Jim Bouton remembers the 1964 World Series

The first New York Yankees dynasty began in the early 1920s with the arrival of Babe Ruth, and ended in 1964 when the Yankees lost a close World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. That was exactly 50 years ago, and young Jim Bouton earned two of the Yankees’ three victories in that seven-game Series. Last week I reached Bouton on the telephone, and we talked about the 1964 Series and its aftermath …

Rob Neyer: In early September that season, the Yankees were in third place, four games behind the first-place Orioles and three behind the White Sox. Was anybody worried?

Jim Bouton: I don’t think the players were really worried. That outfit, they didn’t worry. I do think the front office was worried.

The big turnaround, of course, was Phil Linz playing the harmonica. We were struggling, had just been swept by the White Sox in Chicago. For some reason, Phil was at a drugstore outside the hotel where we stayed. He was wandering around in there, or maybe it was actually Tony Kubek who bought the harmonica.

So we’re heading to the airport from Comiskey Park, on the South Side. It was a long bus ride, and we’re rolling along, and on the Yankees you weren’t supposed to be joking around when you’re in third place and just got swept.

But Phil thought this would be a good time to practice his harmonica. It came with a little sheet with a practice tune, explained how you played the thing.

The practice tune was “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and if you can play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” as a dirge, this was it.

Then from the front of the bus, we heard someone growl, “Stuff that harmonica up your ass.” Might have been Yogi, might have been somebody else.

There was a little pause, then Phil – who’d been playing pretty well, so why shouldn’t he be able to keep playing his harmonica? – started up again.

Now Yogi is hollering, “I said stick that harmonica up your ass!”

He’s running up the aisle, and when he gets to Linz, Linz sort of flips the harmonica toward Yogi. Yogi swats it, and the harmonica goes flying. Guess who it hits in the knee? Joe Pepitone, who goes, “Oh, my knee, my knee!”

Then [coach] Frank Crosetti stood up and said in his squeaky voice, “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened in the history of the New York Yankees.”

It was hard not to laugh; this was really the worst thing ever? In the whole history of the franchise?

But for some reason we started getting hot, and in September we won 11 in a row.

Rob: Which was enough to grab first place, and eventually the Yankees’ fifth straight trip to the World Series. Whitey Ford started the opener against the Cardinals, but he got knocked out early – due to a circulatory issue in his pitching arm, it was Whitey’s last action in the Series – and the Yanks lost. I was surprised to see that you didn’t start Game 2, considering what a good season you’d had, particularly in the second half. Instead it was rookie Mel Stottlemyre, who hadn’t joined the club until August.

Jim: Well, Mel had tremendous poise, was a great professional. I don’t really remember thinking anything about it, figured we would both pitch twice so it didn’t really matter.

Rob: Stottlemyre pitched a complete game and beat Bob Gibson, 8-3 (in fairness to Gibson, he gave up only four runs in eight innings before the bullpen gave up four more in the ninth). Which left Game 3, two days later in the Bronx, to you.

Jim: It was a close one. We went up 1-0 in the third, and it could have been more but I flied out with two guys on base. And they tied it in the fifth when [Cardinals starting pitcher] Curt Simmons got a base hit.

Rob: And it was still 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, when Mantle led off against Schultz …

Jim: I was sitting near the end of the bench, where the bats were. Mickey was at the bat rack. He wasn’t one to make big pronouncements, but he said, “I’m gonna hit one out of here.” More to himself than anyone else, really.

I was watching Barney Schultz throw his knuckleball before Mickey came up. Every pitch was a knuckleball, started around the waist and broke a foot down to the knees. I think Mickey hit the first pitch, started thigh-high but dropped down near his ankles. He hit it so high, I thought it was going to go out of the stadium. But first it went above the façade, then fell into the upper deck. Once in a while, they’ll replay the ’64 Series on TV, and Mickey hits his home run off Schultz and there’s me with my pitching jacket on, pounding Mickey on the back.

Rob: The Cardinals came back and won Games 4 and 5 in New York. Then the Series went back to St. Louis. Sportsman’s Park wasn’t anything like Yankee Stadium, with fewer than half the seats and a cozier playing field. What did you think about the place?

Jim: I thought about the field dimensions, knew I couldn’t get away with one there. But my focus was, I’ll beat these guys no matter what.

The morning before Game 6, everybody was told to bring their bags to the lobby in case we lost and had to fly home after the game. I said to [traveling secretary] Bruce Henry, “What kind of confidence are we showing in our starting pitcher?”

Rob: Well, it worked out all right. Game 6 was pretty close until the eighth, when you guys scored five runs and went ahead 8-1. And it was 8-2 when you came out to pitch the bottom of the ninth. I’m surprised to see that Yogi took you out of the game after a couple of one-out singles, but The Sporting News later said you were dealing with some shoulder stiffness.

Jim: Steve Hamilton came in. I wanted to finish the game, but I was glad to have Steve close it out. I always liked him.

Rob: So Stottlemyre started Game 7 on just two days rest, and didn’t have much. Bob Gibson, who’d lost Game 2 and pitched all 10 innings to earn the victory in Game 5, and was also working on short rest, went the distance in Game 7, even though Clete Boyer and Phil Linz both touched Gibson for solo homers in the top of the ninth. Final score: 7-5 Cardinals, and the Yankees had lost their second straight World Series. My question: Was there any talk at that time about the demise of the Yankees’ dynasty? Or did you feel you’d be back again in 1965?

Jim: We always felt that. I remember when the Dodgers beat us in ’63, that was supposed to be the indicator. That Dodgers pitching staff, everyone said, with Koufax and Drysdale, was better than we were. If there was going to be some sort of slide, this was going to be it. But now it’s ’64, and here we are again. So who’s going to be favored over us next year?

Rob: First came a strange offseason, as Yogi Berra was fired the day after Game 7 and replaced by Cardinals manager Johnny Keane. What did you think about that at the time?

Jim: I think that decision happened earlier in the season, maybe right after Phil Linz decided to play his harmonica in Chicago. That was a Ralph Houk decision, and [Dan] Topping and [Del] Webb and those guys.

Rob: So things didn’t go well in ’65. Not for Keane, or the Yankees, or you.

Jim: Johnny Keane was the wrong guy for so many reasons. The Yankees were a party team. We out-drank, out-ate everybody, would be out carousing. Johnny Keane was a very religious guy. I don’t remember if I said this first or somebody else did, but hiring Johnny Keane was like putting Billy Graham in charge of the Hell’s Angels.

Rob: Did you have a sore arm in ‘65?

Jim: No. What I had, and I only came to realize it years later, was a dead arm. I didn’t have a particular arm injury. I did have pain in my bicep, but it wasn’t a sharp pain. Only years later, when I realized how many innings I’d pitched, did I wonder about that. I wanted the ball, like we all did back then. But I remember Johnny Sain, our pitching coach, saying that one day you’re going to have three pitchers in a nine-inning game, three innings for each pitcher.

Jim Bouton is the author of Ball Four: The Final Pitch. He’s working on a new book about growing up in a small town in New Jersey.