This Day In Baseball History

Here is another report about the 1961 World Series from a long-time reader.

The third, and as it turned out the pivotal game of the 1961 World Series took place in Cincinnati on October 7. It featured another good pitching matchup – Bill Stafford for the Yankees and Bob Purkey for the Reds.

Only 22 years old, Stafford seemed on his way to a great career. In less than a season and a half with the Yankees, he had compiled a 17-10 record, while allowing only around 2.5 earned runs per game.

Purkey, age 32, had turned in three good seasons in his four years with Cincinnati, including a 16-12 record in ’61. However, his career mark was still below .500. Purkey relied on an assortment of pitches, mostly off-speed, including a knuckle ball.

Cincinnati had not hosted a World Series since 1940, when the Reds won Game 7 there. Their only other world championship had come in 1919, in a Series that was fixed.

The Reds might have called on a hero from one of its championship teams – say Heine Groh, a Cincinnati resident, or Bucky Walters – to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Instead, they reached all the way back to the undistinguished 1902 team, giving that honor to William “Dummy” Hoy. Deaf since the age of three, Hoy had a solid 14 year major league career. By the time of the ’61 World Series, he was 99 year old. Hoy died at that age less than three months later.

Both starting pitchers were on their game, especially Purkey. Through six innings, he held the Yankees to one hit, a double by Elston Howard in the fifth, and no runs. Thus, in 23 innings of Series play, the mighty Yankees had scored only four runs on 11 hits.

Stafford limited the Reds to just one run in the first six innings. It came in the third inning on a bunt single by Elio Chacon and an RBI double by Frank Robinson.

When the Yankees finally scored in the top of the seventh, it was through little fault of Purkey. Tony Kubek led off with a single. Purkey then retired Roger Maris on a fly ball and Mickey Mantle (playing for the first time in this World Series) on a strikeout. However, Kubek took second during Mantle’s at-bat on a passed ball by rookie catcher Johnnie Edwards. With two out, Berra blooped one to right-field. Right-fielder Robinson and second-baseman Chacon both chased it, but they collided and the ball fell for a double.

The Reds regained the lead in the bottom of the seventh. Edwards doubled with one out and, with two out, Eddie Kasko singled him home.

In the top of the eighth, Purkey retired the first two Yankees. The Reds were four outs away from taking a 2-1 lead in games.

Ralph Houk sent up Johnny Blanchard to pinch hit for Bud Daley, who had relieved Stafford in the seventh. Blanchard was a legendary high-school athlete in Minneapolis, who he led Central High School to city championships in football, basketball, and baseball. One local sports historian has said that Blanchard “may be the best three-sport athlete ever to come out of Minneapolis.” (Dave Winfield is from St. Paul)

Blanchard was also becoming a legendary slugging pinch hitter. He delivered four pinch-hit homers in 1961 and, in 93 games, hit one home run per 11.5 at-bats. In setting the single season home run record that year, Roger Maris hit one per 9.7.

On this occasion, Blanchard pulled a Purkey knuckle-ball into the right-field bleachers to tie the score.

Yankee relief ace Luis Arroyo came on to pitch the bottom of the eighth. He retired the heart of the Reds order – Frank Robinson, Gordy Coleman, and Wally Post – without a ball leaving the infield.

Roger Maris led off the top of the ninth. Purkey was still pitching for Cincinnati.

Maris was 0-10 for the World Series. The Reds’ “book” called for pitching him up and in. But Purkey had retired Maris three times on “slop sliders” away.

This time, Purkey tried a hard slider away. Maris belted it deep into the right-field seats. Afterwards, Purkey described the pitch as “not too bad.” “Maybe,” he added, “I shoulda tried to get him out like they said. . .maybe, that is.”

In 1961, there were no pat answers for keeping Maris in the ballpark.

Purkey still had enough left to retire Mantle, Berra, and Howard. Thus, the Reds needed only one run to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Manager Fred Hutchinson tried to accomplish this with a series of pinch hitters. With one out, Leo Cardenas batted for Edwards. This was an attempt to improve the match-up against the left-handed Arroyo by sending up a right-hander, though the screw-balling reliever was just about equally successful in retiring both. Cardenas made Hutch look good, delivering a double to put the tying run in scoring position.

Next, Dick Gernert batted for Purkey. Gernert had revived his badly fading career by batting .302 in 69 at-bats for Cincinnati. But Arroyo retired him on a ground ball to shortstop.

Down to his last out, Hutchinson sent up Gus Bell to bat for Don Blasingame. This was one left-handed batter replacing another, and neither coped with lefties well. Bell hit the ball back to Arroyo, who threw him out to end the game.

As had happened in important games all year, the long ball had rescued the Yankees. New York was now ahead in games 2-1, with Whitey Ford (who had pitched 27 consecutive scoreless World Series innings) set to start Game 4 and Mickey Mantle back in the line-up.