Bouton, perhaps better than anyone else, can explain what it has been like for these new Yankees as they go through their first pennant fight. "Everyone says," Bouton remarked recently, "that the Yankees should win because they have been through it all before. Well, I haven't been through it and neither have a lot of us. I find myself watching the scoreboard when I'm at the ball park and trying to do things at home like painting and making costume jewelry to keep my mind away from the pressure. I know that there are a lot of guys who say they aren't watching the scoreboard—the older guys. But I know that they are. The day before I pitch a game on the road I go down to the desk clerk in whatever hotel we are stopping at and reserve a single room, so that I can be alone and think about the next day's hitters. I pay for the room myself because I need that time alone. Sometimes, also, I can get mean, being alone like that."
The new Yankee who has had the toughest time in this pennant chase is Joe Pepitone, the first baseman with the Renaissance profile, the tight black street pants and hair of steel wool. While almost every Yankee senses a new feeling of warmth toward the team from the home fans at Yankee Stadium, Pepitone has had his ears blistered by catcalls and boos all season long. Pepitone, admittedly, has made nearly three times as many errors this year as he did last and he now stands 14th defensively among the American League's first basemen. Only Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart of the Boston Red Sox has made more errors than Joe. Nevertheless, Pepitone is bewildered by the roasting he is receiving. "Maybe they are still on me because of the error I made in last year's World Series," he says. Because the fact is that Pepitone's fielding and batting averages are both deceptive. On defense, he gets to more balls than the majority of first basemen do and thus the chance for error is greater. His .247 batting average means little when you consider that he has knocked in 91 runs, the second highest total on the team.
In recent weeks shy, skinny Mel Stottlemyre has strengthened the pitching rotation tremendously, and the acquisition of Pedro Ramos from Cleveland has made something out of a jumbled bullpen. Stottlemyre has won seven games since he came up from Richmond in early August; his debut is reminiscent of Whitey Ford's in 1950. Ford came to the Yankees early in July of that year. He won nine games and New York won the pennant by three.
Ramos, a 29-year-old Cuban, has dreamed of being a Yankee all his life. He has pitched and won in Washington, Minnesota and Cleveland, gathering a large collection of cowboy suits, cowboy boots and cowboy hats along the way. Last week when he stopped a late Minnesota rally and saved a game for the Yankees by twice striking out the league's leading hitter, Tony Oliva, he had a fine, un-Yankeelike explanation. "Tony," Ramos said, "is from my home town in Cuba—Pinar Del Rio. I throw him Cuban palm balls. Here they call it spitballs. They are illegal. I call them Cuban palm balls. They are legal. Always I have wanted to pitch for the Yankees. In springs I used to beg Casey Stengel to trade for Pedro. 'I am fastest runner in all of baseball,' I used to say to old man. 'I have the big bat and I peetch every day for you.' But the old man never come and get me. Jogi Berra did. Jogi Berra remembered Pedro because Jogi Berra used to strike out against Pedro all the time. It is the boyhood dream every time I put on the pretty Yankee uniform. Coming to Yankees is like getting on top of a great horse."
At the end of last week the new Yankees were in first place. Some old Yankees were there also, of course, and also responsible. Mickey Mantle, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford. Old and new—but different.