Former Yankee Tom Tresh Recalls Stellar Rookie Year
by Todd Newville
Imagine being a rookie with one of the greatest franchises in professional sports - the New York Yankees. You go on to win the American League's Rookie of the Year award and the Yankees go on to win the World Series in a thrilling seven-game matchup with the vaunted San Francisco Giants.
Fiction, you may say. However, for former Yankee Tom Tresh, the dream was a reality in which he played a vital role. Tresh is one of only six players to win Rookie of the Year honors and play with a World Series champion in the same season.
Since the Baseball Writers Association of America instituted the Rookie of the Year award in 1947, only Gil McDougald with the Yankees in 1951, Jim Lefebvre with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1965, Fernando Valenzuela with the Dodgers in 1981, Chuck Knoblauch with the Minnesota Twins in 1991, and Derek Jeter with the Yankees in 1996 have matched Tresh's feat.
Tresh, a lifetime .245 hitter in nine years with the Yankees and the Detroit Tigers, hit 153 career home runs, including seasons in which he clouted 25 in 1963, 26 in 1965 and 27 in '66.
After a brief stint in 1961, Tresh came up to the Yankees for good in '62 and promptly made an impact in the Big Apple. He hit .286 with 20 homers, 94 runs scored and 93 RBI while splitting time between shortstop and the outfield. For his efforts, Tresh was named A.L. Rookie of the Year.
"When you're a 25-year-old kid and your dream has always been to play professional baseball, it's kind of hard to believe," Tresh said. "When you look around and you see all of these great players, it's hard to fathom that you're in the middle of all that and that you're taking a role in that situation.
"Out of everybody in the country, how come I was the one playing in Yankee Stadium, standing there with my locker next to Mickey Mantle's, going out to dinner with Bobby Richardson after a game? It was just a great feeling."
The Bronx Bombers compiled a 96-66 record in Tresh's freshman campaign to finish five games ahead of the Minnesota Twins for the Junior Circuit pennant. They went on to face the Giants in the World Series, which went down to the wire - a true "Fall Classic."
In the decisive seventh game, with New York on top 1-0 at tricky Candlestick Park, the Yanks' Ralph Terry opened the bottom of the ninth by allowing a bunt single to Matty Alou. Terry struck out Felipe Alou and Chuck Hiller before Willie Mays doubled to right.
A solid throw from rightfielder Roger Maris kept Alou at third. Then, up came Willie McCovey - the Giant first baseman affectionately known to his Candlestick faithful as "Stretch." He hit a sizzling line-drive smash right at second baseman Richardson for the final out of the Series.
Just like that, the Series was over. Tresh crashed a game-winning homer in the fifth game and hit a solid .321 for the Series. Everything happened in the blink of an eye, according to Tresh.
"You didn't have time to think about things," said Tresh on that exciting seventh game. "The odds of them getting a hit with two outs were much less than us getting an out. Still, you get a knot in your stomach when something like that happens.
"When McCovey hit that ball, the game ended so quickly you didn't really have time to respond. Only when we were back in the locker room celebrating did we realize what happened and all the things that could have happened to turn the ballgame around."
Tresh's father, Mike, was a catcher for the Chicago White Sox from 1938-48. Having a father who also played in the major leagues gives a player an edge, Tresh said.
"I grew up watching my dad play and being around major leaguers," said Tresh, "so in my mind, there wasn't any reason I couldn't make it and do the same. It was a tremendous advantage for me from a mental aspect.
"Sometimes, though, it also put more pressure on me because people expected me to play better than most. There are pros and cons with having a dad in the pros, but the advantages certainly outweigh the disadvantages."
Tresh, who turned 62 on Sept. 20, has fond memories of his teammates during his Yankee years. Among them are Terry, who was 107-99 in his career and the winner of the MVP award in the '62 Series.
"He was a very good pressure pitcher," Tresh said. "He won that 1-0 ballgame in the seventh game of the 1962 Series. He was a control pitcher who kept the ball down. A true pitcher in every sense of the word because he didn't have overpowering stuff."
Shortstop Tony Kubek, a .266 career hitter for the Yankees, also conjures up some fond memories for Tresh. "A great shortstop who was a bit unorthodox in his style," Tresh said. "He wasn't as fluid or as smooth as some guys, but he was very efficient and very fast with a strong arm. He made all the plays and he was a good clutch hitter."
Elston Howard, the first African-American to play for the Yankees, won two Gold Gloves and an MVP award in 1963 with New York. Tresh respected Howard tremendously.
"He was a good friend of mine and I miss him a lot," said Tresh of Howard, who died in 1980. "He was one of the most instrumental black players who managed to get a foothold in the major leagues in that era."
Whitey Ford, a Hall of Famer who had a 236-106 lifetime record, has the third highest winning percentage of all time (.690.) He also holds numerous World Series records, including most career wins (10), most games (22), most innings pitched (146), and most strikeouts (94).
"Whitey was probably one of the greatest pitchers in history," Tresh said. "He did it through brains and not a lot of power. He mixed his pitches well and he threw a great curveball. He was just a fierce competitor."
Richardson, who is currently involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, hit .266 in his career and won five Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess. "He's certainly a great example to our youth in this country," Tresh said.
Yogi Berra, a three-time MVP, was, "a character as everyone knows," Tresh said. "He was a great 'bad ball' hitter and he was always friendly to everyone he met. I can't think of a better catcher than Yogi."
Tresh said Maris maybe the most underrated ballplayer of all time. Maris won two MVP awards and hit 61 home runs in 1961 - a single-season major league record until Mark McGwire (70) and Sammy Sosa (66) surpassed that total during the 1998 season. Tresh believes a spot in Cooperstown, N.Y., should have already been reserved for the shy and reserved Maris, who passed away in 1985.
"He should be in the Hall of Fame," Tresh said. "There's no reason in the world why anyone can justify otherwise. He could do it all offensively and defensively."
If you ask Tresh who was the greatest player he ever saw, he'll quickly answer with Mantle without hesitation. Few would argue. Afterall, Mantle hit 536 homers in his career and slammed another 18 in World Series play. Mantle also won the Triple Crown in 1956 and three MVP awards.
"Mantle was my idol as a kid," said Tresh, who has four children. "He was the greatest player to ever play the game in my opinion. I named my only son Mickey, so that should be a testament to my admiration for the man."
In this day and time, Tresh admits to wondering about what kind of salary he might be making if he played in the major leagues today. However, he wouldn't trade his career with the Yanks for anything.
"Sure, I might make millions today," Tresh said, "but you really can't have any regrets when you played for one of the greatest teams in history. I'll always cherish the experience."
Todd Newville lives in Oklahoma City and has a wife named Melissa. A journalism graduate from the University of Oklahoma in 1992, he has written about all sports ranging from basketball to bowling. He currently is editor for a publication called Pro Rodeo World—but baseball is truly his passion.