The Case Against Ralph Terry

August 10, 2020

Sometimes you hear it said that Ralph Terry was a pretty good pitcher who had a short if decent peak for the Yankees in the early 1960s, or that he’s largely forgotten as an ace pitcher because of the brevity of his peak years (which were strong: at the peak of his peak, 1961 through 1963, he went 19-10 on average with a 3.19 E.R.A., in a league that went about 3.85 in those years. He was good, no question, and he was a horse, averaging 252 IP and 34 starts in those three seasons.) But those peak numbers are regular-season numbers, and the case against him has to be made on the basis of one post-season conclusion: he could not pitch in the clutch.

Just had absolutely no ability to pitch well in a high-pressure situation. To this day, he is the only pitcher to blow leads in the 9th innings of TWO Games Seven of a World Series. The gopher ball he gave up to Bill Mazeroski to lose the 1960 Series is well documented, and is galling enough, but when you consider that he did the same thing again in the 1962 World Series, how can you conclude anything other than the guy lacked guts or competitive fire or courage when it really counted?

The Yankees, you will recall, led narrowly in that final inning of that final game. Going into the bottom of the ninth, Terry’s Yankees were ahead by one run, but the Giants got their leadoff man, pinch-hitter Matty Alou, on base with a bunt single, and the next two Giant batters struck out. Willie Mays was up next, and Terry gave up a resounding double to Mays, with Alou stopping at third base. Okay, maybe this was excusable—Mays was a good hitter, and there’s no shame in giving up a hit to him, even if the game, and Series, and season is on the line.

But now Terry has surrendered all his wiggle room. If the next batter, Willie McCovey, gets even a single, both Alou and Mays will score, and the Giants, not the Yankees, will win the World’s Championship. And Terry understood this well—in the history of the game, there has never been a more skillful runner than the man on second base. Mays would find a way to score from second base on virtually any hit to the outfield, so Terry knows he needs to get McCovey out.

And as we all know, he did not. McCovey cracked Terry’s pitch on the hardest, sharpest, meanest line-drive most of us had ever seen. Some folks maintain that Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson could have caught it, that if Richardson were a little taller (he stood only 5’9") he might have nabbed the fatal line-drive, or if he were a better jumper, or if he had had slightly faster reflexes, he might have caught the line-drive in the webbing of his glove at the apex of his leap, but if "if"s and "but"s were candied nuts, we’d all have a hell of a Christmas, wouldn’t we?

The damning fact remains, sadly, that McCovey’s drive sailed over Richardson’s head into right field, scoring Alou on a slow trot, with Mays, who of course began running with the crack of McCovey’s mighty truncheon, right on his heels. The Series ended with the ball skipping between centerfielder Mickey Mantle and rightfielder Roger Maris, all the way to the wall in right-center, and the Giants celebrating deliriously around their star player as Mays stomped on home plate with the winning run.

Was there something in Ralph Terry’s character that simply broke down in the clutch? Did he lack perhaps the self-esteem that would have let him stand up against Mazeroski and then, two years later, against McCovey? Why, in the crucible of pressure, did Terry cave in, time and again, entering the 9th inning of season-ending games with his team leading narrowly or tied but leave the field having surrendered the winning runs?

I know, these are questions that have been posed many and many a time before, but every so often I will come across someone, perhaps naively, praising Ralph Terry as a skilled pitcher because of his regular-season stats, and I feel the need to remind him of the utter inability of the man to perform even adequately in the clutch. Some folks say there is no such thing as "clutch," but I will always point to Ralph Terry as the best evidence that clutch is real, and that some players are equipped to excel in it while others inevitably fall short.

[play-by-play of the 7th game of the 1962 World Series:  ]


COMMENTS (43 Comments, most recent shown first)

Marc Schneider
"I will always point to Ralph Terry as the best evidence that clutch is real, and that some players are equipped to excel in it while others inevitably fall short."

And we all know that failing in the clutch in sports is indicative of a more general character flaw in the individual. If a player can't come through in the clutch in baseball, he must be a pretty poor human being and deserves nothing but our scorn.
12:39 PM Aug 17th
The Yankees had lefties in the bullpen. Marshall Bridges and Bud Daley (amaybe Luis Arroyo or Al Downing, I forget). Bridges had been their ace fireman, but had just served up a grand-slam in Game Four.

You’d think that Whitey Ford, who went only five innings in Game Six) could have been available for a critical out. (Ford had garnered his final Series win in Game One.) It would have been interesting for him to save the game or blow it.

12:54 PM Aug 14th
Marc Schneider
It doesn't seem like it was a particularly difficult play for Richardson although the ball was hit hard. It was just another of those random plays in baseball where the ball happens to find a fielder. Obviously, Terry was lucky, but that's part of baseball and the fact is he was in the 9th inning with a 1-0 lead against a pretty good lineup. Again, if it had been a hit, I think Houk would have been to blame.

8:49 AM Aug 14th
Just watched replay. McCovey's blast was high and far and headed for the Bay. Maris had a bead on it at the last minute when the famous Winds of Candlestick held it up but blew it foul and out of reach ten feet short of the fence.
9:42 PM Aug 13th
DJ--How tough a play was it?

How tough is it to catch an unexpected bullet heading for your left ear?

In fairness, it is unlikely he could have reacted in time if he hadn't been a few steps to his left of straight-away second base position anticipating a left handed slugger like McCovey pulling that bullet
9:29 PM Aug 13th
I remember watching this game at the time. I mistakenly remembered Richardson leaping high to catch that bullet. It had to be over forty years until I saw the replay on Youtube to realize he never left the ground and I was mis-remembering.
9:21 PM Aug 13th
How tough a play was it?
8:19 PM Aug 13th
Steven Goldleaf
I was bemoaning the absence of replay, when I realized that this play, and this game might be on Youtube. Turns out there wasn't much leaping by Richardson involved (at 36:20 of this Youtube highlights film: )

Also McCovey's foul HR in his previous AB doesn't seem that deep. or that far foul. Mostly very high. Maris looked like he thought he had a play on it until the last second.
6:15 PM Aug 13th
Uh, what am I missing? Is this satire? Read it twice and still have no clue. Are you saying Terry was lucky. As his World Series predecessor Vernon Louis Gomez laughed, "The secret of my success was clean living and a fast outfield."
5:54 PM Aug 13th
Richardson didn't have to move very much to make the play., so I wouldn't call it a matter of inches, not quite. Looks as if he positioned himself well.

In today's game, the infield would have shifted right. Tony Kubek or maybe Cletis Boyer would have had to make that play.
1:02 PM Aug 13th
Steven Goldleaf
Here's a thought spearmint for yuz: suppose that an ump would have called "Time!" for some reason just as Terry was delivering the final pitch, and the lineout to Richardson had been nullified.

Terry gets another crack at him. Do you think he would have walked him intentionally at THAT point, or do you think he would have pitched to him? What would you have done if you were Terry?
11:23 AM Aug 13th
Marc Schneider
Kaiser D2. I think Mays' point was the HE would have scored, not that Alou should have. That doesn't mean, of course, that he was right. Perhaps the arrogance of a great player. Or maybe he was just pissed off that they lost.

11:03 AM Aug 13th
I've read that with all the rain delays in finishing the series, the Yankees were holed up in their hotel and playing high stakes poker. The game came down to a huge pot between notoriously lucky Yogi Berra and . . . Ralph Terry. And, supposedly, Terry beat him and was laughing his head off. "I beat Yogi! I beat Yogi!". He had more luck soon after.
9:04 AM Aug 13th
Steven Goldleaf
As to allowing Terry to pitch to McCovey--he did have an open base, first base, to put McCovey on but he (Terry) wanted to pitch to him because he thought he could walk him semi-intentionally. Problem was, as I recall, that he was trying to throw pitches off the plate, and got one too close to McCovey's wheelhouse. if he had walked him intentionally, he would have been facing Cepeda but needing to throw strikes to him. I wonder which course is the better bet.
4:29 AM Aug 13th
Both a home run and foul by good margins, I believe--well up in the stands, well foul.
12:08 PM Aug 12th
Steven Goldleaf
KaiserD2, by "a good margin," do you mean it was foul by a good margin or was a HR by a good margin, or both? What Terry had going for him was durability--as I say, he averaged over 250 IP for three years running. Combine that with above-average pitching, above-average defense, above-average run support, and you've got a pretty good record.
9:01 AM Aug 12th
A few things here.
1. Like Johnny Kucks, Tom Sturdivant, and Bob Grim, Ralph Terry was a slightly above average pitcher who had the good fortune to land with the Yankees, an overwhelming superior American league team who played in a pitchers' park. My pitchers' database was designed to identify every pitcher, every year, who had at least 2 wins above average. Terry's best season was 1962 when he had 1.9. Until the 1990s, when other factors became important, no Yankee pitcher was nearly as good as his won-loss record and ERA made him look.
2. The Giants claimed after game 7 in 1962 that they were amazed that Houk let Terry pitch to McCovey, who had homered off him in game 2 and tripled to the base of the center field wall in game 7. Incidentally, Terry was also rather lucky on that play. The previous batter, Mays, had lined the ball down the left field line and Tom Tresh had made a snow-cone running catch on it. In the ninth, McCovey hit a foul home run (by a good margin) on the first pitch, then connected for his line drive.
3. I have watched Mays' ninth inning double on the World Series highlight film many times. You can probably find it on youtube. It doesn't look to me as if Alou would have been able to score. The relay to the plate was on target.

David Kaiser
7:55 AM Aug 12th
Steven Goldleaf
I was thinking more in line with what size speck on the bat moves a line drive (let's say 100 feet out) one foot higher. I imagine (can't see how it could be otherwise) it's a very, very tiny speck. Just wondering how tiny.
7:14 AM Aug 12th
P.S. But seriously folks..... I'd be interested in what's the actual fractions-of-an-inch differences too.
3:26 AM Aug 12th
Physics, plus "bat anatomy" (i.e. the degree of curvature, which would depend on the circumference), plus knowing how far down on the bat he hit the ball, plus if you really want to be precise about it, knowledge of the temperature and relative humidity at that moment, plus if you really really want to be precise about it, also the wind speed and exact direction at that moment.....

BTW I worked that all out. The answer is 0.016440103882147705 of an inch (was too lazy to take it to more decimals).

But actually that's no good, because it would have needed to be more than a foot higher. :-)

First thing you'd need to do would be to take Richardson out to the field and see how high he could reach for a line drive. I think the ball would have needed to be at least 2 feet higher, which would make that number more like maybe 0.03288020776 of an inch -- but don't take "2 feet" from me -- you need to do the experiment.
And remember to take into account that Richardson probably jumped higher then than he does now.
3:23 AM Aug 12th
Steven Goldleaf
I wish some physics whiz could easily calibrate for us the minute distance on McCovey's bat between the path his linedrive took and the path it needed to take to go a foot higher as it encountered Richardson's glove. I'm thinking it's the smallest of specks, but I don't know anything about--well, anything, but especially physics. I don't even know if it's "physics" that I mean here.
2:54 AM Aug 12th
Fireball: Probably this means I just don't read enough :-) but that's the first time in 55 years I've seen or heard anyone but me bring up that Russell play in the "Havlicek Stole The Ball" game.

A couple things about it:

-- Me being a Sixers fan at the time, I watched that game from a 76er perspective -- and never realized till many many years later that the famous "Havlicek stole the ball" thing was that very game.
I had no idea who it was who stole the ball. All I knew was the 76ers couldn't get the ball in-bounds on that last play.

-- I was very aware, on the other hand, of Russell not being able to get the ball in-bounds on the previous play. (BTW, it wasn't a "stanchion" that he hit, but something called a "guy wire," which I didn't know at the time what it was and really I still don't. I never heard the phrase before or since.)
And, perhaps in a perverse kind of way, in terms of looking back at Russell as a player, I see that play as a very positive reflection on him.

I've sometimes talked about how the way a player was used can be a big indication of what kind of player he was. I didn't think of it myself; it's a thing I got (or inferred) from Bill's writings, but maybe I take it further than he ever intended. Anyway, to me the main thing about that play, in terms of how it reflects on Russell -- a thing we might not get from the pure numbers although they do suggest it -- is that he must have been a superb passer. This was a moment of extreme crunch time -- and he was the guy in whose hands the team put the ball for that in-bound pass. I don't mean that I think it means he was the best passer on the team, just that for sure this in itself, "signature-significantly" without question, tells us he must have been a very good passer, which isn't a thing he's particularly known for and which I'd bet most serious fans of basketball history don't realize.

It might seem perverse to say that, because: he screwed up the pass. But that doesn't change the fact of his having been picked to be the one to make that critical pass, and heck, after all. it was probably just a fraction of an inch that made the difference between the pass being good or not. :-)
11:53 PM Aug 11th
Marc Schneider
I liked the part where Steven called Mays a "good hitter." BTW, I read somewhere that Mays said that, if he had been on base, he would have scored on the ball he hit to right field when Alou stopped at third.

Another thing I always wondered about was that, even given this was 1962 when pitchers were expected to finish the game, why would Ralph Houk let Terry pitch to Willie McCovey? To me, Houk was the one that choked.
10:14 PM Aug 11th
Maybe adding a few 1/8 inch movements on the Yankees bat and the game would have been 9-0 in the ninth, making McCovey’s at bat moot.
8:10 PM Aug 11th
Ok lets look at this from a three true outcome aspects as pitchers cannot control where the hitters hit it. Alou singled on a bunt to second. Terry strikes out the next two batters. Most of the credit has to go to Terry. Mays doubles to right field. McCovey lines out. Looks to me like the fielders were choking as they fielded only one out of 3 balls in play when the average is at least 2 out of 3 balls in play being fielded.
5:26 PM Aug 11th
Terry pitched a 4-hit shutout in the 7th game of the World Series.
4:51 PM Aug 11th
Ah, there is the key. Change https to http. Maybe I knew that once.
4:21 PM Aug 11th
What is it about URLs in comments? Trying again:
4:20 PM Aug 11th
Thanks for a great think piece, Steven. Brings to mind the famous Peanuts strips.
4:18 PM Aug 11th
Steven, I had an exchange with Bill a year or two ago about Ralph Terry. I got to know him a bit when he was in his 50s and 60s. He was a gentleman, humble and self-effacing, and he was also one hell of a golfer. He was so good at golf that many celebrity tournaments quit inviting him because he'd always win.
As a Giants fan I enjoyed your rewrite of history, but in reality, Ralph deserved the MVP for that Series.
1:52 PM Aug 11th
I really wanted to find the Spanish language version (I have a couple paperback books of those) but this'll do fine: :-)
(as usual, might have to copy/paste rather than just clicking),d_placeholder_euli9k/dpr_1.5/c_limit,w_770/fl_lossy,q_auto/v1/articles/2014/08/15/san-fran-kisses-i​ts-70-000-person-toilet-goodbye/140814-rochmis-candlestick-embed1_jt9mim
12:52 PM Aug 11th
Fireball Wenz
Just wanted to say: I get it!

Speaking of choke artists, can you believe in a championship series final game, Bill Russell hit a stanchion with an inbound pass with just seconds remaining? The only thing keeping Russell from being the Basketball Buckner was John Havlicek's timely steal.​
11:13 AM Aug 11th
Steven Goldleaf
Glad to oblige, malbuff. On a personal note, McCovery's linedrive is the first MLB play I can specifically remember seeing. I was watching my Uncle Pete's TV through a window, standing on the steps outside of his den, and when Richardson caught the ball, I leapt off the steps (about 4 feet) and into his garden. I was 9 years old and I was happy, though I'd rooted for the Cincinnati Reds the year before (out of regard from my older cousin Jerry who was a big Vada Pinson fan) and would root for the Mets for the next 40 -odd seasons. But this one year, I was a Yankee fan, delirious with joy that they'd won the Series.
10:22 AM Aug 11th
As a lifelong Giants fan, I must thank you from the bottom of my heart for detailing such a wonderful fulfilling fantasy, regardless of intent.

But seriously, Terry was a beast in that 1962 Series. And that final out was one of several confrontations he had with McCovey. Just two innings earlier, Mac had tripled off him to deep center. Terry stranded him on third, preserving the shutout. Six rainy days earlier, in Game 5, McCovey had singled and scored off him in the ninth, and Terry then faced the tying run at the plate with one out. He got out of it. And he allowed only two runs in Game 2-- one of them on a 7th-inning home run to, yep, Willie McCovey.
8:17 AM Aug 11th
Steven Goldleaf
Also, I was trying to see if I could write this up in the most biased, slanted, lawyerly way possible, referring to Willie Mays, whom i consider the best ballplayer ever, as a "good" hitter, or referring to the Yankees' lead in this game as a one-run lead (without mentioning the fact that their lead was 1-0, meaning that Terry had pitched magnificently through the first 8 and 2/3s innings), both of which are accurate, technically, but which emphasize points that downplay Terry's ability.
4:59 AM Aug 11th
Steven Goldleaf
I would suggest that the difference in this one case is much smaller than any particle of an inch, on McCovey's bat, than we could possibly estimate. I'd imagine we're talking about a particle of a millimeter here, just to lift McCovey's line-drive the few inches it would take to make this counter-factual historically true, an amount so tiny that it's impossible to impute any intent or skill or lack thereof on McCovey's part or Terry's in making the ball go where it did. But as Water Closet Williams once wrote, "So much depends..." In this instance, Ralph Terry would have suffered the most terrible sort of castigation of his character, instead of being named World Series MVP and having his reputation as Mazeroski's gopher-handler redeemed. And there would have been no possible argument against this sort of character-assassination, in some people's minds, none whatsoever. You could argue this point until you were blue in the face but there are those who would have said that what it depended on, most of all if not exclusively, was Terry's lack of ability when it counted most.
4:08 AM Aug 11th
Well yeah -- going to Wisconsin, not going to Wisconsin..... :-)

But seriously folks..... :-) :-) If we're going to look at it that way, what about this: The difference altogether between success and failure in baseball depends on tiny differences.

Announcers sometimes say the difference between a routine fly ball and a HR is half an inch on the bat. Sometimes they say an eighth, which I'd guess is a lot more like it; it could even be a smaller amount.
I actually might know almost enough physics and geometry to figure that out, but heck, I'm not getting a grade for it any more, so....

BTW, I'm not sure if I maybe just supported his point rather than weighed against it. :-)
1:19 AM Aug 11th
Of course it's obvious what Steven is doing here; he's pointing out that the reputations of clutch and choke players rest on the flimsiest of evidence often measured in inches.

12:28 AM Aug 11th
(aw $hit, had to screw it up with a typo) :-)

Should be "was a pretty GOOD businessman," not "a pretty businessman"
10:49 PM Aug 10th
Maybe next:
(I'll take a swing at it right here.......)

Sometimes you hear it said that Donald Trump was a pretty businessman who stumbled into the presidency when someone named James Comey said all kinds of stuff and Hillary Clinton never went to Wisconsin and took Michigan and Pennsylvania for granted............ But those are flukish fantasy notions that try our credulity.

As we all know, none of that occurred. Comey had the good sense to handle his matter more traditionally, and no presidential candidate in his or her right mind would fail to give due attention to important battleground states. Of course she went to Wisconsin, and while the electoral college count was a bit too close for comfort -- surprisingly so, in view of her winning the popular vote by 20 points -- the businessman candidate was sent back where he came from, never to be heard from again, and the Republican Party suitably chastened for its bizarre nomination choice......

10:47 PM Aug 10th
I'm with you MarisFan. ?!?
10:01 PM Aug 10th
Oh -- forgot to ask: What exactly are you doing here......
9:15 PM Aug 10th
9:13 PM Aug 10th
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