Here's a bold statement: "You can't predict baseball, (Suzyn/John/Kaybot 3000)!"
The phrase is so cliche at this point that pretty much any announcer who mentions it is mocked. What can you predict with any accuracy, really? Even if the radars are showing that rain is moving into the area, it does not mean for sure that it will rain. So I'm not really sure who tries to predict baseball with any kind of confidence. If someone was told, "You can't predict baseball," after previously making a projection, what would the reaction really be?
"I wasn't trying to. I just made a projection based on statistics that could still be wron-"
"YOU CAN'T PREDICT BASEBALL."
"I wasn't saying that it was going to hap-"
"YOU CAN'T PREDICT BASEBALL."
"We can't be friends anymore."
"YOU CAN'T PREDICT FRIENDSHIP."
Rants against cliches aside, the Yankees' demise in 1959 after four consecutive American League pennants was another unlikelihood that few could have seen coming. '59 was the one year during a span of ten years that the Yankees missed the World Series. It always seemed to be a question of not whether the Yankees would make the World Series, but rather who they would play. In '59 however, the Chicago White Sox, who finished within the top three of the AL from 1952-60, finally broke threw and dethroned the Yankees. They were assisted by some pretty mediocre Yankee baseball. By the morning of July 25th, the Yankees stood a game under .500, 48-48. They were eight games behind the ChiSox and 7.5 games behind the second-place Cleveland Indians. If the Yankees were going to make a run at their fifth consecutive pennant, they would need to move on it soon, and they looked to do so with day game against the Detroit Tigers, who were just a game behind them in the standings. The Yankees won the game, but not without playing some shoddy baseball and dealing with a crushing blow to their season.
Scranton native Paul Foytack started the game for the Tigers. Foytack was one of their better pitchers over the past three years, tossing 698 innings with a 119 ERA+, but he was not pitching nearly as well in '59. Perhaps everyone should have realized that this Saturday was going to be unusual shortly after light-hitting Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson stepped up to the plate to lead off the game. Richardson debuted with the Yankees in '55 at the age of 19, but he did not start appearing in games much until '57, when he earned an All-Star appearance due to his slick fielding. Despite this honor, '59 was the first season in which he played in more than 100 games. He earned manager Casey Stengel's trust and was often made the leadoff hitter for the potent Yankee lineup. Richardson was never a very good hitter, but his .274/.321/.347 triple slash at the start of the game was an improvement. Considering that he now had 794 career plate appearances though, it was curious that he had still never hit a single home run. Thus, it was a a surprise to all when Richardson hit a pitch from Foytack into the left-field stands at Briggs Stadium for a leadoff home run, the first of his major league career. A blind squirrel does indeed occasionally find a nut.
Perhaps Foytack was still in shock a couple batters later when he fumbled an easy catch at first base to allow Yankee catcher Yogi Berra to reach base. He shook it off and worked out of the jam, sending future Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford to the hill in the bottom of the first. "The Chairman of the Board" was having a fine season and had just pushed his ERA under 3.00 in his last start, but the Tigers were not planning on lowering this mark for Ford. They put the first two runners on with a single to center and a walk, but Ford worked out of the early jam by getting right fielder Harvey Kuenn to fly out to center and inducing a ground ball double play from the Al Kaline, the Tigers' terrific 24-year-old center fielder.
Ford would not be so fortuitous in the second inning though. The Tigers hit three consecutive singles against him with one out, tying the game and putting runners on first and second. Foytack sent a bunt back to the mound and Ford snared it, then fired to third base to catch the lead runner for the second out. Unfortunately, he rendered his good play pointless by walking leadoff man Eddie Yost to load the bases for two-time All-Star left fielder Charlie Maxwell. Maxwell lined a two-run single to left field, giving Detroit the lead. The Tigers scored an extra run when Yankees right fielder Hank Bauer muffed a Kuenn fly ball for an error. Although his ace was on the mound, Stengel had seen enough and removed Ford after just 1.2 innings. Veteran lefty Bobby Shantz entered the game and after intentionally walking Kaline, he got Tigers catcher Red Wilson to hit an easy grounder back to the mound. It was an easy play for the eight-time Gold Glove winning pitcher.
Shantz pitched well in relief while the Yankees chipped away at the Tigers' lead. Back-to-back doubles by Berra and third baseman Hector Lopez brought home a run in the fourth, and a leadoff walk by Shantz in the fifth led to the Yankees' third run when left fielder Norm Siebern shot a double into the right-center field gap to bring him home, knocking Foytack out of the game. The defense gave the run right back in the bottom half of the frame when rookie shortstop Fritz Brickell threw away a ground ball for a two-base error and Wilson grounded a base hit to left field. It was an embarrassing moment for Brickell, who was filling for the injured Tony Kubek, but he got a chance to make amends for his mistake in the next inning. Bauer doubled against reliever Tom Morgan with one out, sending Brickell to the plate with a chance to tie the game. Like Richardson did at the start of the game, the 24-year-old surprised everyone in the ballpark by blasting a two-run homer to give the Yankees the lead. It was also the first of Brickell's short career, and it took him 769 fewer plate appearances than Richardson to do so. Sadly, it was the only one Brickell would ever hit, as he finished out the month with New York before Kubek's return and was sent down, never to return to New York. In his only other time in the majors, he played a month and a half as the starting shortstop with the expansion Los Angeles Angels in '61 before being sent down. He died far too young at age 30 in '65 from cancer of the jaw, which emerged after years of chewing tobacco (My apologies for the depressing aside that doesn't have much to do with the game; I just thought it was an interesting story to add).
The score remained 6-5 in favor of the Yankees heading to the bottom of the seventh. Shantz worked around a leadoff single by Wilson to record two outs, and he was a batter away from completing his fifth scoreless inning when Tigers shortstop Coot Veal stepped to the plate. Veal hit a grounder to Lopez, but the third baseman threw the ball away to put two runners in scoring position. Stengel replaced Shantz with the flamethrowing reliever Ryne Duren, and pinch-hitter Gail Harris grounded a two-run single up the middle to give the Tigers the lead again. The Yankees tied it again in the eighth inning. Elston Howard was starting at first base for Bill "Moose" Skowron, who was almost done recovering from a back injury that sent him to the Mayo Clinc, and Elston made like Moose by driving a double to right field. Brickell beat out a bunt to third base to put runners on the corners for 43-year-old Enos Slaughter, pinch-hitting for Duren. The veteran outfielder and future Hall of Famer lifted a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Howard with the tying run.
Yankees reliever Duke Maas entered the game in the bottom of the eighth to hold the tie, but again, the Yankees' pitching faltered. Maas walked Maxwell to begin the inning, and he moved to second on an infield single to third base by Kuenn. For some reason, Kaline (a batting champion and five-time All-Star already) decided to bunt them to second and third, but his attempt turned into an easy force at third base. Wilson grounded out, and it seemed like the inning would come to a close in another tie. Pinch-hitter Bobo Osborne sent a groundball to third base, but Lopez bobbled it for his second error in as many innings, scoring Kuenn to give the Tigers a one-run lead again. Lopez forced Osborne at second base in the next at bat, but the damage was done.
The Tigers brought on the generically-named Bob Smith to end the game in the ninth inning. Skowron made a pinch-hit appearance in place of Siebern, but struck out to start the frame in his first plate appearance since July 11th. Mickey Mantle, hitless to this point, sent a "slow bounder" to Yost at third, and he beat it out. Up to the plate came Berra, the Yankees' 34-year-old catcher who already the all-time leader in homers at the position. Yogi crushed Smith's offering into the upper deck in right field for a two-run home run, turning the game around and giving the Yankees a 9-8 lead. The blast was the 296th shot of Berra's career. Smith retired the next two hitters to send the game to the bottom of the ninth.
Skowron moved to first base as Maas faced the shortstop Veal. In the half-season before ending up on shelf with strained back muscles, Skowron put together an All-Star campaign, hitting .298/.349/.539 with 15 homers and a 146 wRC+, second on the team behind only Mantle. Veal sent a grounder to Lopez, but the beleaguered third baseman's throw was wide of the bag for his third error of the night, and as Moose reached for it, Veal barreled into Moose's left hand. The first baseman fell to the ground in writhing pain as the trainers came out once Veal was thrown out at second base. Yankees trainer Gus Mauch determined that Moose's wrist was dislocated, and Mauch pressed the bone back into place. Moose left the game in agony; X-rays later revealed a fracture of the radius and ulna bones in his wrist joint. He would not return for the rest of the year, a tough loss for the Yankees. Maas walked the bases loaded with two outs to put their win in jeopardy, but Jim Bronstad relieved him and got the dangerous Kaline to hit a ground ball on the first pitch. It went to Lopez, of course! He bobbled it, of course! As Louis Effrats of The New York Times wrote, "Everyone was running hard, but no one ran harder than Lopez did after he retrieved the ball." Lopez beat Maxwell to third base to end the game and avoid the shame of his fourth error. The Yankees survived the game, 9-8, despite five errors and the loss of their slugging first baseman, Moose Skowron.
It all happened 43 years ago today.
Game recap source: Effrats, Louis. "Yanks Beat Tigers, 9-8; Homer is Decisive." New York Times, July 26, 1959.