The 1962 baseball season was memorable for several reasons.
The New York Mets opened their first season with an abysmal record of 40-120, setting a record for the most games ever lost by a major league team. Additionally, the Los Angeles Dodgers played their first-ever game that year at venerable Dodger Stadium, losing to the Cincinnati Reds on April 10, 6-3; nevertheless, the Dodgers recovered to have a great season.
Two days later, Dodger rookie pitcher Pete Richert made an incredible major league debut by striking out the first six major league batters that he faced, including four in one inning!
Also, Dodger shortstop Maury Wills broke Ty Cobb's single season base-stealing record by swiping 104 and was named league MVP. The Dodgers ended the year in a tie for first with the San Francisco Giants. The two teams then had a three-game playoff for the pennant, which the Giants won, sending them to the World Series against the New York Yankees.
The roster for the 1962 New York Yankees included two Connecticut natives: Waterford's Billy Gardner and Putnam's Rollie Sheldon. Gardner, an excellent fielder with a cannon for an arm, was Bobby Richardson's back-up at second base. He had been a member of the Yankees' championship team in 1961, which had defeated the Cinncinnati Reds. Sheldon, who had had a terrific rookie season in 1961, was on the Yankee pitching staff. Sheldon made it to the 1962 World Series against the San Francisco Giants, but Gardner did not, as he was traded to the Red Sox during the 1962 season.
My father got tickets to the fourth game of the 1962 World Series at the old Yankee Stadium. (See photo gallery for pictures that my father took of the game.) He took my brother Bob and me to the game. I was in the fourth grade at the time, loved baseball, and was particularly interested in Mickey Mantle. He played center that day and was one of seven future Hall-of-Famers to play in that game. The others included Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, and Willie Mays.
We sat in left field, but my brother and I were able to move down low during batting practice and almost caught a line drive hit by Yankees' fine third baseman, Clete Boyer. It hit off of my brother's hand, but was too "hot" to handle.
Two Illinois natives — Chuck Hiller and Tom Haller — were the batting stars that day for the Giants. Haller stroked a two-run homer in the second inning off of Whitey Ford. Then light-hitting second baseman Chuck Hiller hit a grand slam for the Giants in the 7th inning to break open the game. It was the first National League grand slam in World Series history! The Giants went on to win, 7-3.
The game marked the only appearance in the series of Juan Marichal, who was ineffective that day. Ironically, former Yankee pitcher Don Larsen got the win for the Giants. It was on the sixth anniversary of his memorable perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series!
The 1962 World Series was interesting and remarkable for several reasons. First, it was the only seven-game World Series in baseball history where neither team was able to win two games in a row. Each game was competitive. Interestingly, the Giants had a higher team batting average and lower staff ERA in the series. The Giants also hit more doubles, triples, and home runs than the Yankees but still lost the series, 4-3, to the Yankees. The 1962 World Series was also notable for its length. It took a then-record 13 days to play out the series due to rainstorms in both cities.
The series ended in dramatic fashion in San Francisco on Oct. 16 with the Yankees winning, 1-0. In the bottom of the ninth, future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey hit a screaming line drive which Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson snared. Two Giants were in scoring position at the time. The 13-day series was over; the Yankees had won their 20th world championship.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D. C., on that very same day — Oct. 16th — word came from the Kennedy White House that Russian missile sites were being built in Cuba. Like the World Series that had ended that very same day, this confrontation with the Russians, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, would also last 13 days and would bring the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Much more was on the line than the outcome of a baseball game, however, as you will see in next week's column.