September 28, 1955, the old Yankee Stadium: Except for the war-shortened season of 1918, this was the earliest the World Series has ever been played. The Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 1, 6-5.
What everyone remembers is that, late in the game, Jackie Robinson stole home plate. He was ruled safe. Yogi Berra was catching for the Yankees, and he ripped off his mask and started arguing with home plate umpire Bill Summers, a native of Harrison, New Jersey and, oddly, an American League umpire giving a call that favored the National League runner.
Here's the clip. You make the call: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XY-XshGhMU
This is from the official World Series highlight film. The announcer is Lew Fonseca, a former big-leaguer who produced these official films for the baseball establishment, not yet officially known as "Major League Baseball."
Summers died in 1966, so we can't ask him if he thinks he got the call right. Robinson died in 1972, so we can't ask him if he thinks he got away with it. But Yogi is still alive, and, for the last 56 years, he has insisted that Jackie was out. Whitey Ford, pitching for the Yankees at the time, has always agreed with Yogi.
Before he died, Phil Rizzuto said he had the best view of the play from playing shortstop, and Jackie was safe. Whitey didn't like that, so he looked it up: The Scooter HAD started the game at short, but by the time of the steal, Jerry Coleman was at short. The Scooter blew it! Casey had pinch-hit for him, with Eddie... Robinson.
Some people think that steal gave the Dodgers the spark they needed to finally win the World Series after 7 that they lost -- the last 5 of them to the Yankees. (And you think the Buffalo Bills and their fans were frustrated? Lucky for the Dodgers, there was no 24-hour ESPN in the Fifties!) But the Dodgers lost that game, and Game 2 also. What really turned them around was getting back into their Ebbets Field bandbox, in front of their wacky fans, and getting a home run from Roy Campanella and a complete-game victory from Johnny Podres, who would also shut the Yankees out in Game 7.
Not to begrudge Brooklyn their one and only World Series victory, but Mickey Mantle was hurt, and didn't play in Game 7. That doesn't mean the Yankees would have won if Mickey had played, but he did homer off Podres in Game 3, which could make you think.
Only two men who played in that game for the Dodgers is still alive. One is their starting pitcher, Jefferson, New Jersey native Don Newcombe, who went 20-5 that season and hit 7 home runs. (The only other pitchers to win at least 20 games and hit at least 7 home runs in a season? Wes Ferrell, with the Cleveland Indians in 1931 and the Boston Red Sox in 1935, and Don Drysdale with the Los Angeles edition of the Dodgers in 1965.) The other was their 2nd baseman. No, not Jackie: He played 3rd base that day, as he usually did from 1953 to the end of his career in 1956. The Dodger 2nd baseman that day was... Don Zimmer.
The surviving Yankees from that game are Yogi, Whitey, Coleman, and Irv Noren, who filled in for Mickey in center.
Fast-forward to September 28, 2011. Today is the last day of the MLB regular season. Here's how the Playoffs are shaping up:
* The Yankees, having won the AL Eastern Division and clinched the best record in the AL, have the top seed in the AL Playoffs.
* The Texas Rangers, having won the AL Western Division, currently have the 2nd seed.
* The Tigers, having won the AL Central Division, have the 3rd seed, 1 game behind the Rangers. Almost certainly, the Tigers will play the Yankees in the AL Division Series, with the Yankees having the home-field advantage. The Yankees would play the Wild Card winner if it had not come out of the East, but it will. But who?
* The Red Sox, who beat the Baltimore Orioles last night, and the Tampa Bay Rays, who beat the Yankees last night, are still tied for the Wild Card. Whichever team wins it will face the Rangers, who will have HFA, in the ALDS.
* If the Red Sox and Rays both win tonight, or both lose tonight, they will finish tied, and there will be a one-game Playoff to decide the Wild Card, and, since the Rays have the better head-to-head record, it will be played in St. Petersburg tomorrow night.
* The Philadelphia Phillies, having won the NL East and clinched the best record in the NL, have the top seed in the NL Playoffs. (The Phils have won 101 games, tying a franchise record. They can break that record tonight, although the city record is still the 107 wins by the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics.)
* The Milwaukee Brewers, having won the NL Central, currently have the 2nd seed.
* The Arizona Diamondbacks, having won the NL West, currently have the 3rd seed, 1 game behind the Brewers.
* The Atlanta Braves, who seemed to have the NL Wild Card sown up, have fallen into a tie with the St. Louis Cardinals going into Game 162.
* Since the Braves are in the NL East, if they win the Wild Card, coming from the same Division as the Phils, they will play the Brewers, who will have HFA.
* Since the Cards are in the NL Central, if they win the Wild Card, they will play the team with the best record in the NL, the Phils, with the Phils having HFA.
* If the Braves and Cards both win tonight, or both lose tonight, they will finish tied, and there will be a one-game Playoff to decide the Wild Card, and, since the Cards have the better head-to-head record, it will be played in St. Louis tomorrow night.
As for Game 161: The Rays did their part, beating the Yankees 5-3 last night. Bartolo Colon pitched well into the 6th (a good sign for the Yankees' postseason hopes), but Rafael Soriano blew it in the 7th, giving up 3 Tampa runs. This made him the losing pitcher (2-3). Jeremy Hellickson pitched fairly well for the Rays, but the winning pitcher was Jake McGee (4-2). Kyle Farnsworth -- yes, THAT Kyle Farnsworth -- picked up his 25th save.
Attendance at this do-or-die game for the Rays was 22,820. That's home fans and visiting fans combined. The Red Sox and Orioles didn't do much better: 22,123. Where are those supposedly well-traveled Red Sox fans? Stupid Chowdaheads. Or maybe it was 17,123 Sox fans, and only 5,000 O's fans. At any rate, the combined total of 44,943 would have filled The Trop, and overflowed Fenway, but not filled Yankee Stadium II.
So, Game 162:
* David Price (12-13, 3.35) starts for the Rays. As of 10:30 AM, Joe Girardi had not yet selected a starting pitcher for the Yankees. He may end up going with "starter-by-committee," so as not to tax his regular starters' arms. This could have the effect of the Rays doing what they had to do: Sweeping this series, thus giving them a guarantee of a Game 163 -- if not, yet, one of a Game 164. (EDIT: Dellin Betances has been named the starter, and thus will make his major league debut.)
* Jon Lester (15-9, 3.49, but rocked by the Yankees in his last start) goes for the Red Sox. Alfredo Simon (4-9, 4.85) goes for Baltimore. This matchup certainly favors the Sox.
It sure looks like a one-game Playoff is necessary. As a young franchise, the Rays have never been in one. The Sox have been in 2, 1948 (lost at home to Cleveland) and 1978 (lost at home to the Yankees).
Joe DiMaggio once said, "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee."
There's a Facebook page titled, "I'd like to thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee Fan!"
I'd like to thank the Good Lord for NOT making me a Red Sox fan. I couldn't take it.