Manager: Ralph Houk
By many definitions, the 1961 New York Yankees were one of the most successful teams in baseball history.
The Yankees won the AL Title by 8 games over the Detroit Tigers. Whitey Ford led the league with 25 wins. Luis Arroyo led the league with 29 saves.
And then, there was Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and the chase for glory that is now the inspiration for a movie directed by Billy Crystal.
The year was 1961 and baseball made a few changes. First, there was expansion with the Los Angeles Angels and the new Washington Senators joining the AL lineup. Baseball also expanded the schedule to 162 games.
Roger Maris opened his assault on Babe Ruth's single season record of 60 home runs on April 26 with a blast at Tigers Stadium. Mantle also started the season with a hot bat. By May, Mantle had 14 home runs and Maris had 12.
The pace didn't let up. By the end of July, Maris took the lead with 40 home runs and Mantle had posted 39. Mantle's feats were expected and members of the press essentially let the veteran do what he did best. For Maris, however, the sudden attention from the media was something new and intrusive. Maris quickly grew tired of the constant hounding and became quiet around reporters.
Following the All-Star break, the Yankees moved in front of the Tigers in the standings. It only added to the excitment that fans were seeing between Maris and Mantle. That's when the new schedule came into play. Members of the media started to claim Maris had an unfair, eight-game advantage in his assault on Ruth's record. Baseball's commissioner Frick ruled that Ruth's record would not fall unless it was broken in the first 154 games of the season. If the record were broken in the final eight games, Frick said, it would appear in the record book with an asterisk.
On September 1, Maris had 51 home runs and Mantle had 48. The constant pressure and attention from the media was taking its toll on Maris. Some stories talk of how his hair started to fall out. Mantle's shot at the record, however, ended when he suffered some nagging injuries and an infection. He missed part of September.
Maris was able to hit his 59th home run in the 154th game, but he couldn't hit the 60th. On September 26, Maris connected on a pitch from Jack Fisher of Baltimore and hit his 60th home run of the season. In the final game of the season, Maris hit his 61st home run off Tracy Stallard.
Mantle ended the season with 54 home runs. The combined total of 115 gave Maris and Mantle a new record, beating the two-man mark of 107 that Ruth and Lou Gehrig had set in 1927.
What may have been lost in the Maris-Mantle hoopla was the effort put together by other members of the team. Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra, Johnny Blanchard and Elston Howard each had more than 20 home runs. As a team, the Yankees led the American League with 240 home runs.
Whitey Ford finished with a 25-4 record. Pitchers Ralph Terry, Luis Arroyo, Bill Stafford, Jim Coates and Rollie Sheldon each finished with more than 10 wins. The Yankees had one of the lowest team earned run averages with a 3.46.
In the World Series, the Yankees cruised to a championship in five games over the Cincinnati Reds. Maris added another home run in the post season.