For Mickey Mantle, the 1961 season might just as well have started right when the 1960 season ended.
¨In 1960 when Pittsburgh beat us in the World Series,¨ Mantle said according to Baseball Almanac, ¨we outscored them 55-27. It was the only time I thought the better team lost. I was so disappointed I cried on the plane ride home.¨
And so The Mick set out on a mission in 1961. But as Spring Training began, he had no way of knowing that his focus on a championship would become the backdrop for the greatest home run derby in baseball history. It was not a performance-enhanced duel, like the the one we saw in the 1990´s. But rather, it was the M&M Boys, Mickey and teammate Roger Maris, who provided the nation with a baseball thrill it had not witnessed since Joe DiMaggio´s 56 game hitting streak.
As the pair went yard at a torrid pace, it became more and more evident that Babe Ruth´s single-season record of 60 homers could be eclipsed. ¨I don´t want to be Babe Ruth,¨Maris said, also according to Baseball Almanac.¨He was a great player. I am not trying to replace him. The record is there and damn right I want to break it. But that is not replacing him.¨
And the media couldn´t resist stirring up some controversy. Newspapers painted a picture of dislike between Mantle and Maris. But the chase actually made them close, ¨A lot of people wrote that Roger and I didn´t like each other, Mickey said later. Nothing could be farther from the truth.¨
Adding to the drama was the elongated schedule. As Mickey and Roger approached The Babe´s record, controversy brewed because Ruth had hit his 60 in 154 games. So speculation arose that the record would include an asterisk, if it was not accomplished by then.
And although Mantle and Maris dominated the headlines, the Yankees had many other great players in 1961. Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Johnny Blanchard and Bill Skowron joined Mickey and Roger to make up the famed ¨Murderers Row.¨ Clete Boyer, Tony Kubek, and Tom Tresh helped round out the dominant lineup.
As the season came to a close, The Mick battled injuries, and finished with 54 homers. So Roger pressed on amid the ballyhoo and pressure. When he reached 60 homers against Baltimore in game 159, the excitement turned to hysteria. But he was not to homer in the next two games, sending the quest to game 162 against Boston.
In the fourth inning, with Tracy Stallard on the mound for the Red Sox, Roger came to the plate and the crowd rose to its feet. And…¨Holy Cow he did it!¨
And Mickey was thrilled for his deserving teammate. Oh yes, The Mick did see his mission fulfilled. The Yankees, under manager Ralph Houk, defeated Cincinnati in the World Series four games to one. ¨The best team I ever saw was the ´61 Yankees,¨ Mickey said according to Baseball Almanac. ¨I never saw the ´27 Yankees. Everyone says that was the greatest team ever, but I think it would´ve been a great series if we´d have had a chance to play them.¨