Flying high after back-to-back championships, the Yankees headed into 1951 with some fresh rookies ready to join the team and contribute. The team had to battle through multiple challengers in the American League, but came out on top and defeated a New York Giants team that rolled into the World Series with all the momentum based off their historic finish.
Regular Season Record: 98-56
Manager: Casey Stengel
Top Hitter by WAR: Yogi Berra (5.3)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Allie Reynolds (3.9)
World Series: Yankees defeat New York Giants, 4-2
Before the season started, the buzz around the next great Yankee player began on March 26th, when Mickey Mantle hit two long home runs during an exhibition game at the University of Southern California. He would be officially called up to the major league squad for the start of the season and start in right-field. His ascension to the major league roster was welcomed, as Joe DiMaggio battled bone spurs in his feet and ankles that slowed him throughout spring training and into the season.
Mantle was in the lineup, playing right field on April 17th on Opening Day when he was announced by public address announcer Bob Sheppard. It was Sheppard’s first opening day at Yankee Stadium in the role that he would hold for the next 57 years.
Those around the Yankees saw the potential that would define Mantle’s career, with DiMaggio calling him “The greatest prospect I can remember.” On June 19th Mantle homered in both games of a doubleheader, but the Yankees remained 3.5 games back of the Chicago White Sox team they played that day.
Despite the praise, manager Casey Stengel asked the front office to send Mantle down after a three-strikeout game against Cleveland on July 13th. He was hitting .261/.343/.427 with seven home runs to that point. He would return to the Yankees in late August and hit six more homers before the end of the season.
Another rookie, infielder Gil McDougald, entered the season with less hype but would produce big results on the field. Seeing significant amounts of time at both second base and third base, McDougal’s .884 OPS would see him voted in as the Rookie of the Year. He beat out Minnie Miñoso, who played for both Cleveland and Chicago during the season.
The Yankees were competitive from the start of the year and spent 85 days of the season in first place, but found themselves moving in and out of the position multiple times. The Washington Senators bumped them out of first place early on, but then faded as the White Sox jumped in the lead at one point in the middle of the year. The final team that the Yankees would have to battle was Cleveland, who spent 54 days in first place and finished the season in second place.
Coming off a strong rookie season in 1950, the Yankees lost Whitey Ford to the Army as the Korean War ramped up. Ford was never deployed overseas and served his time nearby at Fort Monmouth, where his Yankees teammates would visit him when they had the chance.
Despite losing Ford, the Yankee pitching staff threw 24 shutouts during the 1951 season. They started out strong with four shutouts in their first 12 games of the year, and then threw five more during the month of July. The veteran core of Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and Allie Reynolds were joined by rookie Tom Morgan, who worked as both a starter and reliever during the season, racking up 124.2 innings in 27 games.
Reynolds impressed by throwing two no-hitters in 1951. The first came in July against Cleveland. He then threw another no-hitter against Boston on September 28th in game one of a double-header. Boston scored more runs than any American League team in the 1951 season, but was shut down by Yankees pitching. The Yankees would clinch the American League pennant later that day in the second game of a doubleheader behind Raschi.
The impressive season by Reynolds would see him finish third-place in American League MVP voting, where he received the same six first place votes as both the winner Yogi Berra and second place Ned Garver of the St. Louis Browns. Berra caught 141 games during the year while hitting .294/.350/.492 with 27 home runs. He also threw out 54 percent of the runners trying to steal against him on the season.
The Yankees headed into the World Series in early October against the New York Giants, who were coming off the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” by Bobby Thomson that clinched the National League title during a three-game playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers. They rode that momentum into the World Series and took a 2-1 lead after three games. In Game 2 of the series, Mantle caught his spike in a drain lid while chasing a fly ball. He seriously injured his knee and never played pain-free again.
The Yankees would win the next three games with strong offensive performances by Bobby Brown, Gene Woodling, Phil Rizzuto and DiMaggio, who would have a home run and two doubles in the final games of his career. The junkman Lopat pitched two complete games in Games 2 and 5, allowing just two runs (one earned) across both outings.
The Yankees finished off their third straight World Series championship in 1951 with another impressive display of pitching and hitting. Exciting rookies began to show their promise, while several veterans from the teams of the past moved into different roles. Outstanding seasons by Yogi Berra and Allie Reynolds paced the team, while exciting rookies like Gil McDougald and Mickey Mantle started to make their name at the major league level. It was also the last hurrah for Joe DiMaggio, who would announce his retirement following the season, but the loss of the legend would not end the Yankees’ winning ways.