Prior to the start of the 1903 season, the Baltimore Orioles relocated to Manhattan, giving the fledgling American League a team in New York City, the Highlanders, who soon became known as the Yankees. That fall the first World Series was played, ushering in the modern era of Major League Baseball. While the Fall Classic would be skipped the next year (John McGraw's Giants refused to play against an American League team), by and large the format of Major League Baseball would be unchanged for 58 seasons. Both the American and National League consisted of eight clubs, playing a 154 game schedule, with the two league champions meeting in the World Series.
In the forty one seasons from 1921 through 1961 - the final pre-expansion season in the National League - the Yankees won twenty six American League pennants. In those World Series, the Yankees saw seven of the eight National League clubs at least twice. The only NL club they faced once was the Phillies, in the 1950 World Series. They haven't met in the post-season since.
The two clubs had several near misses in the late seventies and early eighties. While the Yankees won three straight AL pennants from 1976 through 1978, the Phillies lost in the NLCS in each of those years. In 1976 they were knocked out by the Reds, who then became the last National League club to win back-to-back championships, while '77 and'78 came at the hands of the Dodgers, who the Phillies have bounced from the NLCS two years running now.
In 1980 the Phillies advanced to the World Series for just the third time in their history. The Yankees had the best record in baseball that year, but were knocked out in the ALCS by the Royals (who like the Phillies, had lost in the LCS in 76, 77, and 78). The Phillies won that 1980 Series, which until last year was the only championship in their history. In the 1981 the Yankees returned to the Fall Classic, but the Phillies were knocked out in the Division Series round necessitated by that year's lengthy players' strike.
So, when the Yanks and Phils square off tomorrow night, it'll be the first World Series game between the two teams in more than 59 years. There will be some similarities between the two Series as well. Just as in 1950, the Yankees will enter the Series with a manager in his second season at the helm, and the Series will feature the defending World Champions. The difference is that in 1950 Casey Stengel and his Yankees were the defending champions; this year Joe Girardi will be facing the club looking to repeat.
The 1950 Phillies were known as the Whiz Kids. Four of their eight position players and five of their top six pitchers were twenty six or younger, including future Hall of Famers Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. They had finished 16 games off the pace in 1949 and weren't expected to contend in '50. But they moved into a tie for first place shortly after the All-Star break and never relinquished the lead, despite a late season push from defending NL champs Brooklyn, who forced an elimination game on the season's final day.
Meanwhile, the 1950 Yankees bettered Detroit for their second consecutive pennant and third in four years. Though 35 and past his prime, Joe DiMaggio had an outstanding season, posting a .301/.394/.585 line (151 OPS+) with 32 HRs, leading the league in slugging. Yogi Berra, in his fourth full season, posted his best line yet, with new career highs in every major offensive category. And veteran shortstop Phil Rizzuto had the finest season of his career, knocking 200 hits while batting .324/.418/.439 and playing his usual spectacular defense on his way to the AL MVP. The pitching staff was led by the old guard of Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat, with Tommy Byrne chipping in 15 wins and a rookie named Eddie Ford, later dubbed Whitey, going 9-1 after getting called up in July.
On paper, the Series was a bit of a mismatch. While Philly had the best pitching in the Majors, the Yanks were better than league average and had a wealth of World Series experience on their staff.
On offense, Philly was just below league average while the Yankees were second in baseball in runs and batting average, third in on base and slugging, and tied for the lead in OPS+. They outlasted Detroit, Boston, and Cleveland in the extremely tough American League, where the Phillies' 91 wins would have left them in fifth place.
The result of the Series was in line with what most expected entering the Fall Classic, but much like the ALDS and ALCS were for the 2009 Yankees, the games were much closer than final results of the series would indicate. We'll be back later on with a detailed look at that 1950 World Series.