A few weeks ago I finished a book entitled “Sixty-One” written by Tony Kubek, who was the shortstop on the 1961 New York Yankees. It was a great story about one of the greatest baseball teams of all time. It is a great read for any baseball fan.
I am now in the process of finishing another book about one of the stars of the 1961 Yankees. The book is entitled “Impact Player” and is the autobiography of Bobby Richardson, who was Kubek’s keystone partner at second base. It is a really good book about the Sumter, South Carolina native.
A year or so ago I read a great biography of Mickey Mantle called “The Last Boy.” Now this is a superior work about the life of maybe the greatest Yankee of all time and the centerfielder on the ‘61 team. It touches on all of the negatives in the process of describing the baseball greatness of this son of Oklahoma. I have about a dozen other print and picture books about Mantle as well as a number of 8×10 pictures of ole #7.
As you maybe can tell, I am a fan of the 1961 Yankees. They were basically the “team of my youth.” I was 13 years old and playing my first year of Babe Ruth baseball when the M&M boys lit up the baseball landscape with the great home run race of 1961. Of course, in the end, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s record when he hit 61 home runs, besting Mantle, who suffered severe physical problems at the close of the season.
1961 was the first season of an expanded schedule caused by the addition of two new teams, the Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels, to the American League. The teams would play 162 games in compared to the 154 they had played in previous seasons. Under much pressure, the Commissioner of Baseball declared that Maris must break Ruth’s record in 154 games in order for it to be recognized as a new record.
Aside from the Saturday Game-of-the-Week there were no games on TV at that time. When Maris was closing in on the record with 58 home runs, the Yankees 154th game of the season, against the Orioles, was broadcast. I remember anxiously watching the game with my father. Maris hit one home run, but came up one short of breaking the record in 154 contests. Of course, he went on to hit #61 in the 162nd game of the season.
Mantle had the record for most of the season until he ran into health problems. Mantle had a cold and Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen told him that he knew a doctor that could give him a shot that would get rid of the cold quickly. Mantle took the shot from Dr. Max Jacobsen, but the needle hit a bone in Mantle’s hip causing a serious infection which caused a deep abscess and put him in the hospital for a few days. That ended Mantle’s chase of Ruth’s record and he finished the season with 54 dingers.
There are so many great stories about this truly magnificent team. They won the American League championship with a 109-53 record and then beat the Cincinnati Reds in five games in the World Series.
What a grouping of players! Along with Mantle, Maris, Kubek, and Richardson there was Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron, Clete Boyer, Elston Howard, John Blanchard, Hector Lopez, Ralph Terry, Luis Arroyo, Bill Stafford, and others who made up Manager Ralph Houk’s crew, maybe the greatest team of all-time.
Many people “hate” the Yankees, but their story is a remarkable one. If you enjoy reading about the baseball teams of the 1950s and 1960s, I encourage you to find a book about the Yankees or one of their great players and sit down for a most enlightening experience. On these hot days, it would certainly be enjoyable.
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.