In a Florida club called the Pride of Fort Lauderdale Elks Lodge, a petite young lady named Carrie Lee Raysor took dead aim on the New York Yankees' best relief pitcher, Marshall (Sheriff) Bridges, and shot him just below the left knee. Suddenly the Yankee bullpen, as Manager Ralph Houk put it recently, "offers the kind of opportunity we haven't had here in a long while." Yankee outfielders, in-fielders, catchers and starting pitchers still have names like Mantle, Richardson, Howard and Ford, and they are simply the best players around.
But in the bullpen the Yankees are most un-Yankeelike. They won a pennant and a championship last year in spite of, not because of, their relief pitching. The one man who could get the opposition out with consistency (for half a season, at least) was Bridges, and he is now trying to get himself in shape after missing most of spring training. Any rookie with the ability to place a lively fast ball where the catcher wants it should find gainful employment on the Yankee varsity.
Right now the Yankees are looking to Jim Bouton to take up where Bridges left off last year and Luis Arroyo (left) the year before. "My, how Bouton can throw that ball," says Houk. "He acts like a relief pitcher," says In-fielder Phil Linz. "Give him a tough situation and he gets that glint in his eye." But Bouton and his glint may not be enough. Of course, if Arroyo's tender elbow is strong again and he can regain the form that made him the best reliever in the game two years ago, the Yankees have no problem. The odds are against that, however, since Arroyo is 36 and relief men have a history of not coming back.
Meanwhile, Houk faces up to the job of readying the rest of his team for the 1963 World Series. He does it bravely, like a man who believes that no one in the league is going to beat him—with or without good relief pitching.
As improbable as finding the Yankees in second place is seeing them without a crop of steady-eyed young men who can hit a baseball consistently and with great power. Alas, it's the same old story. Lead-off man Bobby Richardson hits a home run only once in a great while, but all his little hits amounted to 209 last year, more than anyone else in the league. Tony Kubek had a long hot spring to hone his batting eye this year and may end up as one of the top hitters in the league. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Elston Howard are still the most terrifying middle-of-the-lineup hitters around. Sophomore or no, bet on Tom Tresh to push his fine .286 average and his 93 RBIs up to even more distinctive figures. Clete Boyer still lunges at the ball, but over the years he's learned to be effective enough with his strange style. Gone, of course, is Bill Skowron, traded to the Dodgers for Pitcher Stan Williams, and the Yankees will miss his run production. Rushing to fill the breach is young Joe Pepitone. If anyone can do the job, this is the man—insists young Joe Pepitone. Such confidence is admirable, but Houk and the front office are reserving judgment. "The job's his," says the Yankee manager, "and it will be until he proves he can't do it." As for pinch hitters, few can match the likes of John Blanchard, Yogi Berra, Hector Lopez, Dale Long and Linz.
For those millions of fans who don't like the Yankees, the New York pitching situation makes delightful conversation. Starters Whitey Ford, Ralph Terry, Bill Stafford and the newly arrived Williams look just fine on paper, but on the field it may be a different matter. Ford showed signs of being merely mortal last year. At 34, he is no boy. Stafford pitched well enough, winning 14 games, but he has been bothered with a sore arm. Williams showed signs of being a great one as recently as 1960, but 1962 was a bad year in spite of his 14 wins. His 4.45 ERA is not championship caliber. With two fine years back to back for Terry, it is hard to find fault here, and he has had a good spring. If this bunch shows signs of wear and tear, it is best to remember they were good enough to win the World Series last year.
It's the same strong defense for the Yankees. The third baseman (Boyer), the shortstop (Kubek) and the second baseman (Richardson) are, if not the best in the league, pretty close to it. Pepitone at first is the one Yankee who is not a standout at his position but he is adequate. Howard, of course, is one of the great catchers in the game and no one but a congenital Yankee hater could fault Tresh, Mantle and Maris in the outfield.