New York Yankees

The 1950s and 1960s

Bettering the McCarthy-era clubs, Stengel's squad won the World Series in his first five years as manager, 1949 through 1953. The five consecutive championships won by the Yankees during this period remains the major league record. Led by players like center fielder Mickey Mantle, pitcher Whitey Ford, and catcher Yogi Berra, Stengel's teams won 10 pennants and seven World Series titles in his twelve seasons as Yankee manager. The 1950s were also a decade of significant individual achievement for Yankee players. In 1956, Mantle won the major league triple crown, leading both leagues in batting average (.353), home runs (52), and RBIs (130). On October 8, 1956, in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Dodgers, pitcher Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history. Not only was it the only perfect game to be pitched in World Series play, it remains the only no-hitter of any kind to be pitched in postseason play. The Yankees went on to win yet another World Series that season, and Larsen earned World Series MVP honors. Yankee players also dominated the American League MVP award, with a Yankee claiming ownership six times in the decade (1950 Rizzuto, 1951 Berra, 1954 Berra, 1955 Berra, 1956 Mantle, 1957 Mantle). Pitcher Bob Turley also won the Cy Young Award in 1958, the award's third year of existence. For the decade, the Yankees won six World Series championships ('50, 51, '52, '53, '56, '58) and eight American League pennants. Led by Mantle, Ford, Berra, Elston Howard, and the newly acquired Roger Maris, the Yankees burst into the new decade seeking to replicate the remarkable success of the 1950s.
However, the Yankees lost the 1960 World Series in heartbreaking fashion when Bill Mazeroski hit a game-winning, series-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 off Ralph Terry. It remains the only Game 7, walk-off home run in World Series history. Stengel was blamed for the World Series loss for failing to start his ace, Ford, three times in the Series, and was replaced as manager with Ralph Houk prior to the 1961 season. Stengel himself, who had reached his seventh decade in July of that year, clearly thought the issue was age discrimination, remarking, "I'll never make the mistake of turning 70 again." Yogi Berra's assessment of the loss was the equally famous comment, "We made too many wrong mistakes."
During the 1960-61 offseason, a seemingly innocuous development may have marked the beginning of the end for this Yankees dynasty. In December of 1960, Chicago insurance executive Charlie Finley purchased the Kansas City Athletics from the estate of Arnold Johnson, who had died that March. Johnson had acquired the then-Philadelphia Athletics from the family of Connie Mack in 1954. He was the owner of Yankee Stadium at the time, but was forced to sell the stadium by American League owners as a condition of purchasing the Athletics. Johnson was also a longtime business associate of then-Yankees owners Del Webb and Dan Topping. During Johnson's ownership, the Athletics traded many young players to the Yankees for cash and aging veterans. Maris had been acquired by the Yankees in one such trade. Many fans, and even other teams, frequently accused the Athletics of being operated as an effective farm team for the Yankees. Once Finley purchased the Athletics, he immediately terminated the team's "special relationship" with the Yankees.
In the meantime, 1961 was one of the greatest years in Yankee history. Throughout the summer, Mantle and reigning-MVP Roger Maris hit home runs at a record pace as both chased Babe Ruth's single season home run record of 60. The duo's home run prowess led the media and fans to christen them 'The M & M Boys.' Ultimately, Mantle was forced to bow out in mid-September with 54 home runs when a severe hip infection forced him from the lineup. On October 1, 1961, on the final day of the season, Maris broke the record when he sent a pitch from Boston's Tracy Stallard into the right field stands at Yankee Stadium for his 61st home run. However, by decree of Commissioner Ford Frick, separate single-season home run records were maintained to reflect the fact that Ruth hit his 60 home runs during a 154-game season, while Maris hit his 61 in the first year of the new 162-game season. Some 30 years later, on September 4, 1991, an 8-member Committee for Historical Accuracy appointed by Major League Baseball did away with the dual records, giving Maris sole possession of the single-season home run record until it was broken by Mark McGwire on September 8, 1998. (McGwire's record was later broken by Barry Bonds, whose 73 home runs in 2001 remain the major league record. Maris still holds the American League record.)
The Yankees won the pennant with a 109-53 record and went on to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in five games to win the 1961 World Series. The 109 regular season wins posted by the '61 club remain the third highest single-season total in franchise history, behind only the 1998 team's 114 regular season wins and 1927 team's 110 wins. The 1961 Yankees also clubbed a then-major league record for most home runs by a team with 240, a total not surpassed until the 1996 Baltimore Orioles hit 257 with the aid of the designated hitter. Maris won his second consecutive MVP Award while Whitey Ford captured the Cy Young. Because of the excellence of Maris, Mantle, and World Series-MVP Ford, a fine pitching staff, stellar team defense, the team's amazing depth and power, and their overall dominance, the 1961 Yankees are universally considered to be one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball, compared often to their pinstriped-brethren, the 1927 Yankees, the 1939 Yankees, and the 1998 Yankees. In 1962, the Yankees won their second consecutive World Series, defeating the San Francisco Giants in seven games.
The Yanks would again reach the Fall Classic in 1963, but were swept in four games by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Behind World Series-MVP Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and Johnny Podres, the Dodgers starting pitchers threw four complete games and combined to give up just four runs all Series. This was the first time the Yankees were swept in a World Series. Feeling burnt out after the season, Houk left the manager's chair to become the team's general manager and Berra, who himself had just retired from playing, was named the new manager of the Yankees. The aging Yankees returned to the World Series in 1964 to face the St. Louis Cardinals in a Series immortalized by David Halberstam's book, October 1964. Despite a valiant performance by Mantle, including a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3 off Cardinals' reliever Barney Schultz, the Yankees fell to the Cardinals in seven games. It was to be the last World Series appearance by the Yankees for 12 years.
After the 1964 season, CBS purchased the Yankees from Topping and Webb for $11.2 million. Jokesters at the time wondered if Walter Cronkite would become the manager, perhaps with Yogi Berra doing the newscasts. Topping and Webb had owned the Yankees for 20 years, missing the World Series only 5 times, and going 10-5 in the World Series. By contrast, the CBS-owned teams never went to the World Series, and in the first year of the new ownership - 1965 - the Yankees finished in the second division for the first time in 40 years; the introduction of the major league amateur draft in 1965 also meant that the Yankees could no longer sign any player they wanted. In 1966 the team finished last in the AL for the first time since 1912, and next-to-last the following year. After that the team's fortunes improved somewhat, but they would not become serious contenders again until 1974.
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