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.

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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)