The day will come this spring when, with Roger Maris in left field, Hector Lopez in right field, Joe DeMaestri at short and Kent Hadley at first base, Duke Maas will walk in from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium to relieve Art Ditmar. "My goodness," someone will say, "those aren't the Yankees. That's Kansas City out there." That someone will be right. These aren't the Yankees, at least not the old Yankees, and that is the trouble with Casey Stengel's ball club; they have not been the old Yankees since the middle of the 1958 season. In 1960 they will still be a good ball club—because they have not slipped that far—but they no longer terrorize the league and they are going to have a heck of a time winning a pennant.
The fault lies not with the imports from Kansas City, for these were above-average Athletics, the best KC had to offer. It lies instead with the fact that the Yankees had to go to Kansas City for help in the first place, instead of to the once unrivaled farm system that used to produce a Mantle, a McDougald, a Ford, a Skowron and a Howard or two each year. If one is to discount the young pitchers, who might well contribute a few victories in 1960, the famed farm system has turned out nothing of importance in two seasons (SI, June 15). As a result, the quality of the Yankees, shorn of their redoubtable replacements, has dwindled. Today Chicago and Cleveland both have better ball clubs.
•YANKEE SICK CALL
It is true that in 1959 everything happened to New York at once. Moose Skowron was injured, Andy Carey was injured, Bob Turley had a pitiful season, Gil McDougald continued to fade, Mickey Mantle (left) played below his skills. Only one pitcher, Whitey Ford, was able to win 16 games, and only one batter, Bobby Richardson, could hit .300. But this does not entirely account for the tremendous gap of 15 games which separated the Yankees, in third place, from the White Sox, nor does it explain why New York, for the first time since 1925, was unable to win even 80 games. While the Yankees were tottering, the rest of the league was getting stronger, and now New York has lost not only its physical edge over the other clubs but its psychological advantage, too. No one is in awe of the magical pin-striped uniform any more.
But General Manager George Weiss and the Yankee owners insist that 1959 was simply a bad dream. They feel that Stengel can bounce back to win the pennant this year with what he has on hand. If everything works out just right, maybe he will.
Yogi Berra and Elston Howard remain the two best catchers on any one club in the league, and they are capably backed up by John Blanchard. Skowron, when healthy, is a tremendous hitter; he has a lifetime big-league batting average of .303 and last year, in the 74 games before he was injured, had 15 home runs and 59 runs batted in. But his brittleness is legendary (SI, March 21) and his replacements at first—Howard, who doesn't like the position, and Hadley, who was a .253 hitter at Kansas City—are barely adequate.
Richardson is a marvel around second base and he does not have to hit .300 again to earn his way, but the rest of the infield presents problems. Carey can play third with anyone, but only twice in his seven seasons has he hit the ball with consistent authority. McDougald, once the best infielder in the American League, has had two poor seasons at bat and has slowed in the field. Tony Kubek, who in his three seasons has had one good year at the plate, one bad year and one in between, could still turn out to be a tremendous ballplayer, but right now his value lies more in his remarkable versatility than in the possibility that he might supplant Luis Aparicio as the best shortstop in the league. The other shortstops, DeMaestri and Cletis Boyer, averaged .244 and .175 last year. Except for Skowron, it is not an infield that is going to drive in very many runs.
•THE RBI BOYS
If run production is the weak spot in the Yankee infield, however, it is the one thing that Yankee outfielders do quite well. Mickey Mantle, playing with injuries, having his worst year at the plate since his rookie season, still managed to drive in 75 runs. Hector Lopez led the Yankees with 93. And young Roger Maris, despite an appendectomy which dropped him from the Kansas City lineup for more than three weeks, drove in 72. This year the three of them could, together, accumulate 300 runs batted in.
But it is not an outfield to sparkle on defense. Mantle's knee has been a very big problem this spring, and the once great arm is attached to a questionable shoulder. Maris, who was a good right fielder for Cleveland and Kansas City, is going to have trouble in Yankee Stadium's notorious left field; he may not have as much trouble as some of his predecessors, perhaps, but Roger has been shuddering all spring at the thought of going through an entire season there. As for Lopez, he was moved to right field because he was no Andy Carey at third base. In right field he is no Hank Bauer, either.
Behind the starters are old Elmer Valo, who replaced old Enos Slaughter, mainly for pinch hitting; Deron Johnson, who progressed remarkably at Richmond in 1959 but didn't get out of the Army until late in March; and possibly Ken Hunt, another young prospect, who hit .322 with 21 home runs at Shreveport last year and who has a very strong arm. Still, when Casey reaches for an outfielder to fill in, the chances are he'll turn to Kubek or Howard.
This sprinkling of weaknesses, at the plate and in the field, could be overcome by superlative pitching. But it is the pitching that worries Stengel most of all, despite its apparent depth. Ford, of course, is superb (although of his 16 victories, 12 were at the expense of second-division teams). Ditmar, by virtue of a fine 1959 performance, must be regarded as one of the league's better pitchers. Maas had his best year. Ryne Duren is still lethal in relief, and the Yankees can count on Bobby Shantz and Ralph Terry to contribute some wins. But without Bob Turley back at his magnificent best, it is not the kind of pitching staff that will win a pennant. And this spring Turley has hardly been at his best.
It is possible that Jim Coates is finally ready for a big year after winning six and losing only one for New York in 1959, and rookie Johnny James, who turned in a 2.06 earned run average for Richmond, was impressive in training. Young Bill Short, up from Richmond with a 17-6 record, is touted as another Whitey Ford. But the Yankee pitching rises or falls with Turley. If the big right-hander can approach 20 victories, New York can win another pennant. If he has really lost his great fast ball and also control of his curve, as now appears likely, the Yankees will finish third again.
1959 TEAM PERFORMANCE
RUNS BATTED IN