Throwing it back on a Thursday: The 1969 New York Yankees

So what were you doing in 1969?

If you were like me, you weren’t even born yet. Heck, my parents weren’t even married yet – they eloped in 1970. John Lennon of the Beatles – who were still a group in 1969 – and his wife Yoko Ono were having “bed ins” – a take on the popular ‘sit in’ protests that were made famous in the late 1960′s, the Public Broadcasting System was formed, Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon and in August of that year, an audience of approximately 500,000 attended the four day-long Woodstock Festival.

The city of New York had a big year in 1969. Three of its professional teams won championships in the NBA, the NFL and MLB. But the team that won the World Series in 1969 was not the New York Yankees. What’s worse? It was their lone cross-town “rival”, the upstart New York Mets, who won the World Series in only their eighth season of existence.

The sport of baseball itself went through a lot of changes that year. Rules were changed – the strike zone was changed and the height of pitching mounds were lowered from 15 inches to 10, there was more expansion – the second phase of expansion in less than a decade – and because of this, the modern day divisions were created thus making the League Championships a much needed addition to the game.

In 1961, the American League expanded to ten teams with the additions of the Los Angeles Angels and the second team to be called the Washington Senators – the first team became the Minnesota Twins that same year. Then in 1962, the National League followed suit by expanding to ten teams with the additions of the aforementioned New York Mets and Houston Colt 45′s (now Astros).

1969 saw the additions of the San Diego Padres and Montreal Expos in the National League and the Seattle Pilots and the Kansas City Royals – the Seattle Pilots didn’t last long and later became the Milwaukee Brewers. With this latest expansion, Major League Baseball began what is now called the “Divisional Era.” Each league – American and National – was divided into two divisions of six teams each. The winners of each division would compete against each other in a League Championship Series which was then only a best-of-five, and that would determine the pennant winners who would face each other in the World Series.

The Yankees didn’t have to worry about the changes made to the playoff structure in 1969 because they finished with a record of 80-81 and in 5th place out of six teams in the newly formed American League Eastern Division. They finished the year 28.5 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles who went on to lose to the Mets in the World Series.

The team, managed by Ralph Houk, was a shadow of its former dominate self. By 1969 the Yankees, in the midst of their disastrous CBS ownership years, had finished in the “second division” five times in one decade after a streak of finishing in the upper echelon or “first division” of the standings from 1926 to 1964.

Some facts about the 1969 Yankees squad:

  • They were in first place for one day, April 7, which was also Opening Day.
  • They had a losing record against five teams, a winning record against five teams and finished their season series tied with the Oakland Athletics (6-6).
  • They were as many as 33 games back in the standings on September 25.
  • Their longest losing streak was seven games which lasted from April 29 to May 4.
  • Their longest winning streak was actually longer, eight games which lasted from May 14 to May 23
  • The most runs allowed that season occurred on the last day of that late April-Early May, seven game losing streak when Baltimore scored 14.
  • The most runs scored occurred on two different dates when the Yankees scored 11 runs on April 24 against Cleveland and again on June 4 against the Chicago White Sox.

The hitters of 1969:
Roy White led the team in OPS (.818), followed by Bobby Murcer (.773) and Joe Pepitone (.726). Pepitone led the team with 27 home runs, Murcer had 26 and Frank Fernandez finished with 12. White also led the hitters in WAR (3.8) and in OBP (.392).

The pitchers of 1969:
Mel Stottlemyre finished with a record of 20-14 – no, you’re not reading that incorrectly – and finished the season with a 2.82 ERA. But Stottlemyre didn’t lead the team in that stat. Yankees’ closer Jack Aker had a 2.06 ERA, finished with an 8-4 record and collected 11 saves. Fritz Peterson led the team with 150 strikeouts. Stottlemyre led the pitchers with a WAR of 5.2.

On Opening Day, April 7, 1969, the Yankees defeated the Washington Senators 8-4 at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in front of a crowd of 45,113. The Senators were managed by Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

The Yankees lineup that day:
Horace Clarke 2B
Jerry Kenney CF
Bobby Murcer 3B
Roy White LF
Joe Pepitone 1B
Tom Tresh SS
Bill Robinson RF
Jake Gibbs C
Mel Stottlemyre P

Stottlemyre pitched a complete game, gave up 14 hits, struck out four, walked two and gave up one home run. He also walked once and struck out in three at bats himself.

Their last game of the season was played in Yankee Stadium on October 1, 1969 against the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees prevailed and won the game 4-3 in front of a paltry crowd of 4,904 people.

That day’s starting lineup:
Horace Clark 2B
Gene Michael SS
Roy White LF
Bobby Murcer CF
Joe Pepitone 1B
Frank Tepedino RF
Thurman Munson C
Bobby Cox 3B
Mike Kekich P

The winning pitcher was Mike Kekich who played with the Yankees until 1973. He was traded midseason to the Cleveland Indians.

Did you notice some familiar names from that starting lineup?

Thurman Munson made his debut with the Yankees in August – he had two hits in three at bats against the Oakland Athletics. He played in 26 games in 1969.

Bobby Cox only played in 1968 and 1969. This was actually Cox’s last game as a player. He went on to have a much better career as a manager.

Gene “The Stick” Michael who started at shortstop that day played with the Yankees from 1968-1974, he managed the team in 1981 and 1982 and then went on to become General Manager in 1990. During his tenure as GM, he built the Yankees farm system and was a main catalyst for their dominance in the end of the 1990′s. And to you kids out there, if it weren’t for Gene Michael, the Yankees might not have had Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada. Yes, you can thank Mr. Michael for the dynasty.

***

I’d like to thank my iTunes library for helping me come up with the idea to do a post about the 1969 team. I was struggling to come up with a topic and I decided I’d write about the first song that came on. Then when it started – it was “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – I thought, “I’ll write about that year instead!” And, well, here we are.

Thanks to baseball reference as usual for the stats.

(This post was originally published on Second Place Is Not An Option)

Stacey is co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money, co-host of the It's About The Money, Stupid podcast and is a monthly contributor to ESPN's SweetSpot Blog. She is a former contributor at Aerys Sports and High Heat Stats. She has contributed to group projects at Baseball: Past And Present and the Hall of Stats. Her work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly and most recently, she wrote four pieces for Derek Jeter: Celebrating the Yankees' Captain Clutch, a magazine printed by i5 Publishing.

15 thoughts on “Throwing it back on a Thursday: The 1969 New York Yankees

  1. Corey

    I was old enough to watch this team. It was actually a pretty good team, but Baltimore was a tremendous team and that's why the Yankees finished so many games back.

    Jerry Kenny plaid 3B and Murcer played CF, though Murcer (like Mantle) did start out as an infielder.

    The pitching on this team was pretty good — Stottlemyre and Peterson were as good as anyone else in the league. But they lacked depth.

    The next year, in 1970, the Yankees fielded a team that won over 90 games and finished second. By that time, Munson played catcher and White and Murcer had matured. Danny Cater played a good first base and Lindy McDaniel was their closer.

  2. Norm

    I remember that team as well. I'd have to disagree with Corey, though. They weren't that good. Mel Stottlemyre was really the only decent pitcher they had. Fritz Peterson won 17 games, sure, but he also lost 16. If I recall, they had to go on a winning streak at the end of the season just to approach a .500 record. Although, Danny Cater did go on to contribute to the teams that won from '76-'78, if only because he was traded to the Sox for Sparky Lyle, one of the worst trades (from Boston's perspective) in MLB history.

    • h.sevush

      "Although, Danny Cater did go on to contribute to the teams that won from '76-'78, if only because he was traded to the Sox for Sparky Lyle, one of the worst trades (from Boston's perspective) in MLB history."

      Leading to the lovely nickname "see you later, Danny Cater."

      Cater's other claim to fame was coming in 2nd in AVG. in the AL in 1968 while batting .290 (yes, that's not a mistake.) That was the year Yaz was the only player in the AL to hit over .300 when he won the batting title with a robust .301.

      Fritz Peterson was a good pitcher, great control, no velocity, in his career with the Yanks that came to an end about 2 years later when he and Mike Kekich swapped wives during spring training. Ah, those were the days.

  3. jay_robertson

    I remember the names; I got to see Joe Pepitone (my wife's favorite player, back then) play a year or two earlier. Some good players – I didn't realize that they played on such average teams. Thanks.

    Even tho, a story based on the CSNY song would have been almost as interesting.

    • srosegots

      My mom loved Pepitone back then too. She still gets a kick out of seeing him on Old Timers' Day.

  4. Bill

    The 1969 team was extremely mediocre. Their season went into the tank in May when they lost 13 out of 14. Stottlemyre had a tremendous year, and while Peterson was 17-16, with any kind of offensive support he would have won 20 as well. McDaniel had a terrible year in the bullpen and Jack Aker picked up the slack. Their defense was shaky and the power outside of Murcer and Pepitone was minimal. But there was light at the end of the tunnel with the continuing development of players like Munson and White who were cornerstones of the fine clubs of the mid to late 1970s

  5. rodrider

    Thurman Munson made his debut with the Yankees in August

    And hit his first ML homer in this game, sandwiched in between homers by Bobby Murcer and Gene Michael (of all people). I remember because I was there!
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA19

    • srosegots

      That's so cool!

  6. Hawaii Dave

    I was 10 and it was bad to be a Yankee fan in a house full of Miracle Mets fans….I think jerry Kenny and Bobby Murcer hit homers on opening day.

    • William Tasker

      Memory is a funny thing, Hawaii Dave. I too remember the back to back homers by Kenney and Murcer. But I thought I saw it live at Yankee Stadium and I thought it led off the game. But it was actually in Washington on opening day and it was in the third inning. I must have watched it on television and glorified it in my mind as being there. At least I do remember correctly that Murcer wore #1 on his back and Kenney, #2.

  7. JEP

    I went to a few Bat Days in the late 60s. I remember the PA announcer asking us all to raise our bats to salute Mickey Mantle on one of those. I believe that was in 1969 (when I was 6), because they'd retired the Mick's number earlier that year.

    • srosegots

      That's really cool. I went to bat days in the 80s. I recall getting one that was navy with white lettering on it. I want to say it was 1984 but it may have been 1985. The bats – there are two, one for me and one for my brother – are somewhere in our attic.

      • JEP

        In those days the bats had individual players' signatures engraved in them. At one point I had a Mickey Mantle, Jake Gibbs, Bobby Murcer, Thurman Munson, and Lou Piniella. We were too young to know any better and used the Mantle to play baseball in the street and it got trashed. I still have the Murcer, Munson, and Piniella bats :)

  8. bill f

    in 69 the whole city was amazing mets crazy! I was 7-8 yrs old and didn't have a loyalty yet. My great uncle Whit was a dodgers/mets fan. my dad a giants/willie mays fan. I wanted something different I geuss. Bobby Murcer provided it! been a yank fan ever since

    • srosegots

      Nice.

      My great Uncle Gus, my dad's namesake was a big Giants fan and took my dad to the Polo grounds all the time to try and convert him. Never worked.

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