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1961 Baseball Season


The Yankees of the 1961 baseball season, now under the leadership of manager Ralph Houk, were even more awesome than the previous year's edition, winning 109 games and the American League pennant by 8 games.

The Bombers set a new team record with their 240 home runs, a statistic aided greatly by the league's expansion to ten teams (the Los Angeles Angels and the Washington Senators had been added) and an increase to a 162-game schedule.

The eight extra games and watered-down pitching enabled Roger Maris to break Babe Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs. Maris, again the 1961 American Leagues MVP, had waged a summer-long assault on a mark deemed so sacred that commissioner Ford Frick issued a decree: If Maris didn't shatter the record during the first 154 games, the feat would have an asterisk assigned to it. Maris hit his 59th homer in game 154, matched the mark five games later, then broke the record on the last day of the season at Yankee Stadium with a homer against Boston's Tracy Stallard.

Mickey Mantle also flirted with Ruth's record, but a September injury stalled him at 54. Bill Skowron, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, and Johnny Blanchard each belted 20 or more homers for New York.

Cy Young Award-winner Whitey Ford claimed a circuit-topping 25 of 29 decisions while screwball reliever Luis Arroyo won 15 games and saved a league-leading 29 for New York.

In any other year, the Tigers' 101 wins would have been pennant-caliber. Notable seasons were turned in by Norm Cash (41 homers, a league-high .361 average), Al Kaline (.324), Rocky Colavito (45 homers, 140 RBI), and pitcher Frank Lary (23 wins). Dick Donovan spearheaded the majors with his 2.40 ERA for Washington, which tied with Kansas City for last place. Don Schwall of Boston (15-7, 3.22 ERA) was Rookie of the Year.

The Reds won the National League pennant by 4 games over the Dodgers with strong performances by 25-year-old Frank Robinson (the 1961 National League MVP with 37 homers, 124 RBI, and a .323 average), Vada Pinson (.343), Joey Jay (a league-high 21 wins), and Jim O'Toole (19 victories).

Wally Moon hit .328 (fourth-best in the league) and Johnny Podres posted a circuit-topping .783 winning percentage for second-place Los Angeles. Although Willie Mays belted four home runs in one game while teammate Orlando Cepeda led the league with 46 homers and 142 RBI, the Giants couldn't get past third. For the fifth consecutive year, 40-year-old Warren Spahn of the fourth-place Braves racked up enough wins to rank at the top; this time, his 21 victories matched those of Cincinnati's Jay. Spahn also took the ERA title at 3.01. Roberto Clemente of sixth-place Pittsburgh led the league in batting with a .351 average. Billy Williams of Chicago (.278, 25 homers, 86 RBI) was named 1961 Rookie of the Year.

The arms of the Reds couldn't stave off the Yankees' latest edition of Murderer's Row. Ford's shutout in game four broke Ruth's 29-2/3 consecutive scoreless-innings record in Series play. The ace hurler ran his streak to 32 innings before leaving the sixth with an ankle injury.

The Yankees offense burst open in game five with 15 hits in the 13-5 trouncing of the Reds. New York had won convincingly despite the fact that the M&M boys -- Mantle and Maris -- drove in just two runs between them for the entire 1961 World Series. Most of the damage was caused by second baseman Bobby Richardson, who set a five-game Series record with nine hits, and Moose Skowron, who batted .353.

Continue to the next page to find major headlines and summaries of the top stories of the 1961 baseball season.

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