This day in baseball history

Many baseball fans of a certain age remember the extraordinary National League pennant race of 1962, in the which the Los Angeles Dodgers needed a playoff to best the San Francisco Giants. But few recall that the American League race was also tightly contested well into September.

At the close of play on September 3 1962, the Giants had pulled to with 2.5 games of the Dodgers, having defeated their great rival 7-3 at Dodger Stadium behind Jack Sanford who won his 20th game. Defending NL champion Cincinnati had stayed in touch with the leaders through most of the summer, but now trailed by 6.5 games. The NL pennant race would involve just two teams the rest of the way.

In the American League, the Minnesota Twins swept a Labor Day double header against their hapless Washington D.C. replacement team, the new Senators. Bob Allison, my favorite old Senator, erased a 3-1 Senators lead in the nighcap with a three-run homer, his second of the double header.

The Twins sweep, coupled with a split of the Yankees double-header with the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium, moved Minnesota to within 3 games of New York. The Angels, in only their second year of existence as an expansion team, trailed New York by just 4.5 games.

The following day, September 4, the race tightened again, as the Angels beat the Yankees 7-6, while the Twins were idle. Whitey Ford took a 4-0 lead into the seventh inning, but Los Angeles chased the great left hander and scored 6 runs by the time they were retired. Then, with the score 6-6 in the top of the ninth, Buck Rodgers drove in what proved to be the winning run on a two-out single off of Bud Daley.

Now, the Twins were only 2.5 games back and the Angels were within 3.5.

Both the Twins and the Angels must have been shocked to find themselves in the pennant race in early September. For one thing, they had finished eighth and seventh respectively in 1962, with both more than 30 games behind New York. For another, on August 1, 1962, the Angels were 6 games behind and the Twins were 7 back. Since then, however, the Yankees had managed to win only 20 of 39 games. During that stretch, Mickey Mantle, playing regularly but hurt, managed only 4 home runs and Roger Maris just 7.

The Yankees would continue to underwhelm during the two weeks following Labor Day, winning 9 of 16. But that was good enough to extend their lead over the Twins (who won 8 of 16) and the Angels (who lost 6 straight in mid-September). The Yankees closed the season by winning 5 of their last 6, to finish 5 games ahead of Minnesota and 10 ahead of the third place Los Angeles.

The September pennant race of 1962 was nothing new to the Yankees of that era, as good as they were. In 1960, New York led Baltimore by only 1 game at the close of play on September 3. And in 1961, as the long-time reader has recounted, the Yankees entered Labor Day weekend with just a 1.5 game lead over Detroit. However, a three game sweep of the Tigers effectively ended that pennant race by September 3.

Of these three Yankee teams, only the 1961 version has a claim to greatness. That claim will examined in an upcoming post.

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