Luis Arroyo had one of the first great relief seasons for one of baseball’s greatest teams in the 1961 Yankees. Arroyo, who was the Yankees’ first player from Puerto Rico, died this week at 88.
The ’61 Yankees won 109 games, hit 240 home runs, and scored 827 runs, more than five a game, and won the World Series in five games, more than doubling the runs scored by their opponents (27-13 over the Reds, with two wins by shutout).
The ’61 Yankees typically turned the ninth innings over to Arroyo, who broke a Yankees relief record by appearing in 65 games (Joe Page had pitched in 60 in 1949; see card above). Arroyo’s 65 games, 54 games finished and 29 saves all led the American League
Arroyo didn’t pitch just the ninth — he threw 119 in all, had a 2.21 ERA and .560 OPS, and won 15 games and lost just five. Fifty-five years later, that would be about three seasons of work for a Yankees’ lefty relief ace. (The 15 wins may seem like a lot for a reliever, but as Pirates fans surely know, Roy Face won 18 in 1959 in 57 games, all in relief. He lost just one.)
In the Series, Arroyo won the only one-run game, pitching two shutout innings in the 3-2 Game 3 win that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Arroyo was sixth in the MVP vote and got one first-place vote. More than one voter apparently held a grudge against Roger Maris for breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record, since Maris got only seven of the 20 first-place votes (using modern metrics, admittedly, there was a strong case to be made against Maris, but it’s doubtful anyone cited WAR in ’61). Hitting 61 home runs isn’t enough to be the MVP? No word if any of the other 13 voters were the three who didn’t vote for Ken Griffey for the Hall of Fame. Teammate Mickey Mantle received six first-place votes, Baltimore’s Jim Gentile five (.302, 46 homers) and Norm Cash (.361, 41 homers) the other. And if you couldn’t guess by those numbers, yes, it was an expansion year.
Four of the top six finishers — Maris, Mantle, Whitey Ford (25-4) and Arroyo — were Yankees. Arroyo saved 13 of Ford’s wins, according to Arroyo’s bio at sabr.org, and Ford said, according to the bio, “If I win 25, I’m going to hold out for $100,000 and split it with Luis.” As Arroyo did in the late innings, Ford held up his end. After ’61, according to the bio, Arroyo said, “I must have made six trips (to the States) to do commercials with Whitey and I made around $30,000.”
Arroyo was short and portly — 5-foot-8, 190 — and depended on a screwball, all of which might have contributed to his arm problems. He pitched for only eight seasons in the majors and 1961 was his last good one; he pitched in only 33 more games and wasn’t effective in most of them (6.12 ERA).
He pitched for four teams, the Yankees being his last, and was an All-Star also in his first season, for the ’55 Cardinals (11-8, 4.19 ERA), though he made 24 starts for them. He spent two years with the Pirates, who used him predominantly as a reliever and an abbreviated season with the Reds in ’59.
The Reds sent him to the minors for most of his tenure there, and the Yankees purchased him in midseason 1960. It was some of the best money they ever spent, certainly better than Ed Whitson. Arroyo was 5-1 with a 2.88 ERA, seven saves and .601 OPS in ’60 before his great ’61.
Career numbers: 40-32, 3.93 ERA, 45 saves, 531.1 innings, 336 strikeouts, 58 home runs allowed, .715 OPS, 98 ERA+, 3.87 FIP, 3.3 WAR (3.3 in ’61, 1.8 in ’55, -1.3 his last two seasons).