SI Vault
Robert Creamer
May 23, 1955
In Yankee stadium where the New York Yankees were about to play the second and final game of a brief but possibly significant early season series with the Cleveland Indians, a well-dressed man in a charcoal-gray suit was giving illuminating bits of information to a less well-informed companion, who nodded amiably from time to time without appearing too profoundly impressed by anything that was said.
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May 23, 1955

One Well-placed Bunt Served To Point Up A Somewhat Historical Fact: The New York Yankees Are No Longer Baseball's Big Team

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On the second pitch, a fast ball, Avila slid his right hand up the barrel of the bat, met the ball perfectly and sent it rolling down the third-base line. Third Baseman Andy Carey, a superb fielder, charged in and over toward it, made a beautiful try, but was simply too late to catch the flying Avila. The bases were loaded and Rosen was up. The bunt hit had worked perfectly.

Larsen took a deep, sad breath and pitched to Rosen, who punched the ball hard and flat into right center for a base hit. The Yanks kicked the ball around, all three runners scored and the Indians took a lead they never lost.

Other things happened to support the feeling that the Yankees are in a decline and the Indians in ascendance. In the fourth inning of the night game Dave Pope hit a long home run off Larsen, and Stengel came out of the dugout. He walked to the mound flapping his arms together, looking as if he might have been whistling tunelessly, lost in bemused thought. Out went Larsen, all the way to Denver, another pitcher that Casey doesn't have. In came Whitey Ford, who pitched poorly, though the Indians did not score again that inning. When the Yankees came up they rallied, scored a run and had men on first and third with two out and the eighth and ninth men of the batting order coming up.

Rallies die on the weak bats of the tail end of batting orders. But this was where Stengel's strength had lain for six seasons. He'd thrown in pinch-hitter after pinch-hitter, each of such ability that they made the tail end of the Yankee batting order ring with authority. Then he'd sent in replacement fielders of equal skill and one fine relief pitcher after the other. Here, against the Indians, he sent up Eddie Robinson to bat for Billy Hunter. Robinson got a hit, the third in a row and the fourth of the inning off Lemon.

"Pour it on, Case!" a man yelled, looking toward the Yankee dugout for the next pinch-hitter. Instead, Ford came out to bat for himself.

"What the hell?" the man said, sitting back. "No pinch-hitter?"

Ford walked but the fact remained: Stengel could not pinch-hit for him. With Bill Skowron and Gerry Coleman hurt, he did not have the pinch-hitting depth, and he did not have the necessary faith that his relief pitchers in the bull pen could do any better than the wavering Ford. And after Ford walked to load the bases, Casey could not put pressure on the right-handed Lemon, who was obviously laboring, by sending up a left-handed batter to hit for the right-handed Hank Bauer, a device he used regularly despite injuries with strikingly successful results when the Yankees were winning five consecutive pennants and World Series.

That's not the way it used to be. Casey Stengel talks about his bench, but he has no bench; not the way he used to have one.

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