Wednesday, November 2, 2011

1961 Yankee Of The Day: Clete Boyer

Just 24 years old, Boyer would help the Yankee infield, in 1961, turn 180 double plays. Indeed, this was the season that Clete would be compared (fielding wise) to his older brother Ken. Sticking in the AL, Boyer was getting comparisons to 16 time Gold Glove winner, Brooks Robinson.

How about the bat?

He would spend the majority of the 1961 season batting in the 8th spot, although although from late May through June he would bat first or second.

But for the first month of the season, I would've had Boyer batting 9th behind the pitcher.

First seven games of April: 1 hit and a .050 batting average.

Then just one more hit in his next three games. Could Cletus snap out?

Ralph Houk always had faith in him, so the answer was always, yes!

On April the 29th, he got a hit in 4 trips to the plate (two strikeouts, however) to bring the average up to three digits for the first time since the 17th.

Then he got 3 hits and an RBI in a doubleheader on the last day of April against the Senators.

But I would have batted him 5th, 6th, or 7th in May.

Yup, that month was a complete reversal.

Clete got a hit (or more) in his first nine games of the month. In the last four games of the streak, he got two hits each game. Along the way, he hit a triple on the 4th, his first homerun (off Los Angeles' Tex Clevenger, a soon to be Yankee) the next day, and three doubles. The homerun Boyer hit on the 5th was with Roger Maris on and the Yankees down 4-3 in the top of the ninth, and it paved the way to a 5-4 Yankee win.

So his average was up to .299 on May 12. Granted it would never get higher, but where would Boyer go in the lineup?

Actually, he would go to the second spot on a May 14th doubleheader. Just for the first game. Reality set in as he struggled to a 1-9 on the day.

That sent him into a slump, but by the 22nd, Clete had hit his second homerun on the season off Jack Fisher or the O's, helping the Yankees to a 8-2 win. Poor Fisher! He just loves giving up these homeruns to players who need a homerun in their last at bat (Ted Williams), or for #60 on the season (Roger Maris, later) and so on...

And in that game, Boyer scored a season high 3 runs.

On a May 30th game that saw Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris AND Bill Skowron hit two homeruns each, Yogi Berra only hit one and must have spent the who game saying, "Deja vu, all over again. And again."

Boyer didn't hit any, but he contributed in other ways. One way was his season high 4 hits, and another was his 2 runs scored.

He was only 1-5 the next day against Boston, but did pick up an RBI. He closed out the month with his average at .262 and better still had batted in the first or second spot in 5 of his last 6 games.

So for June, Boyer was in the leadoff spot, except for 2 games where he batted second.

The first two June games produced, nothing. But on June 3rd, Boyer played 13 innings of a 6-5 loss to the Chi Sox, and collected 2 hits, 2 walks and 2 runs scored. Plus, one RBI.

He didn't get two hits in a game against until the 14th, although he did get 4 RBIs in the next 7 games. Then after getting two RBIs on the 8th, he didn't get much of anything until the 14th.

That day, though, he did get two hits. And also an RBI, against the Tribe.

The next two games were identical, 1-4s against Cleveland and Detroit, but the Tigers were the victim of a 2-4 and 2-5 performances by Clete on the 17th and 18th. The Yankees could only split the two games, however. In the 12-10 loss on the 17th, Boyer hit his third homerun, off Paul Foytack in the top of the ninth, as the Yankees scored 5 runs. But they were behind 12-5 before they did this. It wasn't going to be enough.

He didn't hit any homeruns on the 22nd, but Clete Boyer had another two hit day, in his last appearance in the 1st spot in the batting order for about a month.

The performance came at a price, as he was forced to miss the next nine games with a sore shoulder. So as July began for young Clete (July 4th) he was oh-for as the saying goes.

0 for 5 actually in the doubleheader against the Tigers.

But curiously, he scored 3 runs in the next three games, despite only getting 2 hits. And remember, Boyer is batting out of the dungeon now, relegated to the 8th spot, just in front of the pitcher.

And again, despite all this, he contributed. In a stretch from July 9th to July 15th, 4 games, Cletus had 7 hits, 2 runs scored and 2 RBIs. A bit of a slump followed, but his 4th homerun on the season was on July 22nd.

Then a bit of a slump, despite 3 RBIs on the 19th.

And then another run started. On July 25th, just three days later, it was a 2 hit, 2 run scored, 2 homerun, 4 RBI day for Boyer. It was the second game of a doubleheader.

The next day saw Boyer hit his 7th homerun.

July ended with not much more.

And August would start with only a defensive replacement in his first game, followed by two 0-3, 1BB performances.

And then a marathon game.

Actually, it was a doubleheader day against the Twins. The first game went 15 innings and saw Boyer get 2 hits in 8 at bats. In the second game it was only 9 innings, but Boyer got a hit in 3 at bats.

But all that and Clete got just one RBI!

And then three more games without a hit dropped him down to .217.

But after that, a 7 game hitting streak brought his average up 17 points.

In the streak he had a 3 hit game, 2 2 hit games and four games with one hit. He also his a homerun in the second game of a August 12th doubleheader.

But he couldn't keep the ball rolling as he managed just one hit in the next six games. Just when things were looking up...

RBIs were coming slow at this point as Boyer did not get any after August 13.

On August 24th against the Angels, he got 2 hits in 3 at bats. But the Yankees lost 6-4.

The streak of no RBIs continued on to September as it eventually reached 19 games. During which time, Clete could hit only .194.

But on the 4th, not only did get an RBI and 2 runs scored, but he also collected two hits against the Nats. That was the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game Clete Boyer hit his 9th homerun off Pete Burnside. His also hit his 6th sacrifice fly on the season.

Another RBI and run scored went into the record books the next day, but no hits. Although the RBIs dried up for a bit, his hitting had improved to .230 by September 7th.

On September 10th, in the second game of a doubleheader against Cleveland, he went to work with two extra base hits: a double and a triple, 2 RBIs and a run scored.

This began a hot streak, RBI-wise for Clete. He collected 2 homeruns and 7 more RBIs in the next 8 games. Although his average was still down, the number 8 hit was now getting the timely hits.

But on September 20th, he collected his last RBI as part of a 2 hit game against Baltimore. But no one noticed as Roger Maris and Yogi Berra went back to back on longballs in the 3rd. The Yankees clinched the pennant with the win.

He failed to get any more RBIs or runs scored in the next 7 games as the season came to a close.

Boyer's .224 average, 11 homeruns might not seem like much. But this is the 8th hitter in the lineup! 55 RBIs and 61 runs scored are pretty good, doncha think?

Boyer never pinch hit in the entire year. Of his 148 games played, 141 were at third base, 12 were at shortstop and 1 was in the outfield.

Clete was obviously not much in the way of the league leaders in offence, although he did rank 6th in sacrifice flies with 8.

Defence though, was another story. His defensive WAR was 3.0 tops among all positioned players. And his 141 games a third was topped only by Brooks Robinson, Frank Malzone and Bubba Phillips among AL third sackers. Malzone led all third basemen in double plays with 45, with Boyer second at 36.

Boyer's .967 fielding percentage was topped only by Robinson's .972. But Boyer tied Robinson for second in putouts with 151 despite playing 22 less games.

And, how about assists? Well, Boyer had 353, tops among any third basemen in the AL. Clete's brother Ken led the National League in assists with 346 in 153 games!

Clete's range factor per nine innings is a staggering 3.78, the next closest to him among third basemen with 100 games played would be Phillips with 3.07. And Boyer's 3.57 ranger factor per game is tops with Phillips still well back at 3.03. If you are wondering where Brooks Robinson is, he's at 2.96.

But Robinson won the Gold Glove.

Robinson didn't play in the World Series, however, and Boyer did.

In game one it was Boyer's defence that helped pave the way for a Yankee win.

It was in the top of the second that Gene Freese who slammed a hard grounder to third. Boyer, who had just made a play to retire Wally Post, dove to his right to get his hands on the ball, which then ended up in between his legs. Boyer planted his right leg, from the knee down, on the ground. Then in the process of getting up, Clete tossed to first for the out. What a play!

Then in the 8th, Boyer added to his heroics by robbing pinch hitter Dick Gernert of a hit with a diving stop to his left. From both knees, he threw out Gernert at first.

Boyer, at bat, went 1-3 but it did not figure into the scoring. The Yankees won 2-0.

In game 2, Boyer's great defence continued.

But before I get to that, I should note that Cletus muffed a Frank Robinson ground ball in the top of the 4th with one out. The next batter, Gordy Coleman, hit a homerun to break a scoreless game.

But in the 6th, Robinson led off with a hot shot down the third base line that looked like a sure hit.

That is, until, Clete Boyer dived to his right, came up with it cleanly and threw Frank out! An out later, Wally Post got the message and whacked a double that was too high for Clete to make a play on. The Reds went on to score when Johnny Edwards hit a single to score Post.

Clete added two walks, including one with two outs in the ninth, but could not collect a hit. The Yankees lost, 6-2.

The Series moved to Cincinnati for games 3, 4 and 5.

And Boyer brough his bat with him for these games!

But game three was forgettable as he failed to get the ball out of the infield in his only three plate appearances against Bob Purkey.

In game 4, it was Jim O'Toole, back from a strong game 1 performance for the Reds, on the hill. He got Boyer to hit into a fielder's choice in the third. Then Clete himself was erased when Whitey Ford, the Yankee starter, also hit into a fielder's choice.  A double by Bobby Richardson put runners on second and third, but Tony Kubek flied out.

In the fifth, the Yankees were up 1-0 and got a runner on with no one out. Alas, Boyer hit into a double play! A Kubek single would later score the Yankees second run.

Then in the sixth, the Yankees loaded the bases for Boyer. Jim Brosnan was now pitching. Could Clete come through?

He sure could! He lashed a double to left to score two runners. It was now 4-0, and the Yankees had a chance for more with Bill Skowron on third, and Boyer on second.

Ford batted and grounded to first, which first baseman Coleman made the play unassisted. Then Skowron got himself trapped between third and home. Coleman made that play, too. And unassisted!

By the eighth, the Yankees had upped their lead to 7-0, despite some good Red defence, and Boyer led off. He flied out.

By game 5, Boyer had his best game offensively.

In the first inning, the Yankees had opened up a 4-0 lead and knocked out Reds' starting pitcher Joey Jay. Jim Maloney came in to pitch.

Boyer promptly hit a double off him to score Hector Lopez, who himself had greeted Maloney with a triple. 5-0, New York.

Boyer drew a walk in the third of Bill Henry, was sacrifice to second, but left there as the Yankees could do no more that inning.

The Bronx Bombers had upped their lead to 6-0 by then. But Cincinatti cut the lead in half in the bottom of the frame as Robinson hit a three run homerun.

However, the Yankees were not done. They got 5 more runs off Henry in the fourth before Sherman Jones averted further damage by getting Boyer to pop up and and Yankee relief pitcher Bud Daley to ground out.

The Reds again made an effort to make a game of it when Post hit a two run homerun in the bottom of the 5th. 11-5 Yankees.

Lopez's sacrifice bunt (and he reached second anyway on Coleman's error) made it 12-5, and Boyer came to bat with runners on second and third and just one out against Bob Purkey. The Reds' walked him.

Daley himself would hit a sacrifice fly for the Yankees final tally.

Boyer added a single in the eighth, and again made it second eventually. But, again, he was stranded there. It ended up being the last play of any kind for him that season.

Although he got just 4 total hits in the World Series that year, Boyer hit a solid .267 with 3 RBI. Amazingly, he never scored a run that Series. But he got 4 walks to give him and On Base Percentage of .421 for the postseason.

Clete Boyer's contributions to the Yankees of 1961 will probably not be remembered. After, all, he had an older brother named Ken who could really hit. But to his teammates and fans, Clete was like a Hoover vacuum (A-la Brooks Robinson) that season, making plays that saved many a run. The Yankees as a team that year would turn 180 double plays, tops in the American League. Despite his weak batting average, Boyer had proven himself to be a valuable man to manager Ralph Houk.


Golenbock, Peter. "1961." Dynasty: The New York Yankees, 1949-1964. Lincolnwood, IL: Contemporary, 2000. Print, pp. 405-445.

Mantle, Mickey, and Mickey Herskowitz. "The M &M Boys." All My Octobers: My Memories of Twelve World Series When the Yankees Ruled Baseball. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print, pp. 129-145.

Smith, Ron. The Sporting News Presents 61*: The Story Of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle And One Magical Summer. St. Louis: Sporting News, 2001. Print.

Sports Reference LLC. - Major League Statistics and Information. Web. 11 Nov. 2011.

The World Series Of 1961. Dir. Lew Fonseca. Prod. Dick Borden. Perf. New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds 1961. Major League Baseball Productions Inc, 1961. DVD. DVD Released in 2006.