Publish date:


The new New York Yankees are small and, in a Met-dominated land, anonymous, but are they feisty and do they have visions! They even are talking championship again

It is really too bad Sigmund Freud is dead. He would have had a grand time with Yankee Fritz Peterson and perhaps he might have been able to shed new light on the outcome of the rapidly tightening pennant race in the American League's Eastern Division. This is not to suggest that Peterson, who is no flakier than any other member of the traditionally kooky genus called left-handed pitcher, needs a shrink, Viennese or otherwise. He is simply a dreamer who does not understand the meaning of his frequent dreams, though he remembers and retells them vividly.

Freudian fans can begin by trying to analyze this one. The night before a recent start, Peterson dreamt that he was sleeping in a hotel room with his wife, Chip. (Chip's real name is Marilyn, but she rarely hears it. When they were dating at Northern Illinois University, where Peterson received his master's degree and has been a billiards instructor in the off season, Chip's future husband decided that she needed something to complement her maiden name of Monks.) They awoke around 2 a.m. to find Tom and Nancy Seaver sitting, fully clothed—how un-Freudian—on the other bed in the room. "They had just returned from a road trip," explains Peterson. "I started to talk to Tom and found out he's building apartment houses just like I am back home. He told me he needed one more reference to get his loan. I said, 'Really?' and he answered, 'No, I can get anything I want at this time.' He wasn't being bratty or smart. He just said it. I talked to him some more and I found out I liked him. Nancy seemed nice, too, but she didn't say much. Then when we got up to see them to the door, 10 other Mets walked out of our bathroom eating salami. We all went out into the hall of the hotel where the Mets were eating at these big, long tables. It ended there. I don't know what it means."

Peterson, who walks around with his hair sprouting up every which way and his uniform shirt bloused over his belt or his double-breasted blazer flopping open, always looks like he just got up from another dream. A man in his condition can be excused if he fails to perceive the obvious. After last week, when the surprising Yankees moved within three games of the heretofore unflappable Baltimore Orioles, any analyst—M.D. or not—could see what Peterson's dream meant. The Yanks, who are solidly in second, five games ahead of the third-place Tigers, are showing strong signs of getting back into their old business of challenging for championships.

There were corollaries, too. Should the Yankees pull off a Metslike miracle this season, they will take back some of the rich New York salami their interborough rivals have been devouring all by themselves the past year. One of the biggest feasters could be Fritz Peterson himself. With an apt, new screwball added to his array of pitches, he has a 9-2 record, better than Seaver's at this time a year ago. And, Chip, despite her nickname, hardly looks like a rodent, even next to the widely acclaimed Mrs. Seaver.

Of course, Peterson is not the only Yankee keenly pursuing a return to glory. As anonymous a lot as was ever ignored by the New York media, the Yanks have suddenly turned into a polished team that is showing far more enthusiasm for the chase than earlier and brawnier teams from the Bronx. Infielder Danny Cater, who before he came to New York from the Athletics this winter had achieved a measure of fame in Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City and Oakland simply because he was the most unknown good hitter in the game, twice was caught in the defiantly unbomberish act of scoreboard watching during a series in Kansas City last weekend. In the ninth inning of Peterson's latest win, a five-hit shutout, Cater walked to the mound to tell the pitcher that the Orioles had just fallen behind by two runs in the 11th inning of their game. The next night Cater was less restrained, waving to the Yankee outfielders to check the scoreboard that had just flashed that Baltimore was trailing 7-2.

A smooth, right-handed line drive hitter, Cater has brightened up the Yankee batting, if not the conversation, but predictably, despite his .303 average and 39 RBIs, he was not listed on the All-Star ballot. One of the two Yankees who were, Leftfielder Roy White, is a prototype for the new Yanks. He is small and fast. Only three of the regulars stand over 6 feet and the starting lineup weighs in at less than 180 pounds a man. New York is 10th in the American League in team batting average and last in home runs. Yet the team ranks third in runs scored, right behind hard-hitting Baltimore and Minnesota, because the Yankees are fourth in stolen bases, first in walks and first in sacrifice flies. This last category results from a team habit of moving routinely from first to third on singles. White, who is averaging .351, and Cater have hit spectacularly with men on base. Between them they have 81 RBIs, an extraordinary total at this point in the season for primarily singles hitters.

White hardly looks like he belongs on the field when he walks to the plate. His forearms are the thick, sinewy limbs of the wrist hitter he is and his shoulders are broad, but the rest of his physique appears dangerously frail. With his helmet propped high and square on his head, he would fit in much better dressed in silks and boots at Aqueduct than in the batter's box hitting cleanup. His stance is one an eighth-place hitter on a girls' Softball team might use. He chokes up four inches, drops his hands down to his belt, lets the bat fall parallel to the ground and holds it at a 45° angle from his body. Just as he begins his swing, he cocks the bat back slightly and flicks it in a tight arc.

"There is no way this guy will ever hit," Peterson says each time White comes to bat, yet the results have been so punishing that White is now one of the most feared hitters in the league. Last season he was walked every 6.5 times he came to the plate. This year he has been helped by the presence of Cater in the lineup behind him and by the union mailmen in New York. When the postmen went on strike last spring, White's hospital unit was one of those called up to assist in mail distribution. As a result, he has been given an early release from the service and the nagging weekend drills. "I felt like it was a miracle I hit .290 last year," White said in his extra-deep voice. "Every time I went in for my drill periods, it would take four or five days after I got back to get my timing again."

The hitting of Cater and White along with All-Star nominee Centerfielder Bobby Murcer, who was streaking with a .364 average during the past two weeks, and rookie Catcher Thurman Munson, who has batted .303 since beginning the year with a 1-for-30 slump, boosted the team when its known strength, starting pitching, failed. In the Yankees' first 52 games, the pitchers were able to finish only four times. On April 26 New York was in last place in its division and Mel Stottlemyre, a 20-game winner the past two seasons, had lost three of four decisions. During May, as the Yankees moved up to second place, the bullpen won seven of the team's 17 victories and was awarded saves in eight of the others.

"I said all along that the starters would come around just as soon as we hit some good weather," said Manager Ralph Houk last week. "I know the bad weather affects everybody's pitching early in the season, but we got more rain and cold than anyone else. Every place we went they'd apologize for the weather and then say, 'You should've been here all last week, the weather was great.' "

The temperatures, which were unseasonably low for 22 of New York's early games, forced Houk to turn frequently to his bullpen, Lindy McDaniel, Jack Aker and Steve Hamilton, all of whom bounced around with other teams before coming to New York and are set apart from their younger teammates.

"I guess we're all pretty much alike. Jack's a pretty quiet guy who stays mostly to himself," said Hamilton. "Lindy and I have a lot in common. He's a preacher and I'm interested in religion, too. We spend a lot of time talking about what's going on today, the morality, the dope problems, the things that are making the kids react the way they have been." McDaniel preaches at the Pruett & Lobit Street Church of Christ in Bay-town, Texas in the off season and carries a typewriter on road trips to edit an evangelical newsletter called Pitching for the Master that is sent to all major-leaguers. Aker is handsome enough to be a matinee idol, but Hamilton and McDaniel both look older than their mid-'30s because they have had gray hair since they were in their late teens.

"Until this year I used to color my hair with a chemical, so I didn't look as gray as I do now," said McDaniel. '"I tried that once," said Hamilton. "It was when I was first going to spring training and someone convinced me that if I looked too old the Indians wouldn't take a chance on me. So I went out and bought the chemical the night before I was supposed to go. I took it in the shower and lathered it in my hair real good. Pretty soon I noticed my chest was striped with the dye and I looked in the mirror and my ears had turned black. I had to use Boraxo to get it off, but I didn't change my hair color at all."

Except for the relievers and sometime starter Mike Kekich, most of the pitching staff, like a majority of the team's hitters, have been developed in the club's farm system that has thrived under General Manager Lee MacPhail. While the new, lightweight Yankees were being built, New York fans slipped away in hordes to watch the Mets, and the loss has begun to show significantly at places other than just the gate, where it has been plenty noticeable. While Met attendance so far this year is up by approximately 240,000, the Yanks have lost 39,000. Worse, WHN—one of the most powerful New York radio stations—announced it would drop Yankee broadcasts next year. The Yankees bought time for 94 telecasts this season, the lowest number in years, and still have not sold all of the time for them.

As New York cut 2½ games off the slumping Orioles' lead last week, there were signs of a mild renewal of fan interest at Yankee Stadium. Bat Day, which normally draws a crowd of over 50,000 brought in 65,880, the largest gate in the majors in five years. (No other park except Cleveland's can hold that many people.) Two succeeding week-night games, which produced a sweep over the Twins, each drew around 20,000 spectators. And they were bright, cheering fans who enlivened the stadium, which, even in these days of the Astrodome and new, multitiered, multicolored stadia, remains the most majestic ball park in the country.

Yankee fans never learned how to cheer for a loser, something National League rooters in New York seem to know how to do instinctively. In recent years at Yankee Stadium the crowds have been hushed and bored, as if they had come on the odd chance that they might see something truly exciting happen, like a man falling out of the upper deck. But last week they were awake and yelling, their roars rolling loud and long from the shadowy recesses in the main deck and the mezzanine when Second Baseman Horace Clarke hit a two-run home run to defeat the Twins and bring New York's record on its latest home stand to seven wins in eight games.

The next two wins, both on the road against Kansas City, may prove to be more important because they came on days when the Orioles were losing at home and also helped to open additional ground between the Yanks and the Tigers and Red Sox. Peterson finished up the starters' revival that Houk had promised for the hot weather. They pitched five complete games over a span of six fairly temperate days and Stottlemyre edged his record to 6-4 with a five-hitter and a four-hitter.

"That's encouraging," said White. "We stayed close without our starters, just going with a bunch of young guys who like to talk hitting. Now if the starting pitchers are right, we can move up."

White himself did most of the moving last Saturday night with a boost from the two old gray hairs who two weeks before began to show signs of tiring after their hard month's work. The Yanks defeated the Royals 9-4 in 12 innings and went 11 games over .500 for the first time since the pennant year of 1964. It was an extraordinary game in which the Royals' new Manager Bob Lemon was ejected; New York Shortstop Gene Michael broke up a Royals' rally by pulling the hidden-ball trick on the go-ahead run at second base; Yankee Third Baseman Jerry Kenney was called out for interfering with the catcher; and White rapped five hits for the first time in his big league career. He drove in a run in the first with a single, another in the fourth with a home run. In the top of the 12th when New York scored five runs, he had the key hit, a line single to right that pushed the winning runner to third base with none out.

Hamilton came on in the seventh inning to close off a Royals' rally and he and McDaniel pitched the last five innings without allowing a run. Twinkling on the scoreboard late in the game when McDaniel was trotting to and from the mound (a frisky maneuver he adopted this year, perhaps to keep the crowd from noticing his gray hair) was the final score of another Baltimore loss.

"We know Baltimore is the best team on paper," concedes Hamilton. "We're going to need help. We realize we must play as well as we possibly can against them and still they'll have to make a few mistakes for us to win. But great teams have dropped quickly before. The Yanks were great in '63, almost didn't win in '64 and were sixth in '65."

"Sure, they're the team to beat," says a somewhat neutral observer from Washington, Ted Williams. "But the one thing you've got to write in when you write about Baltimore is age." Then there is a mysterious factor in match-ups between clubs from New York and Baltimore that has haunted three excellent teams, the Colts, the Bullets and, of course, the Orioles, the past three years.

Houk, who is not yet hypnotized by the sniff of salami or champagne, remains the realist for his hungry young team. "I don't watch the scoreboard," he said late Saturday night. "Hell, it's not even the All-Star break yet."

Maybe not, but Fritz Peterson is still dreaming. Before his latest start, he said, "I dreamt I was riding a mini-bike with a flat tire. I don't know what it means." Peterson didn't seem the least bit worried. Freud, anyone?


Stealing two runs from Twins, Bobby Murcer kicks ball away from Paul Ratliff (left), then Roy White beats return throw to Bill Zepp.


Drawing first blood against Kansas City, Murcer, who had singled, evades Jack Hernandez' tag to steal second. He later scored on an error.


Starter Fritz Peterson is dreaming constantly.


Reliever Steve Hamilton is graying winningly.