Monday, September 28, 2015

September 28, 1955: Jackie Steals Home... Or DOES He?

September 28, 1955, 60 years ago today: Game 1 of the World Series, at the original Yankee Stadium. Yes, a World Series game was played on a September 28. This was also the 1st World Series game broadcast in color, on NBC (as were all World Series from the 1st telecast of one in 1947 until 1975), although hardly anyone has a color TV set at this point, and no TV recording of it, in color or otherwise, is known to survive.

There is film footage, though. That footage shows Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his increasing weight (in part due to diabetes) having cut down on his speed, but not his daring, stealing home plate against the New York Yankees.

Home plate umpire Bill Summers rules him safe. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra says Jackie was out, and has a fit.

To the end of his life, Yogi insisted that he wouldn’t have argued that strenuously if he wasn’t sure, or if Jackie was definitely safe, as Monte Irvin of the New York Giants was when he stole home on Yogi in the 1951 World Series.

Whitey Ford was pitching, and he insists to this day that Jackie was out. But Phil Rizzuto claimed that Jackie was safe, and he knew because he was playing shortstop and had the best view of the play.

Whitey didn't like that, so he looked it up. The steal was in the top of the 8th inning -- and in the bottom of the 6th, manager Casey Stengel had pinch-hit Eddie Robinson for the Scooter! In the top of the 7th, a new shortstop took the field: Jerry Coleman (normally a 2nd baseman). Coleman was playing short when Jackie stole home.

So who was right? Judge for yourself. Here's the film. It's hard to tell from there. But this photo makes it obvious: He was out!
And if the Yankees had lost the game, and the World Series, because of this, there would have been an uproar -- or, as the Dodgers' legendary broadcaster, ironically now with the Yankees, Red Barber, would have put it, a rhubarb.

But the Yankees did not lose the Series, or even the game, because of the steal. The Yankees won the game, 6-5. Left fielder (and backup catcher) Elston Howard, a "rookie" at age 30, hit a home run off Don Newcombe in the 2nd inning, while 1st baseman Joe Collins hit 2 homers off Big Newk. Carl Furillo and Duke Snider hit home runs off Ford.

Like Carlton Fisk's home run in Game 6, 20 years later, Robinson's steal of home was a spectacular moment, but, ultimately, had no effect on the result of the Series.

Still, stealing home plate has become Jackie Robinson's signature, along with his grace under more pressure than any American athlete has ever faced. He did in 19 times in the regular season, plus this time in the World Series -- still the last steal of home in a World Series game. (One of the many records that Ty Cobb set, and one that he still holds, is the most steals of home in a career: 54.) It even became a point of reference in Buddy Johnson's 1949 song about Jackie, with the Count Basie Orchestra having made the best-known recording:

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain't all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie's real gone.


"Gone" meaning "cool." Not as in "left the vicinity" or "gone in the head." No player ever kept his head -- or had to -- as much as Jack Roosevelt Robinson of Pasadena, California (and Stamford, Connecticut).

With the recent deaths of Yogi and Dodger 2nd baseman Don Zimmer -- Jackie was usually playing 3rd base by this point, not his standard 2nd -- the starting pitchers, Newcombe and Ford, pinch-hitter Eddie Robinson, and Yankee left fielder Irv Noren are the only players from this game who are still alive, 60 years later.

This Series was a classic, and it went to 7 games. In the end, as would be said in the Brooklynese accent, the Dodgers finally dooed it. After World Series losses in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953 (the last 5 of those 7 against the Yankees), losses in Playoffs for the National League Pennant in 1946 and 1951 (the latter against the hated New York Giants), losing the Pennant on the final day of the regular season in 1942 and 1950, and finishing 2nd to the Giants in 1954 -- 10 close calls in a span of 14 years -- 1955 turned out to be the "Next Year" that Dodger fans from Williamsburg to Coney Island, from Morristown to Montauk, from Poughkeepsie to Point Pleasant, had waited for.

*

September 28, 1932: Game 1 of the World Series. The Chicago Cubs score 2 runs in the 1st inning, but the Yankees outscore them 37-17 over the rest of the Series. Lou Gehrig hits a home run, and the Yankees win, 12-6.

September 28, 1959: Game 1 of the National League Playoff. It was the Braves' move to Milwaukee, with is (then) modern stadium and its huge parking lot, that made Walter O'Malley want a better ballpark for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and ultimately made him move the team to Los Angeles. Now, after the Braves have won the last 2 Pennants, there is a tie for the flag, and these 2 teams, representing cities that didn't even have teams 7 seasons ago face off at Milwaukee County Stadium.

Dodger manager Walter Alston starts Danny McDevitt, who pitched a shutout in the last game at Ebbets Field, 2 years and 4 days earlier. But he doesn't get out of the 2nd inning this time, as he falls behind, 2-1. Alston brings Larry Sherry in to relieve, and he goes the rest of the way. John Roseboro hits a home run off Carlton Willey, and the Dodgers win, 3-2, to take a 1-0 lead back to L.A.

September 28, 1998: The Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants, having finished in a tie for the NL's Wild Card berth, face each other in a Playoff game at a raucous Wrigley Field. Former Minnesota Twins World Series winner Gary Gaetti hits a home run, and Rod Beck holds off his former team to save a fine performance by Steve Traschel, and the Cubs win, 5-3.

Sammy Sosa goes 2-for-4 for the Cubbies, and scores 2 runs. Barry Bonds goes 0-for-4 for the Jints. I guess Sammy's steroids were working that night, and Barry's weren't.

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