Friday, June 25, 2010

1955 World Series

Without a vested rooting interest, there's a natural tendency to want to see the underdog win, or at the very least, to want to see the perpetually downtrodden catch a break. It's why we want to see Charlie Brown finally boot one through the uprights, and why we want Wile E Coyote to finally acquire a properly functioning contraption from ACME Inc.

So aside from non-Yankee fans wanting to see the Yankees lose just by virtue of their being the Yankees, the Dodgers likely had a groundswell of support when they faced the Yankees in the World Series for the sixth time in fifteen years. Not just because they were oh for the first five, but there was a certain endearing character to those Dodgers teams.

While the Yankees and Giants were the "New York" teams, both originally based in Manhattan and both having benefited from early successes, Brooklyn was a more provincial club, named after their borough rather than their whole city. They played in intimate little Ebbets Field rather than the vast Polo Ground or expansive Yankee Stadium. Until the 1940s, their history was marked mainly with poor play and colorful managers like "Uncle Robbie" Wilbert Robinson (who managed the franchise that would become the Yankees during their final season in Baltimore) and a pre-genius Casey Stengel. They were "Dem Bums" or "The Boys of Summer", while rooting for the Yankees was like rooting for U.S. Steel. And despite Brooklyn's run of excellence since the early forties, and the future Hall of Famers populating their roster, the perception still existed that no matter how well they did they would never be in the Yankees class. It was always "wait 'til next year".

Either that or I've listened to Doris Kearns Goodwin wax poetic in Ken Burns' Baseball far too many times. Either way, even though it never pleases me to see the Yankees come out on the short end of things, there is a certain part of me that's happy to know that Brooklyn eventually got theirs - especially with the crimes that were about to be committed against their fanbase.


In 1954, the Yankees went 103-51, their best record yet under Casey Stengel. They finished eight games out of first, as Cleveland won a then record 111 games. The Yankees would not get a shot at a sixth consecutive championship. Over in the senior circuit, the Dodgers posted their fourth consecutive season of at least 92 wins, but finished five games back of the Giants. With the Yankees and Dodgers out of it, the Giants ensured NYC was represented in the World Series for the sixth straight year, and their surprising sweep of the Indians gave the city its sixth consecutive champion.

Normalcy was restored in 1955, as both the Yankees and Dodgers ascended to the top of their leagues for third time in four seasons. Brooklyn outpaced Milwaukee by 13.5 games while the Yankees held off Cleveland by three games.

Just two years removed from their last meeting, the Dodgers had essentially the same club as in '52 and '53, with Don Newcombe finally back in a Brooklyn uniform rather than an Army uniform. The biggest change was in the dugout, where Walter Alston replaced Chuck Dressen after the '53 Series. For the Yankees, the core of Mantle, Berra, and Ford remained, as did many of the complimentary parts, but things were changing.

Phil Rizzuto, the last link to the first Yankee-Dodger Series in '41, had lost his grip on the starting shortstop job. Gone were rotation stalwarts Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi, and their partner in crime Ed Lopat had been reduced to just 12 starts in his age 37 season. Veteran Tommy Byrne and youngsters Bob Turley and Don Larsen rounded out the Yankee rotation behind Ford and the bullpen was essentially entirely overhauled. With Billy Martin serving in the Army until September, Gil McDougald had shifted from third to second, with Andy Carey taking over the hot corner. Reliable left fielder Gene Woodling had been traded away, replaced primarily by Irv Noren. Joe Collins was still on the roster, but Johnny Mize had retired and Moose Skowron had inherited the majority of the time that the tandem used to have at first base. Perhaps most noticeably, after years of facing the Dodgers with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Newcombe, and Junior Gilliam, the Yankees finally had their first African-American player in Elston Howard.

As it had been in all but one of their previous meetings, Game One was at Yankee Stadium. Predictably, it was Ford against Newcombe. Perhaps less predictably, the game didn't prove to be the pitchers' duel one would expect with that match up. The Dodgers plated two in the second, on a Carl Furillo home run and a Don Zimmer RBI single. The Yankees responded in the bottom half. Elston Howard, playing in place of the injured Mantle, hit a two run homer in his first World Series at bat. The clubs traded single runs in the third to leave the game tied at three. Joe Collins led off the fourth with a homer to put the Yankees up a run, then added a two run shot two innings later to make it 6-3.

The Dodgers mounted a rally in the eighth. Furillo led off with a single. With one out, Robinson grounded to third, but an error by McDougald left runners on second and third. A sac fly from Zimmer scored Furillo and moved Robinson to third. With Frank Kellert at the plate, Robinson broke for home. In an extremely close play, home plate umpire Bill Summers ruled Robinson safe. Yogi Berra thought otherwise, and the perpetually affable backstop lost his head for one of the few times in his career. Fifty five years later Yogi still swears Robinson was out. It would be the final Brooklyn run on the afternoon. Bob Grim closed the Dodgers out in the ninth, giving the Yankees a 6-5 win and a one game lead.

Game Two pitted Tommy Byrne against Billy Loes. Byrne debuted with the Yankees in 1943, and after serving in the military, made four game cameos in both '46 and '47. He stuck for good the next year, spent the next three years as the Yankees' fourth starter, and started Game Three against Brooklyn in the '49 Series. Finally exasperated with his lack of control - back-to-back seasons of leading the League in walks and three straight in hit batsmen - the Yankees shipped Byrne to the Browns early in the '51 season. After stops with the White Sox, Senators, and in the Pacific Coast League, the Yankees reacquired Byrne as they chased Cleveland down the stretch in '54. Older and wiser, Byrne's second go-round in the Bronx was much smoother. He cut down on his walks and hit batsmen, and led the AL in winning percentage in '55. It was the best season of his career.

The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead against Byrne in the fourth, as Pee Wee Reese doubled and Duke Snider singled to start the inning. In the Yankee half, they would get the run back and then some. With two outs the bases empty, Berra singled and Collins walked. Howard and Billy Martin followed with consecutive singles, both of which scored a run. Pinch hitter Eddie Robinson got plunked, then Byrne ripped a single of his own, scoring two more. The Dodgers got one back in the fifth, but that was all the scoring for the day. The Yanks won 4-2, taking a two games to none lead. Byrne was characteristically wild, walking five and plunking another, but he gave up just five hits in going the distance.

With the Series shifting to Ebbets Field, Bob Turley got the start for the Yankees. Acquired from Baltimore in a seventeen player trade the previous off-season, Bullet Bob had just turned 25 and was the best non-Whitey Ford pitcher on the '55 Yankees. He didn't have it Game Three though, as the Dodgers got him for two in the first and two more before he could record the second out of the second inning. The Yankees responded with a pair of their own in the second. Mickey Mantle, making his first start of the Series, homered and Phil Rizzuto had an RBI single. But the Dodgers put up pairs of runs again in the fourth and seventh. Roy Campanella had a big day with a single, double, homer, and three RBI, and Johnny Podres tossed a complete game as the Dodgers took an 8-3 win to capture their first game of the Series.

Don Larsen and Carl Erskine faced off in Game Four. Erskine had been the Dodgers de facto ace while Newcombe was in the service; Larsen came to the Yankees in the same mega trade that brought Turley. Neither Game Four starter would fare much better than Turley had in Game Three. Erskine gave up three runs in as many innings, Larsen five in four plus. Reduced to a battle of the bullpens, Brooklyn was able to hold it together better than the Yanks, taking an 8-5 win an evening the Series at two games apiece.

It had been four full days since Game One, but neither Newcombe nor Ford took the ball in Game Five. Walter Alston tabbed rookie Roger Craig to start, while Stengel gave the ball to sophomore Bob Grim, who had spent most of the season pitching in relief and had closed out Game One behind Ford. The Dodgers jumped up 3-0 on home runs by Sandy Amoros and Snider. The Yankees scratched a run in the fourth on an RBI single from Billy Martin, but Snider took it back in the fifth with his second homer of the game. Bob Cerv and Berra hit leadoff homers in the seventh and eighth to cut it to 4-3, but Robinson singled in an insurance run in the eighth, and the Yankees went in order against Clem Labine in the ninth. The Dodgers took all three games in their home park to push the Yankees to the brink.

Back at Yankee Stadium for Game Six, the home team was in an unfamiliar position, but not an unprecedented one. Three years earlier, the Yankees entered Game Six down 3-2, before winning the last two on the road to take the Series. They had to do it again, and this time they'd get to attempt it at home.

Ford returned to the bump for Game Six, but Alston went with fireballing lefty Karl Spooner rather than Newcombe. The Yankees got to him immediately. He walked leadoff batter Phil Rizzuto and number three hitter Gil McDougald. Berra and Bauer followed with singles to make it 2-0, then Moose Skowron homered to right to make it 5-0 and chase Spooner, who would never again appear in the Majors. It was all the offense the Yankees would have on the day, but it was more than enough for Ford. He tossed a complete game, scattering four hits and four walks while striking out seven and allowing just one run.

And so, just as they had in 1947 and 1952, the Yankees and Dodgers would play one last game for all the marbles. Stengel chose Tommy Byrne; Alston went with Johnny Podres. The game was scoreless through the first three stanzas. Roy Campanella hit a one out double in the fourth, moved to third on a groundout from Carl Furillo, and scored the game's first run when Gil Hodges singled him home. The Dodgers doubled their lead in the sixth. Reese led off with a single, and the Dodgers attempted a bunt with number three hitter Duke Snider. Yankee first baseman Moose Skowron botched the catch, and both runners were safe. Clean up hitter Campanella bunted both runners over, then Byrne intentionally walked Furillo to load the bases. Stengel summoned Grim, who yielded a sacrifice fly to Gil Hodges, plating an unearned run.

Meanwhile the Yankee bats had no answers for Podres. He had shut them down in Game Three and was shutting them out in Game Seven. The Yankees had the makings of a rally in the bottom of the sixth. Martin led off with a single, and McDougald followed with a bunt base hit to put the tying runs on base for Yogi Berra. Berra, a dead pull hitter, sliced one into the left field corner. Left fielder Sandy Amoros raced to the ball, improbably hauled it in on the fly, and fired back to Reese, who threw to Hodges to double up McDougald. The rally was snuffed out and the Dodgers maintained their two run lead.

In the seventh, Elston Howard struck a two out single. With the pitcher's spot due, Stengel pulled an ace from up his sleeve, tabbing Mickey Mantle to pinch hit. Hobbled by a torn leg muscle, Mantle missed Games One, Two, Five, and Six in their entirety. Yet he managed a home run in his Game Three start, and another one here would tie the game. Instead, he popped to short to end the inning.

The Yankees threatened again the eighth. Singles from Rizzuto and McDougald put the tying runs on base with one out for Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer. Berra flew out to right, too shallow for Rizzuto to tag, and Bauer struck out to end the threat. Once again, Podres wriggled out of a jam.

In the ninth, Skowron tapped back to Podres; Cerv flew to left, and Howard bounced out to Reese. Finally, in their eighth World Series, in their sixth against the Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers had captured a championship. At long last, next year had come.