A new American based humanitarian organization called the "Peace Corps" was started at the insistence President John F. Kennedy. The program encouraged young people, most just out of college, to volunteer a year of their time to work as teachers, health care providers or other advisors for poor nations in Africa, Asia and South America.
The United States government pledged to increase its military presence to aid South Vietnam in the fight against the Viet Cong rebels. Although not "officially engaged" in a formal state of war, the new agreement provided increased funding for the Vietnamese army and more U.S. advisors in the field.
An unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the government of Cuban premier Fidel Castro by United States-backed rebels took place in April. An invasion force consisting of approximately 1,500 Cuban exiles, armed with U.S. weapons, landed at the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the south coast hoping to find support from the local population. Within hours, most were wiped out by Castro's own troops or taken prisoner for ransom. Acting President John F. Kennedy took full responsibility for the disaster, even though the plans had been put in place during the Eisenhower administration.
New York's newly crowned single-season home run champion* Roger Maris beat out Yankee teammate Mickey Mantle by 4 votes for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
On September 15, the New York Yankees also broke the all-time home run record (for a team) with 223 round-trippers. The combined franchise mark had been previously held by the 1947 New York Giants and the 1956 Cincinnati Reds.
Baltimore Orioles slugger Jim Gentile tied Ernie Banks' Major League record for most grand slams in a season after hitting his 5th off of the Chicago White Sox' Don Larsen.
On September 15, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax set down 10 Milwaukee Braves bringing his season total to 243 — a National League record for left-handed pitchers. The New York Giants' Rube Marquard had held the National League lefty record previously after fanning 237 in 1911.
The San Francisco Giants set a new precedent for Major League salaries after signing Willie Mays to an $85,000 contract — the highest in their history and the most paid to any player in 1961.
The National League's newest franchise was officially christened as the "Mets" after New York fans were asked to vote on a list of finalists submitted by mail. Other names selected for the ballot included the "Burros", "Skyliners", "Rebels" and "Skyscrapers".
Political tensions between the United States and Cuba initially prevented all Cuban players, including Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox and Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos of the Minnesota Twins, from returning to the U.S. for the 1961 season. After several negotiations, a high-ranking foreign ministry official finally permitted their unconditional return.
"The M&M Boys" (Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris) became THE single most important story in the 1961 season as both New York Yankee teammates raced to beat Babe Ruth's single-season homerun record of sixty. After going head-to-head for several months, Mantle fell out of the race due to a serious hip infection that required hospitalization. Maris pressed on and finally topped "The Bambino" during the final game of the season with number 61* off Tracy Stallard of the Boston Red Sox. Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled that Maris' record would be recorded with an asterisk in the books, making it a separate and distinctive record due to the new one-hundred sixty-two game schedule. Years later, acting Commissioner Fay Vincent reversed the ruling, "removing the asterisk" and recognizing Maris as an official record-breaker.
In response to the rash of home runs around the league, both American League President Joe Cronin and National League President Warren Giles agreed to order tests to determine if the "1961 baseball" was "livelier" than those of past seasons. The investigation conducted by technologists at Foster D. Snell Inc. concluded that the ball was slightly larger and several ounces lighter than the one used by Babe Ruth in the 1920's.
After 9 innings, the season's second All-Star Game was called at a 1-1 tie due to heavy rain at Boston's Fenway Park.
"I really believe that the sixty-one homers was the greatest feat in baseball history." - Mickey Mantle
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Did you know that sixty-first home run ball hit by Roger Maris on October 1st in Yankee Stadium landed in Box 163D, Section 33? The historic ball was retrieved by Sal Durante who won a trip to Sacramento, a trip to Seattle World's Fair, and received $5,000 for the ball.
Since the very beginning major league baseball was comprised of eight team leagues. The National League in 1876 followed by the American League in 1901.That all changed in 1961 when the American League added two teams. They had witnessed the success of the West Coast Dodgers and Giants and jumped at the first chance to go west by adding an expansion team the Los Angeles Angels. At the same time the request to move the Washington Senators to Minneapolis/St. Paul was approved but only with the agreement to place an expansion team in the nation’s capitol. The old Senators became the Minnesota Twins while the new Washington expansion team kept the name Senators. In order to accommodate a schedule for ten teams, the AL schedule was expanded from 154 games to 162.
None of this seem to impact the Yankees as they cruised to the pennant with the same margin of victory as they had in 1960. They were probably even better. Backed by the tremendous homerun assault of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris on Babe Ruth’s 60 homerun record and the additional power of Berra, Elston Howard, Skowron and newcomer Johnny Blanchard they set a new homerun record of 240. The Yanks had six starting pitchers with more than 10 wins. They shook off the early season challenge of the upstart Detroit Tigers. Coming from a sixth place, eight game below .500 season of the previous season, the Tigers growled with the hitting of Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito and Al Kaline and the 23 wins of pitcher Frank Lary. It was not the pennant race that caused the excitement in the AL. The M&M boys battled back and forth for the homerun lead until early September when Mantle was forced out with an injury. Maris cracked his 61st homerun the final game of the season, however it came with controversy. Commissioner Ford Frick declared it would be entered into the record book with an asterisk due to the increased number of games played.
#1 New York Yankees (109-53) . Whitey Ford put together an incredible season winning 25 games while losing only 4. Ralph Terry was 16-3, and screw ball pitcher Luis Arroyo won 15 games while saving 29 in a relief role. Putting these pitchers together with the aforementioned power hitters and a tight defense consisting of 2B Bobby Richardson, SS Tony Kubek and 3B Clete Boyer produced one of the greatest Yankee team in their heralded history. They sure gave new manager Ralph Hauck a successful inaugural season.
#2 Detroit Tigers (101-61) . Quite a jump from the 71 games won in 1960. First baseman Norm Cash became a star by hitting .361, 41 home runs and 132 RBIs. Rocky Colavito added 45 home runs, 140 RBIs and Al Kaline batted .324. In addition to Frank Lary’s 23 wins, Jim Bunning came through posting 17 wins. It had been a long time since the fans in Detroit had reason to get excited.
#3 Baltimore Orioles (95-67) . The Kiddie Corp of pitchers continued to mature. Steve Barber and Chuck Estrada each grabbed 15 wins while ace Milt Pappas was limited to 13 due to an arm injury. The starting pitchers got some much needed relief help from the 35 year old veteran (HOF) Hoyt Wilhelm, who was just now coming into his prime. He recorded 16 saves and 9 wins. First baseman Jim Gentile exploded hitting 46 home runs, 146 RBIs and a .306 batting average.
#4 Chicago White Sox (88-76) . The White Sox were sliding further away from their 1959 champion team. Two of their mainstays were feeling older. Nellie Fox slumped to a .252 batting average while Billy Pierce only won 10 games. (HOF) Luis Aparicio still played like a gold glove shortstop and stole 53 bases. The new ace of the pitching staff was Juan Pizarro (14-7).
#5 Cleveland Indians (78-83) . An off-season trade of OF Harvey Kuenn to the Giants for OF Willie Kirkland was an attempt to get back the power lost when they traded Rocky Colavito to get Kuenn. Although Kirkland hit 27 home runs , he was no Colavito. Also received in the trade was tired arm Johnny Antonelli who produced zero wins in a season stopped early due to injury. The team was old. Jimmy Piersall came over from the Red Sox and hit a surprising .322. Pitcher Mudcat Grant showed promise with 15 wins.
The Bottom Tier
#6 Boston Red Sox (75-86) . Twenty-one year old rookie OF (HOF) Carl Yastrzemski inherited the impossible job of replacing Ted Williams. He showed some potential but his .255 BA and 11 home runs hardly covered the loss. Jackie Jensen tried coming out of his early retirement, but called it quits again following a poor season. The cupboard was getting bare with the exception of the Rookie of the Year pitcher Don Schwall who posted 15 wins.
#7 Minnesota Twins (70-90) . The new fans did not seem to mind the poor team. The offense showed future promise with now 1B Harmon Killibrew’s 45 home runs, 122 RBIs and OF Bob Allison’s 29 round trippers. Shortstop Zoilo Versailes and pitcher Jim Kaat were still finding their place.
#8 Los Angeles Angels (70-91) Expansion teams are made up of expendable players from the established teams and rookies. Consequently, there is not much that stands out. The Angels did receive some power from outfielders Leon Wagner, 28 home runs and Lee Thomas' 24 home runs. Pitcher Ted Bowfield was the only starting pitcher with a winning record (11-8).
#9 Kansas City Athletics (61-100) . It is a bad baseball team that cannot outplay an expansion team. This team of unwanted Yankees — Norm Siebern, Jerry Lumpe, Hank Bauer, Andy Carey, Don Larsen and Art Ditmar could do little right. First baseman Siebern was the best of the bunch, .296, 18 home runs but keep in mind he was received in exchange for Roger Maris. The leading pitcher was Bud Daley (11-11).
#10 Washington Senators (61-100) . The poor Washington fans. They wished for the old pitiful Senators as the new bunch was a team of old players with no punch or pitching. The leading hitter was catcher Gene Green, .280, 11 hrs. The leading pitcher, Bernie Daniels (12-11). They had a long road ahead.
Norm Cash of the Detroit Tigers led the American League with nineteen intentional bases on balls. Johnny Blanchard , Mickey Mantle , and Bill Skowron led the New York Yankees with nine each. Roger Maris , who batted after Mantle, led the league in runs scored, runs batted in, home runs, and total bases yet he did not receive a single intentional pass during 1961.
On July 17, 1961, former Tiger superstar Ty Cobb died in Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Mickey Cochrane , Nap Rucker , and Ray Schalk were the only former Major League players to attend his funeral.