View Full Version : End of the World as the Yankees Knew It

March 17th, 2013, 02:17 PM
Great article.

I have been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember - my mother tells me that at the age of 2 I would cry if anyone tried to switch Yankee or Jets games off the TV while I was watching.

My first full year's recollection was 1965, just in time to watch the Yankees stumble into the cellar. I really just remember snippets from that year - Mel winning 20, Bouton falling apart at the seems. They remained poor to middling for the next 10 years or so until the Steinbrennar / Paul years which began in 1973 and began to fruit in 1975 leading up to the 1976 pennant.

Anyway, names like Jake Gibbs, Roger Repoz, Ralph Houk and Elston Howard brought back memories.


March 16, 2013

End of the World as the Yankees Knew It


The greatest decline-and-fall stories involve the mightiest empires. Ancient Greece. Rome. The borscht belt.

In the mid-1960s, it was the Yankees’ turn to collapse while the rest of baseball delighted in their misfortune. The Yankees not only lost the pennant, to echo the Douglass Wallop novel that was adapted into “Damn Yankees,” they fell down and died.

They had just played in five consecutive World Series and won two of them, in 1961 and 1962. But in 1965, they suddenly finished sixth, with just 77 victories. The next season, when few thought it could get worse, it did, with the Yankees tumbling into last place beneath teams like the Kansas City Athletics, whom the Yankees often strip-mined for talent as if they owned them.

Veterans of those two unthinkable seasons rarely want to discuss what happened.

“I never think about it,” said Jake Gibbs, a backup catcher on both teams. “You kind of remember the good days, not the bad ones.”

Marty Appel said that the former Yankees he interviewed for his recent history of the team, “Pinstripe Empire,” preferred to ignore those years. “They were still championship caliber and were still wearing World Series rings,” Appel said. “It was like a blight on their record. They were almost embarrassed that this happened on their watch.”

No current Yankees player was alive to witness the 1965 collapse. Manager Joe Girardi was born the day the Yankees tied the St. Louis Cardinals at three games apiece in the 1964 World Series. His 2013 Yankees look neither youthful nor healthy, which has led to some understandable murmurings that this coming season could be, well, 1965 all over again.

After all, Derek Jeter is 38 and recovering from ankle surgery. Hiroki Kuroda is also 38, Ichiro Suzuki is 39, Andy Pettitte is 40, and Mariano Rivera is 43 and trying to come back from blowing out his knee. Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson will be out at least into May, and the already-declining Alex Rodriguez may not play until well in the second half of the season.

If this is the year the Yankees really, truly stumble for the first time in a very long time, the YES Network, where a sub-.500 Yankees campaign has never been televised, let alone imagined, might lose its moorings. On radio, John Sterling might have to tone down his contrived home run calls.

Still, it is worth noting that the specter of 1965 has been raised a number of times in recent years and then did not bear out. In 2005, for instance, the Yankees ended April with a losing record. “They may become the 1965 Yankees,” The New York Times wrote. Instead, the Yankees finished first at 95-67.

In mid-2008, a Times headline declared: “Yanks’ Woes of ’08 Eerily Similar to ’65.” But that didn’t turn out to be the case, either. The Yankees finished 89-73, although it was the only time since 1994 that they have not made the postseason.

So amid these false alarms, it is worth asking: What exactly did happen in 1965? In good part, the disintegration was caused by the sudden and startling decline in production from pillars like Mickey Mantle (a .255 batting average), Roger Maris (.239) and Elston Howard (.233, after he hit .313 the year before). Tony Kubek, who was just 29, hit only .218 and then retired with a debilitating spinal problem.

Whitey Ford was still pitching well at 36, winning 16 games. And the Yankees’ new pitching star, Mel Stottlemyre, who won nine games down the stretch of the 1964 season after being called up from the minor leagues, went 20-9. But Jim Bouton, 18-13 in 1964, fell to 4-15.

“We were frustrated,” Bouton said. “We weren’t geared for failure. We weren’t prepared for it.”

Gibbs said, “We played as hard as we could, but things didn’t click.”

The Yankees had gone to the World Series in 1964 with Yogi Berra as the manager. But he was fired after New York lost Game 7 to St. Louis, and in a twist, he was replaced by Johnny Keane, who had managed the Cardinals to victory. Keane, however, did not adapt easily to running a team accustomed to Berra, a former Yankees star.

“It was like Billy Graham in charge of the Hell’s Angels,” Bouton said.

Gibbs said that Keane brought his version of “small ball” east from St. Louis. “Mickey and Roger and Ellie Howard, they never looked down to third base on a 3-0 count for a take sign,” he said. “And Kubek and Richardson, they would call their own hit-and-run. Johnny was a good man, but he was kind of different.”

Roger Repoz was summoned to replace the injured Maris and hit five home runs in his first 13 games. But he also ended up hitting .220.

“If they hadn’t been aging superstars going in the wrong direction, I might have stayed in the minors,” Repoz said. “I was just happy to get a chance.”

Things did not improve in 1966, with the Yankees losing 16 of their first 20 games. General Manager Ralph Houk fired Keane and took over as the manager, returning to a job he had held from 1961 to 1963, when the Yankees were the Yankees.

“Ralph was back, and it was going to be like the old days and he gave a rousing talk to us,” Bouton said. “He came into the clubhouse and went right down the roster. He said, ‘Bouton will get his curve back’ and ’Mickey will hit,’ and we felt: ‘O.K., this would do it. Johnny Keane was the problem.’ ” And the Yankees did revive for a while, winning 13 of their next 17 to climb out of last place.

But these were not Houk’s old Yankees. They were 15-38 in one-run games. Mantle, Ford, Maris and Howard could not turn back their clocks. The roster continued to fill up with new names: future stalwarts like Bobby Murcer and Roy White but also lesser performers like Dooley Womack, Lou Clinton, Steve Whitaker and Horace Clarke.

On Sept. 22, with the Yankees entrenched in last place, they played a makeup game against the Chicago White Sox on a gray and rainy day in the Bronx. Paid attendance that day was 413. Calling the game in the WPIX television booth, Red Barber openly discussed the emptiness of the stadium but was unable to get a cameraman to pan the stadium. His brazen candor led to his dismissal soon after.

The next day, against the Boston Red Sox, the attendance grew — to 1,440.

The Yankees won four of their last five games to close out the season. But that did them no good. They finished behind the nine other American League teams, and they trailed the pennant-winning Baltimore Orioles by 26 ½ games.

Assessing the Yankees at season’s end, Leonard Koppett of The New York Times wrote: “How quickly can the Yankees come back? The answer is: Never. Not to what they were. Not to the level of success, power and wealth.”

Of course, Koppett could not anticipate the advent of George Steinbrenner and free agency. The Yankees did indeed rebuild their empire, winning seven more World Series through 2009. But there would also be other bumps along the way, including another last-place finish in 1990, a season when Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees — and lost, 4-0.

Hawkins’s dubious feat will almost certainly never happen again. But could 1965?

March 20th, 2013, 10:23 PM
Thanks, Ed. It's great to see the old names again. I wasn't watching in 1965, but I do remember Thurman Munson's arrival in 1970. The 1970-1973 teams were not great, but they were fun (for me at least) to follow. The 1965-1969 yankees were painful to watch because of the sudden fall off of the Greats.

The current team may have a bad year, but I doubt it will involve a dramatic decline -- more like missing the play offs than failing to win 81 games.

March 21st, 2013, 10:17 AM
I tend to agree with you regarding this year's team - the caveat though is starting pitching. On paper, the rotation is very solid, but a bit long in the tooth. As the year goes on, there is potential for the likes of Pettite, and Kuroda to break down if only because they are older. Moreover, Hughes and even Sabathia have had issues in recent years with nagging injuries. I think Hughes and Sabathia will be OK, but I worry a bit about Pettite and Kuroda.

And if Rivera gets hurt again, it will likely ruin the season.

In a way they remind me of the Knicks - talanted but older and as a result susceptible to injury as the year goes on.

p.s. I realize this should have been posted in the Yankee thread - I am not sure how I didn't do that - feel free to re-direct it.

March 21st, 2013, 11:20 AM
^ I predict Zippy will do some splicing.

If the injuries spread to the rotation it could be an ugly year.

Actually, I am hoping that the injuries open up some opportunities for one or two young players to surprise us. We haven't seen minor leaguers blossum into full time players since Gardner and Cano.

March 21st, 2013, 04:52 PM
It is true, you never know. Nova too came out of no place 2 years ago and had a great season (not so much last year though)

March 22nd, 2013, 10:51 AM
I ain't splicing nuthin.

I'm surprised that the article left out two significant things that contributed to the Yankees decline in the mid 60s.

One was the majority purchase of the team by CBS. They bought it as a trophy item, but were little prepared to run the organization. And that change in ownership happened at the worst time - the advent of the MLB Amateur Draft (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_League_Baseball_Draft) in 1965.

The team steadily declined until bought by Steinbrenner, who had them back in the WS in three years.

March 22nd, 2013, 03:05 PM
So CBS purchased 80% of the team in 1964 for $11.2MM, and sold it in 1973 for $8.7MM - a $2.5MM or 22% loss. Staggering when you consider the team is worth an estimated $1.7BN today.

March 23rd, 2013, 01:46 AM
I like the title of this thread -- the theme song for the 2013 season? We shall see.

I know this will only be a blip in the NY media, but it could be a huge development where I am, so indulge me for a minute --

Wang reportedly heading back to the Bronx (http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20130322&content_id=43162062&vkey=news_nyy&c_id=nyy)

IF Wang can stay healthy, he can really help NY. The season is long and there will likely be plenty of chances. AT worst, he'll stay at Triple-A or get released. It would be a great story if he comes back with a major contribution; it would be a fun story to follow.

IF he can only make the 25-man roster sometime during the season and get into some games, it will be a big boost for me. Wang's 2006-2008 successes with NY helped create & enlarge an audience for Yankee games, so many games are still on TV, but not all. IF he gets on the roster, all the games will be broadcast.

Fingers crossed.

March 24th, 2013, 06:05 PM
Wang was a pro, I hope he makes it back. He is easy to root for.