Thursday, February 19, 2009
The Yankee years
Boyer became the Yankees' regular third baseman in 1960, beating out three others (including Gil McDougald, who in spring training had announced that this, his 10th season in the majors, would be his last) for the starting job. He batted .242 with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs as the Yankees won the pennant. However, he had a humbling moment in the first game of the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates. With two runners on base and the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the second inning, manager Casey Stengel, never confident in Boyer's hitting, replaced him with a pinch-hitter, Dale Long, who flied out to right fielder Roberto Clemente. The Yankees didn’t score in the inning and lost 6-4, ultimately losing the Series in Game 7 on Bill Mazeroski’s home run off Ralph Terry in the bottom of the ninth. Boyer didn't play in the Series again until Game Six.
After the Series, the Yankees fired Stengel. Ralph Houk replaced him as manager and restored some of the confidence in Boyer that Stengel had taken away. Whereas Stengel preferred other players at third base over Boyer, Houk saw something special in Boyer's defensive prowess and gave him the opportunity to play every day.
The 1961 team (with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Yogi Berra and Moose Skowron), which defeated the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series, was considered by many as the best ever, with sluggers Mantle and Maris chasing Babe Ruth's 1927 record of 60 home runs (Maris eventually broke the record on the final day) and pitcher Whitey Ford winning 25 games and losing four. What Boyer did not do with the bat (he hit .224 during the regular season), he more than made up for defensively, in an infield that also featured the double play duo of Tony Kubek at shortstop and Bobby Richardson at second base.
During each of Houk's three seasons as Yankee manager (1961–1963), Boyer led American League third basemen in putouts, assists and double plays, finishing ahead of even rival Brooks Robinson—yet Robinson, not Boyer, won the Gold Glove Award each year. In the first game of that 1961 World Series, Boyer displayed his defense by making two spectacular plays—one on a Gene Freese ground ball in the second inning, in which Boyer stopped the ball backhanded and threw Freese out from his knees, and another on a Dick Gernert ground ball in which Boyer dove to his left and threw Gernert out, also from his knees.
Boyer's offensive numbers improved in 1962: career bests in batting average .272, home runs (18) and runs batted in (68). He also came within nine assists of the third base record of 405 set by Harlond Clift of the 1937 St. Louis Browns. Once again, the Yankees won the World Series, this time in seven games over the San Francisco Giants. The Series ended with Bobby Richardson catching Willie McCovey's line drive with runners on second and third. Just a few feet to either side, and Richardson could not have gotten his hands on it, and the Giants would have scored two runs and won the Series. In 1963 Boyer batted .251 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs as the Yankees won another pennant, however, they were swept in the World Series by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the first time this had ever been done to a Yankee team in a World Series. Dodger ace Sandy Koufax won the first and fourth games, striking out a series record 15 batters in the opener. Boyer was the only Yankee regular not to strike out against Koufax.
After the 1963 season Houk was promoted to general manager and Berra replaced him as field manager. Early on, the 1964 team slumped under Berra, especially Boyer who batted .218 on the season. As Berra's managing improved, the team improved with it and won its fifth straight pennant by one game over the Chicago White Sox and two over the third place Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series with Clete playing against his brother Ken. The Yankees lost in seven games, but not before Ken and Clete became the first brothers to hit home runs on opposing teams in a World Series game. In the 7th inning of that seventh game, Ken homered off Yankee pitcher Steve Hamilton and exchanged nods with Clete. Clete returned the favor in the 9th after homering off Cardinal ace Bob Gibson.
After the 1964 Series, Houk unceremoniously fired Berra (in mid-season the management, dissatisfied with Berra's work, made up their mind to fire him at the end of the season no matter what the Yankees did) and replaced him with Johnny Keane, who had managed the Cardinals to the World Series victory over the Yankees. In spring training of 1965 Boyer was involved in a fight in a Fort Lauderdale bar with a male model, Jerome Modzelewski, while in spring training. During the season, he did bat .251 with a career-tying 18 home runs, but the Yankees slumped to sixth place, their lowest finish in 40 years. In 1966 the Yankees fired Keane two weeks into the season, and Houk returned as manager. However, Houk's second managerial stint was far less successful than his first. Their talent and farm system both depleted, the Yankees finished dead last—the first time they had done so since 1912. After a season in which he hit .240 with 14 home runs, Lee MacPhail, who replaced Houk as general manager, traded Boyer to the Atlanta Braves for Bill Robinson, that year's Minor League Player of the Year.