Legends On Deck

The M&M Boys vs The Big Red Machine

Offensive production in baseball had been going up during the late 1950’s and early 1960 and nothing could show this more than the saga of the 1961 New York Yankees. Two of the Yankees, Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle would spend 1961 in pursuit of one the most hallowed records in baseball, Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a single season. Outscoring their opponents 827 to 612 and hitting a total of 240 home runs (115 just between Maris and Mantle) the 1961 Yankees squad was an offensive juggernaut.

The name Big Red Machine makes a person think of an offensive force and that the 1975 squad was despite the fact they hit only 124 home runs between them. Cincinnati’s strength that year came from the fact they had a total of four players hit .300 or better for the year (Joe Morgan .327 Pete Rose .317 George Foster .300 and Ken Griffey Sr .305).

Of course, a team can score all of the runs in the world but unless there is pitching to keep the other team from scoring all of those runs the team may score would be of no good. The 1961 Yankees pitching staff was led by Edward “Whitey” Ford with a record of 25 wins and only 4 losses. Ralph Terry had 16 wins and 3 losses, Bill Stafford had a record of 14 wins and 9 losses and then Rollie Sheldon had a record of 11 wins and 5 losses. The 1975 Reds pitching staff did not have a 20-game winner, but had three men with 15 wins for the year (Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham and Don Gullett). They also had Fred Norman with 12 wins, Pat Darcey with 11 wins and Clay Kirby with 10 wins, very consistent pitchers.

After a heartbreaking loss in the 1960 World Series and the firing of their manager Casey Stengel, it would remain to be seen whether Ralph Houk could bring the Yankees together and return them to glory as World Series title holders.

The starting lineup that Houk would go in the American League pennant fight was, Elston Howard catching, Bill “Moose” Skowron at first base, Bobby Richardson at second base, Tony Kubek at shortstop and Clete Boyer at third base. The Yankees outfield that year would have Yogi Berra in left, Mickey Mantle in center and Roger Maris in right.

Sparky Anderson had managed the Reds since 1970 and they had improved every year, culminating in a two-year run as World Series champions in 1975 and 1976. In the first World Series winning year it would be Johnny Bench catching, Tony Perez at first base and Joe Morgan at second base. Finishing out the infield was Davey Concepcion at shortstop and Pete Rose at third base. The Reds outfield consisted of George Foster, Cesar Geronimo in center and Ken Griffey Sr in right field. For the Reds in the pitching department it would be Gary Nolan, Jack Billingham, Fred Norman, Don Gullett, Pat Darcy and Clay Kirby with Rawley Eastwick and Pedro Borbon the basis of the relief corps of Cincinnati.

Starting off with the catcher’s position for the Yankees it was Elston Howard who for the 1961 season hit 21 home runs and drove in 77 runs in 129 games for a .348 batting average. Defensively he had a .993 fielding percentage and was a 12 time All Star during his career and the 1963 American League MVP. For the Reds, their catcher was Johnny Bench, who in 1975, hit 28 home runs, drove in 110 RBIs and hit for a .283 average. Defensively, Bench had a .989 fielding percentage. Bench also ended up being a 14 time All Star, a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner at the catcher’s position and the National League MVP for the 1970 and 1972 seasons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989. As good a ballplayer as Howard was (also he was the first black to play for the Yankees), clearly the advantage here is to the Reds with Bench behind the plate.

Now at the first base position for the Yankees it is, Bill “Moose” Skowron. Skowron was a surprisingly underrated first basemen who slugged 28 home runs, drove in 89 runs with a .269 average. Defensively in 1961 Skowron fielded a .993 pace, making only 10 errors in 1,340 chances at first base. Career wise “Moose” was an 8-time All-Star and a member of 5 World Series winning teams (4 with the Yankees, 1 with the LA Dodgers). For the “Big Red Machine” at first base was Tony “Big Dog” Perez. Perez was for his career a 7 time All Star who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. For the 1975 season, Perez socked 20 home runs with 109 RBIs for a .282 batting average. With Perez manning the first base bag, “The Big Dog” made only 9 errors in 1273 chances for a .993 fielding percentage. This is a close pick, as both men have very similar numbers and it would seem a shame to pick one man over the other, they are that close. This position you could not go wrong with either so it’s a tie.

Bobby Richardson of the Yankees faces off against the Reds Joe Morgan at the second base position. As much as I like the Yankees, this is a hands down win, with no discussion needed for the Reds, Joe Morgan. A two-time league MVP (including 1975) as well as a Hall of Famer in 1990, Morgan has the advantage at second base, no ifs, ands or buts.

Shortstop Tony Kubek against the Reds Dave Concepcion is another close battle with both men having similar numbers. Kubek hit .276 to Concepcion hitting .274. Concepcion had 5 home runs to Kubek’s 8 and Kubek had 46 RBIs to Concepcion’s 49. In the field Kubek made 30 errors (740) at the shortstop position and Concepcion made 16 errors (699) chances. Kubek had a career cut short after nine years due to a neck injury and if it was based on career stats the advantage would have to go to Concepcion, but for that one season advantage would go to Kubek of the Yankees, but not by a wide margin.

Third base is another tough position pitting Clete Boyer of the Yankees versus Pete Rose of the Reds. Boyer who was one of three brothers (Cloyd and Ken) to play in the majors, hit for a .224 average with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs and .224 batting average in 148 games for the Yankees. Manning the “hot corner” at third base Boyer field .967 making 17 errors n 521 chances. Rose hit for a .317 average with 7 home runs and 74 RBIs. He also led the National League in doubles and runs. In the field, Rose fielded at a .963 percentage making 13 errors in 349 chances at third base. This is another contest that is close and yes, Rose had a longer career in the majors, is the all-time hits leader and a 17 time pick as an All Star, he was a versatile player, who as we know has the nickname of “Charlie Hustle”.  I could take either of these two as well but based on Rose’s hustle and his versatility he is the pick for third base.

Moving to the outfield for the 1961 Yankees there is Yogi Berra in left field, Mickey Mantle in center field and Roger Maris in right field. For the Reds there is George Foster in left field, Cesar Geronimo in center field and Ken Griffey Sr in right field. First the Yankee outfield of Berra, Mantle and Maris. While it seems odd to have Yogi Berra in left field he had been playing there off and on since 1947 and because of his age in 1961 (36) it was thought that the daily grind of catching was getting to be too much, but they still needed his bat in the lineup. During the 1961 season Berra in 89 outfield games hit 22 home runs, driving in 61 runs and hitting for a .271 average. He had a .987 fielding average and two errors in 155 chances. The Reds Foster, hit .300 and had 23 home runs and 78 RBIs for Cincinnati. The slugging left fielder had a .995 fielding average, with 1 error in 200 chances. The advantage here goes to Foster and the Reds. Center field for the Reds was Cesar Geronimo who in 1975 hit .257 for the year with 6 home runs and 53 RBIs. When he was in the field for the Reds he fielded at a rate of .993 making 3 errors in 422 chances. In center field for the Yankees was Mickey Mantle who took the place of Yankee icon Joe DiMaggio in center field. Mickey, in 1961, hit 54 home runs in a year-long battle with Roger Maris as they pursued the most iconic record in sports, that of breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season. The “Mick” also drove in 128 runs and hit .317 for the season. He fielded at a .983 rate making 6 errors in 360 chances. No disrespect for Geronimo but, Mickey Mantle wins this battle of the center fielders.

61 home runs, 141 RBIs, 132 runs scored and a .269 batting would help in getting Maris his second consecutive American League MVP award. In the field, Maris made 8 errors in 259 chances for a .968 fielding percentage. The Reds Griffey had a .305 batting average and 4 home runs as well as 46 RBIs. His fielding percentage was .967 for the season and he made 7 errors in 214 chances in the field. In this matchup Maris wins hands down, he was very underrated as a player and should be at the very least on the ballot for the Hall of Fame.

The pitchers for the Yankees combined for 109 wins with Whitey Ford leading the way with a record of 25 wins and only 4 losses for manager Ralph Houk and the Yankees. That would be enough to propel Ford to the 1961 Cy Young Award in a year when the award was the best of both leagues and only one pitcher was chosen. Ford pitched in a rotation with Bill Stafford, Ralph Terry and Rollie Sheldon, although they were assisted by Bud Daley, Bob Turley and relief pitcher Luis Arroyo (29) saves to go with 15 wins. Cincinnati’s staff was a model of consistency with 3 15 game winners (Nolan, Billingham and Gullett). As well as Fred Norman (12), Clay Kirby (10) and Pat Darcey (11).  Rawley Eastwick led the Reds bullpen with 22 saves and 5 wins. Advantage here goes to the Yankees based on Whitey Ford being a money, big game pitcher and having Luis Arroyo behind him just in case things get away from the man known as “The Chairman of the Board”.

So, after the last pitch has been made, and the last out recorded the winner of this game between the two teams would have to be the 1961 Yankees based on the pitching match-up and the slugging match-up which goes the Yankees 240 home runs to only 124 for the Reds. The RBIs are close 781 for the Yankees and 779 for the Reds. Cincinnati with 840 runs outscored the Yankees who had 827 runs. The Reds also had a .271 team batting average to .263 for the “Bronx Bombers” and it sure seems like the power of the Yankees would overcome the finesse of the Reds.

See you for next week’s match-up, and I just can’t give you a hint other than it could prove to be a very interesting match-up between??????

Featured image source: Cincinnati Reds

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to minor league and major league baseball games since 1967. He has been to numerous major league and minor league parks and describes himself as a "baseball fan" who likes the Yankees. He enjoys researching, writing and reading about about baseball and will talk for hours on end about his favorite sport.
He is in love with the history of the game, having written three books about his beloved sport. They are "Baseball in the Bay State" a history of baseball in the state of Massachusetts. Then he wrote Gehrig:Game by Game, a history of all of the major league ballgames including All Star games and World Series games as well as regular season that the "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig played in. The third book "Baseball in the Berkshires" a history of baseball in Berkshire County co written with three others, Tom Daley, Jim Overmyer and Larry Moore. As a result of this book Larkin and the other three gentlemen have put together a museum exhibit that is now permanently housed at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesboro Massachusetts.
Larkin also does fact checking and writing for the Society for American Baseball Research or SABR and has had numerous articles published there as well.
He lives in Great Barrington Massachusetts, in the heart of Red Sox country and is involved in a number of projects. He also is a security guard at Fairview Hospital in Great Barrington after having been a police officer for 24 years in his home town