Golden Age Baseball: Historic Events and Oddities
New Golden Age Hub
Our Hub hosts have noted that this collection has gotten a little unwieldy and have suggested that we create another one. So the latest posts on Golden Age baseball can now be found on More Golden Age Baseball at hubpages.com/hub/More-Golden-Age-Baseball. Get started with Bob Feller and Hal Newhouser, and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox of 1919. Enjoy.
The Last Pitch of Larsen's Perfect Game
By the time Yankee pitcher Don Larsen had retired the first 26 batters to face him in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, even many devoted Brooklyn Dodger fans were pulling for him to complete a perfect game. But Dale Mitchell, called on to pinch hit for Dodger hurler Sal Maglie, had a professional responsibility to do all he could to get on base.
Mitchell, with a lifetime batting average of .312 after ten seasons with the Cleveland Indians, had been acquired by the Dodgers in mid-summer for his pinch hitting ability and had provided key basehits in their stretch drive. He had long been admired for his batting eye which had enabled him to compile a remarkably low level of 119 strikeouts over that decade.
With the count one ball and two strikes, Larsen fired a fast ball. MItchell started a swing but held up as he sensed the pitch tailing off the plate. Babe Pinelli, about to retire after 22 years as a respected umpire, hesitated for a split second before signaling "Strike Three" with his right arm. History had been made. Mitchell momentarily expressed his disagreement, Pinelli told reporters after the game that the pitch was "right over the middle" while the Yankees celebrated amidst thousands of fans thrilled to have witnessed the first no-hitter and first perfect game in World Series history.
But a more interesting and complex story of that last pitch emerged over the years. The story is told in "Perfect," by Lew Paper, published in 2009. In this inning-by-inning and player-by-player account of the game, Paper, among other things, collected quotations attributed to several of the key participants. Dodger center fielder Duke Snider reported that Pinelli had told him later that he wanted to go out on a World Series no-hitter and that "anything close was a strike." Yankee center fielder Mickey Mantle at one time said that if he had been under oath he would have had to say "it looked outside". Third baseman Andy Carey and shortstop Gil McDougald, from even closer and facing the lefthanded Mitchell from the left side of the infield, both called it high, as did left fielder Enos Slaughter.
Calling balls and strikes is not a science. Umpires are known to vary in their perceptions of the strike zone and, in fact, baseball rulemakers occasionally revise the zone. Film of the last pitch has been shown often enough to let fans decide whether they agree with Pinelli. Many believe it missed the plate, but some point to Mitchell's half-swing as a basis for calling him out and others argue that he should have been swinging at anything close under the circumstances.
In any event, the game is still in the books as the only no-hitter and therefore the only perfect game in World Series history. Ironically, its immediate effect was almost negated by another pitching masterpiece the very next day as Clem Labine held the Yankees to seven hits over ten innings for a 1-0 victory to tie the Series at 3-3. Loser Bob Turley also went all the way, yielding only four hits, losing on a misjudged fly ball. But the Yanks came through for a 9-0 win in Game 7 to assure that Larsen's unique achievement would not be wasted.
Was Ted Williams the Greatest Hitter?
Ted Williams had one of the most storied careers in baseball history. Playing only for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 through 1960, minus World War II and Korean War military service, he batted .344, hit 521 home runs, won six batting titles, two Triple crowns, and two Most Valuable Player Awards.
Ted was quoted as wanting to be known as the greatest hitter ever. Was he? The stats above make a pretty good case for him. Impressive as they are, they actually omit some important considerations. His home run total would almost certainly have been well over 600 had he not lost all or parts of six seasons to military duty. He was the last ballplayer to bat .400, achieving .406 in 1941. He was denied a third MVP by one vote in 1947, one of his Triple Crown years, when one of the baseball writers astoundingly did not name him one of the top TEN players.
The greatest? Certainly of his time. But those willing to hazard the inherently unequal comparisons of players from different eras might choose one of two earlier immortals. Ty Cobb, who played from 1905 through 1928, most of it in the Dead Ball Era, attained the highest lifetime batting average ever, .367, and won his league's batting title 12 times. Babe Ruth, with a lifetime average two points below Williams's, hit almost 200 home runs more than Ted despite only 16 seasons as a fulltime player.
You can't go wrong with any of those three.
Spec Shea, A Timely 1-Year Wonder
The New York Yankees, major disappointments in 1946, were not all that confident about 1947. They began Spring training with several big question marks. Had superstar Joe DiMaggio had a bad year or was he through? How about Tommy Henrich? Would recently acquired Allie Reynolds prove to be a frontline starting pitcher? Who would play first base? Could slugging rookie Yogi Berra learn the defensive end of catching?
One bright spot was 26-year-old rookie Frank (Spec) Shea, who quickly won a place in the rotation and delivered complete game wins. By July, he was on the All Star team, pitching three innings and gaining credit for the American League victory. Despite an enforced mid-summer layoff of several weeks due to a pulled neck muscle, he came back strong and finished the season at 14-5 with 13 complete games and an earned run average of 3.07.
His performance was especially valuable in the successful pennant run because former ace Spud Chandler, a 20-game winner in 1946, bowed out during the season with career-ending arm trouble and a 9-5 record. Under the pressure of the World Series, rookie Shea won two close games to play a leading role in the Yankees' seven-game triumph over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
But suffering a recurrence of his pulled muscle, Shea went 9-10 in 1948 and never had a winning record again for the Yanks before being traded to the Washington Senators after the 1951 season. There, after going 11-7 and 12-7 for mediocre Washington teams, he had two more losing seasons and retired in 1955.
For the Yankees, Spec Shea was just a one-year wonder, but he timed it perfectly.
P.S. DiMaggio bounced back to be MVP, Henrich was Old Reliable again, Reynolds won 19 games, the much-traveled and aging George McQuinn hit .304 and squeezed out one more good year at first base. Berra hit well but his defensive maturation would await the arrival of coach Bill Dickey in 1949.
Warren Spahn, Biggest Lefty Winner of All Time
Warren Spahn, a 21-year-old lefthander, made a brief appearance with the Boston Braves in 1942. He returned to the Braves in 1946 after military service to compile a respectable 8-5 record. Nothing to that point suggested that he would still be pitching at age 44 and would have racked up the highest total of victories of any lefthanded pitcher in major league history.
Spahn had his first of 13 seasons with 20 or more wins in 1947. Ironically, in the Boston club's second and last National League pennant year of 1948, he dropped to 15 winning games, but was celebrated with his hurling partner Johnny Sain in the fanciful plea for "Spahn, Sain, and two days of rain." Fortunately, Sain ripped off 24 victories that season and they each won one in a losing World Series effort against the Cleveland Indians.
The lefty was back in the 20-plus column for the next three years and got into consistently high gear with the Braves' move to Milwaukee in 1953. Beginning that year, he won 20 or more in eight of nine seasons, picking up a Cy Young Award for 1957, and climaxing a brilliant career with a 23-7 mark at age 42 in 1963. His career record was 363-245.
Many authorities consider Lefty Grove, who went 300-141 for the Philadelphia Athletics and Boston Red Sox between 1925 and 1941, the greatest lefthander of all time. Some moderns choose Steve Carlton, who won 329 for the Cardinals and Phillies. But it's hard to argue with Spahn's sustained excellence.
The Cardinals: The Dynasty of the 40's
The passing last week of Marty Marion, the rangy onetime Mr. Shortstop, recalls the greatness of the St. Louis Cardinals dynasty of the 1940's. Winners of the National League pennants in 1942, 1943, 1944, and 1946, they took the World Series in each of those years except 1943.
General Manager Branch Rickey, later to be famous for breaking baseball's color line with the Brooklyn Dodgers, was the brains behind the Cardinals rise to sustained success. He had pioneered the development of players through a minor league "farm club" system supplemented by astute trades. With the arrival in late 1941 of future superstar Stan Musial, the Cards deployed one of the great outfields of all time, Musial, slugging and hustling Enos (Country) Slaughter, and the brilliant centerfielder, Terry Moore. Marion anchored a fine infield and Mort Cooper, often pitching to his hardhitting brother Walker, won 22 games, while Johnny Beazey chipped in 21 in 1942.
The Cards won 106 games in a 154-game season, barely nosing out a 104-win Dodger bid for a repeat title. Underdogs in the World Series to the New York Yankees, the St. Louis team dropped the opener to the then all-time Series winner, Red Ruffing, and then swept the next four, topping Ruffing in the finale.
After a successful 105-victory defense of their NL championship in 1943, the Cards had the tables turned as the Yankees took the Fall Classic in five games. By this time, many of the stars had departed for World War II military service, but the Cards hung on for another pennant in 1944, with Marion as the league's Most Valuable Player. The World Series was an intracity affair, as the St. Louis Browns had won their only American League pennant. This time the underdog Browns gave the Cards a scare but succumbed in six games.
A close second to the Chicago Cubs in the final war year of 1945, the Cards had all their regulars back for a close pennant race with the Dodgers in 1946 that ended in a tie. The Redbirds won two straight to take the playoff and went on to face the Boston Red Sox for the world championship. An anticipated clash of Titans between Musial and Ted Willams never materialized. The Series is remembered best for Slaughter's dash home from first base with the winning run in Game 7 and Harry Brecheen's three pitching victories, including the clincher in relief.
The Cardinals' performance in the 40's was one of the most dominant in baseball history. After 1946, they took a back seat to others, most prominently the Dodgers, and did not return to the top until the mid-60's, the era of Bob Gibson.
Satchel Paige's Belated Debut
The Cleveland Indians were contending for their first pennant in 28 years as they came to the mid-season All Star break in 1948. The Indians featured the great Bob Feller and a blossoming pitching staff as well as a great infield anchored by player-manager Lou Boudreau, having a career year at shortstop.
Centerfielder Larry Doby had integrated the club and the American League the previous summer and was emerging as an authentic star. Indians' owner Bill Veeck, seeking an edge in what had developed into a four-team race, turned once more to the Negro Leagues. In a gutsy and much-debated move, he signed Leroy (Satchel) Paige, generally considered the greatest pitcher in the history of Negro baseball, but now at least 41 years old.
Paige had had a demonstrably brilliant career. Although statistics were not the strong suit of the Negro Leagues, he had clearly dominated his arena since the 1920's while impressing major leaguers, including Babe Ruth, with whom he toured in the offseason. Apart from the many unconfirmed tales told about his spectacular pitching feats, his strikeouts and low-hit performances would certainly have won him a place in the big leagues had it not been for the ban on African Americans. The shattering of the color line by Jackie Robinson and then Doby seemed to have come too late for Paige.
But Veeck took a chance. Old Satch debuted on July 9, appeard in 21 games and went 6-1 with a 2.48 earned run average for the balance of the season. Since the Indians had to beat out the Boston Red Sox in a one-game playoff, it could be said that the addition of the venerable Paige had given them the edge they needed.
The rest of Satch's time in the big leagues was not as distinguished. Four more years with the Indians and the St. Louis Browns produced only mediocre stats, but he went 12-10 for an awful Browns team in 1952 while leading the league in games finished. To add an incredible topping to a unique career, he returned to the mound in 1965, age 58 or more, to pitch three innings of one-hit shutout ball for the Kansas City Athletics.
One can only speculate on what those stats would have looked like if he had pitched in the bigs in his lengthy prime.
Red Ruffing, Lucky to Be a Yankee
A 19-year-old right hander, Red Ruffing, joined the Boston Red sox as they had fallen onto hard times in 1924. Over the next seven seasons, he compiled a record of 39-96, twice leading the league in losses with well over 20 each time.
But the New York Yankees, whose Murderers Row had soared in the 1920's and were now being eclipsed by the Philadelphia Athletics, thought Ruffing had the potential to help them back to the top. They traded for him and reversed both his and their fortunes. An immediate winner in double figures, Red made his first powerful impact as an 18-game winner and league strikeout leader as the Yanks took their first 1930's world championship in 1932. Better yet, in their then unprecedented run of four consecutive world championships from 1936 through 1939, he won 20 or more games each season.
Overall, in 15 years with the Yankees, he compiled a record of 231-124, and won seven World Series games, a record not broken until Whitey Ford in the 1960's. As an added bonus, Ruffing was a good hitter. Batting over .300 several times, he had a lifetime average of .269 with 36 home runs and was used from time to time as a pinch hitter.
Clearly, Red Ruffing had talent. But for the trade to the Yankees, he might have gone through an entire career in obscurity and disappointment.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper
Joe DiMaggio, a spectacular performer for the almost-major leagu San Francisco Seals, joined the New York Yankees in 1936. After two decades of mostly mediocrity, the Yanks had come to life in the 1920's, winning their first six pennants and three World Series as the Babe Ruth-led Murderers Row. But there had been only one championship in the 30's, in 1932, and Ruth was gone after the 1934 season.
The team captain, the immortal Lou Gehrig, future Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, and a great lefty-righty pitching duo of Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing formed the nucleus of a powerful outfit, but something was yet to be added to revive the fading Yankee dynasty. The crucial additive was Joe DiMaggio.
Breaking in with a .323 batting average and 29 home runs as a rookie, DiMadge hit a career-high 46 homers in 1937 and was batting champion at .381 in 1939. He fielded the expansive Yankee Stadium centerfield gracefully and seemingly effortlessly as no one before or since. More important, the Yankees, now styled the Bronx Bombers, were world champions in each of his first four seasons. With that unprecedented run interrupted in 1940, Joltin' Joe still won another batting title and, as the Yankee Clipper, was headed for the year in which he would become literally a living legend.
From May to July of 1941, DiMaggio got at least one basehit in 56 consecutive games. In our era of cable TV, computers, PDA's, and round-the-clock baseball reporting, it's difficult to comprehend the contemporary accounts of how fans across the country strained to stay in touch through radio and daily newspapers with Joe's progress. He surpassed the post-1900 record of 41 games by George Sisler and then the 19th century record of 44 by Willie Keeler. By the time the streak ended one night in Cleveland, thanks in part to two extraordinary stops by perennial All Star third baseman Ken Keltner, DiMaggio was a national celebrity and the subject of a popular song.
Although Ted Williams achieved baseball's last .400 batting average that year at .406, outhitting the Yankee Clipper by almost 50 points, Joe got the nod as Most Valuable Player as the Yanks regained the world championship. They won another pennant in 1942, giving them six pennants and five World Series in DiMaggio's first seven seasons.
In World War II military service for the next three years, DiMaggio returned for a disappointing 1946 season, batting below .300 for the first time, but regained MVP form to lead the Yanks to the top again in 1947. After a brilliant performance in 1948 as the Yankees fell short on the last weekend of the season, he returned from heel surgery in mid-1949 to spark the first world championship of the Casey Stengel era. Still a potent run producer in 1950, DiMaggio bowed out after a career-low .263 in 1951.
Beyond his lifetime .325 batting average and 361 home runs, Joe's fielding, headsup baserunning and overall inspiration contribute to his unique bottom line: 10 pennants and nine World Series wins in 13 years.
Casey Stengel Takes Over the Yankees
Bucky Harris, a big league manager for over 20 years, lasted only two years with the New York Yankees. Piloting the Bombers to the world championship in his first season, 1947, he fell two-and-a-half games short in 1948 and was promptly fired. Many observers were astounded when it was announced some time later that his successor would be Casey Stengel, whose nine previous managerial years had produced only one season above .500, and that barely.
But Stengel, primarily known as a clown, both maintained his sense of humor and went about putting a distinctive stamp on his new team. With superstar Joe DiMaggio recovering from surgery and likely to miss up to half the season, and no established regulars at first, second, or two outfield slots, Casey began "platooning" on a scale not yet seen. Right-handed and left-handed rookies alternated at first, while somewhat more experienced players took turns at two outfield positions. He even platooned at third base, which had a proven regular, Billy Johnson, because he had a fine left-handed hitter, Bobby Brown, as well,
Veteran right fielder Tommy Henrich and shortstop Phil Rizzuto were steady anchors, while rookie Gerry Coleman impressed sufficiently to make him the new full-time second baseman. Catcher Yogi Berra had shown slugging prowess in the two previous seasons along with troubling deficiencies behind the plate, so Stengel coaxed Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey out of retirement to coach Yogi.
The pitching staff was potentially the brightest spot. The soon-to-be celebrated trio of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Ed Lopat had spent their first full season together in 1948, contributing a combined 52 victories. Joe Page had had a brilliant year as a reliever in 1947 and some drop-off in 1948, and Stengel gave him a vote of confidence.
The Yanks surprised many by moving immediately to the top, staying ahead of Boston and Cleveland, who had finished in a tie the year before. When DiMaggio retuned to center field late in June, Stengel moved Henrich, who had been his chief offensive weapon, to first base and platooned in right and left. Raschi had emerged as the ace of the staff in his first of three consecutive 21-victory seasons, but Reynolds, though winning 17, was having trouble finishing games and was regularly relieved by Page. Lopat and Tommy Byrne each added 15 wins.
Finally caught and passed by the Red Sox in September, the Yanks fought back to win the last two games of the season and took the pennant by one game. With a 4-1 triumph over Brooklyn in the World Series, Stengel had vindicated himself and the entire Yankee franchise. It got better as the Bronx Bombers went on to capture an unprecedented five straight World Series. Stengel "retired" in 1960 with 10 pennants and seven world championships.
The Biggest Yankee Flop
With World War II winding down, the proud New York Yankees staggered to a fourth place finish in 1945. A rare bright spot was fleet-footed second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss, who actually led the American League in batting. But Snuffy's winning average was .309, a forty-year low, and it was clear that he had merely topped a collection of aged, inexperienced or Army rejected athletes.
So the eyes of the Bronx team's fans turned to 1946, when the "regulars" would be back, Among the most eagerly anticipated were two-time batting champion and Most Valuable Player Joe DiMaggio, 1942 MVP and star second baseman Joe Gordon, brilliant shortstop Phil (Scooter) Rizzuto, future Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey,and clutch-hitting outfielder Tommy Henrich. Slugging outfielder Charlie Keller had already returned to play the last months of the '45 season, as had all-time winning Yankee righthander Red Ruffing.
Manager Joe McCarthy, with eight AL pennants and seven world championships under his belt, was ready for another title run. With Gordon back, he moved Stirnweiss to third base and concentrated on getting a pitiching staff into shape.
But disappointment soon set in. The Yankees, and conspicuously some of the top stars, got off to a slow start while the Boston Red Sox, frequent runners-up to the former Yankee winners, zoomed out in front. Boston immortal Ted Williams picked up where he had left off in 1942, while DiMaggio, Gordon, and Henrich struggled. Henrich hit.251 and Gordon an astounding career low .210. Dom DiMaggio ended up outhitting his idolized older brother .316 to .290 for the year, while Sox shortstop Johnny Pesky chipped in with a .335 average.
Ruffing won five of his first six decisions, but suffered a broken kneecap from a line drive and was out for the season. Only Spud Chandler was winning consistently for the Yanks while Sox starters Dave Ferris and Tex Hughson were headed for 25 and 20 wins, respectively. McCarthy had a recurrence of an ulcer condition and resigned in May, already convinced of a dismal year. Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey, a Yankee since 1928, and clearly well past his playing prime, stepped in as manager but was also gone by the end of the season.
The Red Sox triumphed by 12 games over the Detroit Tigers, with the Yanks 17 back in third place. They would look more realistically at 1947 and return to the top.
Tommy Brown, 16, the Youngest Dodger
By 1944, most of major league baseball's regulars had gone off to serve in World War II. But, honoring President Franklin Roosevelt's request to keep the game going for morale purposes, club owners were filling rosters with retired players, medical rejects, and kids on loan for the summer from high school.
The Brooklyn Dodgers, league champions in 1941 and close contenders the following year, were having a typically hard time finding wartime replacements. So in the summer of 1944, mired close to the bottom, the Dodgers discovered 16-year-old Tommy Brown, a glittering star on the sandlots merely a stone's throw from Ebbets Field. Tommy was soon patrolling the shortstop position handled brilliantly before and after by future Hall of Famer PeeWee Reese.
Brown hit just below .200 that year, but showed enough promise to be brought back for 56 games in 1945, hitting a more respectable .245. In the minor leagues in 1946, he bounced back to play on the Dodgers's league title team in 1947, but was never more than a part-time fill-in as an outfielder, third base, or shortstop. His"peak" was 1949, another National League championship year, when he hit ,303 in 41 games.
In mid-1951, Tommy moved to the Philadelphia Phillies and then on to the Chicago Cubs, also as a part-timer, berfore retiting after the 1953 season. His career is a reminder of how baseball scrounged for talent during the war years and of what might have become of the potential he showed on the sandlots if he had been brought along more normally. Joe Nuxhall, who pitched at 15 for the Cincinnati Reds the same year that Brown began, served a minor league apprenticeship after the war and achieved brief stardom, even becoming an All Star, but he, too, would probably have had more sustained success had it not been for the war pressures.
The Passing of the Duke of Flatbush
The media on February 27 and 28 reported the death at 84 of the leading slugger of Brooklyn's storied "Boys of Summer, Duke Snider." Celebrated for his lofty home runs over the formidable 40-foot-high right field fence at quaint old Ebbets Field and his spectacular defense, the Duke was, ironically, often rated as the third best center fielder in New York City at the time.
But many combative Dodger backers disagreed then and still do. A regular beginning in 1949, Snider played most of his years contemporaneously with Wille Mays and Mickey Mantle. For several of his peak years in the mid-fifties, including four in a row with 40-plus homers, his run production, clutch hitting, and leaping catches kept the best-center-fielder-in-New York argument going. He was the only player to hit four home runs in a World Series twice, the second time propelling the Dodgers to Brooklyn's only world championship in 1955.
Eventually, his 407 career homers were far exceeded by both Mays and Mantle, and the latter's late-year struggles helped form a consensus that Wille was the tops of the three, if not of all time. Duke moved to LA with the Dodgers in 1958 and played on another world championship team the next year. He even did a season with Casey Stengel's fledgling Unamazing Mets in 1963 and retired a year later with a .295 lifetime batting average.
Joe Page, the Original Fireballing Reliever
The Yankees were coming off a disappointing 1946 with early results in 1947 not totally reassuring. One of the typical cases was fireballing lefthander Joe Page, who had shown raw talent but no consistency or endurance since joining the wartime team in 1944.
In an early encounter with the defending league champion Boston Red Sox, freshman manager Bucky Harris brought Page in to relieve in a game that was about to get out of hand. Wild enough to walk the bases full, Page proceeded to strike out the side and make a Yankee win possible.
For the rest of that season, Page was Harris's magic bullet. He entered every tricky situation and emerged with 14 victories and 17 saves, although the latter statistic was not officially kept until 1969 His fastball strikeout pitch set against his often questionable control made his appearances eagerly anticipated and suspenseful. He achieved unprecedented recognition for the importance of a reliever by finishing fourth in the AL Most Valuable Player vote.
In the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he saved the first game, blew the sixth, and pitched five innings of scoreless relief to win the deciding seventh game. His 1947 performance, in the New York City publicity glare, got many teams thinking about having a relief ace, or "fireman," when that had not been a common priority before.
Page led the league again in games finished in 1948, but his record fell to 7-8 as the Yankees failed to repeat. But the following year, he went 13-8 with an "unofficial" record 27 saves. He was again a Series hero with a win and a save, and this time he was recognized with the first Babe Ruth Award for Series MVP.
Arm troubles led to a mediocre 3-7 season in 1950, and Page was gone from the Yankees early in 1951. A comeback attempt with the Pittsburgh Pirates failed in 1954.
Although limited to two years, Joe Page's spectacular success had a major impact on the role of the relief pitcher from then on. There had been a sprinkling of star relievers before him, including Firpo Marberry, Johhny Murphy, and Hugh Casey, but none had focused the attention of the baseball world on how crucial their job could be.
Dr. Bobby Brown
One of the curiosities from the era of New York Yankees dominance was the career of Dr. Bobby Brown. A star athlete at Stanford, Brown came to the Yankees with the understanding that his medical studies were paramount and that they would limit his time with the team.
Nevertheless, while getting his degree at Tulane, Bobby contributed to Bronx Bomber championships in 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, and 1952. Making his first splash by batting a perfect 1.000 in three pinch-hitting assignments in the '47 Series, Brown, a third baseman, was an important element in Casey Stengel's platooning starting two year later. For a time, he roomed with Yogi Berra, and the presumed intellectual gap led to jokes featuring Yogi questions about the "pictures" in Bobby's medical books.
Batting .279 overall, with two .300 seasons, he left after 1954 to open a surgical practice in Dallas. Thirty years later, he was invited to be President of the American League, and served for ten years. He wisely got out before the labor dispute of 1994 led to the curtailing of the season and cancellation of the World Series. Bobby Brown remained respected and liked.
Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat
Current baseball rules, particularly playoff arrangements, render it highly unlikely that any team will duplicate the five consecutive world championships won by the New York Yankees from 1949 through 1953. After all, the Yanks only had to win the American League pennant before entering the Fall Classic while today's hopefuls must navigate two earlier elimination competitions.
Nevertheless, the feat is nothing to sneeze at. In the pre-playoff era of 65 years, only the Yankees, with four in a row in the late 30's and the five referred to above, had won more than two in a row. Great teams like McGraw's Giants and Connie Mack's Athletics fell short of three.
In analyzing the success of the 1949-53 Yanks, the contributions of Joe DiMaggio at the beginning of the streak and Mickey Mantle in the last two years can be considered no less than vital, as was the maneuvering of manager Casey Stengel throughout. But many observers, especially those who value pitching highly, assign paramount importance to the remarkable trio of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Ed Lopat.
Reynolds had joined the club in a trade to become an immediate 19-game-winniung ace in 1947.Raschi was brought up from the minor leagues late in the season, and Lopat came over in a trade the following year. Raschi won 21 games in each of the first three years of the streak, Lopat won 21 in 1951, and Reynolds, who had thrown two no-hitters in 1951, finally had a 20-win season in 1952. In 1953, they were joined by Whitey Ford, the Yankees' eventual all-time winner, in his first full season. Making way for the new ace, they still chipped in 42 wins among them, their lowest combined total of the five years.
But it wasn't just the consistently high numbers that Reynolds, Raschi, and Lopat threw up year after year. They were big-game pitchers in many close races, facing off against contemporary stars like Mel Parnell of the Red Sox, Bob Lemon and Early Wynn of the Cleveland Indians, Fred Hutchinson of the Detroit Tigers, and Billy Pierce of the Chicago White Sox. In the World Series, in both starting assignments and relief, they had to overcome Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe, Sal Maglie, and Carl Erskine.
These three made the unique achievement possible.
The Ebbets Field Experience
A visit to Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1913 through 1957, afforded a unique baseball experience. Nestled in the heart of a residential neighborhood, and therefore necessarily constrained in space, it afforded few physical amenities, certainly none like those of today's ballparks. With approximately 32,000 mostly hard seats in boxes, grandstands, and bleachers, the facility could accurately be described as intimate and no-frills..
It was the fans that made the park's reputation. Few inhibitions restrained the reactions to adverse umpire calls, and occupants of the stands roared approval of the comic criticisms voiced by 1930's manager Casey Stengel and the more vitriolic ones unleashed by 1940's skipper Leo Durocher.
Among the colorful characters inhabiting Ebbets Field were Hilda Chester, whose loud cowbell would punctuate rallies and other key moments of a game, and the Dodger Sym-phony, a dissonant small instrumental group that "entertained" with meaningful sounds, if not always music. Their performance of "Three Blind Mice" at the introduction of the umpires was a fan favorite.
Ebbets Field hosted two World Series in its relative youth (1916 and 1920, both losses) and then watched a succession of losing, but still beloved, teams until the 1940''s. From 1941 through 1956, the Dodgers engaged in seven world championship struggles, mostly epic, with the New York Yankees, winning their first and only title for Brooklyn in 1955.
The Beloved Bums left for Los angeles after the 1957 season and Ebbets Field was demolished in 1960.
The Greatest Rivalry
The Brooklyn Dodgers, a National League team even before 1900, and the cross-town New York Yankees, whose American League franchise began in 1903, met for the first time in a World Series in 1941. Less one-sided than the 4-1 Yankee triumph would indicate, it is best remembered for a missed third strike that cost the Dodgers a fourth game Series-tying win. Unappreciated at the time, it also gave rise to the daily Brooklyn Eagle's defiant headline, "Wait 'til next year," which remained the borough fans' rallying cry for the next 18 years.
After the intervening World War II, the clubs met again in 1947 in the first Fall Classic to be televised. Featuring two wins by a Yankee rookie, Frank Shea, a no-hitter broken up with two out in the ninth inning by a game-winning hit, a game-saving catch by Dodger substitute outfielder Al Gionfriddo off DiMaggio that still makes highlight reels, and a lockdown five innings-plus relief job by Joe Page in the clincher, it was a seven-game thriller. Rookie Jackie Robinson impressed with his baserunning.
Beginning an unprecedented five World Series streak in 1949 under new manager Casey Stengel, the Bronx Bombers rolled over the Dodgers in five games. Much more difficult were the seven-game set in 1952 and the six-game Series in 1953. With Joe DiMaggio giving way to Mickey Mantle as the offensive star during this period, and the pitching trio of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat providing just enough edge, the Yanks barely overcame the celebrated "Boys of Summer," who included Robinson, sluggers Roy Campanella and Duke Snider, outfielder extraordinaire Carl Furillo and pitchers Carl Erskine and Joe Black.
"Next year" proved to be 1955. Dropping the first two games, Brooklyn roared back to take the next three and held on in a tense 2-0 seventh game to earn its first world championship. When the Dodgers took the first two games of a 1956 rematch, some felt the jinx had been decisively broken. But this time it was the Yankees fighting back to take three straight, including Don Larsen's perfect game, and winning a blowout seventh game.
The Dodgers left for Los Angeles at the end of the 1957 season, and it would be 20 years before another Yankee-Dodger World Series. Although the competition lacked much of the emotion of the earlier intra-New York rivalry, the Series of 1977, 1978, and 1981 had their moments. By far the most memorable was Reggie Jackson's record five home runs, including three in a row in the 1977 clincher. In the other two, the teams took turns spotting the other two games, as they had in 1955 and 1956, and then sweeping four in a row.
The epic struggle of the gallant 1975 Red Sox against the indomitable Big Red Machine has captured the imagination of the baseball public as THE classic baseball contest. But for sustained competition over many years, nothing matches the Yankees and Dodgers in October.