In terms of notability, it’s hard to find a more famous Yankees season than 1961. As you would’ve read yesterday, the 1961 Yankees won 109 games and the World Series, and that somehow wasn’t the most famous part of that year. That season also featured Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s home run chase that ended with Maris hitting 61 and breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record.
It was always going to be hard to match that, but 1962 ended up being a pretty good follow up.
Regular Season Record: 96-66
Manager: Ralph Houk
Top Hitter by WAR: Mickey Mantle (6.0)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Whitey Ford (5.1)
World Series: Yankees defeat San Francisco Giants, 4-3
Following up on their ‘61 exploits, the ‘62 Yankees got off to a decent start, going 13-6 and taking an early lead in the AL. They were led in large part by Mantle, who through May 18th, was hitting .315/.523/.607.
There’s also a reason that May 18th date is used as a cutoff in Mantle’s season. That day, during a game against the Twins, the Yankees’ star suffered a thigh muscle tear while attempting to run out a grounder. It was expected that the injury would keep him out a month, and it did, as he wouldn’t appear in another game until June 16th.
In the time Mantle was out, the Yankees went 14-11. Whereas the offense averaged just over five runs per game with him in the lineup, in that 25 game stretch, the average dropped to under four. They didn’t lose too much ground in the AL while Mantle was injured, but they did fall behind after leading by as many as two games in early May.
The slight dip didn’t come about just because of Mantle’s injury. Maris followed up his record-breaking season by being merely “very good” instead of “historic.” Meanwhile, the pitching staff in 1962 only had three truly reliable starters (Ford, Ralph Terry, and Bill Stafford) compared to ‘61 who had five regular starters putting up above average numbers.
After mostly treading water with Mantle out, the Yankees got him back in mid-June and eventually started to turn it on. They went 23-8 in July, including a nine-game win streak in the middle of the month. They went from half a game behind in the AL after June to six up after July.
From there, the Yankees would maintain a lead that size, plus or minus a few games, for most of the rest of the season. A pesky Twins team ensured that the Yankees didn’t run away with the pennant, but a 17-9 September allowed them to clinch with a few games to go.
The Yankees got there thanks in large part to the offense, which was the only one in that AL to average five or more runs per game. Despite Mantle missing time, he was good enough to be honored with his third and final AL MVP award. Beyond him and Maris, the ‘62 Yankees had a probably-not-as-good, but a deeper lineup than ‘61. Whereas the the ‘61 team had seven players who had an above average OPS+ and at least 100 plate appearances, the ‘62 team had nine. One of the new additions to that list was a 23-year old Tom Tresh, who had a breakthrough season in ‘62, winning AL Rookie of the Year.
As mentioned, the starting pitching was mostly a three-headed monster. Terry led the AL in innings pitched with 298.2, while Ford’s 2.90 ERA (130 ERA+) in 257.2 innings pitched got him down-ballot MVP votes. Those two, and Stafford, combined to make 109 of the 162 starts on the season.
In the World Series, the Yankees were set to face off against the Giants, making their first appearance since moving to San Francisco a couple years prior. The Willie Mays-led team came out on top of a three-game tiebreaker series against the Dodgers, after making up a four-game deficit in the final 10 days of the season.
The series started out west, with a 6-2 Game 1 win for the Yankees thanks to a Ford complete game and four total runs in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. The next day, the Giants’ Jack Sanford held the Yankees to just three hits in a 2-0 Giants’ win.
The first six innings of Game 3 were a pitchers’ duel between Stafford and Billy Pierce. The game remained deadlocked until the seventh, when Maris’ two RBI single broke open the game. The Giants made it interesting in the ninth, but Stafford finished off a complete game in a 3-2 win. Game 4 was the Giants’ turn for some late inning heroics when a seventh inning grand slam from Chuck Hiller gave San Francisco the lead for good, evening the series again.
Game 5 would be an especially crucial one for the Yankees, with Game 6 and a potential Game 7 both set to be held in San Francisco. The Giants took leads twice in the early innings, only for the Yankees to answer both times. Then in the eighth, the Rookie of the Year Tresh put the cherry on top of his season, hitting a three-run home run to break a tie and give the Yankees a massive win.
Ford was given the start in Game 6, but he couldn’t close the door, allowing five runs in 4.2 innings. That sent the series to Game 7, and put the ball in Ralph Terry’s hands. With Sanford on the hill for the Giants, the game was another pitcher’s duel.
In the first four innings, only one runner from either team reached second base. It took until the fifth inning for a team to break through, and even that came in less than ideal circumstances. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Tony Kubek grounded into a double play, scoring a run, but severely hampered the Yankees’ chances to add more.
The Giants put a couple runners on over the next couple innings, but couldn’t answer, setting up the bottom of the ninth. Down to their last three outs, a pinch-hitting Matty Alou singled, putting the tying run on. Terry bounced back with two strikeouts, but in order to seal the championship, he would have to go through Mays and Willie McCovey.
Mays doubled, and while Alou didn’t score, the Giants were now just one good hit away from taking the championship, and they had another future Hall of Famer at the plate. McCovey made good contact, but Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson was perfectly positioned, and caught the line drive to save the game, the series, and the championship — much to Charlie Brown’s chagrin.
The Yankees won the series 4-3, in an extremely evenly-matched seven games. The largest margin of victory in the series was four runs, and in terms of total runs, the Giants scored 21 to the Yankees’ 20.
Having won two consecutive World Series titles and 10 of the previous 16, no one would’ve expected that this would be the Yankees’ last championship until 1977. They fell in the World Series the next two years to the Dodgers and Cardinals, but that would be the end of the Yankees’ dominant era. That team was starting to get old, the prospect pipeline was drying up, and within a couple years, the disastrous CBS ownership era would begin.