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.
"When I'm not hitting, I don't hit nobody. But, when I'm hitting, I hit anybody." - Willie Mays
Hitting Statistics League Leaderboard
Pitching Statistics League Leaderboard
On April 28, 1961, Warren Spahn of the Milwaukee Braves threw a 1-0 no-hitter versus the San Francisco Giants. Did you know that Spahn had turned forty on the April 23, 1961, making him the second oldest pitcher in Major League history to toss a gem?
While the American League fans had to settle for a home run battle and two expansion teams for excitement, the National League with its 154 game schedule had a tight race.
The Dodgers and Giants gave way to the surprising Cincinnati Reds. Under the direction of tough manager Fred Hutchinson, the Reds vaulted into first place in mid-August following a Dodger 10-game losing streak. The Giants were the early season leaders until the Reds put together a run of 21 wins in 28 games from mid June to mid July. In Pittsburgh, fans were wondering what happened to the same team that conquered the Yankees just a few months earlier. They boasted of having the league’s leading hitter, Roberto Clemente, but hampered by the sore arm of pitcher Vern Law and drop in production of pitchers Bob Friend and Elroy Face, coupled with a drop of 50 points from the 1960 league best hitter, Dick Groat they were never a threat.
#1 Cincinnati Reds (93-61) . A twenty-six game improvement over 1960 was shocking. The perennial powerful Reds finally found some pitchers to complement the hitters. Joey Jay won 21, Jim O'Toole 19, and Bob Purkey 15. Frank Robinson won his first MVP Award, batting .323, 37 home runs and 123 RBIs. Fleet-footed OF Vada Pinson showed his stuff by hitting .343 with 25 stolen bases. Outfielder Wally Post, 1B Gordy Coleman and 3B Gene Freese each hit more than 20 home runs. They had it all – good defense, speed, power and pitching.
#2 Los Angeles Dodgers (89-65) . Two new faces — Outfielders Tommy and Willie Davis (not related) helped nudge the Dodgers back towards the top. Shortstop Maury Wills stood out with 35 steals and outfielder Wally Moon had another solid season batting .328 with 17 home runs. There was a growing buzz regarding southpaw Sandy Koufax as he won 15 games striking out 269 in 255 innings. Thirty-four year old Duke Snider broke an elbow after a promising return to his old self hitting .296 BA with 15 home runs in 85 games. Thirty-seven year old Gil Hodges split time with 1B Norm Larker in his last season wearing Dodger Blue.
#3 San Francisco Giants (85-69) . Having flirted with first place in the spring they gave way to the Reds and Dodgers as the weather heated up. No fault of Willie Mays (.308, 40 home runs, 124 RBIs, 18 stolen bases) or Orlando Cepeda (.311, 41 home runs, 142 RBIs, 12 stolen bases). The addition of OF Harvey Kuenn added little. First baseman Willie McCovey was starting to find his way with 18 home runs. The mediocre pitching staff was helped with 22 year old Juan Marichal winning 13 games.
#4 Milwaukee Braves (83-71) . A downturn season for a solid lineup. Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews both hit over .300 and combined for 66 home runs. Aaron also led the club with 24 stolen bases. Joe Adcock hit 35 home runs. Missing from the previous seasons were SS Johnny Logan, OF Bill Burton and catcher Del Crandal. Veteran Warren Spahn, age 40, could still throw it, winning 21 games as could 34 year-old Lew Burdette, 18 wins.
The Also Rans
#5 St. Louis Cardinals (80-74) . Stan Musial, age 40, was slowing down. Third baseman Ken Boyer and 1B Bill White could not make up the deficit although each hit 20 plus home runs. Outfielder Curt Flood stepped up batting .322, but the rest of the offense was weak. Fans started to take notice of third year pitcher (HOF) Bob Gibson who won 13 games.
#6 Pittsburgh Pirates (75-79) . Quite a fall for the World Champs! The sizzling bats of 1960 SS Dick Groat, OF Bob Skinner and 3B Don Hoak all cooled off. Roberto Clemente was the only bright spot winning the batting title with a .368 BA. The same calamity hit the pitching staff, Vern Law was hurt, Bob Friend, Harvey Haddix, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Elroy Face all suffered a let down.
#7 Chicago Cubs (64-90) . The Cubs were a broken record of failure. Even the addition of Rookie of the Year outfielder Billy Williams, 25 home runs and 86 RBIs, and an improved offense could not change their fate. Third baseman Ron Santo was settling into his role hitting 23 home runs. Ernie Banks and outfielder George Altman combined for 56 home runs. As was the usual, there were no outstanding pitchers on the staff and none on the horizon.
#8 Philadelphia Phillies (47-107) . Could it get any worse — four consecutive last place finishes. No regulars hit over .280 and no pitcher won more than 11 games. Robin Roberts was gone. Gene Mauch was getting his first taste of managing.
On April 30, 1961 , Joey Amalfitano's baseball bat joined a truly elite club when it was literally borrowed by Willie Mays who proceeded to slam four home runs during one game with his teammate's bat.
On June 10, 1961, Sandy "The Scatter Arm" Koufax reportedly got his control this season and the New York Times even published an article that stated he "has zeroed in on home plate." Koufax continued to respond throughout the season and appeared in his first All-Star Game, lead the league in strikeouts, and began a reign of dominance that lasted until his retirment in 1966.