among 50 former Yankees on hand for the ceremonies. Other headliners among returning Old Timers will be Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, plus the perfect game trio of Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone. The Yankees will also hold a special tribute honoring long-time team trainer Gene Monahan, who will retire at season’s end after 49 years of service to the organization.
In addition, players and coaches from Yankees championship teams of the past will include Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Homer Bush, Brian Doyle, Cecil Fielder, Joe Girardi, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Tino Martinez, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Silvera, Darryl Strawberry, Mel Stottlemyre and Roy White.
Joining the Hall of Famers and other former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).
Are you ready to consider Bernie Williams an old timer? Well, get used to it. Bernabe will make his first appearance on Old Timers’ Day when Yankees alumni gather for the 65th annual event Sunday, June 26, at Yankee Stadium.
Also making their Old Timers’ Day debuts will be former managers Lou Piniella and Joe Torre. “Sweet Lou” will be putting on a Yankees uniform for the first time since 1988. Torre, whose Yankees teams defeated Piniella’s Seattle Mariners in the 2000 and 2001 post-seasons, is still active in the game as Major League Baseball’s vice president for baseball operations.
They will be among 50 former Yankees on hand for the ceremonies that begin at 11:30 a.m., followed by the traditional, two-inning Old Timers’ game. The current Yankees will play the Colorado Rockies in an inter-league game starting at 2 p.m. The entire day’s activities will be aired exclusively on the YES Network.
Other headliners among returning Old Timers will be Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage, plus the perfect game trio of Don Larsen, David Wells and David Cone. The Yankees will also hold a special tribute honoring long-time team trainer Gene Monahan, who will retire at season’s end after 49 years of service to the organization.
In addition, other players and coaches from Yankees championship teams of the past will include Dr. Bobby Brown, Jerry Coleman, Moose Skowron, Luis Arroyo, Homer Bush, Brian Doyle, Cecil Fielder, Joe Girardi, Dwight Gooden, Ron Guidry, Charlie Hayes, Graeme Lloyd, Hector Lopez, Lee Mazzilli, Ramiro Mendoza, Gene Michael, Jeff Nelson, Graig Nettles, Joe Pepitone, Mickey Rivers, Charlie Silvera, Darryl Strawberry, Mel Stottlemyre and Roy White.
Joining the Hall of Famers and other former Yankees on the baselines will be the widows of five legendary Yankees – Arlene Howard (Elston), Helen Hunter (Jim “Catfish”), Jill Martin (Billy), Diana Munson (Thurman) and Kay Murcer (Bobby).
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Yankees’ championship team of 1961, a club that is particularly associated with the home run. Merely 20 games into the season, the 2011 Yankees are also linking themselves with the long ball.
Entering play Wednesday night, the Yankees were leading the majors in home runs (38) and multi-homer games (12). They are averaging almost two home runs (1.9) per game. Both of their runs in Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the White Sox at Yankee Stadium were on homers, solo shots by Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner.
Of the Yankees’ 111 runs, 68 (61.3 percent) have been the result of homers. Half of the top 10 home-run hitters in the American League are Yankees. Curtis Granderson’s seven are the most on the team and tied with Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre for second in the AL only to the eight by Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. Mark Teixeria, Jorge Posada and Russell Martin are among those in a seven-way tie for fourth place with six apiece.
The Yankees are on a pace to hit 308 home runs this season, which is unfathomable.
Half a century ago, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased the ghost of Babe Ruth, whose home run record for a season of 60 in 1927 was outdistanced by Maris’ 61 in ’61 while Mantle finished second with 54. As a team, the Yankees bashed 240 home runs in 1961 that remained the major-league record for 35 years.
The ’61 Yankees were the first team to have as many as six players hit more than 20 home runs, including all three catchers – Yogi Berra with 22 and Elston Howard and Johnny Blanchard with 21 apiece. In truth, that was nothing more than a trivia question. Howard was the regular catcher with Blanchard the backup in 48 games. Yogi actually platooned with Hector Lopez in left field and caught only 15 games. The Yankees’ sixth 20-homer hitter that season was first baseman Moose Skowron with 28.
That was also the first season of the 162-game schedule, which is why there was a controversy about whether Maris broke Ruth’s record or not. The American League expanded by adding the Angels and a replacement franchise in Washington, D.C., after the original Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. Eight games were added to the previous schedule of 154.
In the last season of pre-expansion, the Yankees set the AL record for home runs with 193. In a preview of ’61, Mantle and Maris also dueled for the home run title with the Mick winning, 40-39.
The major-league record of 221 was shared by two National League clubs, the 1947 Giants and the 1956 Reds. That was the record the Yankees shattered in 1961. Their 240 bombs remained the standard until 1996 when all hell broke loose in slugging.
Three teams topped the ’61 Yanks total in ’96 with the Orioles eclipsing the standard with 257. The Mariners had 245 and the Athletics 243. Baltimore’s mark didn’t last long. One year later, Seattle slugged 264 homers, which remains the big-league record. The old NL mark of 221 was tied by the Rockies in 1996 but went by the board when the 2000 Astros bashed 249, still the NL standard.
The 240 homers the Yankees hit in 1961 stood as the club record until 2004 when the team had 242, once again powered by six players with more than 20 (Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield 36 each, Hideki Matsui 31, Derek Jeter 23, Bernie Williams 22, Posada 21). In the first year of the current Stadium, the Yankees pushed the mark to 244, this time with seven 20-homer guys (Teixeira 39, Rodriguez 30, Nick Swisher 29, Matsui 28, Cano 25, Johnny Damon 24, Posada 22).
Who knows how high they can go in 2011?