Saturday, August 6, 2016

Temporary Yankee Lethargy in the Summer of '56 (60 Years Ago, August 7, 1956)

With the game scoreless, the bases loaded with Red Sox, and nobody out in the bottom of the 11th inning on August 7, 1956, at Fenway Park, Yankee manager Casey Stengel brought in southpaw Tommy Byrne to pitch to the great Ted Williams. The Red Sox won on a walk-off walk to Mr. Williams. The Yankees had now lost 7 of their last 8 games. Their lead in the American League pennant race was down to 7 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians. It had been 10 games just eight days before. Was it time for the Yankees to panic? Nah.

Temporary Yankee Lethargy in the Summer of '56 
(60 Years Ago, August 7, 1956)

Although there was no dramatic Ted Williams home run to win the game, the Red Sox' 1-0 victory over the Yankees was not without its Splendid Splinter drama. Taking umbrage at being booed by the hometown fans after dropping a routine fly ball to left hit by Mickey Mantle with two outs in the top of the 11th, Teddy Ballgame spit at the crowd behind the Boston dugout as he left the field at the end of the inning. Ironically, they were cheering him when he did so, for he had just robbed Yogi Berra of an extra-base hit that would have scored Mantle with a nifty over-the-head running catch in front of the Green Monster to end the Yankees' 11th.

He was also none too happy about walking-in the game-winning run, instead of driving it in, and tossed his bat high in the air in exasperation after receiving ball four. Then he took his frustrations out on a water cooler and generally behaved like a jackass in the clubhouse afterwards. It was, perhaps, Ted just being Ted, except worse than usualand Ted being Ted never had the kind of eccentric charm of future Red Sox' left fielder "Manny being Manny."

Anyway, while the Red Sox had some public mending to do, some may have thought the Yankees were in need of some mending of their own. Every team, no matter how good, goes through hard times in a long season. And this was the Yankees' time for those hard times. 

They had lost four in a row at the beginning of June, and 6 of 8 at the start of that month, and also lost four in a row to the second-place White Sox in late June that cut their lead from five games to one, but each time they recovered their winning ways, decisively. After their four straight losses to the Chisox, the Yankees won 18 of their next 20 to take a commanding lead in the pennant race.

Of course, starting from a 10-game lead after winning their sixth in a row on July 30, it was the best of times for the '56 Yankees to have their worst of times. First they lost three straight in Cleveland (after Whitey Ford had won the opener of the four-game series). The Indians outscored them 14 to 1 in winning the next three games. Early Wynn shutout the Yankees on 3 hits on July 31, and Herb Score did the same on 4 hits two days later.

Then the Yankees went to Detroit, where they lost all three games and were outscored 23 to 13. They ended their six-game losing streakwhich would be their longest of the seasonwith a 4-3 win in their first game at Fenway, only to fail to score any runs in 11 innings on August 7, despite Ted Williams dropping a routine fly ball that led to the latest (just mentioned) of his periodic epic spit-a-sodes.

During their eight-game hibernation from typical Yankee baseball, the Bronx Bombers scored just 18 runs and batted just .221 as a team. They not only weren't hitting, their on-base percentage was a woeful .293. They would hit .270 with an on-base percentage of .347 for the year. 

Mantle had the worst stretch of his season so far, with a .267 average, 8 hits in 30 at bats, and striking out 9 times in 35 plate appearances. He went hitless in five of the eight games, including the three losses to Cleveland. Only once before in the entire seasonMay 11 and 12 against the Orioles, when he was still batting over .400did Mantle go consecutive games without a hit. Three of his hits, however, were home runs, giving him 37 in the Yankees' first 105 games. Mantle was still two home runs ahead of the Babe's pace when he knocked out 60 in 1927.

The Yankees gave up 41 runs in their eight-game slide, 10 of which were unearned, for an earned run average of 4.16. Cleveland, Detroit, and Boston hit a collective .262 against Yankee pitchers in that stretch. And Yankee pitchers had command and control problems, walking 37 batters in addition to the 66 hits they surrendered, while striking out just 26. For the year, the Yankees held opposing batters to a .249 average and had a team ERA of 3.63.

With their record at 68-37, it was 105 games down and 49 to go for the 1956 New York Yankees. Despite their recent lethargy in the summer heat, the Yankees still had a seven-game lead. It would never again in the 1956 season be that low. In direct opposition to their 7 losses in 8 games, the Yankees turned around to win 7 of their next 8 to bump their lead up to 10½ games half-way through August. 

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