Someday people may talk of the Great Yankee Slump, that brief period in the history of the American League when the mice whipped the cat. It began, they may remember, on August 9, 1958 when the New York Yankees, leading the league by 16� games, lost a game to the Boston Red Sox 9-6. It ended on June 7, 1960 when the Yankees defeated the Chicago White Sox 5-2. They beat the White Sox again the next day and the next, then won two games from Cleveland, two from Kansas City and four more from Chicago. Last week they continued to win—two games from Detroit, two from Cleveland. The Yankees had won 15 out of 19 games and were in first place. The Great Slump was over, the cat was on the prowl, and the mice of the league were looking for a place to hide.
That period between August of 1958 and June of 1960 was one of almost continuous pain for the Yankees. They lost 25 of their last 44 games in 1958, and although they won the pennant, their fourth in a row, and the World Series, they were sick and they knew it. The spring of 1959 brought no improvement. The Yankees fell to last place in May and eventually finished a poor third with a record of 79 games won, 75 games lost. This season the Yankees lost 20 of their first 41 games—making 120 losses in 239 games—and they floundered in fourth place. And then, without warning, they snapped out of it.
There are many reasons for the Yankee resurgence. "Tell them we started winning when the old man got back," said one player sarcastically (a majority of the Yankee players dislike Casey Stengel). Nonetheless, it is true that the team started winning the day Stengel returned after a week's illness.
A more concrete reason is the powerful and timely hitting of Mickey Mantle. "When he hits we move," said Pitcher Art Ditmar. Mantle, in the worst slump of his up-and-down career in April and May, cracked out of it in early June. During the three weeks of the Yankee rampage Mantle hit well over .400, with 18 runs batted in and eight home runs.
One Mantle home run in particular gave the Yankees a lift. Having just beaten the White Sox three times, the Yankees were playing the Indians at Yankee Stadium. At one point they led 3-1, but Cleveland fought back to make it 3-2 and then 3-3. Left-hander Dick Stigman, relieving for the Indians, was setting the Yankees down in order. ("He bothers us," says Stengel.) Mantle led off the eighth inning and took a strike. Then he swung foolishly and missed for strike two. He swung again at the third pitch and lined it into the left-field seats for a home run and, as it turned out, the victory.
Then there is Hector Lopez, who has been hitting well in the No. 2 spot, just in front of Mantle. His defensive play has improved too, although he is still a liability in left field. In Detroit he went back slowly for a line drive, jumped too soon and nearly was hit by the ball, which went for a double. Eventually the runner scored, and Detroit led 1-0. A few innings later Lopez hit a sharp single to left center, scoring a man from third and tying the score at 1-1. "You see," said Leonard Shecter of the New York Post, "Hector giveth and Hector taketh away."
But, good as Mantle and Lopez have been lately, it is extremely doubtful that the Yankees would be in first place were it not for their new right fielder, Roger Maris. As one New York writer said: "It is true that Mantle is mainly responsible for moving the team from fourth place to first. But if it weren't for Roger's strong hitting all season the Yankees might have been in sixth or seventh when Mantle got hot."
Maris opened the season against the Red Sox with two home runs, a double and a single, and he has not been below .320 since. Currently he leads the league with 22 home runs and 58 runs batted in. He has also fielded well. In Cleveland last week he made a leaping backhand catch of a ball just as it was falling over the fence for what would have been a grand-slam home run. It saved the game for the Yankees.
Roger Maris is 25 and powerfully built. He came to the Yankees from Kansas City last winter in a trade in which the Yankees gave away, among others, Hank Bauer, an old favorite at Yankee Stadium. "For the first few games Fused to hear guys yelling for Bauer," Maris said recently, "but not much any more."
This is Maris' fourth major league season. With both Cleveland and Kansas City he displayed flashes of promise, but misfortune—one year an appendectomy, another year some broken ribs—kept him from the big year. He gives some credit for his fast start this season to the good-hitting Yankees who surround him in the batting order—Mantle before him, Skowron (before he was hurt), Berra or Howard after him.