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.
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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1961 Baseball Season Headlines
During the 1961 baseball season, Hank Aaron led the Braves to their ninth division title in as many years, while Roger Maris hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth's single-season record. Here are some of the headlines from the 1961 baseball season:
1961 Cincinnati Reds Cruise to National League Flag
Although no match for the Yankees in the 1961 World Series, the Reds won the flag by a comfortable four-game margin. The following year, the Reds actually had a higher winning percentage yet could finish no better than third place.
Warren Spahn Wins 21 at Age 40
Age 40 in 1961, Warren Spahn won 21 games, tying for first place in victories in the National League; in 1963, after turning 42 years old, he won 23 games. His phenomenal durability caused Stan Musial to remark that he doubted Spahn would ever get into the Hall of Fame because it seemed Spahn would never stop pitching.
Joe Cunningham Nabs Liner in Stick
St. Louis left fielder Joe Cunningham spears a liner off Orlando Cepeda's bat in a 1961 game against the Giants at Candlestick Park. A few weeks later, the Stick, in its second year of existence, introduced a national TV audience to its infamous wind when Stu Miller was blown off the mound in an All-Star Game. Cunningham, a nondescript player for a dozen years, was actually a darn good hitter: He batted .345 in 1959 to finish second in the batting race. In 1961, he hit .286.
Hank Aaron Leads Proud Braves
The Braves were still in Milwaukee in 1961 and showed no signs of moving, as Hank Aaron spearheaded the club to its ninth first-division finish in the nine years it had been in Wisconsin. Aaron hit .327 that year with 39 doubles (tops in the loop), 34 home runs, and 120 RBI. The Braves' skein continued through the 1965 season, the club's last year in Milwaukee.
Orlando Cepeda No. 1 at First
The Giants had an enviable problem in the early 1960s: They had two great first basemen in Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. (In 1961, Cepeda tallied 46 home runs and 142 RBI.) The Giants came up with a solution: They waited until Cepeda's value had been reduced by an injury and then traded him.
Charles Finley Lacks Horse Sense
By the close of the 1961 season, A's followers had already begun believing that new owner Charley Finley had about as much baseball sense as his mascot. The A's tied the expansion Senators for last place in the American League that year.
Roger Maris: 61 HRs a Nightmare
Roger Maris later revealed to writer Joe Reichler that his baseball career would have been a lot more fun if he had never hit those 61 home runs in 1961. About all that breaking Babe Ruth's record brought him, he said, was headaches. The controversy of the accomplishment centered on the fact that Ruth had nailed 60 home runs playing in 151 of his team's 155 games while Maris had 161 of 163 games to collect dingers.
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More 1961 Baseball Season Headlines
Below are more highlights of the 1961 baseball season, including the batting accomplishments of Norm Cash, who had a once-in-a-lifetime year, and Frank Robinson's 1961 National League MVP win.
Brooks Robinson Can't Help 1961 O's
Brooks Robinson was the infield fulcrum on a team that in 1961 was a preseason favorite to win the American League pennant (he hit .287 that season). When it grew evident in September that Baltimore was out of the race, manager Paul Richards was replaced by Lum Harris. A fine pilot, Richards did not manage again in the majors until 1976.
Frank Robinson Slugs Way to 1961 National League MVP
Frank Robinson led the National League in one category in 1961 -- slugging, with a .611 average -- yet ran away with the award for Most Valuable Player. The emergence of Gordy Coleman allowed Reds skipper Fred Hutchinson to move Robinson from first base back to his normal post in right field; consequently, Cincy vaulted from sixth place in 1960 to a pennant in 1961, its first flag since 1940.
Norm Cash Boasts Best BA of '60s
The extraordinary 1961 season of Norm Cash was overshadowed by the home run feats of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, but historians are now beginning to recognize its true significance. That year, Cash had the highest batting average (.361) of any player during the 1960s and the highest on-base percentage (.488) since 1957. Cash went on to club 377 home runs in his 17-year career yet, oddly, never came within 75 points of his .361 mark. In 1962, his average plummeted to .243. The 118-point fall-off is the worst ever by a batting champion.
Willie Mays Thrills 1961 Giants Fans
Willie Mays ranked high in every major slugging department in 1961. He topped the National League with 129 runs scored, came in second with 40 home runs, and placed third with 334 total bases, 123 RBI, and 81 walks. Oddly, never once in his 22-year career did Mays lead the National League in RBI.
Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson Rev Up 1961 Reds
Vada Pinson and Frank Robinson were the offensive leaders for the Reds in 1961. Pinson posted a .343 average that season, leading the National League with 208 hits. Robinson led the circuit with a .611 slugging average that year, with 37 homers and 124 RBI.
Lew Burdette Wins 18
Lew Burdette was a master at never working any harder than he had to. Given one run, he'd pitch a shutout. Given nine runs, he'd win 9-6. The end result was that he always finished among the leaders in runs surrendered. In 1956, however, with his team in a down-to-the-wire flag race, he led the National League with a 2.71 ERA. In 1961, he led the league in innings (272) and went 18-11.
Chairman Goes 25-4
By the early 1960s, Whitey Ford had acquired the nickname "The Chairman of the Board." It was somewhat misleading. Ford and Mickey Mantle were probably the Yankees' two leading free spirits in that era. On the field, though, Ford was all business; his 25-4 record in 1961 was the best performance by a Yankees pitcher prior to 1978. Ford paced the American League in wins, win pct. (.862), starts (39), and innings pitched (283).
To find highlights of key events and details from the 1961 season, continue to the next page.
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1961 Baseball Season Highlights
All eyes were on New York during the 1961 baseball season as the Yankees wowed audiences everywhere. The team won 109 games and had 240 home runs. Below, you will find the highlights from the 1961 baseball season:
- The Reds triumph in the National League for first time since 1940 as they edge out the Dodgers by 4 games.
- The Yanks win their second American League flag in a row.
- The Yankees set a record for a 162-game season by winning 109.
- Chicago Cub Billy Williams is named National League Rookie of the Year.
- The Yanks rout the Reds in the 1961 World Series in five games.
- New York's Bobby Richardson leads all 1961 World Series batters with nine hits and .391 BA.
- Whitey Ford breaks Babe Ruth's record for consecutive scoreless innings hurled in World Series play.
- The American League now has ten teams, becoming the first major league loop to have that many since 1899.
- The American League plays a 162-game schedule.
- Frank Robinson wins the 1961 National League MVP Award.
- Roger Maris is the 1961 American League MVP.
- Maris breaks Ruth's major league season record by hitting 61 homers.
- Mickey Mantle hits 54 homers, giving Yankees teammate record of 115 four-baggers.
- Cubs owner William Wrigley, tired of second-division finishes, decides the team will be managed by eight coaches.
- Willie Mays hits four homers on April 30 vs. Braves.
- Detroit's Norm Cash tops expanded American League in batting with .361 BA.
- The Yankees hit 240 homers to set a new major league record.
- Whitey Ford tops majors with 25 victories and wins the 1961 Cy Young Award.
- The Phillies lose a major league record of 23 straight games.
- Pittsburgh's Roberto Clemente wins his first National League bat crown (.351).
- Giant Orlando Cepeda tops National League with 46 homers and 142 RBI.
- Warren Spahn tops National League in wins a major league record eighth time, as he and the Reds' Joey Jay win 21.
- Joey Jay ties Spahn for National League top spot in shutouts with just four.
- Spahn leads the National League in CGs (21) and ERA (3.01).
- The National League wins first All-Star Game of the year, 5-4 in ten innings at San Francisco.
- The second All-Star Game ends in 1-1 tie at Boston, as rain stops play after nine innings.
- Boston's Don Schwall is selected the American League Rookie of the Year by one vote over KC's Dick Howser.
- Ty Cobb dies.
- On May 9, Jim Gentile hits grandslams in two consecutive innings for Baltimore.
- The Braves hit four consecutive homers on June 8 vs. Reds.
- Roger Maris hits his 61st homer in final game of season, Oct. 1, off Boston's Tracy Stallard.
- The National League opts to expand to ten teams in 1962, placing franchises in New York and Houston.
- Warren Spahn no-hits Giants on April 28.
- Spahn wins his 300th game and is the first National League southpaw to do so.
- Baltimore's Dave Philley sets a new major league record when he collects 24 pinch hits.
- Luis Arroyo of the Yankees sets new major league record when he notches 29 saves.
- Detroit rookie Jake Wood fans 141 times to set new major league record.
- Milwaukee's Eddie Mathews hits 30 or more homers for a National League record ninth consecutive year.
- The Yankees have a major league record six players who hit 20 or more homers.
- Though the 1961 Yankees are widely acclaimed for their great offense, the Tigers actually score more runs (841-827).
- Willie Mays leads National League in runs (129) and runs produced (212).
- Roger Maris leads the American League in RBI (142) and total bases (366), and ties in runs (132).
Check out the next section for more highlights of the 1961 baseball season.
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More 1961 Baseball Season Highlights
During the 1961 baseball season, Roger Maris chased Babe Ruth's record and beat him -- but only after playing more games -- while Roberto Clemente earned a Gold Glove. Check out more highlights from the 1961 baseball season below:
- Bobby Shantz is first to win Gold Gloves in each league when he takes the prize while pitching for the Pirates.
- Bobby Richardson breaks Nellie Fox's monopoly on American League Gold Glove at second base.
- Roberto Clemente wins his first Gold Glove as National League outfielder.
- Dazzy Vance dies.
- On August 23, five Giants homer in one inning to tie the major league record.
- Jim Gentile ties the major league season record with five grandslams.
- Jim Gentile sets an Orioles franchise record with 46 home runs and 141 RBI.
- By hitting his 50th homer on August 22, Roger Maris becomes the first to have 50 homers by the end of August.
- Minnesota's Pete Ramos tops American League in losses a record fourth consecutive time (20).
- Minnie Minoso leads the majors a record ninth time in being hit by the pitch.
- Dummy Hoy dies at 99.
- Lee Thomas sets Angels record that still stands for most homers by a rookie (24).
- Norm Cash sets record for most home runs by a Tigers lefty hitter (41).
- In the All-Star Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, pitcher Stu Miller at one point is blown off the mound by the park's infamous wind.
- Bill Dewitt becomes new owner of the Reds.
- Milwaukee's Eddie Mathews tops National League in walks (93).
- Billy Williams's 25 homers set a Cubs rookie record.
- Lew Burdette tops the National League in innings with 272.
- Johnny Podres leads National League in win pct. (.783).
- Red Vada Pinson, playing a 154-game schedule in the National League, has 208 hits -- 15 more than Norm Cash, the American League leader, who plays a 162-game schedule.
- Wood tops American League and majors with 14 triples.
- Mickey Mantle leads American League in walks (126) and SA (.687).
- Norm Cash has top OBP in majors (.488).
- LA's Wally Moon leads the National League in OBP (.438).
- Maury Wills and Luis Aparicio once again lead their leagues in steals with 35 and 53, respectively.
- Detroit's Rocky Colavito tops the American League and the majors with 234 runs produced.
- Al Kaline leads American League in doubles (41), is second in batting (.324).
- Chicago's George Altman leads the National League in triples with 12.
- Whitey Ford tops the major league in win pct. (.862) and innings (283).
- Dick Donovan, with the expansion Senators, posts the American League's top ERA (2.40).
- Camilo Pascual leads the American League in Ks with 221.
- Pascual ties Baltimore's Steve Barber for American League lead in shutouts with eight.
- Frank Lary wins 23 games for Detroit, tops majors with 22 CGs.
- Stu Miller and Pittsburgh's Roy Face tie for the National League lead in saves with 17.
- MVP Frank Robinson tops National League only in SA (.611), but is second in several other departments.
- Despite the expanded schedule, only two American League hurlers, Whitey Ford and Frank Lary, win more than 18 games.