Street & Smith’s:
The complete collapse of the organization which once had laid waste to the American League in winning 29 pennants in 63 years brought to fruition the old chant “Beat up the Yankees.” The Yankees have been broken up, and the emphasis is on youth. The 1967 edition of pin-striped gentry will go about their daily chores with no Roger Maris, no Clete Boyer, no Pedro Ramos, no Hector Lopez. There will be an ex-New York Met on third base instead of Boyer; rookies named Bill Robinson and Steve Whitaker will do battle for Maris’ old job in right field. And the likes of Mike Ferraro, Stan Bahnsen, Bobby Murcer, Frank Fernandez and Mike Hegan, when he returns from active military duty, will try to emulate the deeds of the illustrious alumni who no longer are on the payroll. For the first time since World War II days, the Yankees are not talking pennant. Or even the first division. When you discuss the Yankees these days, you don’t wonder how far up they’ll finish in the standings, you begin to conjecture which teams they can beat. Can they finish ahead of Washington? Kansas City? Boston? In short, how far can they travel with their youth movement, with an aging and ailing Mickey Mantle, with Whitey Ford trying to recapture some of the old time zip in his tired left arm, with Elston Howard now a part-time catcher, with Bobby Richardson retired and with a pitching staff that yet must prove itself.
This is a Yankee team you must describe as unique. No one in the club’s front office, for instance, has any illusions about the magnitude of the rebuilding job they are starting. And what is no mystery in the front office certainly ought to be hardly a mystery anywhere else. In order for the Yankees to avoid the cellar this year, they’ve got to get a workmanlike job out of Bobby Murcer, an infielder with a future; a strong comeback by Mel Stottlemyre; strong performances by the rookie outfielders – Robinson and Whitaker – and a reasonably healthy season for Mantle.
Mantle, in truth. could be playing his last season. There are strong indications the super-star won’t try again if he is beset by the injuries which have been especially frustrating for him the last two or three years. It would not be surprising if Mantle played first base more than the club has predicted for him. The club’s high command has resisted shifting Mantle from the outfield in recent years, but there may be a necessity far it before this season has run its course. With Mantle at first base, Joe Pepitone – one of the best fielding outfielders in the league – could be shifted to centerfield, a position Mantle no longer can play with o1cltime zip because of the restrictions his aching underpinning places on him. There is, in fact, a great desire on the part of the Yankees – and understandably so – to switch Pepitone from first base to center field. This wish will grow in intensity, particularly, on his expected midsummer return, if young Mike Hegan – a superb fielder, but spotty hitter – continues the improvement he displayed at bat for Toledo in the International League. Hegan, though, will be trying to make the grade the hard way. The young first baseman figures to miss all of spring training as he has been called into the Service to do a six-month hitch. It will be like starting from scratch for Hegan when he returns to the club. With Bobby Richardson, a 10-year standby at second base now in retirement, Horace Clarke will get the call. Clarke, who has all the qualifications of a major league performer, figures to make this his best season in the majors. And for the simple reason he will be playing the position he plays the best. When Richardson was on the payroll, Clarke had to be content with sporadic appearances at third base and shortstop. He was not at home at either position.
There is no question about how the Yankees feel about Bill Robinson, the young outfielder who was obtained from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Clete Boyer. Although trading a tested major league veteran for a minor league outfielder is not a procedure the Yankees have made a habit of in recent years, this time it would appear the gamble was worth the price. Robinson, a 23-year-old with only 14 times at bat to show for his major league experience, is a blue chip rookie. Robinson was signed by the Braves when he graduated from high school in 1961. He broke into professional baseball with Wellsville, then played in Dublin and Waycross, Ga., Yakima, Atlanta and Richmond. In 1963, he led the Northwest League with a mark of .348. Recently, however, there was evidence that the Yankees did not get a completely sound Robinson. The young outftelder, who had incurred a sore throwing arm 1ast season, was operated on for the removal of a bone chip in his elbow. It will be well into the spring before a valid opinion can be given on how much, it any, the operation affected his throwing. Last year in the International League, Robinson was the third leading hitter. He batted 313, had 79 RBI and 20 home runs. In addition, the young outfielder has a powerful throwing arm, a required qualification for rightfielders. If this young man doesn’t make the grade, the Yankee organization will be very much surprised. Johnny Johnson, the capable farm director of the club, summed up all the feelings in the front office when he described Robinson as “a kid with high ratings in all departments of the game. I find it hard to see why he won’t make it real big.” The hope is that it will happen this year. The 1967 Yankees have a long way to go, and when they traded Maris they traded a player who could come back with a good season if he is able to perform his duties in a fair degree of health.
Gone are the fusillade of home runs and the profusion of timely hits that made the Yankees the most awesome team in baseball for more than four decades. Last year they were tied for sixth with the Senators in batting (.231). The Yankees’ big man, psychologically and statistically, is still Mickey Mantle, who in little more than half a season of play had 25 homers and 64 RBIs. Joe Pepitone had 28 home runs and 90 RBIs, but Joe had 214 more at bats than Mantle. Hopefully, hitting help for Manager Ralph Houk will come from a revived Tom Tresh and from rookie Outfielders Bill Robinson (20 HRs, 79 RBIs, .312 in the minors) and Steve Whitaker (who had 32 home runs and 102 RBIs with three teams in the minors and majors last season). Elston Howard is not the hitter he used to be, and no one else has that old Yankee look.
If the Mantle experiment at first base continues successfully in regular-season play the Yankees will have a reasonably set lineup, though the infield, with Mantle, Horace Clarke at second, John Kennedy at short and Charley Smith at third, is a far cry from the collections of fielding wizards the Yankees used to have. The outfield is much better, with Tresh in left, Pepitone in center and the Robinson-Whitaker combo in right. With Howard fighting off age and Jake Gibbs, the catching is acceptable, but the pitching staff is confusing. Whitey Ford, Mel Stottlemyre, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Fritz Peterson, Fred Talbot and rookie Stan Bahnsen could comprise the strongest half dozen or so starters in the league, but each one is an if; each one must prove himself. Relievers Steve Hamilton, Dooley Womack and Hal Reniff may gel a boost from Thad Tillotson, but none of this bullpen crew is a real stopper, the sort who can trudge to the mound in a late inning, throw three pitches and put a winning ball game in his pocket. Just one more thing the new-look Yankees lack.
Last season’s Yankees scored only one run less than they gave up, yet finished last. Statistically, they are a .500 team and they should finish somewhere in the middle of the standings.