Ralph Terry was the Most Valuable Player of the 1962 World Series, pitching the New York Yankees to victory over the San Francisco Giants in game seven of that series, but there’s a whole lot more to the story of the man that grew up in Chelsea, Oklahoma.
I sat down with Terry last week following a press conference for his recently released autobiography, Right Down the Middle, which he co-wrote with Tulsa author John Wooley, and we chatted about a career that spanned over four decades and two sports.
“My goal as a kid was to win one game in the big leagues so I could come home and brag, and say I’ve been there, and I’ve won one game,” Terry said.
That was in his rookie year, 1956, and then during the 1957 season he and Billy Martin were traded to the Kansas City Athletics. He had a couple of mediocre seasons in Kansas City, but in 1959, the Yankees traded to get Terry back and that’s when things started to improve for the tall, lanky right-hander.
In 1960, Terry posted a 10-8 record and 3.40 ERA. That year, he made his first postseason appearance, pitching in two games of the World Series, and he became well-known for giving up Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off homerun in Game Seven, giving the Pittsburgh Pirates the title.
“I had to live with that for a couple of years,” Terry said. “I like to say, New York gave me a day, a day to get out of town. But, really New York fans were great. They never really held that against me and a couple years later, I was fortunate just to get to pitch another seventh game and if I had lost that game, I probably would have had to change my identity and leave the country, but I was fortunate to win the game in San Francisco, and it really is a story of losing the big one and coming back and wining the big one. That’s what it’s all about.”
Terry went 16-3 with a 3.15 ERA in 31 games including 27 starts, in 1961. The next year proved to be Terry’s best season in the Majors.
“I thought, well. maybe I can win 20, and we had a good team that next year and I won 23 games,” Terry said.
In 1962, Terry posted career bests with 23 wins which led the American League, 39 starts, 298.2 innings pitched, and 176 strikeouts against 57 walks. Returning to the World Series, he went 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 25 innings over three games against the San Francisco Giants. His performance earned him the World Series MVP award.
Terry said he was blessed to play in an era that saw many great future Hall of Famers, both on his Yankees teams and other teams around MLB.
“A lot of the truly great players were still around when I played; Ted Williams, Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, were still around,” he said. “I played on seven pennant winners, and somebody once asked me what’s it like, and I told them, ‘that champagne really stings your eyes,’ we didn’t have goggles,” he joked.
Terry played for one of the most heralded managers of that day, and one who seemed to always have a way with words.
“Casey Stengel had a lot of double talk, but he was a smart man and came out of the dead ball era where you’d steal a base, bunt, hit and run, and he made that transition to the power game. He was also into statistics. Many people don’t know but he graduated as a dentist. He was a very educated man. He used to say he never practiced because they didn’t make left-handed dental tools.”
Terry retired from baseball in 1967, but subsequently turned his attention to golf. He had begun playing golf as a form of therapy while nursing a leg injury one season, and decided to become a club pro. From there he started competing in tournaments and eventually earned a spot in four PGA Tour events in 1981 and 1982. In 1986, Terry joined the Senior PGA Tour (now the Champions Tour) and competed on that tour for several years.
Terry reflected on his relationship with Arnold Palmer, who died just last month.
“Arnold Palmer was a part owner of the Country Club of Miami and I went to him in Spring Training 1961, my wife and I met with him and Winnie, and I said ‘Arnie, you’re the best player in my lifetime, in the off-season I’d like to work for you, because I can’t play baseball forever,’ and he said ‘okay, when the season’s over you come and I’ll give you a job,’” Terry said.
As it turned out, that fall Terry’s first child was born, so he asked Palmer if he could take a rain check.
“I played with him on the Senior Tour a few times and I got to hit balls with him, and we talked about the golf swing, and I can tell you some good stories,” Terry said.
He sure can, and his book is filled with them. What a very interesting man to talk to, who experienced so much in his life, especially competing professionally in two different sports, and he certainly has many stories to tell. I highly recommend his new book.