1962 Lined to Second Best

The San Francisco Giants, after an exhilirating pennant race, lose a seven-game World Series when Willie McCovey's scorching, potential series-winning hit is snared out of the air by New York Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson.

Ralph Terry in Game Seven of the 1962 World Series at San Francisco's Candlestick Park.

For one paralyzing moment, Ralph Terry thought he was reliving the nightmare. It was Terry who, two years earlier, was on the mound for the New York Yankees when Bill Mazeroski hit the famous walk-off home run to win Game Seven and the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh. And now here was Terry once again in 1962, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth of Game Seven, watching Willie McCovey’s scorching low line drive scream to his left. If it got through the infield, two runs would score, the San Francisco Giants would win, and Terry would become a two-time World Series goat. All Terry could do was pray that someone with an infielder’s glove could stop McCovey’s shot cold.

Thanks to Bobby Richardson, there would be a someone.

Throughout much of the 1962 season, it was Terry who was the someone most responsible for ensuring the Yankees a third straight trip to the postseason. A once-and-current Yankee who’d done a roundtrip through the active New York-Kansas City pipeline, Terry’s second tour of duty with the Yankees grew better with every year. Following a stingy 16-3 mark in 1961 to let everyone know he hadn’t slipped into an emotional rut one year after Mazeroski’s home run, Terry became the staff workhorse in 1962, grinding out an impressive 23-12 record and 3.15 earned run average in nearly 300 innings of pitching. Along with veteran ace Whitey Ford (17-8, 2.90 ERA), Terry helped anchor a Yankees pitching staff that was just a shade shortBaltimore’s 3.69 team ERA was just ahead of the Yankees’ 3.70. of being the American League’s best.

Overall, the Yankees got off to their usual slow start before picking up summertime steam to supplant the early leaders, which on the Fourth of July included, of all teams, the Los Angeles AngelsThe Angels ultimately finished third, ten games behind the Yankees; it would be their best finish until 1978.—enjoying only their second year of existence in a ten-team AL.

The M&M Boys—Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris—enjoyed productive years to lift the Yanks offensively, but in no way approached the Herculean heights they achieved the year before. Maris’ 33 home runs and 100 runs batted in were good enough to lead the team, but not good enough to please the fans or media, still giving the disputed home run king of 1961 a hard time.

As the Yankees pulled away with their 12th AL pennant in 14 years, the National League race became a monumental duel to the wire between two longstanding rivals now firmly settled in along the Pacific: The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Statistically, both teams were loaded and locked in to ensure each a pennant.

The Giants had some bats: Willie MaysMays was finally winning over the hearts and minds of San Franciscans, who viewed him as a New York hero rather than a homegrown one. smacked 49 home runs with 141 RBIs, and Orlando Cepeda chimed in with 35 homers and 114 RBIs; the lineup was so crowded with talent, even imposing 24-year-old slugger Willie McCoveyMcCovey hit .293 with 20 home runs in just 224 at-bats. couldn’t break into the everyday lineup.

The Dodgers had some bats: Tommy Davis led the NL with 230 hits, 153 RBIs and a .346 batting average, while king-sized slugger Frank Howard (6’7”, 255 pounds) launched 31 homers with 119 RBIs.

The Giants had some arms: Led by 24-game winner Jack Sanford, the thoroughly solid four-man starting rotation that also included Juan Marichal, Billy O’Dell and Billy Pierce accounted for 77 wins.

The Dodgers had some arms: Don Drysdale won a career-high 25 games in 34 decisions, and Sandy Koufax began the second and far more dominant stage of his career, earning league bests in ERA (2.54) and opposing batting average (.197) even as a finger injury sidelined him for much of the season’s final two months.

There was an additional element to the Dodgers arsenal that the Giants lacked: Speed. The Chicago White Sox might had recently reawakened baseball to the concept of the stolen base, but the Dodgers—or more pointedly, Maury Wills—brought basestealing strategy back to levels seldom seen since the deadball era. It didn’t matter that Wills was little more than a singles’ hitter at the plate; once he got on, he quickly turned singles into virtual doubles or triples with an almost scientific ability to steal bases—104 in all, breaking Ty Cobb’s season mark set back in 1915.

If the Giants couldn’t contain Wills by holding him on or pitching out, then they’d do it by excessively watering downThe Giants’ story: The infield dirt was watered down to keep the blustery Candlestick winds from blowing it around. However, it should be noted that the team voted head groundskeeper Matty Schwab a full World Series share at year’s end. the infield. Or so the Dodgers angrily claimed when they came to Candlestick Park for a three-game series in August—one in which they were swept, tightening a typically acrimonious Dodgers-Giants pennant race.

Casey Stengel, posing with “Miss Rheingold” in a beer ad, was given a hero’s welcome as manager of the first-year New York Mets as National League baseball returned to the Big Apple after a four-year absence. The honeymoon would be short-lived as the Mets won just 40 of 160 games in their maiden campaign.

By mid-September, any muddy tactics didn’t appear to be enough for the Giants. They trailed the Dodgers by four games and lost Mays for a week after he literally collapsed from exhaustion in Cincinnati. But instead of hammering the final nail in the coffin, the Dodgers stubbed their toe. They lost ten of their final 13 games—including a series sweep by the St. Louis Cardinals at Los Angeles in the season’s final weekend. Allowed to play last-minute catch-up, the Giants took advantage and finished the regular schedule tied with the Dodgers at 101-61.

The ensuing best-of-three tiebreaker, much like the 162 games before it, took on mildly eerie parallels to the historic 1951 Dodgers-Giants tug-of-war. The Giants took the first gameSandy Koufax, ineffective in his return from the injury list, was pounded 8-0 by the Giants., the Dodgers won the second and appeared ready to wrap things up in the third when the Giants pulled a four-run, ninth-inning rally out of the hat to take the pennantThe Giants’ pennant clincher came 11 years to the day that Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” put away the Dodgers..

While San Francisco and Los Angeles gave a thrilling show at the top of the NL standings, there was entertainment of a more comedic kind provided deep, deep down at the bottom with the expansion performance of the New York Mets.

Ending a four-year vacancy of NL baseball in New York, the Mets began their inaugural season giving up their first-ever run on a balk—starter Roger Craig dropped the ball on the mound—and finished it with Joe Pignatano hitting into a triple play in his last major league at-bat. In between, the Mets lost an all-time record 120 games for 72-year-old manager Casey Stengel, who reportedly spent much of his heralded return to baseball dozing away in the dugout.

Although the Mets established an all-time record with 120 losses, their .250 winning percentage doesn’t rank them at the top of the the ten truly worst teams in modern major league history.

How awful were the Mets? They lost their first nine games and later suffered losing streaks of 11, 13 and 17 games. Their pitching rotation included two 20-game losers (Roger Craig and Al Jackson), and a third (Jay Hook) with 19. They lost 30 of 36 games against the league’s two ex-New York clubs, the Giants and the Dodgers, and 13 of 16 against the other NL expansion team, the Houston Colt .45s. On back-to-back days they allowed opposing hitters (Hank Aaron and Lou Brock) to smash home runs over the macro-distant center field fence at the Polo Grounds; the Giants had allowed only one such blast in nearly 50 years as the ballpark’s tenants. The Mets were the victims of the majors’ only no-hitter in 1962, pitched by Sandy Koufax.

The celebrated poster child for the 1962 Mets was starting first baseman Marv Throneberry, and for good reason. Throneberry had power but mostly produced outs (usually on strikes), played erratic defense, and committed enough sensational gaffes to repeatedly qualify for the funny pages. Throneberry’s most hilarious moment occurred when, after hitting a triple, he was called out for not touching second base. Stengel awoke to argue, only to be told that ThroneberrySandy Koufax, ineffective in his return from the injury list, was pounded 8-0 by the Giants. had missed first base as well.

Throneberry became ultimate fodder for an emerging generation of New York baseball fans tiring of the stuffy, if not snobby, clientele at Yankee Stadium. Like a matinee movie audience, the younger, more rowdy fans embraced the Mets and their over-the-hill gangThe Mets’ roster included former New York baseball stars Gil Hodges, Don Zimmer, Gene Woodling and Roger Craig. of heroes as the new clown princes of baseball. Though not a major hit at the box office—they drew just under a million fans—the Mets established a solid base of devotees that would serve them well in the years to come, especially when the team’s play on the field would turn sharply and suddenly from pitiful to amazing.

The World Series, which for the time being the Mets seemed eons away from reaching, became a ping-pong affair through the first six games as the Yankees and Giants followed each other’s victory with one of their own.

For all the regular season success Ralph Terry had contributed to the Yankees over the past three years, he still had to overcome his label as a World Series bustTerry entered the 1962 World Series with a 0-3 record in four appearances.. In didn’t help that his team couldn’t hit as he lost Game Two at San Francisco, 2-0. Terry pitched well again in Game Five at New York, but sweated through eight close innings until Tom Tresh swatted a three-run homer to give the Yankees the late lead—and, finally, Terry’s first postseason victory, 5-3.

A breakdown of Whitey Ford’s World Series record for throwing consecutive scoreless innings—and that of the mark he broke in 1961, held for 43 years by one Babe Ruth.

An unusually powerful early-season storm on the West Coast kept the final two games at San Francisco on hold for three days, allowing the two New York aces—Terry and Whitey Ford—to rest up and be available for a third Series start. Ford, who earlier in Game One had his Series-record string of consecutive scoreless innings snapped at 33.2—and was otherwise fairly mortal—was beaten by the Giants’ Billy PierceThe victory gave the veteran Pierce, in his first year with the Giants, a 13-0 record at Candlestick for 1962. in Game Six, 5-2, setting up Game Seven with Terry as the starter.

The Yankees, doing all they could to support Terry against a tough Jack Sanford, could only scratch a solo run across in the fourth when Bill Skowron scored on a double play ball. But Terry was holding the razor-thin lead, blanking the Giants through eight innings on just two hits. As the Giants readied to send the heart of the order up in the ninth, Terry was either three outs away from redemption—or a Giant rally away from being branded a World Series goat two times over.

After Matty Alou led off with a bunt hit, Terry stayed composed by striking out the next two batters. That left the season up to Willie Mays, who doubled down the right-field line. Astonishingly, Alou could not score from first with two outs; soggy from the rains, the outfield grass kept the ball from speeding into the corner—and a combination of perfect throws from Roger Maris in the outfield and Bobby Richardson as the cut-off man to home plate made it suicidal for Alou to try and tie the game.

A burden the size of Bill Mazeroski was suddenly placed upon Terry’s shoulders. With two outs and first base open, Yankees manager Ralph Houk visited Terry on the mound and discussed the right-hander’s options: Either go after the next batter, left-handed slugging Willie McCovey—who slammed a towering home run off Terry in Game Two and, in his last at-bat, had tripled to center—or walk him to load the bases and set up a force at any base, leaving it up to right-handed hitting Orlando Cepeda. As if Terry didn’t have enough pressure, Houk punted and asked his pitcher to make the choice.

Terry decided to defy logic and pitch to McCovey.

On the first pitch, it looked like Pittsburgh, The Sequel as McCovey lashed a deep drive down the right-field line—but it hooked foul. McCovey’s next swing went fair; he lacerated a low, hard driveMcCovey would say in later years that it was one of the hardest balls he ever hit. through the right side of the infield, looking destined to get through and win the Series for the Giants. Instead, it found a path aimed straight at Richardson, who only had to lean to his left from where he was positioned to make the catch. Terry had found redemption, if not without a coronary.

The Yankees’ hard-fought triumph, accomplished despite a .199 team batting average, would be their 20th in 40 years.

And it would be their last until the Age of Steinbrenner.

1963 baseball historyForward to 1963: The Sandman Cometh After years of wildness and frustration, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Sandy Koufax becomes an ace for the ages.

1961 baseball historyBack to 1961: The Greatest Feat Ever Performed* Roger Maris experiences a year of triumph and troment as he threatens Babe Ruth's season home run record.

1960s baseball historyThe 1960s Page: Welcome to My Strike Zone In a decade where baseball as a tradition is turning stale with America's emerging counter-culturism, major league owners see its biggest problem to be, of all things, an overabundance of offense in the game. The result? An increased strike zone, further contributing to a downward spiral in attendance, but greatly aiding an already talented batch of pitchers.

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They Were There: Maury Wills
Maury WillsMaury Wills discusses the critical moments of his life in baseball that made him one of the game's great basestealers.

1962 Standings

National League
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Braves
St. Louis Cardinals
Philadelphia Phillies
Houston Colt .45s
Chicago Cubs
New York Mets
American League
New York Yankees
Minnesota Twins
Los Angeles Angels
Detroit Tigers
Chicago White Sox
Cleveland Indians
Baltimore Orioles
Boston Red Sox
Kansas City Athletics
Washington Senators

1962 Postseason Results
World Series New York (AL) defeated San Francisco (NL), 4-3.

It Happened in 1962

No Asterisk…Just a Star
Maury Wills of the Los Angeles Dodgers steals 104 bases to break Ty Cobb’s all-time season record. Wills escapes the dreaded record book asterisk in the National League’s first 162-game season when he steals the record-breaking 97th base during the Dodgers’ 156th game—matching the same number of games played by Cobb for the 1915 Detroit Tigers, as commissioner Ford Frick publicly mentions before the contest. Wills’ 96th and 97th steals come on September 23 in a 12-2 Dodgers loss at St. Louis.

A 21-K Masterpiece
It takes him 16 innings and an astounding 228 pitches, but Tom Cheney strikes out an all-time-record 21 batters on September 12 for the Washington Senators in a complete game victory at Baltimore, 2-1. Thirteen of his strikeouts occur through the first nine innings, which is why Cheney doesn’t share the limelight alongside those who each strike out 20 over nine innings of work in future years.

Don’t Walk
Bill Fischer shatters Christy Mathewson’s all-time mark by pitching 84.1 straight innings without issuing a walk. Fischer is otherwise not to be confused with Mathewson, winning just four of 16 decisions in 1962 for the Kansas City A’s.

Pitcher Bob Buhl, playing most of the season with the Chicago Cubs after an early trade from Milwaukee, proves he’s not in the majors because of his bat by going hitless in 70 at-bats—the most by any player without a hit in major league history. His dry spell will reach 88 before he finally collects a hit early in 1963.

The Man at the Top
In terms of records, it’s a career year for Stan Musial. The 41-year-old St. Louis Cardinal becomes the all-time NL leader in hits, runs, runs batted in, and total bases. Hank Aaron will soon erase Musial from the record book in all of these categories.

A Twin Slamming
For the first time in modern big league history, two grand slams are hit by the same team in the same inning when Minnesota’s Bob Allison and Harmon Killebrew both connect with the bases loaded in the first inning against Cleveland on July 18. The two slams are part of an 11-run inning during the Twins’ 14-3 rout of the Indians.

First in Uniform, First in the Hall
Jackie Robinson, the first black major leaguer in modern times, naturally becomes the first black player elected into the Hall of Fame. He collects 124 votes—only four more than needed to qualify.

Many Flies Were Sacrificed in the Making of this Record
The Chicago White Sox become the first team in major league history to hit three sacrifice flies in the same inning, July 1 against Cleveland. This statistical improbability is made possible because two fly balls are dropped by Indians right fielder Gene Green, resulting in errors that are also scored as sacrifice flies since the runs would have scored in either case. The extra opportunities help the White Sox win, 7-6.

Spahn as Slugger
Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn will ultimately fall just short of becoming the all-time NL leader in wins, but he does secure top billing of another kind on July 26 by becoming the league’s home run king among hurlers, hitting his 31st career blast in a 6-1 victory over the New York Mets at Milwaukee. Spahn will retire in 1965 with 35 homers.

Aaron Squared
The Brothers AaronHank and Tommie—both hit home runs in the same game for the first time on June 12 as the Braves pound the Dodgers, 15-2 at Milwaukee. For Hank, it’s one of 755 career homers; for Tommie, it’s one of 13.

A Really Chiti Trade
On April 25, the Cleveland Indians trade veteran catcher Harry Chiti to the New York Mets for a player to be named later. That player will be…Harry Chiti, who’s apparently not good enough even for the woeful Mets and sent back to the Indians after batting .195 in 15 games. Chiti will never play in another major league game.

Mickey Can’t Help You Now
In 1961, Roger Maris hit 61 home runs without a single intentional walk—thanks primarily to the presence of Mickey Mantle, who always hit behind him in the Yankees lineup. On May 22, the impact of not having Mantle (out with knee injuries) as a security blanket is realized with stark reality when Angels pitchers oblige Maris with an AL-record four free passes in a 12-inning, 2-1 Yankees victory at New York. For the year, Maris will set a career high with 11 intentional walks.

New Ballparks

Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley got pretty much what he asked for from his new ballpark when he came from Brooklyn: Lots of seats, lots of parking, and easy access to freeways. It didn’t come easy, as Los Angeles voters narrowly approved its construction at Chavez Ravine—and an ensuing court challenge to stop it died at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though its pale-hued seats do not lead fans to find the ballpark instantly charming, Dodger Stadium’s ideal location and sight lines have helped give it a deservedly resilient reputation. A then-major league record 2.75 million fans clicked the turnstiles in 1962—and they haven’t stopped coming since, despite wobbly post-O’Malley ownership and the frightening evolution of a gang element in the stands.

Recently tweaked to add more pricey seats and eliminate foul territory, Dodger Stadium is also the only privately financed big league ballpark built over a 77-year period, between Yankee Stadium (1923) and Oracle Park (2000).

D.C. Stadium, Washington After 50 years at decaying, modular Griffith Stadium, the Washington Senators begin playing ball at a $20 million multipurpose stadium that will ultimately become better known for its other main occupant, the NFL’s Redskins. President John F. Kennedy throws out the first pitch at the facility, which will later be named in memory of his brother Robert. Vacated by baseball after 1971—except for the occasional exhibition or old-timers’ affair—RFK Stadium became the temporary home for the Washington Nationals after the team’s 2005 move from Montreal.

Colt Stadium, Houston The expansion Houston Colt .45s, who would change their name to the Astros once the Astrodome was built next door, initially set up shop in this temporary shelter of a ballpark—though its utter lack of shade never provides fans much shelter from the brutal Texan summer heat along the Gulf, or the nasty mosquitoes that seemed radioactively enlarged. It isn’t very temporary, either; after hanging around derelict for almost a decade, it will be transported, piece by piece, to Toncon, Mexico.

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