The only sure thing in baseball
Strong points: As usual, the Yankee cup runneth over. Hitting, pitching, defense, reserves, hot dog vendors—you name it, they got it. Take hitting, for instance. Last year the team hit 240 home runs, 51 more than Brand X. Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) did the major damage, but Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and John Blanchard hit more than 20 each. When called to arms, Bob Cerv and Hector Lopez are also capable of destruction. It's an awesome lineup. Defense? Third Baseman Clete Boyer has a nasty habit of turning base hits into outs, as viewers of last year's World Series will remember. Bobby Richardson is just as good, if not as acrobatic, at second. Skowron at first base is pale beside his teammates, but he is capable. Howard is all a pitcher could want in a catcher. In the outfield Maris and Mantle can run, catch and throw, abilities that are rare among home run hitters. Berra, the converted catcher, doesn't look much like an outfielder until a ball is hit his way. But Berra is a true athlete and last year he took care of left field in Yankee Stadium as it hasn't been handled in years. His defensive play on Al Kaline in the crucial Detroit series last September helped win the pennant. The quality of the Yankees' pitching is subject to debate. It is true that the team's heavy hitting contributed greatly to these records: Whitey Ford 25-4, Ralph Terry 16-3, Bill Stafford 14-9 and Luis Arroyo 15-5. But it is also true that the staff's earned run average was second in the league only to Baltimore, and heavy hitting isn't responsible for that.
Weak spots: After Ford, Terry and Stafford, and Arroyo, the little relief man, Yankee pitching becomes merely ordinary—Jim Coates and Roland Sheldon, both 11-5 last year. And until Tony Kubek is discharged from the Army, the Yankees will not have an experienced shortstop.
The big ifs: The Yankees have three pitchers who have won big—Robin Roberts, in from Philadelphia, Bob Turley, feeling good again, he says, after an autumn elbow operation, and Bud Daley. If any one of these pitchers can win again, the Yankees will say goodby to the rest of the league early.
Rookies and new faces: The problem of filling in for Kubek at shortstop has been left in the somewhat shaky hands of two youngsters, Tom Tresh (23) and Phil Linz (22). Both have hit well in the minors, and the Yankees have plans for them in the future, but right now Manager Ralph Houk will be satisfied if one of them is able to hold the fort until the soldier comes home.
OUTLOOK: Even if the soldier doesn't return until October, even if Roberts, Turley and Daley fail to win a game, even if Roger Maris quits baseball to become a sportswriter, the Yankees will win another pennant.
For love as well as money
Yogi Berra sat on the bench in front of his locker. His left leg was braced against the locker as he rolled down the tops of his uniform socks. In his sandpaper voice he said, "A lotta people been askin' me about would I like to be a manager. I don't know. All I do is one thing at a time." He shrugged his shoulders and added, "Now I'm still playing. If this is the last year and I start going bad, then I'll think about it. I'd like to stay in the game. I love baseball, always have." Yogi's big face broke into that characteristic childlike smile.
"Stafford's going to be the next great right-hander in this league," Pitcher Ralph Terry said.
"I don't know about that," 23-year-old Bill Stafford said. "After the way I started out last year I was lucky I wasn't sent to the minors. If I'd had anyone but Ralph Houk as manager I guess I would have been sent down. I was in the service part of last year and I was six weeks late for spring practice. That's bad, because I've been a slow starter all my five years in pro ball.
"Houk used me in relief in about seven of the first 11 games and I was terrible. I had an 0-2 record and an ERA of about 5.00 when I got hurt and had to lay out for a while. That is when Ralph came to me and said not to worry, that everything would work out. You appreciate that and it gives you confidence to know that they haven't lost faith in you."
Stafford stood at the end of the left-field foul line, leaning part of his weight against an iron pipe. He cocked his cap further back on his head and continued. "Just being with a team like this makes you a better pitcher. You know you're almost never going to have less than three runs to work with in a ball game. There is no better infield anywhere and we have some real good outfielders. You're not afraid to let the batter hit the ball.
"What's even more important for me is Elston Howard. He's the best. This guy really helps you. Did you ever notice how he always looks at a batter's feet? Sometimes a hitter can cross you up by changing his stance. From the mound that's hard to see, but Elly can pick it out and let me know.
"He's great at working with a pitcher, too. He can read your mind. I'll be out there with a, say, 3-1 count on a man and maybe I'll want to throw a slider. When I look in for the signal I can almost bet that he's calling for a slider. He thinks with you."
There is something strange about his left arm when he stands up. It is bent, and standing behind him you see, not the side of his hand, but rather his open palm.
"Yes, the arm is turning," Luis Arroyo explained. "For seven years, always a little more. Like Carl Hubbell, yes. It is the screwball." He snapped the arm and gave it the unnatural outward twist needed for such a pitch. "Soon it turns all the way. It has no pain. I pitch for a living. I have wife and five children."