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Article:Ralph Houk: Don't Blame the Manager

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by Harold Friend

Bryan Kashmen thinks that the only reason the New York Yankees rehired manger Johnny Keane three weeks before the end of the 1965 season was to avoid embarrassment. Yankees' management knew that that the team had deteriorated with time, and that firing Keane would result in too much bad publicity since he could hardly be blamed for what happened.

Ralph Houk's Press Conference

The New York Yankees were in sixth place, one game away from elimination in the 1965 pennant race when general manager Ralph Houk addressed an overflow press conference at Yankee Stadium. "We cannot blame our present position on the manager."

The Yankees Were Not the First Priority

I was a student sports writer for the Queens College newspaper, the Phoenix, and I attended the conference. It was difficult for me to not think that Mr. Houk was telling the truth. It was Yankees' management and ownership that had driven the greatest franchise in sports into the ground. CBS was losing money, and the Yankees were merely part of a conglomerate whose first priority was not the team.


Mr. Houk, of course, didn't think that was the case. "We feel our present standing is the result of not having our club together for the entire season. While we do not like to use injuries as an alibi, it is nonetheless true that we have not been able to play our regular club as a unit this season."

Expect to Win in 1966

I couldn't help feeling nauseous when Houk said that he and Keane were not concerned about the team and that they expected the Yankees to win the pennant in 1966. The part of me that didn't like the Yankees was filled with joy. Even a college student could see that the mighty New York Yankees were in a lot of trouble.

Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford Would Not Retire

That fact was confirmed when Mr. Houk denied rumors that Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, or both, would retire. He firmly stated that they would return, but admitted that Mickey would not be a full-time player. Then Mr. Houk delivered the clincher.

"We think we can win the pennant next year. Not necessarily through trades, either, although we are in a better position to make trades."

What in the world was Mr. Houk saying? The Yankees were a terrible team with great weaknesses and a depleted farm system.


An aging Elston Howard and an offensively challenged Jake Gibbs were the catchers. The infield, while great defensively, had inconsistent Joe Pepitone, who finished 1965 with 18 home runs and a .247 batting average at first.

Bobby Richardson at second hit .247, shortstop Tony Kubek hit .218, and Clete Boyer at third batted .251. The outfield had Tom Tresh in center and Hector Lopez in right, but more outfield help was needed if Mantle were to become a part-time player.

Mel Stottlemyre led the pitching staff, which produced respectable numbers, but 1965 was during the era of the pitcher. The Yankees' pitching statistics didn't look as great when compared to those of their rivals.

Mike Burke

Ralph Houk was forced to be optimistic, but if casual fans could see how much the Yankees had deteriorated, so could Ralph. Dan Topping sold his remaining 10 percent of the team, and Mike Burke took over as president. Mr. Burke had been a Navy officer, worked for the C.I.A. for five years, and was Ringling Bros. circus' general manger before taking over the Yankees. He was expert at many things, but baseball was not one of them.

First Time Since 1925

The Yankees finished the 1965 in sixth place. Oh, what happiness and joy. It was the first time since 1925 that they lost more games than they won. Fans who rooted against the New York Yankees thanked CBS every night before they went to sleep. What a great season, and more would follow.


By JOSEPH DURSO. (1965, September 9). Yanks Rehire Keane for One Year :Manager to Receive Salary of $50,000 -- Players Back Him. New York Times (1923-Current file),49. Retrieved February 15, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 94976353).

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