While much of the focus this year will be on celebrating the 20th anniversary of the World Series-winning 1996 Yankees, this year also marks the anniversary of another great team in Yankees history: the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Yankees. So let's hop in the time machine (which, for this exercise, I sincerely hope looks like a 1956 Chevy Bel Air) to remember and appreciate just how good the '56 version of the Bronx Bombers were.
Notable Bench Players
IF/OF Joe Collins (seven home runs, 43 RBI in 262 at-bats)
OF Enos Slaughter (claimed off waivers in August from the Kansas City A's; hit .289/.330.386 in 89 plate appearances)
OF Bob Cerv (.304/.396/.530 with 25 RBI in 134 plate appearances)
2B/SS Jerry Coleman (.257/.305/.295 in 203 plate appearances)
C Charlie Silvera
OF Norm Siebern (four home runs, 21 RBI in 162 at-bats)
SS Phil Rizzuto (released in late August and subsequently retired after appearing in just 31 games)
For a moment, let's forget about everyone else in the starting lineup and just focus on the most obvious name. As a 24-year-old, Mantle won the Triple Crown easily, putting up arguably one of the best offensive seasons in baseball history. He beat Ted Williams by eight points in batting average and by 100 points in slugging percentage. He led the league in runs scored by 23, home runs by 20, and extra base hits by ten, and ranked in the top five in many other major offensive categories, including OBP and walks.
Among stats that try to level the playing field by taking into consideration such factors as era and ballparks, his 210 adjusted OPS+ for 1956 is tied for 28th best season of all-time (with Rogers Hornsby's 1925 season), and his 11.2 WAR is tied (with Willie Mays' 1965) for the 16th best season. No matter how you slice it, Mantle was overwhelmingly dominant during the '56 campaign.
However, the rest of the offense was pretty good itself. Berra, Bauer, and Skowron all topped 20 home runs, and shortstop Gil McDougald's .405 OBP was second on the team only to Mantle's .464. Yogi's 105 RBI gave him his fourth straight season with 100+ runs batted in (by the way, did you notice Yogi only struck out 29 times in over 500 at-bats? I'm pretty sure some hitters today have struck out 29 times over two weeks). Led by Collins and Cerv, the deep bench also seemed capable of providing a spark when called upon, and given manager Casey Stengel's fondness for platoons and for mixing and matching, he appeared to call on it often.
For any championship-caliber team, solid defense is key -especially up the middle- and the 1956 Yankees had that as well. Their .977 fielding percentage was third in the league, and their 214 double plays turned led the Junior Circuit. Behind the plate, the combination of Berra (24 of 50) and Howard (9 of 16) caught exactly 50% of attempted base stealers.
RHP Tom Morgan (team-leading eleven saves)
LHP Tommy Byrne (37 games, 3.36 ERA in 109.2 innings)
LHP Rip Coleman (3.67 ERA in 88.1 innings)
LHP Mickey McDermott (4.24 ERA in 87 innings)
RHP Bob Grim (6-1, 2.77 ERA in 26 games)
Anchored by the left-handed Ford's league-leading 2.47 ERA, the Yankees' pitching staff collectively pitched to a 3.63, which was second in the American League behind only the Cleveland Indians (3.32). They also surrendered the second fewest home runs in the league (114) while striking out the third most (732) in 1,382 innings. Ford finished third in the Cy Young Award voting, which was won that year by Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers (at that time, only one Cy Young Award was given out for all of baseball instead of one per league).
With no divisions or playoff rounds to win, the Yankees ran away with the A.L. pennant with a record of 97-57, nine games ahead of the second place Indians. The team's offense lead the league in runs per game (5.56), total runs (857), home runs (190, which set a then-team record), runs batted in (788), slugging percentage (.434), and OPS (.781, tied with the Boston Red Sox).
For the second straight year (and for the sixth time in ten seasons), the Yankees squared off with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Fall Classic. No one knew it at the start of the series, but it was to be a historic series for quite a number of reasons.
The Dodgers, a year after finally winning the team's first ever championship, won the first two games of the Series at Ebbets Field by scores of 6-3 and 13-8, with Sal Maglie and Don Newcombe besting Ford (3 innings, 5 runs) and Larsen (1.2 innings, 4 runs, 4 walks).
However, the Series shifted once the teams switched boroughs, with the Yankees tying the series behind Ford's complete game win on two-days rest in Game 3 (5-3) and Tom Sturdivant's complete game the next day in the Yankees' 6-2 Game 4 win.
Then, with one more game in the Bronx, history was made.
Following his erratic Game 2 start, Don Larsen completely shut down the powerful bats of the Dodger lineup en route to the first (and to date, only) playoff perfect game in baseball history. Larsen struck out seven in the 2-0 win, and was supported by a Mickey Mantle with a solo home run and a tremendous running catch in deep left-center field on a ball hit by Gil Hodges. Ironically, Larsen's counterpart that day- Sal Maglie- tossed a no-hitter near the end of the regular season.
Following a 1-0 extra-inning win for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field in Game 6, Game 7 turned out to be anticlimactic as Johnny Kucks out dueled Newcombe in a 9-0 Yankees' win, with Berra hitting two home runs and Howard and Skowron hitting one each.
The win gave the franchise its 17th championship, and once again gave the Yankees bragging rights in the city. However, it was to be the last Subway Series for 44 years, as the Dodgers (along with the New York Giants) moved to California following the 1957 season.
The Yankees pounded 12 home runs against Dodger pitching, with half coming from Berra (3) and Mantle (3). Berra particularly had a great series, driving in ten runs and hitting .360/.448/.800 and striking out just once to go along with his three long balls.
AL MVP: Mickey Mantle (unanimous)
All-Stars: Yogi Berra (ninth selection), Whitey Ford (third selection), Johnny Kucks (first and only selection), Mickey Mantle (fifth selection), Billy Martin (first and only selection), Gil McDougald (second selection)
World Series MVP: Don Larsen