- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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The only sure thing in baseball
Strong points: As usual, the Yankee cup runneth over. Hitting, pitching, defense, reserves, hot dog vendors—you name it, they got it. Take hitting, for instance. Last year the team hit 240 home runs, 51 more than Brand X. Roger Maris (61) and Mickey Mantle (54) did the major damage, but Bill Skowron, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard and John Blanchard hit more than 20 each. When called to arms, Bob Cerv and Hector Lopez are also capable of destruction. It's an awesome lineup. Defense? Third Baseman Clete Boyer has a nasty habit of turning base hits into outs, as viewers of last year's World Series will remember. Bobby Richardson is just as good, if not as acrobatic, at second. Skowron at first base is pale beside his teammates, but he is capable. Howard is all a pitcher could want in a catcher. In the outfield Maris and Mantle can run, catch and throw, abilities that are rare among home run hitters. Berra, the converted catcher, doesn't look much like an outfielder until a ball is hit his way. But Berra is a true athlete and last year he took care of left field in Yankee Stadium as it hasn't been handled in years. His defensive play on Al Kaline in the crucial Detroit series last September helped win the pennant. The quality of the Yankees' pitching is subject to debate. It is true that the team's heavy hitting contributed greatly to these records: Whitey Ford 25-4, Ralph Terry 16-3, Bill Stafford 14-9 and Luis Arroyo 15-5. But it is also true that the staff's earned run average was second in the league only to Baltimore, and heavy hitting isn't responsible for that.
Weak spots: After Ford, Terry and Stafford, and Arroyo, the little relief man, Yankee pitching becomes merely ordinary—Jim Coates and Roland Sheldon, both 11-5 last year. And until Tony Kubek is discharged from the Army, the Yankees will not have an experienced shortstop.
The big ifs: The Yankees have three pitchers who have won big—Robin Roberts, in from Philadelphia, Bob Turley, feeling good again, he says, after an autumn elbow operation, and Bud Daley. If any one of these pitchers can win again, the Yankees will say goodby to the rest of the league early.
Rookies and new faces: The problem of filling in for Kubek at shortstop has been left in the somewhat shaky hands of two youngsters, Tom Tresh (23) and Phil Linz (22). Both have hit well in the minors, and the Yankees have plans for them in the future, but right now Manager Ralph Houk will be satisfied if one of them is able to hold the fort until the soldier comes home.
OUTLOOK: Even if the soldier doesn't return until October, even if Roberts, Turley and Daley fail to win a game, even if Roger Maris quits baseball to become a sportswriter, the Yankees will win another pennant.
For love as well as money
Yogi Berra sat on the bench in front of his locker. His left leg was braced against the locker as he rolled down the tops of his uniform socks. In his sandpaper voice he said, "A lotta people been askin' me about would I like to be a manager. I don't know. All I do is one thing at a time." He shrugged his shoulders and added, "Now I'm still playing. If this is the last year and I start going bad, then I'll think about it. I'd like to stay in the game. I love baseball, always have." Yogi's big face broke into that characteristic childlike smile.
"I don't know about that," 23-year-old Bill Stafford said. "After the way I started out last year I was lucky I wasn't sent to the minors. If I'd had anyone but Ralph Houk as manager I guess I would have been sent down. I was in the service part of last year and I was six weeks late for spring practice. That's bad, because I've been a slow starter all my five years in pro ball.