Jim Bouton, Al Downing and Hal Reniff are pitchers out of the Yankee farm system. Bouton is a college man (Western Michigan) who enjoys art, designs jewelry and paints in his spare time. His effete tastes stop there. Teammates call him The Bulldog because he has a squeezed-together face, like Herbert Hoover, and because of his toughness and tenacity on the mound. Last year, as a rookie, Bouton's record was mediocre, but this season he was the Yankees' best relief pitcher until the failure of Williams and Stafford forced Houk to use him as a starter. He was an instant success, but on June 6, the night after Mantle was hurt, Bouton was hit full in the face by a line drive and was led off the field, dripping blood. A similar, though more serious, accident had destroyed Herb Score's career, and many wondered how long Bouton would be out of action and whether he would be gun-shy when he returned. The Bulldog was back almost immediately and has now won 13 games.
The same day that Bouton was hurt the Yankees sent Luis Arroyo to the minors and brought up Downing, a comparatively tiny left-hander who looks about 12 years old. Downing had a small try with the Yankees a season or two back without signal success, but Yogi Berra (who has turned out to be a superb fill-in himself this year, after being semiretired to the venerable position of player-coach) gave the world notice that Downing would be back, and Berra spoke with a catcher's wisdom.
Downing has turned out to be startlingly good. He throws so hard that he strikes out opponents at the rate of almost 11 per game. He gives up very few hits and twice has had a no-hitter as late as the seventh inning. Sportswriters make notes on all his pitches when he starts a game because they think he is the type who might pop up with a perfect game. Downing is from Trenton, N.J., and in high school was president of his class for three years in a row.
Reniff (his name sounds like something spelled backwards) is a blond butterball who came up to the Yankees in the middle of the 1961 season and pitched very effectively in relief. Then he went into service for six months, came out in perfect physical condition, lean and hard, and promptly hurt his arm. He pitched only 10 innings all last year. This season, round and fully packed again, he is back in the groove. When Bouton became a starter, the right-handed Reniff became the No. 1 relief man.
Phil Linz is tall and thin and wears glasses and has a self-deprecatory sense of humor. He is the sort of major leaguer you feel you could have been just as good as if only you had kept in shape. But Linz is deceptive. He won the batting championship of the Carolina League in 1960 and the batting championship of the Texas League in 1961, and in two seasons as a reserve with the Yankees he is batting .285. He is extremely versatile, both on the field and in conversation. He filled in at right field when both Maris and Tresh were out with injuries (" Babe Ruth, Al Kaline and me," he said. "All right fielders, all from Baltimore"). He filled in at second base when Bobby Richardson was ill with German measles ("Are you afraid of catching them?" he was asked. "I don't catch them," said Linz. "I'm German. I give them"). He filled in at shortstop when Tony Kubek was injured ("I am a regular irregular," Linz said).
Regular irregulars, spear carriers, bench—call them what you will. But the Yankees nobody knows have moved their illustrious team out of reach of the rest of the league. One New York sports-writer wrote last week that perhaps it was time to cover Yankee games as a critic-might, looking upon them as presentations of the performing arts instead of as contests. He was joking, of course, but no one heard the rest of the American League laugh.