Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Epic Yankees Season Flameouts, Episode V!

You didn't want to see this, I didn't want to write this! But the JuJu gods, they are cruel mistresses, demanding ever more debasement in exchange for smiling on one's sorry hide again.

So...here we go. Flameout season number five: 1965, a particularly appropriate year to go with our conniptions this past week.

Yankees 77-85, 6th in a 10-team league.

The Yankees were the slight favorites to take what would have been their sixth consecutive American League title, and their 16th in 19th years. Instead, the team suffered a calamitous fall from grace, one which it would take them over a decade and a seismic change in ownership to recover from.


The Yankees finished with a losing record and out of the first division for the first time since 1925, the year of the Big Bellyache, and for only the second time since the war-shortened 1918 season.  From 1921-1964, they had captured 29 pennants and 20 World Series crowns in just 44 seasons, the greatest run in North American sports history.

The team had had a close run for the pennant in 1964, but had still come within a couple of bad calls and a couple of stunning errors by their Gold Glove second baseman from taking the World Series against a young and dynamic Cardinals team. Everything said "repeat."

Instead: splatter. They finished behind the Twins, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers, and Indians. Cleveland! for cryin' out loud.

What happened:

Herein lies one of the most misunderstood episodes in Yankees history.

The received wisdom continues to be that owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, who had just sold the team to CBS in 1964, had been planning to do so for years, and so had purposely disinvested in the franchise, refusing to spend money on scouting and development. Hence, as either Michael Burke or Bill Paley of CBS said, the network had bought "a pig in a poke."

Baloney, as they palaver in polite society.

There is absolutely zero indication that that is what happened. Far from being an old and dithering team in 1965, the Yankees were just slightly older than most of the AL.  The pennant-winning Twins, for instance, had an older pitching staff. And the 1965 Yankees were actually slightly younger as a team than they had been in 1961, at the height of their most recent, dazzling run.

If you take a look at the years leading up to 1965, and the years following, you'll see that far from being barren, the Yankees' farm system continued to produce good-to-excellent starting position players and pitchers with a regularity that we in the Age of Ozymandias Cashman can only envy:

1960—Bill Stafford
1961—Rollie Sheldon
1962—Jim Bouton, Tom Tresh (Rookie of the Year)
1963—Joe Pepitone, Al Downing
1964—Mel Stottlemyre
1965—Roy White
1966—Fritz Peterson
1967—Dooley Womack
1968—Stan Bahnsen (Rookie of the Year)
1969—Bobby Murcer
1970—Steve Kline, Thurman Munson (Rookie of the Year)

That should have been enough to keep an already stacked team rolling merrily along, at least in contention for years to come.

So what did go wrong?

Well, injuries, mostly.  In perhaps the most disastrous single, regular-season game in Yankees history, playing in the snow and freezing cold on Opening Day up in Minnesota, before about 15,000 hardy souls, both Bouton and Elston Howard badly injured their arms. Neither player was ever remotely the same after.

Howard was already 36, but he went from being the best catcher in baseball from most of 1961-1964, to being a subpar hitter, even for the late '60s. To add insult to injury on Bouton, the Yanks had apparently had a chance to trade him, straight up, for Frank Robinson in the offseason but had passed, feeling that as a black man who spoke up for himself, he was a "troublemaker." Thus they not only missed out on obtaining a great player, but let him go to what would soon be the best team in the league.

All year, other injuries just kept piling up.

The Mick's legs finally gave out—at only 33. After 1966, he would move permanently to first base, just a shadow of his former self. Roger Maris, just 30, would sustain the first in a series of puzzling hand and wrist injuries, which soon had the Yankees calling him a shirker. X-Rays would reveal he wasn't, but by that time his power was gone for good, and he was dealt away to St. Louis for the infamous Charlie Smith, one of the worst players ever to take the field in the Bronx.

Tony Kubek re-aggravted a back-and-neck injury he'd sustained in the army, hit .218, and retired at 29.  Tom Tresh had his last good year, at 26, before back injuries dragged him down, too, and forced his retirement at 30.  Whitey Ford had another excellent season at 36, but half the time he couldn't feel his pitching hand. After 1965, he would never win more than two games in a season again.

And of course, Joe Pepitone did a Sanchez, the first of many over his NYY career. The Yankees had, infamously decided to fire Yogi Berra before the end of the season, and committed to hiring crusty old Johnny Keane of the Cardinals. After Berra surprised everyone by winning the pennant and almost the Series...they went ahead and fired him anyway, even though he was maybe the one manager ever able to motivate Pepitone to go out and play.

Bright spots:

That good year from Tresh, a remarkably versatile athlete, able to play sparkling defense in the outfield and at short, who hit 26 homers.  Clete Boyer did his usual magic around third, and hit a not-awful .251 with 18 homers. Bobby Richardson won a fifth consecutive Gold Glove at second, though after 1966 he decided he just could not spend anymore time away from evangelizing, and retired at 30.

On the mound, besides Ford's last hurrah, Mel Stottlemyre compiled the first of his three, 20-win seasons, going 20-9 with a 2.63 ERA, 18 complete games, and four shutouts. Al Downing had a 12-14 record, but a decent ERA at 3.40. In the pen, Steve Hamilton and Pedro Ramos were outstanding.

But all-in-all, nothing really gelled, all year long. The team fought its way back to a winning record for a few days in August, but after reaching 64-62—still just in 6th place—it went 13-23 down the stretch, finishing 25 games back.

What happened next:

Years of misery.

In 1966, the Yankees fell all the way to the cellar for the first time since 1912. They were ninth in 1967, and while they rarely had a losing record after that, they did not really contend again until 1972. They managed to put together decent pitching staffs, but their hitting was generally wretched. The 1968 Yankees, at .214, turned in the lowest team batting average of the 20th century.

And no, the problem was NOT Horace Clarke, who statistically, at least, was almost exactly the equivalent of Bobby Richardson. So there.

Far from Topping and Webb being the culprits in the Yankees' demise, it was really CBS which proved wholly uninterested in their purchase, and why not? The Yankees had only been picked up for reasons of "corporate diversification," and at the time they were worth no more than two other such purchases by the network: the Fender guitar company, and the road show of Hello, Dolly!

We would have to wait for the arrival of the Mad King, and the 1970s revival of baseball, before anything really improved.


KD said...

I love your takes on baseball, and Yankees, history. Do you ever forget anything?

and here we are, getting to read all this fantastic analysis and opinion for free.

Please keep it up!

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, KD! My pleasure. And some I remember, some I read. The good folks at baseball reference are a godsend.

Joe of AZ said...

"Break"ing news...

Jacoby Glasshouse Ellsbury is OUT for the season he was AKA The cavalry.

What a shame...this closet red Sox spy took the money and is running (or icing,)

HoraceClarke66 said...

Right? I remember how Sox fans used to call Ramiro Mendoza "the embedded Yankee" after they signed him.

What a disaster Ellsbury turned out to be. Just amazing.

Skip said...

You just brought back a lot of memories.
I love your posts.
I discovered this blog this spring.
I love it, it is part of my daily routine.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks, Skip!

And it reminds you...things can always be worse!

13bit said...

I would think that Ellsbury's staying out for the season would make it easier for Los Yankees to collect insurance money, which I assume they carry. Wasn't there some kerfuffle with Pavano and insurance money?

HoraceClarke66 said...

Oh, wait! I'm forgetting Allegaroogaroogara, nestled high in the Alps between Buckledownwinsocki and Nanananaheyheyhey.

TheWinWarblist said...

How can Walker hit .357 for the last month and still have a .628 OPS for the season? How much suckage have we endured from this palooka?

TheWinWarblist said...

I know it's frequently shortened by convention, but it's actually Nanananaheyheyhey-HeyNannyNanny in full.

Leinstery said...

I can't take this team anymore. I'm out, but I shall return for the final weeks of September when they complete their failure and miss the 1 game playoff.

Joe of AZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe of AZ said...

Looks like Yanks are aptly celebrating Jacoby's seasoning ending surgery by doing what Mr ells did best...... NOTHING....somewhere G steinbrenner is rolling in his grave awaiting reincarnation so he can read boone his Miranda rights and get him the hell outta Dodge....

This is lineup thaT would make Mr Callaway proud

Joe of AZ said...

And right on cue.....signs of Life from surprise surprise ROOKIES...whom the YES IDIOTS are so fond of criticizing....Yanks would be DEAD LAST and even MORE uninteresting without them....VIVA LA ROOKS

HoraceClarke66 said...

I understand, Leinstery—yet ANOTHER clinic of how not to hit in the clutch tonight. Of course, the White Sox are starting Early Wynn...aren't they?

I like your style, WinWarblist! And yes—how DOES he do that?

Joe F. I thought maybe Ma Boone had noted—as a reporter on NY 1 did yesterday—that Hicks was on base 21 times in his last 44 at-bats, and so had decided to put him up first.

But alas, it was just Gardy getting a rest—and coming back just in time to make another in a long series of key outs. Oy.

"I said, son, this team is gonna drive me to drinkin'—" Oh, wait, too late.

HoraceClarke66 said...

So...top of the 10th, we're leading, 3-1, 2 outs, Didi walks. The Gleyber up.

Didi does not attempt to steal. Didi does not attempt to advance even when a ball bounces a good five feet from the catcher.

Torres pops out. Maybe it didn't matter. But why, oh why, on a team scuffling this badly at the plate, are we not trying to force the action and score runs?

HoraceClarke66 said...

And I had just finished saying, 'Why the hell are we pitching to their only hitter?'

Ken Singleton had just finished saying, 'It's impossible to hit home runs off this guy.'

HoraceClarke66 said...

This game has become a highlight reel of everything that has gone wrong this year.

A Luke Voit called third strike, a Neil Walker double-play grounder to end the tenth.

What next, what next? What more could the JuJu gods possibly do to us, in this their masterpiece?

Oh, of course. Sonny Gray is up in the bullpen.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Yes, we are now told it is Sonny Gray's game to win or lose. WTF? Has Chapman been DL'd or something?

HoraceClarke66 said...

No, they claim Chapman just threw too many pitches on Sunday. On Sunday, he supposedly could not find the plate because he was so rusty. Now, he has thrown too many pitches.

Someday, Goldilocks Chapman will find the pace that is juuuusssst right for him.

Joe of AZ said...

If u can't beat the freakin whitesox u have no business being within the same sentence as Contender...unless it's contending for biggest disappointment of the year!

Austria's Only Baseball Fan said...

Sehr geehrte Herr Clarke sechs-und-sechzig!

I know your wise pronouncement was made almost six hours ago, but PLEASE keep my beloved Alps out of this mess! Given the world's current geopolitical situation, perhaps the Urals may be more appropriate.

Pfiat di!

Der Einzige in Österreich

HoraceClarke66 said...

Incredibly, after walking a nothing hitter on four pitches, Gray managed to retire Abreu.

Stanton dropped flyball in the same inning, but managed to throw a runner out at second. Incredibly sloppy, uninvolved play by this Yankees team. Every inning is another indictment of their manager.

Austria's Only Baseball Fan said...

Is that Zizi Jeanmaire, still playing for the White Sox at 94? Well, she's still a good match for Ellsbury.

Leinstery said...

They need to gut the coaching staff. Do they have fielding coaches? Kind of like how the the NFL has a coach for every aspect of the game. Anyways, I know I always say bring back Bonnie Prince Binders, but literally anyone would be better than this cavalcade of fuckery they call the Yankee coaching staff. Boone sucks, fuck Thames and his swing for the fences approach, Rothschild can't solve any pitcher's problems and was involved in 9/11.

The question is does history repeat itself and does A-Rod replace this turd in the offseason like he did 15 years ago.

HoraceClarke66 said...


I am sure that Sonny Gray will now blow his, probably in two pitches, but I don't care. I am almost sobbing with relief over the fact that we were actually able to score a run.

I actually did a little dance when Luke Voit managed to punch a single through the left side. I didn't even throw anything when Neil Walker, facing a pitcher for the first time with an insurance run on second, swung at the first pitch and did not even appear to know where he had hit the ball.

This is what we have been reduced to.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Ahem, ahem...words I thought I would never write in capital letters:


With some help from Higgy on a great frame against Moncada.

"Cat's in the bag, bag's in the river."

TheWinWarblist said...

What the fuck am I seeing!?! AHH! AHHH!!! AAaAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHHHHHaaaaAAHHHHHHHHHHHaaaa-ah-ah-ah-aaaaaaaaAaAaHaHaHaaaAAAAAAhhhhhhhhhhhh

Joe of AZ said...

The hatred I feel for Boone grows with each passing day. At this rate they might as well stick a stuffed puppet in the clubhouse....wait that might be prove to be a more effective leadership strategy.

Daily chorus: "Fuck Boone,Thames,and Larry oh my "

Joe of AZ said...

More breaking news

Yanks win!!!! Im in tears

TheWinWarblist said...

And Jacoby Ellsbury had surgery to repair a tear in his hip labrum. Due that deserve it's own warble??

HoraceClarke66 said...

What, the prospect of never having to see Jacoby Ellsbury in a Yankees uniform again? Never having to hear a progress report about how he's "close to resuming baseball activities"?

You bet your ass it does!

Joe Formerlyof Brooklyn said...

I'm not sure we can kiss Ellsberger off. The team remains on the hook to pay him $21 million in each of '19 and '20 -- with a $5 million buy-out in '21.


HoraceClarke66 said...

Well, you know, maybe he won't get off the table.

I don't mean die. I mean, he might just like lying there so much he won't get off the table.

ranger_lp said...

So when are we retiring Sonny Gray's number? LOL

sidney said...

cat's in the bag

Carl J. Weitz said...

Great recap of the mid-late Yankees misery years, Hoss. Very well-written, too.

I've stated so many times here that Rothschild is a joke as a pitching coach. He even looks like a stiff in his 1975 leisure suit, errr, "uniform".

The only people benefitting on the 2018 version of Ellsbury is Hal & Hank Steinbrenner:

"Making $21.1 million this season, Jacoby Ellsbury is the third-highest paid player on the Yankees. However, if he were never to don the pinstripes again, it appears the organization would be more than OK with that.

Navigating the waters of potential insurance fraud, should the Yankees start and stop Ellsbury’s rehab over the remainder of the season, they will receive $15,857,142 in return for his inability to perform his baseball duties."

Wallace Matthews also wrote an article on Forbes.com that there is open industry speculation that Jacoby and the Yankees have a "silent contract" that he say nothing positive about his physical ability to play baseball.

Looks like another yacht and race horse for the Steinbrenner boys.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Good catch, sidney.

Thanks, Carl—and I guess that explains the mysterious silences of M. Ellsbury, the Man Who Never Returned.