Johnny Keane, the new Yankee manager, has a favorite story he tells about the day, 35 years ago, when he first tried out with the St. Louis Cardinals. The clubhouse man gave him the scroungiest uniform and cap available. Keane did not mind the crumpled uniform as much as he did the beat-up cap. "I can still see that cap," Keane remembers. "It was old and dirty and the peak was broken. But Andy High, the Cards' regular third baseman, let me use one of his uniforms and gave me one of his caps. I've never forgotten that and, because of it, wherever I've gone I try to be sure that every boy gets a new cap."
It is fortunate that Johnny Keane is happy with little things, for the team he has taken over no longer fits the Big Hitter mold that earned it the nickname the Bronx Bombers. Last season the Yankees hit only 162 home runs, their lowest total in five years and down almost 80 from their record-breaking high of 240 in 1961. Even more significantly, they were tied for fifth in the league in home runs, the worst for a Yankee team in 50 years. Mickey Mantle led the team in homers with 35, which was 19 fewer than his own major league high but the most by a Yankee in three seasons and more than he is likely to hit this season. Hampered by his damaged knee, Mickey has become a much less consistent hitter when he bats left-handed. Batting right-handed the past two seasons he has averaged .422, left-handed only .244. Nonetheless, he ended up with a .303 average last year, with 111 runs batted in and, except for Baltimore's Brooks Robinson, was the most valuable player in the American League. The only other Yankee over .300 was Elston Howard (.313, 84 RBIs). Next was Roger Maris, whose credentials were modest: .281, 26 HRs, 71 RBIs. First Baseman Joe Pepitone had 28 homers and 100 RBIs, but his average was only .251, and the other infielders, Bobby Richardson, Tony Kubek, Clete Boyer and super-sub Phil Linz, had averages of .267, .229, .218 and .250, with a total of 25 homers among them. Tom Tresh, the third outfielder, slumped to .246 and 16 home runs. Tresh said this spring that he was going to cut down on his swing (110 strikeouts) and forget about going for the fences. "I'm going to be a Punch and Judy hitter," he said. Helpful hitting came from reserves Pedro Gonzalez (.277 in 112 ABs), Hector Lopez (.260 and 10 home runs in 285 ABs) and John Blanchard (7 HRs, 28 RBIs in 161 ABs), and despite the decline in power the Yankees were a close second in the league in runs scored.
Yankee pitching, usually strong, is a worry now because of Whitey Ford, long I the ace of the staff. Ford was 17-6 last year, but he was able to pitch only five weak innings in the World Series because of a circulatory ailment in his hand (he couldn't shave with it and had to sit on it between innings to keep it warm). Surgery corrected the difficulty, but Whitey's appearances in spring training were inconclusive. In any case, he can concentrate on his pitching this season now that he has relinquished his pitching-coach job to newcomer Cot Deal, who helped develop the Houston staff into the best control pitchers in baseball. Jim Bouton, a right-handed would-be comedian and the club's big winner last year with 18, says of the new coach, "He's cot to help us. If he doesn't, we got a raw deal." The man who needs most help with his control is left-hander Al Downing, who has trouble keeping his good fast ball low enough often enough. Mel Stottlemyre, who joined the Yankees in August and won the pennant for them with a 9-3 record the last two months, is the fourth starter. Pete Ramos, who came to the Yankees even later in the season than Stottlemyre and saved seven games in relief in September, heads the bullpen. The left-handed man there will be towering 6-foot 7-inch Steve Hamilton (7-2).
The Yankees' secret weapon has always been fielding, at which they are—or used to be—marvelously adept. The infield of Pepitone, Richardson, Kubek and Boyer is probably the best in baseball, and the outfield would be equally good if it were not for Mantle's gimpy knee. That knee has changed Mickey from a great center fielder to an uncertain, erratic one. Spring training saw Mantle in two of the outfield positions, and where he will end up is not certain, though he will probably stay in left field, with Tom Tresh going to center. Tresh may be better in center than the Mantle of today, but he is nowhere near the fielder Mickey used to be. In right, Maris continues to be one of the best in the majors. Howard is about the best catcher in baseball. The Yanks lose a little when they go to the bench: Linz is flashy, but he makes too many errors; Hector Lopez, though he has improved over the years, is not a first-rate outfielder; Blanchard is kept for his hitting, not his catching.
The Yankees look weaker than they have in recent memory. Their hitting is not as strong, their pitching not as solid, their fielding not as sure-handed. Their stars, Mantle and Ford, are fragile. They are trying to win a sixth straight pennant, which no team, not even the Yankees, has ever done before. Their opponents generally seem stronger, and last year's winning Yankee margin was one thin game. Yankee-haters, take heart. This looks like the year!
Comedian Jim Bouton gets few laughs from the hitters when he is firing hard from the mound.