Tuesday, October 4, 2011
October 4, 1955: Remembering Brooklyn Triumphant
October 4, 1955, 56 years ago today: The Brooklyn Dodgers beat the New York Yankees, 2-0, in Game 7 of the World Series.
After losing the World Series to Boston in 1916, to Cleveland in 1920, and to the Yankees in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953; blowing Playoffs for the National League Pennant to St. Louis in 1946 and to the New York Giants in 1951; and blowing Pennants on the last weekend of the season to St. Louis in 1942 and Philadelphia in 1950, the Dodgers had finally won their first undisputed World Championship in 55 years, since they finished the 1900 season as National League Champions, with no postseason series available.
But in 1955, it all seemed to come together. True, the Dodgers had traded away two of the beloved players who would later be known, in the title of the book that Roger Kahn wrote in remembrance of his days covering them for the New York Herald Tribune, as "The Boys of Summer": Pitcher Elwyn "Preacher" Roe and third baseman Billy Cox. The team was in transition: Jackie Robinson was still a factor, but his replacements had arrived in Jim "Junior" Gilliam and Don Zimmer. Ralph Branca, the goat of the 1951 Playoff, had retired, but the Dodgers still had Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine, and they were joined by a hotshot lefty named Johnny Podres.
The Dodgers won their first 13 games of the '55 season, and finished 13 games ahead of the preseason favorites, the Milwaukee Braves. But the Yankees took the first two games of the World Series, despite Robinson's steal of home plate in Game 1. But the Dodgers took the next three at Ebbets Field. Then the Yankees tied it up. In fact, the home team won each of the first 6 home games.
October 4, 1955. Game 7 of the World Series. Yankee Stadium. The Boys of Summer were getting old. The younger Dodgers didn't quite seem ready. The team was in transition, and it did seem like it had been a seamless one; but for veterans like shortstop Pee Wee Reese, first baseman Gil Hodges, center fielder Duke Snider and catcher Roy Campanella -- along with Robinson, all but Hodges are in the Hall of Fame and he damn well should be -- it was now or never.
Podres was the choice of manager Walter Alston, having won Game 3. Yankee manager Casey Stengel, with ace Whitey Ford having pitched brilliantly in Game 6, had to go with Tommy Byrne, a lefty who was occasionally wild, but had come up big for Stengel in several big games.
The Dodgers scored a run in the 4th and another in the 6, to take a 2-0 lead. But the Yankees got two men on in the bottom of the 6th. And Yogi Berra, as much a "Mr. October" as the Yankees have ever had, was coming up. Yogi had delighted in hitting Series homers off the Dodgers, and would again. To hell with the lefty-on-lefty matchup: Yogi had no fear. And, despite usually being a pull hitter, Yogi hooked the ball down the left-field line, into the corner.
Left field had long been a troublesome position for the Dodgers. Gene Hermanski. Cal Abrams. George "Shotgun" Shuba. Andy Pafko had played it well, but for whatever reason they got rid of him. Now Zimmer was the usual left fielder, though he was a natural infielder. But Alston had pinch-hit Gilliam for Zimmer, and put Gilliam in at second, replacing the righty-throwing Zimmer in left with lefty-throwing Sandy Amoros, a Cuban whose English was halting but whose play, on this day, changed baseball history.
A righthanded fielder, like Zimmer, never could have caught this ball, no matter how fast he was. But Amoros was fast and lefthanded, and he stuck out his right hand and caught the ball. Then he wheeled it back to the infield. Reese relayed it to Hodges, and Gil McDougald was unable to get back to first in time. Double play end of threat.
Doris Kearns was a 12-year-old girl living in Rockville Centre, Long Island at the time. Years later, award-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin would cite Amoros' robbery of Berra and the ensuing rally-killing double play as a sign that the Dodgers would win. "There's always these omens in baseball," she said. Translation: If the Dodgers could get Yogi out in a key situation, then that was it, the Yankees would not threaten again.
Bottom of the 9th. Two out. Podres has pitched a stomach-churning game: Eight hits, but no runs. The last batter is Elston Howard. Six months earlier, Howard had become the first black man to play in a regular-season game for the Yankees, and was now the left fielder and Yogi's backup at catcher. In 1959, they would switche positions, and Ellie would become one of the game's best catchers. In 1955, he was a 26-year-old "rookie," having played in the Negro Leagues for a while.
Howard grounded to short. It was so appropriate that it went to Harold Henry Reese, the Dodgers' Captain and senior player. Pee Wee threw it to Gil Hodges, and Hodges, perhaps the best-fielding first baseman of his era, had to trap it on the ground to keep it from being an error and bringing the tying run to the plate. But he got it.
Ballgame over. World Series over. With Red Barber having been chased out of Brooklyn by team owner Walter O'Malley after the 1953 season, it was Vin Scully who got to make the announcement over the airwaves: "Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the World Champions of baseball."
Not exactly how Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto or John Sterling would have described it.
It had been 55 years -- or 52 years if you count only from the first World Series forward. The 0-for-7, and 0-for-5 against the Yankees, no longer mattered.
“Please don’t interrupt,” Shirley Povich wrote for the next day's Washington Post, “because you haven’t heard this one before: The Brooklyn Dodgers are World Champions of baseball.” (Povich wrote for the Post from 1924, when Walter Johnson finally pitched them to the World Series, until his death in 1998. His son is the TV journalist Maury Povich.)
And they did it at Yankee Stadium, no less. They never clinched a World Championship at Ebbets Field -- although the Yankees had, in '41, '49 and '52, and would again in '56. Not until '63 would the Dodger franchise clinch a World Series win on their home field.
The party in Brooklyn was the biggest since V-J Day ended World War II 10 years earlier. Scully told the story for Ken Burns’ miniseries Baseball: "When we were riding through Manhattan, it was fall. Football was in the air. We came out the other end of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and it was New Orleans chaos!"
No more "Wait 'Til Next Year." This was Next Year. The next day's New York Daily News had the famous headline, "WHO'S A BUM!" Willard Mullin, who had drawn the "Dodger Bum" cartoon character, drew him again, a big nearly-toothless smile, for that front page, consisting only of that headline and that drawing.
Two personnel notes should be made. One is that Mickey Mantle was injured and unable to play in Game 7 for the Yankees. Does that mean the one and only World Series won by the Brooklyn Dodgers should have an asterisk? No. There's no guarantee that Mickey would have made the difference, even though he had hit the Dodgers hard in the '52 and '53 Series, and would again in '56. Although he was one of the true Mr. Octobers, he didn't always have a good Series, and in fact went only 2-for-10 in the 3 Series games he did get into in '55, even if one of those hits was a homer off Podres in Game 3.
The other personnel note is that Jackie Robinson was not put into the lineup in Game 7. The noblest character in the history of baseball was deemed unworthy of this moment by his manager. Alston was not a Jackie Robinson fan. Neither was owner O'Malley. But on the highlight film, you can see Number 42 running onto the field. After all he'd been through, at 36 he still had enough energy to be one of the first men into the celebratory pile, if not enough energy to persuade his manager to put him into the lineup. But can we really argue with the decision? After all, it worked.
There are still 7 living members of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers. Zimmer and Shuba are the only 2 who played in the game, plus Carl Erskine, Roger Craig, Ed Roebuck, and two lefthanded pitchers worth mentioning.
One was a Brooklyn kid who had made his major league debut that season, appearing in 12 games, nothing remarkable yet. He wanted to be an architect, and had so studied at the University of Cincinnati. He also preferred basketball to baseball. Eventually, he would get his pitching straightened out, and become one of the very best men ever to mount a pitcher’s mound. His name was Sandy Koufax.
The other was a chunky guy from outside Philadelphia who had starred for the Dodgers’ Triple-A farm team, the Montreal Royals, but his entire big-league career consisted of 4 games for Brooklyn in both the ’54 and ’55 seasons, then 18 more the next season for the Kansas City Athletics. Despite his pitching for that team, he never got on the Kansas City/Bronx shuttle. Maybe it was because he got into a fight with Yankee 2nd baseman Billy Martin. But by 1977, he and Billy were shaking hands in World Series pregame ceremonies, as Pennant-winning managers. And Italians. His name was Tommy Lasorda. Ironically, it was Lasorda’s Dodgers who went back to his old stomping grounds of Montreal and ended the one and only postseason run ever made by the Royals’ National League successors, the Expos.
There are 11 living members of the 1955 New York Yankees. Berra, Bill “Moose” Skowron, Bob Cerv and Bob Turley played in Game 7; also on the roster were Ford, Jerry Coleman, Don Larsen (still a year away from his moment in time), Johnny Kucks (a Hoboken, New Jersey native whose moment came 2 days after Larsen’s), Irv Noren, Andy Carey and Tom Carroll (a Queens native who was a defensive replacement in 2 games and only played 64 games in the majors).
October 4, 1955, 3:43 PM Brooklyn Standard Time. Dem Bums had finally dooed it.
Two years later, it would all be over. And only one man had imagined such a blasphemy. Unfortunately, the blasphemer was the caretaker of the faith, Walter Francis O'Malley.
In 1962, the Metropolitan Baseball Club of New York -- that was the original corporate name of the team we know as the Mets -- did something that had previously been done only by hatred of the Yankees: United the fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the fans of the New York Giants. Until 1996, including even the Yankees' quasi-dynasty of 1976-81, the Mets were New York's most popular team.
That is no longer the case, and a person would have to be at least 60 years old to have any memory of the previous National League teams of New York; more like 65 to remember such events as the '55 win and Willie Mays' catch in '54, nearly 70 to accurately remember Bobby Thomson's homer in '51, 75 to remember Jackie Robinson's debut season in '47, about 80 to remember the '41 season that began the Dodgers' renaissance, and at least 85 to remember the Giant teams that won 3 Pennants in the 1930s.
Long time passing.
October 4, 1948: In a one-game playoff for the AL pennant at Fenway Park‚ the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Red Sox 8-3, behind 30-year-old rookie knuckleballer Gene Bearden, who wins his 20th game.
It was the year of a lifetime for Bearden: He had never been that good before, and he never would be again. Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy, who had won so much with the Yankees, ignores the well-rested rotation pitchers Ellis Kinder and Mel Parnell to go with journeyman Denny Galehouse, who was 8-7. It wasn’t a totally crazy pick: Galehouse had helped the St. Louis Browns win the 1944 Pennant. With the score 1-1 in the 4th‚ Ken Keltner hits a 3-run home run over the left-field fence. Indians shortstop-manager Lou Boudreau gets 4 hits‚ including a pair of homers‚ and finishes the year with just 9 strikeouts.
Who is still alive from this game, 63 years later? For the Indians, only Allie Clark (a South Amboy, New Jersey native whom the Yankees had traded with Joe Gordon to get Allie Reynolds). For the Red Sox, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky and Tom Wright.
That same day, in St. Louis‚ Taylor Spink‚ publisher of The Sporting News, writes in a Baltimore newspaper that Baltimore will have an AL team within two years: "You can put a clothespin in this: Baltimore will be in the American League‚ if not next year‚ then surely in 1950."
He turned out to be off by 4 years. It was his hometown Browns who became the new major-league version of the Baltimore Orioles, following previous major- and minor-league teams with those names. Spink and the NL’s Cardinals were tight, and he didn’t particularly care whether the Browns moved.
October 4, 1959: Game 3 of the World Series is played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in front of a record crowd of 92,394. It is the first World Series game played in Los Angeles, in the State of California, indeed anywhere west of St. Louis. The Dodgers beat the Chicago White Sox, 3-1.
October 4, 1962: Game 1 of the World Series is played at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the first World Series game played in Northern California. The Yankees beat the Giants, 6-2.
October 4, 2001, 10 years ago today: Rickey Henderson hits a home run for the San Diego Padres, allowing him to score his 2,246th career run, passing Ty Cobb as baseball's all-time leader. The Padres beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, 6-3 at Jack Murphy Stadium.
And on the same day, Tim Raines Sr. plays left field for the Baltimore Orioles, while Tim Raines Jr. plays center field for them. It is only the 2nd time, and there has never been a 3rd, that a father and son have played in the same major league game. The first was Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. in 1990. The Orioles lost to the Red Sox, 5-4 at Camden Yards.