1961 saw some great feats by various Yankees. Roger Maris’ 61 HR, surpassing Babe Ruth’s 60; the combined total of 115 between Maris and Mickey Mantle broke the Ruth/Gehrig teammate record of 107. Whitey Ford went 25-4, 3.21 and broke Babe Ruth’s World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. Elston Howard hit .348. Johnny Blanchard had a great season off the bench. The team hit a then-record 240 HR (no DH then, too).
One feat that is much overlooked is the year that Luis Arroyo had. The reason for that may be this: the save didn’t become an official statistic for Major League Baseball until 1969. As such, no one knew in 1961 that Arroyo broke a record.
Looking at baseballreference.com, we see that Firpo Marberry of Washington, one of the first great relievers, “saved” 22 games in 1926. I use the quotes because this is all in retrospect, due to what I mentioned in the previous paragraph—that saves didn’t become an official stat until 1969.
Marberry held this “record” until 1949, when Joe Page (a future “Classic Yankee” piece?) “saved” 27 games. Ellis Kinder tied the “record” in 1953.
…and that brings us to Arroyo’s 1961.
Arroyo was a little pudgy lefty from Puerto Rico who hadn’t had much of a career before 1961. Known for his screwball, he broke into the majors at the age of 28 in 1955 with the Cardinals. He started 24 games, relieved in 11 more, and went 11-8, 4.19, ERA+ 97. He was named an All-Star.
In early 1956, he was dealt to the Pirates. He only pitched 28 2/3 innings for the Buccos that year, starting two games and relieving in sixteen more. He was 3-3, 4.71, ERA+ 81. In 1957, Arroyo started ten games and relieved in 44 more. In those 54 games, he was just 3-11, 4.68, ERA+ 81 again.
He was out of the majors in 1958, spending the entire year in the minors, and was dealt to Cincinnati in December of 1958. Arroyo never started a major league game again. In 1959, he got into ten games for the Reds, going 1-0, 3.95, ERA+ 106.
From 1955-1959, in his pre-Yankees major league career, Arroyo was 18-22, 4.22, ERA+ 89. Nothing special.
In 1960, he was stuck in the minors when he was sold to the Yanks in July. He helped the Yankees to the 1960 pennant, going 5-1 with seven saves (I won’t use the quotes anymore; you get the point) and an ERA of 2.88, ERA+ of 125.
He got into one game in the 1960 World Series, pitching 2/3 of an inning and giving up a run.
Then came 1961. Arroyo won 15 games and saved another 29, breaking the record that Page & Kinder had shared—only no one knew it at the time. With today’s emergence of closers, and the dominance of Mariano Rivera, 29 doesn’t sound like a lot, but in that different era, it was good enough to be a new record—if only it was official.
Arroyo led the majors that year in games pitched (65), games finished (54), and saves (29). His ERA was 2.19, his ERA+ was 171. He was once again an All-Star.
In the MVP voting that year, Arroyo placed sixth, actually getting one first-place vote. Considering the achievements of Maris (who won the MVP), Mantle (2nd), Ford (5th) and Howard (10th), this was quite a feat.
Arroyo got into two games in the World Series, giving up 2 R, 1 ER in 4 IP. He got the win in Game 3—the game in which a pinch hit home run by Blanchard tied it in the 8th, and a HR by Maris was the game-winner in the top of the 9th.
Alas, Arroyo couldn’t build on his superb 1961 season. He injured his arm in the spring of 1962, and as a result, his IP dropped from 119 in 1961 to just 33 2/3 in 1962. His record dropped to 1-3, 4.81 and seven saves. ERA+ 79. He didn’t pitch in the 1962 WS.
1963 would prove to be Arroyo’s final year. In six games and in just six innings, he went 1-1, 13.50, ERA+ 28. His final major league game was in May, and he was released at the end of the season, while the season was in its final week.
Arroyo ended his career 40-32, 3.93 with 44 saves—29 in that 1961 season. His ERA+ was 98. In WS action he was 1-0, 3.86 in three games. As a hitter, Arroyo hit .227 with 1 HR and 8 RBI in 128 at bats.
Arroyo (Wikipedia) was the first Puerto Rican to play for the Yankees. Later on, of course, we would see the likes of Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. He wore No. 47 as a Yankee. In July of 2010, he survived a mild heart attack. “Little Louie” is currently 85 years old.