Saturday, October 25, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1970's Dodgers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's, the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s and the Milwaukee Braves of the 1950s.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1970's.

East Coast-West Coast:
The Dodgers transition from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, with the exception of the first season, was almost seamless.  Some of the names were gone by the time the team won their first title in 1959.  They built a new dynasty in Los Angeles on the arms of Drysdale, Koufax and Osteen.  They won the World Series in 1959, came within a game of their second Los Angeles NL pennant in 1962, won a World Series 1963 and 1965 and lost another in 1966.  The Dodgers were on top.  But the fall from the top was quick and painful.  Koufax retired after 1966.  Jim Gilliam was released but stayed on to coach.  Tommy Davis and Maury Wills were traded. The changes led to a dramatic fall to last place, 28 1/2 games out.  The team needed a quick rebirth.  This west coast baseball thing was still new and a failure to succeed could mean a vagabond existence.

By 1970 they were back into second place but the Reds were in first piecing together the Big Red Machine.  The Dodgers finished second to the Reds but were not even close, ending up 14 1/2 games back.  The Dodgers were more competitive in 1971 but the Giants won the division on the final day.  With four games left the Dodgers were one game behind but the Giants won three of the last four of the season.  The Dodgers won 6 of their final 7.  Unfortunately the Giants kept the same pace so the Dodgers finished one game out.

Two more second place finishes in 1972 and 1973 and the Dodgers were sitting on the outside looking in.

The momentum was building and, as with the other almost dynasties, there was a core group that led to the success:

Steve Garvey:   The Dodgers had a tradition at first base starting with Gil Hodges and followed by Wally Moon.  In 1968 they would find another gem in the draft.  Steve Garvey became the face of the franchise.  A 10 time All Star, four time Gold Glove winner and an MVP Garvey would lead the almost dynasty, although his cheerleader attitude rubbed his team mates the wrong way at times.

Ron Cey:  Known as the Penguin for his distinct way of running, Cey would hold down third base through the almost dynasty.  A six time All Star, he had a knack for the big hit.  Cey would play briefly with the Dodgers in 1971 and 1972 but would take over full time in 1973.

Bill Russell:  The quiet leader, Russell was the key to the infield defense. He hit just above .260 for his career but hit near .300 career in the post season.  He would be a three time All Star.

Davey Lopes: Four time All Star and one time Gold Glove winner broke in with the Dodgers in 1974 along with the Penguin. Lopes would be the speed in the lineup.  He led the league in steals twice and was usually well above 40 steals in a season.

Dusty Baker:  Dusty began with the Braves in Atlanta and would be a late addition to the almost dynasty but a key piece.  He finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980.  He also was a two time All Star, a Gold Glove winner and a two time Silver Slugger winner.

Don Sutton:  Sutton broke in near the end of the Don Drysdale era.  With Drysdale known as the big Double D.  Sutton became known as little D.  A four time All Star, he would finish in the top 5 of Cy Young voting five times.  Although he only won 20 games once he won 324 career games and made the Hall of Fame.

Tommy John:  Known now for the surgery that bares his name, Tommy John was a dominant pitcher before and after the procedure.  From 1963 through 1974 with the Indians, White Sox and Dodgers John was 124-106 with a sub 3.00 ERA. After missing the 1975 season John returned to pitch until 1989 and would finish with 288 wins and a 3.34 ERA.

Bob Welch:  Welch would play a much larger part in another almost dynasty but he was a key piece of this team as well.  Along with Baker, Welch was a late comer to the almost dynasty but would win 115 games for the Dodgers while making one All Star Game.

Getting their feet wet:
By 1973 the four infielders who would define the Dodgers almost dynasty (Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell) were all in place.  The team would be built around these four players and as the years went on the four remained teammates even as free agency began to enter the picture.  The 1973 Dodgers would finish second, 3 1/2 behind the Reds.  The frustrating part is that the Dodgers' 95 wins was significantly better than the NL East winning Mets' 82 wins.  Despite that, the Mets beat the Reds while the Dodgers watched October baseball at home.

With Garvey now full time at first base, the sometime first baseman Bill Buckner moved to the outfield and the offense was nearly unstoppable.  The pitching staff was led by 20 game winner Andy Messersmith and 19 game winner Don Sutton. They led the division by ten games in earl July and although the lead shrank to four and a half games they were never truly in danger.  Playing in the franchise's first ever NLCS they had little trouble.  Sutton won Game 1 in spectacular 4 hit fashion.  Messersmith won Game 2 easily with a 5-2 victory to put the Dodgers one win away from their first World Series since 1966.  The Pirates attacked the Dodgers pitchers in Game 3 as Doug Rau and three others were smacked around 7-0.  Why had Rau pitched Game 3?  Tommy John couldn't pitch.  He had started the year at 13-3 but in his last start before the All Star break he felt a pop in his arm and lost feeling.  He tried to loosen the arm up a bit but his next pitch was the same.  He did not pitch again that year. Sutton started Game 4.  He pitched 8 innings, allowed three hits and only one run.  While little D was shutting down the Pirate offense, the Dodgers bats were savaging Pirate pitching.  Garvey went 4-5 including two Home Runs, drove in 4 and scored 4.  Lopes  went 2-4 with a triple and a stolen base and the Dodgers won 12-1.  They would face an Oakland A's team seeking their third straight World Series win.

The man who started the scoring in the series would be a long lasting thorn in the Dodgers' side during the almost dynasty.  Reggie Jackson launched a second inning Home Run to give the A's the lead.  The Dodgers lost Game 1 although they made it close.  With two out in the 9th Jimmy Wynn, known as the Toy Cannon,  hit a Home Run.  It was followed by a Garvey single but it ended there.  The Dodger bats had not kept pace with the A's to this point although Garvey and Russell were hot hitters  The two, with help from a Joe Ferguson two run Home Run, tied the series in Game 2.  The Dodgers would not get any closer.  Although the games were all close (four of the five games ended with a 3-2 score) the A's dynasty was too strong.  Dodgers pitching had held the A's bats to a .211 series average.  The A's, as they had done in the previous two World Series wins, did exactly enough to win.  The Dodgers would have to start again in the spring.

Rage Against the Machine:
The Dodgers had Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager but Johnny Bench was better.  The Dodgers had Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey but if you take Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion and add Pete Rose they become the top.  The Dodgers had Walter Alston but Sparky Anderson was better.

The Dodgers won 88 games in 1975.  The Reds won 108.  The Dodgers improved to 92 wins in 1976.  The Reds won 102. Cincinnati was at the height of the Big Red Machine.  The Dodgers were in transition.

Tommy John had a crazy new surgery hoping that he could persevere through the biggest fear of every pitcher.  He returned in 1976.  His record would be important as the Dodgers chased the Reds but his stamina, his recovery and his ability to last a full season were more important.  John, after missing a year and a half, went 10-10. Just the fact that he was able to throw a pitch basically secured him the comeback player of the year award.  The fact that he pitched well was just icing on the cake.  It was a good sign for 1977.

There would be a question heading into 1977.  Who the hell was that fat, loud Italian? Walter Alston had been the Dodgers manager since the team was in Brooklyn.  After seven post season appearances and four World Series titles (1955, 1959, 1963 and 1965) Walter Alston was no longer at the head of the Dodgers.  His replacement was Tommy Lasorda. He had pitched briefly for the Dodgers in Brooklyn but lost his roster spot when Koufax came to town.  To this day Lasorda will tell you that he should have made the team instead of Koufax.  (To be truthful,with Koufax's lack of control during his early days, Lasorda likely was correct.)

The Dodgers had a good feeling about the 1977 season.  The infield was still intact. Tommy John appeared to be back at full strength and a young Rick Rhoden appeared ready to step up in the rotation.  The team started off the year with two wins and a loss keeping them tied for first.  A second loss dropped them one game back.  They would stay in second place, one game out of first for three games.  They went 15-1 over the next 16 games and by April 30 they had a 7 1/2 game lead.  And the machine?  They were sputtering at 9-10 in second place.  At the end of the first month  the Penguin had hit 9  Home Runs and was hitting .425. Rhoden was 4-0.  The Dodgers were a beautiful mix of power and speed. Garvey would hit 33 Home Runs.  Reggie Smith hit 30 while Baker and the Penguin hit 30 each.  Lopes would steal 47 bases.  Russell 16 and reserve outfielder Glenn Burke would steal 13.  Rhodes would end up 16-10, struggling slightly after starting 8-2.  Sutton was 14-8 but the real star of the Dodgers pitching staff was Tommy John at 20-7 with a 2.78 ERA.

In the NLCS the Dodgers faced a Philadelphia team playing in the post season for only the fourth time in franchise history.  They were a great team stocked with young talent, like the Dodgers.  The first game was a match up of 20 game winners.  Tommy John vs Steve Carlton.  The Phillies got to John early and he was gone by the 5th.  Carlton was cruising through seven with a 5-1 lead.  Two walks and a single loaded the bases and up stepped the Penguin.  A grand slam tied the game and sent Carlton to the showers but the Phillies recovered to take Game 1.  Game 2 looked like the Phillies might just win this series easily when Bake McBride hit a solo Home Run to give the Phillies the early 1-0 lead but the Dodgers tied it up next inning with an RBI single by Lopes.  It remained tied until the bottom of the 4th.  Russell and Reggie Smith singled.  Cey bunted them up a base. Garvey was walked intentionally.  On a 1-2 count Baker connected and sent a Jim Lonborg pitch deep for the second Grand Slam for the Dodgers in the series.  The Dodgers would add on and win 7-1.

Game 3 has become one of those legendary games in baseball history.  Baker continued his hot hitting going 2-4, scoring one and driving in 2 with a double but the game was tied as they moved to the bottom of the 8th.  The Phillies' Richie Hebner started the inning with a double.  Garry Maddox singled scoring Hebner but when Reggie Smith threw wild, Maddox reached third.  A throwing error by Cey on Bob Boone's ground ball scored Maddox and the Phillies took a two run lead. Needing just three outs to take a 2 games to 1 lead the inning started well for the Phillies with Baker and Rick Monday each grounding out.  Desperate, Lasorda sent up pinch hitter Vic Davalillo, who surprised the Phillies when he bunted for a single.  Manny Mota pinch hit for the pitcher and swung through the first two pitches.  He looked completely inept when he missed the second pitch, spinning completely around in the process.  The crowd was loud.  Ironically, Harry Kalas told the Philadelphia audience that the crowd was chanting "defense, defense".  Mota connected on the next pitch.  He drove a ball to the wall in the Vet.  Greg Luzinski went back to the wall and leapt.  The ball was trapped against the wall as Davalillo tore around the bases.  Luzinski recovered.  Mota was headed for second. Luzinski turned, threw as hard as he could towards second. It bounced once.  Ted Sizemore, covering second, turned to take a look at Mota.  When he did the ball hit one of those damned Astroturf cut outs and bounced away.  Mota tore for third and made it easily as Sizemore chased the ball down.  Lopes stepped in and didn't wait for a perfect pitch.  He worked with what he was given.  He shot the first pitch toward Mike Schmidt at 3rd.  The ball took another weird Astroturf bounce and bounced off of Schmidt but directly to Bowa.  With Lopes tearing down the line at first and Mota  moving down the line at third.  Bowa got the ball quickly and released it even quicker.  Kalas screamed out "a throw! Yes! No! Not in time."  The Phillies went crazy while Mota scored the tying run.  As we have so often said it doesn't matter what causes the chaos, it is how you react to the chaos that counts. The Phillies compounded their problems when a pick off throw to first got loose sending Lopes to second with Bill Russell at the plate.Where Lopes was aggressive, going after the first pitch, Russell worked the count.  On the sixth pitch of the at bat Russell sent a shot straight back at Garber.  It rolled straight up the mound like a ramp and into center.  Lopes scored easily and the Dodgers had the lead.  The Phillies put Luzinski on base with a hit batter in the 9th but he did not advance. The Dodgers took the series lead in heartbreaking fashion.

Game 4 was Tommy John versus Steve Carlton again.  Dusty Baker made it clear that the momentum the Dodgers took in Game 3 was staying with them.  In the second inning Baker hit a two run Home Run giving the Dodgers the lead.  They scored two more in the top of the 5th and advanced to the World Series.  Their opponent was, of course, the Yankees.

The first game went extra innings but it wasn't the Dodgers magical day.  The hero was light hitting, defensive specialist Willie Randolph who hit a solo Home Run and doubled in the 12th before scoring the winning run.  The Dodgers hit four Home Runs in Game 2 to tie the series at one with a 6-1 win.  The Yankees took the series back the next night. New York got to John in the first with three.  Baker tied it up with a three run Home Run in the third but the Yankees jumped back ahead in the top of the 4th.  From there Mike Torrez shut the Dodgers down.  The Yankees took Game 4 thanks to a Reggie Jackson Home Run and the Dodgers were down 3 games to 1. Sutton pitched a complete game in Game 5 and Baker went 3-4 with 2 runs and 2 RBI.  Reggie Smith hit a Home Run and the Dodgers lived one more day.  Sutton pitched a complete game but he did not throw a shut out.  Reggie Jackson hit a Home Run in his second consecutive game.  Jackson had already hurt the "almost dynasty" while playing for the A's.  He now would bury them as a Yankee.  In his first three at bats in Game 6 Jackson would hit three more Home Runs giving the Yankees their first World Series win since 1962.

Call it a World Series hang over or whatever you want but the Dodgers struggled out of the gate in 1978.  It was a three team race with the Reds and Giants and the Dodgers trailed until August 11th.  By Mid September a red hot Dodger team led by 9  games but they cooled off allowing the lead to dwindle to 2 1/2 by the end of the season.  When they reached the pinnacle of the 9 game lead on 9/16, the lead was pretty much secure.  The fear at the end of the year was the slump they seemed to be in  heading into the playoffs.  They went 4-9 in the last two weeks of the season, the worst record in the NL during that stretch.  Dodgers fans knew they had to be playing at their best if they had a chance against their opponent.

The Phillies were in their third straight NLCS and it was a run of success that Phillies fans had never seen before.  The Phillies were a legitimate contender with Schmidt, Luzinski, Bowa and Carlton.  This would be no walk through the park and with the Dodges having struggled over the last two weeks of the season fans were nervous.  The Phillies, however, had also lost 4 of their final 6 so Phillies fans had the same fear.

Burt Hooton started game 1 for Los Angeles.  He was perfect in the first but allowed a run to the Phillies in the second.  The Dodgers started the top of the third trailing 1-0 and when Hooton made the first out quickly Phillies fans felt confident.  Lopes followed with a double and a Schmidt error allowed Russell to reach first.  Now the Dodgers were dealing with the heart of the order due up.  Reggie Smith singled to score Lopes and Steve Garvey followed with a three run Home Run making it 4-1 Dodgers.  In the Top of the 4th they added 2 on a Lopes 2 run Home Run for a 6-1 lead and added another in 5th.  Hooton got himself into trouble in the 5th and allowed three runs. With a  lead now at 7-4 and two runners on base Mike Schmidt stepped up to the plate.  It was the kind of situation Phillies fans wanted to see.  It was not what Tommy Lasorda wanted to see.  Lasorda removed Hooton and inserted Bob Welch.  On two pitches Welch got Schmidt to fly out to center field and the threat was over.  The Dodgers went on to win Game 1.  Tommy John started Game 2 and held the Phillies scoreless through three.  His opponent Dick Ruthven did the same to the Dodgers.  In the Top of the 4th it was Davey Lopes who got the scoring started.  The Dodgers added three more.  Tommy John was almost untouchable allowing only 4 hits and walking only two for a complete game shutout and a 2 games to none lead.  The Dodgers looked to sweep with Sutton on the mound but they had to face Steve Carlton to do so.  What was expected to be a low scoring pitcher's duel turned into a 9-4 slugfest with Carlton hitting a Home Run himself. The Phillies lived on one more day with a win.  They looked to tie the series in Game 4.  The Dodgers scored first but the Phils took a 2-1 lead which the Dodgers quickly erased.  Los Angeles went ahead 3-2 but just as quickly Philadelphia tied it.  It was 3-3 going into the bottom of the 9th and with the top of the lineup due up the Dodgers thought they would win it.  They didn't.  They went down 1-2-3.  Larry Bowa reached first in the Phillies' 10th but was stranded there.  Reggie Smith and Steve Garvey made two quick outs to start the bottom of the inning and now it was any one's guess who would come out on top.  Cey walked and when Dusty Baker lifted a fly ball to Centerfield it looked like this game would continue.  Baker was hitting .500 for the series (7-14) and had been 4-4 to this point on the day but it looked like he had failed when the team needed it. It was just a little fly ball with Garry Maddox charging in.  It was a play similar to the one Matt Holliday would make in 2009 against the Dodgers in an NLDS game.  Maddox was there.  Maddox should have had it but Maddox dropped it.  On the second pitch of his at bat Bill Russell smacked a single to center.  Cey raced around third and the Dodgers moved on to the World Series and again they would face the Yankees.

The Dodgers looked to continue the wave of winning against the Yankees.  Unfortunately just as he had the year before and way back in 1974, Reggie Jackson stole the show.  In Game 1 Jackson picked up where he had left off going 3-4 with a Home Run. Fortunately for L.A. Davey Lopes connected twice and Dusty Baker connected for a Home Run and with with Tommy John pitching better than ever the Dodgers took Game 1, 11-5.  Jackson slowed down slightly in Game 2.  He had only 1 hit, a 2 run double, and a sac fly.  No other Yankee was able to drive in a run.  The Dodgers were a one man team themselves with Ron Cey getting an RBI single and a three run Home Run.  The Dodgers won Game 2 and took a 2 games to 0 lead.

Throughout the 1978 season the Yankees had a one man slump buster and his name was Ron "Gator" Guidry.  Gator used his Louisiana Lightning in Game 3 to shut down the Dodger bats and got support from Mickey Rivers and Roy White at the top of the lineup to cut the Dodgers lead in half.

"He's gotta get out of the way!"
Game 4 looked like the Dodgers would take command of the series.  With Tommy John on the mound and a scoreless game through four, Reggie Smith hit a three run Home Run.  The Yankees looked to be in trouble.  Standing in the way, literally, was Reggie Jackson.

Roy White singled with one out.  Thurman Munson followed with a walk.  Reggie singled and White scored from second.  Lou Pinella followed with a line drive that turned out to be one of the most controversial moments in baseball history.  The ball shot towards Russell at Short like a bullet.  A smart ball player Russell realized that if he caught the line drive the chance at a double play was gone because the runners had clung to the bag.  Appearing to drop the line drive Russell slapped the ball to the ground, forcing Munson and Jackson to run. Russell immediately picked up the ball and stepped on second.  Jackson was now out on the force.  Jackson took three steps off the bag, saw he was out and stopped.  Russell fired the ball to first and Jackson, in line with the throw, stood there.  Replays show he probably shifted his path slightly into the path of the ball. The ball hit his hip and ricocheted away from the fielders.  Munson scored from second and Pinella was on second.  Lasorda, already with a reputation for his fiery temper, erupted.  "He's gotta get out of the way!"  With the umpires saying clearly "He didn't do it intentionally"  Lasorda just kept repeating "He's gotta get out of the way."  Regardless, the call stood and the Yankees had made a cut into the Dodger lead.  The Dodger bats showed little life outside of Smith's Home Run and when Munson hit an RBI double in the 8th the game was tied.  Bob Welch had already thrown 1 2/3 perfect innings.  He opened the bottom of the 10th by getting Mickey Rivers to pop out to Catcher.  His streak ended when he walked Roy White.  Thurman Munson popped out to Russell (he caught this one)and it looked like Welch would get out of it.  A Reggie Jackson single sent White to second and a Lou Pinella single sent White home.  It was a devastating loss.  What if Russell had caught the line drive?  What if he had tagged Munson (who was right by him) before stepping on the bag?

The result, after the controversy, was what typical of the Dodgers-Yankees rivalry to this point.  The Dodgers  scored  in the first and another in the third to take a 2-0 lead.  Then the deluge started.  Reggie Jackson only went 1-3 in the game but the Yankees knocked 18 hits around Yankee Stadium (amazingly none left the park) and they scored 12 runs.  The Yankees now led the series three games to two.  The Dodgers fans hoped a return home would change their fortunes.  With Don Sutton on the mound the hopes were high. His opponent, Catfish Hunter, was no push over.    The two future Hall of Famers had different seasons. Hunter (12-6) struggled, dealing with complications of diabetes and what would eventually be diagnosed as ALS.  Sutton (15-11) was the Dodgers clear #2 behind Tommy John so it was expected, in true Dodger-Yankee fashion, that this would go to a seventh game and when they took a 1-0 lead the place got loud.  The Yankees quieted everyone quickly. Sutton threw 5 2/3 and gave up five runs.  Welch threw 1 1/3 and gave up 2.  It was a disappointing 7-2 loss.

The team that could have easily won three World Series in the 1970's had none.

One Last Push:
The dawn of free agency changed the game.  After the 1978 season Tommy John left to join the Yankees of all teams.  He was replaced by rookie Rick Sutcliffe who went 17-10.  Sutton fell to 10-15.  Welch fell to 5-6, and out of the rotation.  The Dodgers fell to third in the NL West.  Their big win came in the June draft, although it would be quite some time before it paid off.  They drafted Steve Howe in the first round and a young pitcher named Orel Hershiser in the 17th round.

Fans in the NL West had gotten used to the constant battle of the Reds and Dodgers.  With the birth of free agency the Reds had also taken a hit.  Pete Rose was now in Philadelphia. Joe Morgan was in Houston.  Tony Perez was in  Boston.  The Dodgers were still strong with Garvey, Lopes, Russell and Cey, Baker and Smith and Sutton, Sutcliffe and Welch. But there was a new enemy in town.   The Astros had a young 1-2 punch of J.R. Richards and Nolan Ryan.  Their offense was young and talented with Jose Cruz, Alan Ashby, Art Howe and Bruce Bochy.  The two teams went back and forth all year. Neither could get more than a few games ahead.

The 1980 season went down the last weekend.  The Astros had a three game lead with three games left to play and the two teams closed out the season against each other.  The Astros had to win one game.  The Dodgers could not lose one.  The Astros scored first but the Dodgers tied it.  The Astros went ahead again but with two outs in the bottom of the 9th,  LA came back to tie it one more time.  A young September call up named Fernando Valenzuela had relieved Sutton and with the season on the line, he shut down the Astros in the top of the 10th.  The Dodgers led off the bottom of the 10th with Joe Ferguson, their catcher.  Ferguson kept the Dodgers alive with a solo shot.  The season wasn't over yet.

The second game of the series saw Nolan Ryan, the big free agent signing by Houston, face off against Jerry Reuss.  Ryan was spectacular.  In 7 innings he allowed only 2 runs on 6 hits and struck out 9.  Reuss was better allowing only 1 run in a full game effort, improving his record to 18-6.  It all came down to the final day.  If the Dodgers won the three game series would turn into a four game series.  Lose and the Astros moved on to face the Phillies in the NLCS.  The Astros scored 2 in the second and 1 in the 4th.  Things looked bleak for the Dodgers.  They scored one in the 5th on a Davey Lopes RBI single.  They scored a second in the 7th on a Manny Mota RBI single.  With the season on the line and possibly down to their last 6 outs, Steve Garvey opened the 8th with a ground ball and when he reached first on an error the Dodgers still had life.  Hoping for something to cheer about the Dodgers fans stood up with the Penguin waddling to the plate.  With one swing he waddled all the way around the bases with a season saving Home Run.  The Dodgers needed to win one more game to pull off the impossible.  It was not to be.  The Astros defeated the Dodgers for a 7-1 win.

The league had experienced a strike back in 1972.  It was the first real league wide, union organized strike that impacted the league.  It had delayed a few games, the season started late, but no real damage was done.  The 1981 strike was different. On June 11 the Dodgers lost to the Cardinals.  It cut their lead to just a half a game ahead of the Reds.  One less rain out here or there for either team.  One less blown lead.  One less come from behind early season win for either might have made the difference in the standings to that point. Instead the league closed up the next day and the Dodgers, with a 1/2 game lead over the Reds, were in first place.  When the player strike was resumed and the league started back up it was decided that the team in first place at the end of the "first half" would play a final playoff round.  Their opponent would be the team that won the most games between the league's restart on August 10th and the end of the regular season.  The Dodgers would play .500 ball the second half.  The Reds would play .610 (going 31-20).  The Astros would go 32-20, 1/2 game better than the Reds and winner of the second half.  The poor Reds would sit home and watch the playoffs despite being so close in both halves.

The first ever NLDS was a nail biter through and through.  Fernandomania had swept LA but Houston had no use for it.  Fernando threw 8 innings and allowed only one run, an RBI single in the 7th.  Garvey tied it in the 8th with a solo Home Run.  It was tied at 1 entering the ninth with the pitcher due up.  Jay Johnstone pinch hit for Fernando but nothing came of it.  It was a 1-2-3 inning. He was replaced by Dave Stewart.  It was a pressure packed situation for a wild kid pitcher but he had the stuff to pull through, or he would in the future.  This is where he would learn how to deal with the pressure.  He struck out Cesar Cedeno.  He got Art Howe to fly out.  The Astros sent up pinch hitter Craig Reynolds.  He singled.  Stewart stared down Alan Ashby.  Ashby swung and connected and for now Stewart would be known as the pitcher who lost game 1 of the first ever NLDS.  (Don't worry.  He came out ok. Check back next week to see what he accomplished.  Keep reading now to see what the Dodgers accomplished this year.)

Jerry Reuss started Game 2 for the Dodgers and pitched 9 scoreless innings.  Unfortunately for Reuss and the Dodgers Joe Niekro pitched 8 scoreless inning and Dave Smith added 2 more.  The game entered the bottom of the 11th still scoreless.  Dave Stewart took the mound to work the 11th.  Phil Garner opened the inning with a single.  Tony Scott singled right behind him.  Stewart was removed.  Terry Forster got Jose Cruz to pop up and he was replaced.  Tom Niedenfeuer walked Cesar Cedeno intentionally to load the bases.  He then got Art Howe swinging.  One out away.  Denny Walling singled scoring Phil Garner, on base thanks to Stewart, and Dave was now 0-2 (and so were the Dodgers).

The Dodgers wasted no time getting to Bob Knepper in Game 3.  Lopes walked and scored on a Baker double.  Garvey followed with a two run Home Run and the Dodgers took a 3-0 lead.  They would win 6-1.  The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead behind Fernandomania in Game 3.  Fernando took the mound for the 9th and had allowed only 2 hits and one walk to that point.  After a lead off fly ball Terry Puhl doubled. Phil Garner grounded out, advancing Puhl to third. Tony Scott singled scoring Puhl and the dangerous Jose Cruz stepped to the plate.  Valenzuela was up to the challenge and Cruz popped out to the Catcher.  For the second year in a row Nolan Ryan took the mound in a deciding playoff game with the season on the line.  Ryan, for the second year in a row, did not dominate as the Astros had hoped. The Dodgers won 4-0 and advanced to face the Montreal Expos in their only playoff appearance.

The Montreal Expos had a great team. They were led by Steve Rogers, their pitching ace, although the names recognized today would be Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Larry Parrish and Tim Wallach.  Thanks to Home Runs from Mike Scioscia and Pedro Guerrero the Dodgers won the first game  5-1.  The Dodgers lost 3-0 in Game 2 despite having  Fernando on the hill. Despite all the big names in the lineup it was Jerry White's three run Home Run that led to the Expos  4-1 win.  L.A. now needed to win two straight to advance.  They took care of it early with a 2-0 lead and poured it on late with a 2 run 8th and a 5 run 9th for a 7-1 lead.  In the deciding game Andre Dawson hit into a double play in the first but it scored Tim Raines for a 1-0 lead.  Rick Monday tied the game, scoring on a ground ball out by Fernando in the  5th.  The final deciding game entered the 9th inning tied at 1.  Garvey popped out and the Penguin flew out to left field.  With two out Rick Monday made the difference.  He launched a Home Run that won the pennant.  Fernando allowed two base runners in the bottom of the 9th and was replaced by Welch who got a 1 out save to send the Dodgers to the World Series.

The Dodgers opponent would be, again, the Yankees.  Like the Expos, the Yankees had names that would be recognizable today.  Graig Nettles.  Lou Piniella.  Willie Randolph.  Dave Winfield.  Ron Guidry.  Goose Gossage. Reggie Jackson. The Yankees won the first two games.  Guidry beat Tom Niedenfeuer 5-3 in Game 1 and Tommy John beat his old teammate Burt Hooton 3-0 in Game 2.  It seemed that the Yankees would win it all.  The problem was the Yankees bats went silent.  Rookie Dave Righetti started against rookie Fernando Valenzuela in the third game and the Dodgers won thanks to veteran Ron Cey's three run first inning Home Run.  The Yankees started Rick Reuschel in Game 4 against Welch (there will be a rematch in next week's article).  Neither fared well.  Welch exited before retiring a batter and the Yankees jumped out to a 4-0 lead but the Dodgers fought back.  What was expected as a pitcher's duel ended up as a series tying 8-7 Dodger victory.  The Dodgers had only four hits but they led to two runs.  In the bottom of the 7th, trailing 1-0, Steve Yeager and Pedro Guerrero hit back to back Home Runs to give the Dodgers their winning margin.  George Steinbrenner was not happy that his team was on the brink of elimination. He had paid big money for Dave Winfield.  His quote has resonated through the decades.  "I paid for Mr.October and I got Mr. May."  Winfield ended the series with a .045 (1-22) average.  Pedro Guerrero hit his 4th Home Run of the series.  He would share World Series MVP honors with the Penguin and Catcher Steve Yeager.   The "almost dynasty" finally had their crown.

The bane of the Dodgers' almost dynasty was Reggie Jackson and the Big Red Machine. It seemed that every time they got close one of these two would get in their way.  There were always the what if's...
What if Dodger pitching in 1977 had found a way around Reggie?  What if Russell had caught Reggie's line drive?  What if they had resigned Tommy John?  What if John hadn't hurt his arm to begin with?

The Dodgers key group of Garvey, Cey, Lopes, Russell, Baker, John, Sutton and Welch ended with four World Series appearances but only one World Series title.

Walter Alston managed the Dodgers from 1954-1975.  He was replaced by Tommy Lasorda in 1976 and lasted through part of the 1996 season. Who replaced Tommy Lasorda as the Dodgers' manager.

Answer to  Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to TJD for answering last week's question correctly.
The 1998 Rangers won the American League West.  It was just their second appearance in  the post season.  They had two star pitchers: Rick Helling (20-7) and Aaron Sele (19-11, 4.23).  The team used 5 other pitchers as starters in 10 or more appearances: John Burkett (32 sarts 9-13,5.68), Darren Oliver (19 starts, 6-7, 6.53) , Esteban Loaiza (14 starts, 3-6, 5.90) , Bobby Witt (13 Starts, 5-4, 7.66) and Todd Stottlemeyer (10 starts, 5-4, 4.33).  Sele and Helling had a high ERA but were clearly the best starters on the staff.  In the tradition of "Spahn and Sain and pray for rain", the Texas press had their own saying.  There are different variations of the phrase but the most often used was "Sele and Helling then expect a shelling."

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1950's Braves

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a team needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's and the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's, the Boston Red Sox of the 1940s and the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Milwaukee Braves of the 1950's.

Picking Up Stakes:
Boston had not been particularly kind to the Braves organization.  They had won a World Series in 1914 which was forever referred to as a "Miracle" implying the team could not possibly have actually achieved it without divine intervention.  Then there was the 1948 team that won a National League pennant but even then there was the derogatory refrain of "Spahn and Sain then pray for rain".  Again, the baseball world made it sound like the team could only win if one of two pitchers were on the mound.  Of course, sharing a city with the Red Sox is difficult.  The Sox may have had a long drought of World Series titles themselves, but they at least had a history of  winning before the drought.

Braves owner Lou Perini saw that his team was just an afterthought in his own town so after seeing that even reaching the World Series in 1948 still did little to help his bottom line he started looking for options.  Just four years after the World Series loss to Cleveland Perini did the unthinkable.  He moved a Major League Baseball team out of their original city.  The Boston Braves, members of the National League since 1876, became the Milwaukee Braves.

The Core Players:
Just as we saw with the Dodgers of the 1950's, there were key players at the heart of the Braves "almost dynasty" and just as with the Dodgers there were eight of them:

Del Crandall:  Del Crandall was the catcher for the Braves almost dynasty.  He signed with the Braves in 1948, too late to be part of the World Series team, and he missed the 1951 and 1952 seasons serving in the Korean War.  He returned to the states and joined the Braves organization in Milwaukee.  Crandall was an 8 time All Star.

Joe Adcock
Joe Adcock entered the league as a rookie with the Cincinnati Reds in 1950.  The Braves picked up the First Baseman in a complicated four team trade including the Braves, Phillies, Reds and Dodgers.  He would be the key First Baseman in the "almost dynasty" although he would share time with Frank Torre.

Johnny Logan
Logan was the key middle infielder in the Braves "almost dynasty".  He was one of the few key players who came with the team from Boston.

Eddie Mathews
Mathews was the big boy in the lineup.  Although Aaron would come to be known as the "Home Run King", Mathews was the one known for slugging.  His achilles heel as the Third Baseman was his defense.

Henry Aaron
The last of the core group to join the team, he may have been the most important.  He joined the Braves in 1953 and finished 4th in the Rookie of the Year voting.  Aaron was originally a Short Stop but was converted to an outfielder.  He would be an All Star 21 times, win a batting title and set the career Home Run record.

Andy Pafko
Pafko was a veteran by the time he had come to the Braves in 1953.  Pafko was a leader by example.  He had already been a part of the Brooklyn "almost dynasty" and had watched helplessly as Bobby Thomson's Home Run sank Ralph Branca.

Warren Spahn
Spahnie, as he was known, was the ace of the Braves staff.  He was one of the top pitchers in the game and would be the face of the franchise.  Spahnie was one of a few stars from the 1948 World Series team that made the move to Milwaukee.

Lew Burdette:
Burdette started his career as a Yankee in 1950.  In 1951 he was traded to the Braves for the man who had become Spahn's partner.  Spahn and Sain were like Ruth and Gehrig.  Like Foxx and Simmons.  Like Tinker, Evers and Chance.  Replacing Sain was no easy task but Burdette would more than live up to the challenge.

Climbing from the Bottom:
The Braves left Boston and settled in Milwaukee in 1953.  The 1952 version of the Braves, the last season in Beantown, was a 7th place finish with a 64-89 record.  The people in Milwaukee seemed genuinely excited about the possibility of having a major league team and the support the team received felt almost in complete contrast to the situation the team had left.  The team reflected their new attitude and new hometown energy by climbing to second place.  1953 was, of course, the year the Dodgers ran away with the pennant.  The Braves finished a proud, but distant, second place, 13 games behind the top spot.  During the off season the Braves pulled off a big trade with the Giants that landed them a legend, Bobby Thomson.  Having picked up Pafko the winter before the Braves now had two of the men directly involved in the infamous Dodgers-Giants moment.

The 1954 Braves went 89-65 and fell one spot to third place behind the Dodgers and the eventual World Series champion Giants.  They stumbled to start the season and had fallen as low as 7th.  They fought back and reached second place in early September, just 4 games behind the leaders.  They of course looked for better but the hopes for the next season were even higher.

The 1955 edition started strong at 7-3 but the red hot Dodgers already had a 3 game lead.  Milwaukee cooled off over the next few weeks and the competition pushed them back as far as 5th.  That slow period would haunt them.  While they were able to recover and climb to second they were not able to catch the Dodgers.  Still, the confidence was growing.  Finishing in the top 3 of the league three years in a row, with the improvement of the young Aaron and Mathews as a 1-2 punch, the Braves were even more confident for the 1956 season.

The One That Got Away:
On June 1, generally considered the point where you can tell the contenders from the pretenders in the regular season, Milwaukee entered play in first place, one game ahead.  They lost June 1 but so did the competition.  They lost June 2 and fell into a tie.  They split a June 3 double header to remain tied.  They would lose another three straight to fall to fifth.  It was almost as though the calendar had finally woken up, given a big stretch, shuffling everything in the process and realized the Braves were not supposed to be that high.  On June 16 they lost 3-2 to the Dodgers to fall 3 1/2 games out of first.  They were in 5th place but they were only a good week away from jumping up to the top.  They quickly turned it around and won 11 straight, ending that streak two games ahead of the second place Dodgers.  It was a nice recovery but the season was far from over.

The Braves fought through August as the Dodgers struggled.  By mid August they were in first.  By September 3rd they were 3 1/2 games ahead.  The lead would not last.  Riding the arms of Spahn and Burdette the Braves fought to hold off the Dodgers.  Brooklyn, riding the late season acquisition of Sal Maglie, was charging hard.  With a chance to make some progress the Braves faced off against the Reds (who were surprising people in close third) and the last place Cubs.  Win both series and they would possibly gain ground.  Instead they went 1-3 against the Reds and split with the Cubs.  That was immediately followed by a split series with the Dodgers.  On September 15 the Braves and Dodgers were tied.  The next week saw the teams jockey back and forth, neither getting the upper hand for long.

On September 21 they were tied again. There was just  seven games left to go.  The Braves would face the Cubs and Cardinals with one make up game against the Reds.  They went 2-1 against the Cubs but the Dodgers kept pace and remained tied.  The Braves won the make up game giving them a half game lead on the idle Dodgers.  They lost the first game of the Cardinals series but remained one half game up on the Dodgers.  There were only two games left for the Braves and three for the Dodgers.  The Braves just needed to beat the Cardinals and they would be World Series bound.  The Dodgers won a double header on September 29.  If the Braves could win their game that day they would be tied at worst.

The Braves had Warren Spahn on the mound and all the confidence in the world. When Bill Bruton hit a first inning solo Home Run the Braves dugout erupted. Smiles all around.  They tried but could not add to the lead.  In the 6th the Cardinals struck back with back to back doubles scoring a single run.  The Braves had a runner on base in 6 of the next 8 innings but never truly threatened. Spahn remained tough and the game went into extras.  The bottom of the 11th looked like the Braves would make some noise.  After a fly ball to start the inning, Aaron singled and Matthews walked.  With Joe Adcock and Bobby Thompson due up a base hit seemed inevitable.  Adcock grounded to Third Base.  Aaron was able to reach third but Matthews was forced at second. All they needed was for the man who had shocked the Dodgers in 1951 to reach back for some more magic.  He made contact and the ball shot towards short.  Aaron ran down the line  toward home plate and the run that would clinch the pennant but Cardinals Shortstop Al Dark fielded the ball and threw to first to retire the side.  The Cardinals did not score in the bottom of the inning.  The Braves failed to score in the 12th.  In the bottom of the inning, with Warren Spahn in his 12th inning of work for the day,the Braves retired Al Dark to start the inning.  Stan Musial doubled and the Braves walked Ken Boyer putting men at first and second with one out.  Up to the plate stepped Rip Repulski.  He laced a double to score Musial and sink the Braves to second place with one to play.    The best they could hope for was a tie.  The Braves won on the final day of the season putting the pressure on the Dodgers.  Who said Don Newcombe  couldn't win a  big game?  He won on the last day of the season to send the defending World Champion Dodgers back to the World Series and the Braves home to think about the missed opportunities.

Score One for Bushville:
The Braves were angry about the way the season had ended the year before.  They took that anger out on the rest of the league.  They started by winning 5 straight before losing an extra inning game to the Cubs.  They won the next four putting them at 9-1.   After 14 games they were 12-2.  Just over two weeks into the year and the Cubs were already 9 games out of first in last place.  Normally 12-2 would give a team a confident lead.  Instead the Dodgers kept place and despite the hot start the lead was only 2 1/2.  By mid May the lead had disappeared but it was the Reds who sat atop the league with the Braves.  By the start of June, the Reds had jumped out to a 3 1/2 game lead.  While the Dodgers organization fought the city of Brooklyn, the Braves fought the Reds.  It seemed unfair that the Braves had fought the Dodgers so hard the last few years and the Reds were stealing what the Braves had rightfully worked for.

As June moved through July the Reds came back to the pack but the Cardinals had stolen the top perch.  The Braves had fallen 3 1/2 behind them.  If something was going to happen the team would need a jump start.  They got it in the form of a scrappy veteran second baseman.  Red Schoendienst had been a key part of the Cardinals 1940s dynasty but his best days were considered past him and he had spent the last few years with the Giants.  On June 15 the team sent Ray Crone, Danny O'Connell and Bobby Thompson to the Giants (Thompson was going home again) and in return received Red Schoendienst.  At one time it could not have been viewed as a blockbuster deal but now was more of a swap of over the hill players.  Instead Schoendienst infused the team with life.  They started August tied for first and after briefly falling one game back they took off again winning 11 of 12 to build an 8 game lead.  The Cardinals put a brief scare in the team by cutting the lead to 2 1/2 on September 15 but the Braves recovered with little effort and won another 8 straight.  They won the NL by 8 games.

Their opponent was the big bad actual dynasty of the New York Yankees.  While the city of Milwaukee was new to this baseball thing, New York was almost blase about the World Series.  It seemed to many in the big apple that the real season didn't start until October.  Many in New York didn't take the Braves seriously.  Casey Stengel, who had played minor league ball in Milwaukee in his younger years, called the city Bushville.  That was enough to get the Braves fighting mad.  To be truthful few gave the Braves a chance and when the Yankees won Game 1 and Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead New York felt their 1956 World Series title would soon have a twin.  The Game 3 Yankee win was a convincing display of the mighty dynastic power, a 12-3 beating with two Home Runs by Tony Kubek and one by Mickey Mantle.  To have any chance the Braves would need to show the same fight they had shown to overtake the Reds, Dodgers and Cardinals.

Game 4 started poorly.  2 hits and a walk for the Yankees led to a 1 run lead and near heart failure for Braves fans.  The Braves fought back in the 4th.  Johnny Logan walked.  Eddie Matthews doubled and up to the plate strode Hank Aaron.  No one yet considered Aaron a challenge to Babe Ruth,  That would not come for another decade.  Although Henry had blossomed over the last two years.  He won the 1956 batting title and had led the league this season with 44 Home Runs.  He gave the Braves the lead with a three run Home Run. Two batters later Frank Torre hit a solo Home Run to make it a 4 run inning and a 4-1 lead.  They took that lead into the top of the 9th and the Series looked like it would be tied.  With two out Yogi Berra hit a harmless single.  That was followed by a single by Gil McDougald.  The harmless singles were not so harmless when Elston Howard hit a Home Run to tie the game and suddenly everything started over.  In the top of the 10th things looked worse when a Hank Bauer RBI triple gave the Yankees a lead.  In the bottom of the 10th Nippy Jones pinch hit for Spahn and led off by getting hit by a pitch.  He advanced on a sac bunt by Schoendienst and scored to tie the game on a Johnny Logan double.  With Logan in scoring position all Eddie Mathews had to do was hit the ball safely.  He did just that.  He hit the ball into Right Field where no one could get to it.  It was a 10th inning walk off Home Run to tie the series and now Milwaukee truly believed.

Game 5 was crucial.  Every player knew it.  The winner had the advantage.  The Yankees put runners on base in each of the first 4 innings but double plays helped erase them.  The Braves had put runners on in 3 of the first 5 innings but couldn't truly threaten.  This was a great pitching duel.  Burdette vs Whitey Ford.  The bottom of the 6th started like the others had with Ford retiring the first two.  Eddie Mathews, not known for his speed, hit a ground ball to second but beat it out.  Aaron followed that with a single.  This was the first real threat.  Adcock followed that with another single and Eddie Mathews scored from second giving Burdette a 1-0 lead.  Burdette was spectacular the rest of the way and the Braves took a series lead moving them one game from the ultimate goal.

With a chance to close it out the Braves sent Bob Buhl to the mound to face Bob Turley.  Buhl was gone after 2 2/3 and the Yankees up 2-0 on a Berra 2 run Home Run.  Ernie Johnson came on and quieted the Yankees while Aaron and Torre hit solo shots to tie it up in the 7th.  Braves fans sat on edge.  Could this be the year?  Could this be the game that won it?  The feeling lasted less than an inning when Hank Bauer, one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time, hit a solo Home Run to give the Yankees the lead and eventually the game.

So it all came down to this.  Game 7. In New York.  In Yankee Stadium.  The site of so many Yankee legends hoisting the trophy over vanquished foes.  Ruth.  Gehrig.  DiMaggio.  Now Bauer, Berra and Mantle.  The Yankees sent Don Larsen to the mound, the man who had shut down the Dodgers powerful lineup just a year before.  He would face Lew Burdette with Warren Spahn set to pitch in if needed.  Larsen was perfect through one inning.  Burdette was not, giving up a lead off double to Bauer and an intentional walk to Berra before escaping trouble.  Larsen lost his chance at another perfect game with the first batter of the second when Aaron singled.  He moved to second when Torre walked but they both stopped there.  Burdette was perfect in the bottom second and it looked like another pitcher's duel.  The tension was amazing.  The Yankees fans, confident after so many titles, had only to cast their memories back two short years to recall losing a Game 7 to the Dodgers.  Braves fans were praying for a win to show New York they were no longer a minor league town.  A one out single in the top of the 3rd appeared harmless when Logan grounded a double play ball to Tony Kubek but a wild throw to second gave the Braves a second life.  They took full advantage.  Matthews doubled to right scoring both runners and Larsen was gone.  Aaron greeted Bobby Shantz with a single scoring Matthews.  Before the inning was over it was 4-0 Braves.  There was still a long way to go but Burdette was again amazing.  He shut down the Yankees' powerful bats and the Braves added another run on a solo Home Run by Del Crandall.

The Braves were now World Champions!

Defending the Title:
The Braves felt confident entering the 1958 season.  They were, after all, defending World Champions.  The league had changed drastically over the winter.  The Dodgers and Giants were now on the west coast.  Roy Campanella was paralyzed after a car accident and Jackie Robinson was retired.  The Dodgers sank to the bottom half of the league but the Giants stayed tough.  On June 10 the Giants were 1/2 game ahead of the Braves with those pesky Reds just behind.  The Braves would build a 3 1/2 game lead but a five game losing streak put them back into a tie with the Giants.  As hard as they tried they could not shake the Giants and on July 29 they trailed by 1/2 game.  It would be the last day they would spend out of first place.  They won the league by 8 games setting up a rematch with an angry Yankees team seeking to prove they were still the dynasty in the game.

It started as the exact opposite of the previous year.  The Braves led the series 2-1 after three games and in Game 2 they had crushed the Yankees 13-5 behind Burdette, who even hit a Home Run to help his own cause.  When Spahn shut out the Yankees 3-0 in Game 4 to give the Braves a 3-1 series lead they needed just one more win out of three remaining games (including two at home) to win their second title and establish a chance for a true dynasty.  With three chances to win one game, with Spahn and Burdette and  with two home games it looked bleak for the Yankees and all wrapped up for the Braves.

There's a reason you play these games even when it appears to be all over.

Burdette started Game 5 and Braves fans were sure this would be their day.  He retired 9 of the first 10 batters.  The one he didn't retire was Gil McDougald who led off the third with a Home Run.  No worries for Braves fans.  They still had Aaron, Adcock and Matthews.  And if they couldn't do it there was Crandall, Wes Covington, Torre and Logan.  It remained 1-0 into the 6th.  Bauer led off with a single but Burdette got Jerry Lumpe, who failed on a sac bunt attempt, for the first out.  Mantle singled sending Bauer to third.  Berra then doubled sending Mantle and Bauer home.  Before the inning was over the Yankees had scored 6 runs and chased Burdette.  They won 7-0.

No worries.  "We wanted to win at home anyways." said delusional Braves fans.  With Spahn on the mound for Game 6 they were a confident bunch.  Hank Bauer got to Spahn for a Home Run in the first but Aaron answered in the bottom.  Yankee ace Whitey Ford was chased in the bottom of the second.  Three straight singles and a walk gave the Braves a 2-1 lead with the bases loaded and one out.  With Logan, Schoendienst, Matthews and Aaron set to come up next Braves fans started counting their trophies.  Logan hit a fly all to Left Field and as quickly as the Braves fans counted to two the Yankees fans did the same.  In left field Elston Howard settled under the ball as Andy Pafko tagged up at third.  When Howard caught the ball Pafko took off and Howard threw home.  Pafko was out and the double play ended the inning.  Still, with Spahn on the mound and Ford having been demoralized the Braves were confident.  The Yankees tied it in the top of the 6th with a Berra sac fly and all of a sudden it was still in doubt.  In the top of the 10th Gil McDougald led off with a Home Run.  After two outs Howard and Berra singled and Howard scored on a Moose Skowron single giving the Yankees a two run lead.  This Braves team did not quit.  Logan walked with one out.  He scored on a two out Aaron single and Adcock singled sending Aaron to third.  One base hit and they were tied.  Frank Torre stepped in as the pinch hitter and lined a shot towards second.  Braves fans were loud but it got quiet quick as the line drive was caught.  See you tomorrow for Game 7.

The Braves scored first in the deciding game but the Yankees took a 2-1 lead in the second.  The Braves tied it at 2 in the sixth.  This would be another nail biter but with Burdette on the mound the Braves were positive they would prevail.  Turley got Burdette, Schoendienst and Bill Bruton on ground balls to close the 7th still tied at 2.  Burdette went back out to the mound with the whole world on his shoulders, just how he liked it.  McDougald flew out.  Mantle struck out looking and with Torre, Aaron  and Wes Covington due up next for the Braves there were no real worries until Berra doubled to right.  Howard followed with an RBI single.  Andy Carey singled to third and Moose Skowron launched a three run Home Run giving the Yankees a 6-2 lead.  It was again the opposite of 1957 and the Braves chance to take a giant step toward a dynasty took a giant step back.

Planting the Flag on the West Coast:
In retrospect we can see the 1959 season as one that would show a trend toward a major change at the top of the National League.  The Braves started off hot.  25-15 through their first 40 games was good enough for a 3 game lead. The newly transplanted Giants and Dodgers were close behind and the surprising Pirates were hanging tough.  The Braves played well through May and June.  They weren't red hot and didn't run off any tremendous win streaks but they also kept the losing streaks to two or an occasional three.  It was not good enough and by mid July they had fallen out of first place.  A six game losing streak (and seven of eight) in July led to a four game deficit.  Not to worry.  This was the Braves and they almost seemed to play better from behind.  They came right back and won 11 of the next 13 to cut the lead to just 1/2 game.  By August it was clear the Dodgers, Giants and Braves would pull away from the pack.  The Braves were still the favorites. Up and down the lead went with the Giants seeming to have the upper hand.  By the last week of August the Giants had a 3 1/2 game lead.  The Giants collapsed.  They went 12-19 the rest of the way.  During the same span the Dodgers went 18-12 and the Braves went 20-12.  On September 21, with a week left in the season, the Braves and Dodgers were tied with the Giants only one game back. The last few days were a see saw battle.

On September 22 the Giants lost to the Cubs, the Dodgers lost to the Cardinals and the Braves beat the Pirates.  The Braves were up one on the Dodgers and two on the Giants.

On September 23, the Giants lost in extra innings to the Cubs, the Dodgers beat the Cardinals but the Braves lost to the Pirates.  The Giants were still two back while the Dodgers and Braves were tied.

Thursday was an off day for all three but the Dodgers and Braves were back at it Friday for the start of a weekend series starting on September 25.   With only three games left the Dodgers beat the Cubs in 11 innings but the Braves lost to the Phillies.  The Dodgers took the lead.

Saturday, September 26 the Dodgers lost badly to the Cubs while the Braves beat the Phillies and the Giants shut out the Cardinals.  Tied again.  The Giants trailed by a game and a half with just one day left.  If the Giants could sweep their Sunday double header against the Cardinals and the Braves and Dodgers both lost it would be a three way tie to end the season.

Sunday, September 27.  The Giants lost both games of their doubleheader to the Cardinals, eliminating them after the first game.  The Braves beat the Phillies and the Dodgers crushed the Cubs.  With no regular season games left it meant one thing:  a best of three playoff with the winner heading to the World Series.

Having used their aces to try to win the season outright the Dodgers started Danny McDermott against Carl Willey of the Braves.  The Dodgers no longer had Campy, Jackie, Pee Wee or Big Newk.  They still had plenty. The Dodgers scored in the first inning on a Norm Larker single to score Charlie Neal.  A second inning walk by Logan, single by Crandall and single by Bill Bruton led to Milwaukee's first run.  A Dodger error led to a second Brave run and a 2-1 lead.  Gil Hodges drove in a run in the 3rd to tie the game for the Dodgers.  Despite trading scoring threats the game remained tied when John Roseboro stepped up to the plate in the 6th.  He had big shoes to fill as the Dodger Catcher to replace Campy.  He didn't need to fill Campy's shoes.  He left his own footprints in Dodger history and his legend started here.  He launched a solo Home Run to give Los Angeles the lead.  Larry Sherry came on to relieve McDermott in the 2nd and started what would be an unbelievable week for the reliever.  He allowed only one base runner after the Dodgers took the lead and gave the Dodgers a one game lead in the best of three series.

For the Braves it was win or go home. They pitched their best in Burdette.  Entering the bottom of the 9th the Braves and Burdette held a 5-2 lead.  It was a cinch that the series would be tied and the Braves dynasty still had life.  The Dodgers opened the ninth with three straight singles by Wally Moon, Snider and Hodges.  Burdette was replaced but Norm Larker kept the pattern going with a single scoring two and cutting the lead to one.  Spahn now came in to close out the game but gave up a game tying sac fly.  After allowing a single to Maury Wills, Spahn was relieved.  Two batters later the inning was over but the damage was done.  Neither team scored in the 10th or 11th.  The Braves went in order in the top of the 12th.  The Dodgers got two quick outs in the home half of the 12th before Hodges worked a walk and Jim Pignatano singled Hodges to second.  Three pitches later Carl Furillo delivered the Dodgers the first ever West Coast pennant.

The Braves almost dynasty was over.  It would take ten years for the organization to return to the post season.  By that time they were in Atlanta and Aaron was one of the few players left from the almost dynasty.  From 1969 the team would not see the playoffs until 1982.  The journey from 1982 to their next post season appearance will be part of another almost dynasty.  You'll see that one in a few weeks.

Mentioned in this article was the old refrain in Boston when Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain were at their peak: "Spahn then Sain then pray for rain." In the late 1990's the Texas Rangers had two pitchers at the top of their rotation and a drastic fall off after.  The two pitchers were Rick Helling and Aaron Sele,  What was the refrain for that Rangers team?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Sorry TJD.  Carl Furillo was a great guess but not accurate.  Furillo was on the down side of his career by that point but the Reading Rifle did manage to stay with the Dodgers through part of the 1960.  In fact, as you read today, Furillo got the big hit in the Braves-Dodgers playoff game.  Sandy Koufax joined the Dodgers in 1955.  The pitcher he replaced had appeared in 4 games that season (including one start), and would end the year with 4 innings pitched, 5 hits (including a Home Run), 6 earned runs, 6 walks, 4 k's, 1 hit batter, 4 wild pitches and an ERA of 13.50.  Koufax was a long way from  earning the nickname "The Arm of God" but the Dodgers had to keep him on the roster or lose him.  The pitcher with the 13.50 ERA was the victim and was sent to the minors.  Koufax played a big part in the Dodgers success in Los Angeles, but so did the pitcher who was sent down to the minors.  Tommy Lasorda would manage the Dodgers for 21 years, win 4 pennants and 2 World Series.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Almost a Dynasty: 1950's Dodgers

What actually makes a sports dynasty?  Obviously a teem needs to be successful for a continuous amount of time.  Every sport has that one iconic dynasty that fits the Dynasty category.  The NBA had the Boston Celtics who won nine out of ten championships.  The Montreal Canadiens won 7 of nine Stanley Cups (including six straight).  The NFL had several dynasties including the 49'ers, the Steelers, the Cowboys and, most recently, the Patriots.  Baseball itself has had the Yankees dynasties in several incarnations including the 1930's, 1950's and 2000's.

So what actually makes a team a dynasty?  There can of course be several definitions since there are varying levels of success.  A team can dominate their division for a decade but be bounced out in the first round of the playoffs year after year.  We could of course consider that to be a divisional dynasty but you wouldn't call it an overall baseball dynasty.  So let us set the parameters for this series of articles.  A dynasty, for our purposes here, is a team that wins multiple World Series championships (above two as back to back is nice but not a dynasty) within a 5-10 year period.  That being defined, this series will explore those teams that may have been a divisional or league dynasty but for whatever reason could not get over the hump to that World Series dynasty.

This series will show an array of near dynasties.  Some are teams that made the World Series year after year but fell short.  Others will be teams that competed right down to the end of the regular season year after year just to be beaten out.  It will be a series of near misses and what could have beens.

Don't miss the other almost dynasty articles: The Detroit Tigers of the 1900's, The Chicago White Sox of the 1910's, the Pittsburgh Pirates of the 1920's and the Boston Red Sox of the 1940's.  Now let's get started with this weeks "almost dynasty": The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950's.

Sowing the Seeds of Sorrow:
The "almost dynasty" of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950's started long before the 1950's.  The Dodgers in Brooklyn were the city itself.  It was part of the largest city in the United States struggling to retain a small town feel.  Of course they were known for the Brooklyn Bridge but they took pride in their Dodgers, even during the bad times.  The Dodgers of the 1930's were known more for their goofy antics than they were for their success.  The team earned the nickname "the Daffiness Boys" for their seeming constant errors.  The most famous being a play where three Brooklyn base runners ended up on the same base.  The team had to fight hard to overcome that image.

They did so in 1941.  The image that replaced it was the image of heartbreak.  The Dodgers in 1941 surprised many people by not only reaching the World Series but putting up a fight against the dominant Yankees.  They entered the ninth inning of Game 4 with a lead that would tie the series at 2 games.  This is where the "almost dynasty" takes root.  On the final strike of the game, theoretically ending the game, the ball got past Catcher Mickey Owens allowing Tommy Henrich to reach base.  The Yankees took advantage of the miscue and won that game, then rolled through the team to the World Series title.  1946 was no picnic either.  The team could have won the National League again and faced off against  Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky and the Red Sox.  Instead, they were tied with St.Louis on the final day and lost the first ever National League Playoff to the Cardinals.  (The game played between the Giants and Cubs after the 1908 season was technically not a playoff.  It was called a "replay" of the disputed Merkle game.)  The 1947 Dodgers overcame the hate they faced as a result of breaking baseball's color lines and the last minute suspension of their manager and won the National League but were dominated by the Yankees in the World Series.  1949 again saw them win a close National League race only to fall short, again to the Yankees.

The 1940's could have been the Dodger's near dynasty, if only the 1950's were not so much more heartbreaking.

The Core Eight:
While the Yankee dynasty of the 1990's-2000's had what was considered the "Core Four" of Jeter, Posada, Pettite and Rivera (although Tino Martinez, Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams should also get more recognition for their participation in that group) the Dodgers had what some might call a core eight.

The 1940's Dodgers had a strong group of players including Dixie Walker, Mickey Owen, Eddie Stanky, Kirby Higbe, Hugh Casey and Pete Reiser.  By the time the 1949 season rolled around it was an almost brand new team.  Reese remained from the 1941 team but even between 1947 and 1949 the team was greatly changed.  So who are the core 8?:

Pee Wee Reese:  One of a million missed opportunities for the Red Sox, Manager Joe Cronin felt his body could sustain a few more years as player-manager in Boston.  That made short stops in the Boston system expendable so in 1939 the Red Sox traded Pee Wee Reese to Brooklyn for $35,000 and three players.  Reese played only half of the 1940 season but was the team leader on the 1941 World Series team.  He would miss three seasons serving in World War II.  He would become the face of the franchise.  The quiet leader.  The captain.

Carl Furillo:  AKA the Reading Rifle.  Signed with the Dodgers before the 1941 season but did not see any action until he returned from World War II.  He was known for his defense but also won a batting title.  He was a ferocious competitor and under rated part of the Dodgers almost dynasty.

Gil Hodges: Hodges, like Furillo, signed before World War II, although Hodges actually appeared in one game before shipping off to the Marines.  Hodges was originally signed as a Catcher and spent most of the time on the bench watching the other Catchers.  When First Baseman Preston Ward hit a slump Durocher threw Hodges onto first and he stuck.

Jackie Robinson: Jackie joined the Dodgers in 1947 and immediately became a spark on the team.  He was the man who made the Dodgers go.  Few players in history could change the game like Jackie did.  He was once referred to as "Ty Cobb in Technicolor".

Roy Campanella:  Campy signed with the Brooklyn organization shortly after Jackie Robinson but did not make his debut with the big league Dodgers until 1948.  Campy would be one of the biggest contributors offensively and defensively.  He would make eight All Star Teams in ten seasons and would win three MVP awards.

Don Newcombe:  Big Newk was signed shortly after Campy and Jackie.  He made the big league team in 1949 and had an immediate impact.  He lost two seasons to the Korean War and unfairly gained a reputation for being unable to win the big game.  Big Newk was the undisputed ace of the team and the "almost dynasty" wouldn't have existed without him.  In fact had it not been for the two years in Korea, it likely would have been a real dynasty.

Duke Snider:  The Duke of Flatbush signed with the Dodgers before the 1943 season but did not appear until after the war.  While many of those above contributed to the 1947 World Series team, Duke would come late to the party.  He would be the big hitter in the Dodgers' "almost dynasty" and would have a love/hate relationship with the fans.

Carl Erskine: Known to the fans as "Oisk" because of the way the Brooklyn accent played with his name.  Carl would pitch two no-hitters in his career and if not for arm problems that sometimes made it impossible for him to lift his throwing arm high enough to comb his hair, Oisk might have made the Hall of Fame.

These were not the only key players of the almost dynasty but these eight were the group that did most of the heavy lifting.  As you'll see, starting with 1950, the other contributors also made legendary contributions.  Some good and some bad.

The Wide Turn and the Whiz Kids:  
Thirty years later Richie Ashburn sat in a broadcast booth in the Astrodome with Harry Kalas.  It was October of 1980 but the topic, as a young Marty Bystrom warmed up to face the Astros in the deciding game of the NLCS, was pressure.

"Rich, what was the most pressure packed game in which you were ever involved as a player?"  Kalas asked casually.
"Well the last game of that '50 season obviously.  It was either win or go into a playoff."

The "almost dynasty" of the Dodgers started immediately in the 1950's.  The Phillies' young group of 1950 were known as the Whiz Kids.  They had surprised the league to lead most of the year but as the season wound down their lead was down to two games with two games to play.  Those last two games were against the Dodgers, the team charging hard at the end of the season.  If the Dodgers won both games they would tie for first and play a three game playoff against the Phils.  Lose one and they were done.

Ebbets Field was tense in the Saturday opener of the two game set.  In the bottom of the 5th the game was scoreless.  Each scoreless inning increased the pressure.  Campy struck out to start the 5th but Third Baseman Billy Cox singled and went to second on Pitcher Erv Palica's ground ball.  Dodgers fans started to cautiously stir.  There was still another batter before Pee Wee and Duke made their appearance and they had already seen their team leave three runners on base this game.  The hitter was Cal Abrams, today's Left Fielder.  Abrams broke the scoreless tie with a single.  Pee Wee followed with a triple and when the Phillies brought in their MVP Jim Konstanty, the Duke rudely greeted him with a 2 run Home Run giving the Dodgers a 4 run lead.  The Whiz Kids would cut the lead to 4-3 but Campy would take away any doubt in the bottom of the 8th with a Three Run Home Run.  The Dodgers were now one game back with one game to play.

On the mound for the Dodgers in the season finale was Big Newk.  He was facing off against the Phillies ace Robin Roberts.  If Saturday was tense Sunday's game had people being fit for straight jackets.  For the first five innings neither team scored.  It was now half way through the game and stomachs churned a little louder as the game inched on.  Every called strike got a little groan, every ball was a little victory.  The Phillies came to bat in the 6th.  Eddie Waitkus and Richie Ashburn went down for two quick outs and it looked like the Dodgers would have another easy inning.  Dick Sisler singled to Center Field causing some anxiousness in the crowd.  Del Ennis followed with a single and the crowd grew restless.  Stepping in was Willie (better known as "Puddin' Head") Jones.  Puddin' Head hit a ground ball up the middle that scored Sisler but Snider got to it quickly enough to hold Ennis.  Dodgers fans were sure this was the negative sign they had dreaded.  Beaten by Puddin' Head.  Then the unthinkable happened in the bottom of the inning.  The Dodgers tied it on a Home Run.  It wasn't Hodges, Snider or Campy.  It wasn't even Jackie.  It was Pee Wee!  The little guy who had hit only ten Home Runs all year hit one out (barely, it got stuck in the screen for a ground rule Home Run).  But hell, a tie game is a tie game and a Home Run from Pee Wee was a sign that the Dodgers were going to win it all.

The Dodgers were energized entering the bottom of the 9th still tied.  Cal Abrams walked to lead off the inning and now they were sure.  Reese singled sending Abrams to second and there were two on and no out with Duke, Jackie, Furillo and Gil to follow.  There was no way they didn't win this.  Snider lined a single to center and Ebbets Field was louder than ever.  It was over.  But what was it that Yogi said?

Abrams took off for third.  Ashburn, the Phillies Center Fielder, had a notoriously week throwing arm.  The scouting report was he was no threat to throw someone out.  Abrams hit the bag at third with Third Base coach Milt Stock screaming "Go! Go! Go!"

Abrams turned the bag (history has blamed him for turning too widely and costing him precious steps) as Ashburn fielded the ball.

Abrams sprinted for home.

Ashburn picked it up on one hop.

Abrams kept running.

Ashburn turned and fired a perfect strike to Stan Lopata at the plate.

Abrams stopped running.  Out at the plate.  With Robinson, Furillo, Hodges and Campanella due up next and only one out the Dodgers should have still won it but the out at the plate deflated the crowd.  For decades Cal Abrams was public enemy number one.  Public enemy number two may have been the Phillies' Dick Sisler, who hit a three run Home Run in the top of the 10th sending the Whiz Kids to the World Series and the Dodgers home disappointed for another long winter.

Say Hey!:
Any lasting effects from the last day loss in 1950 seemed to have disappeared.  Although they wouldn't pay immediate dividends, the Dodgers made some tremendous signings in the off season.  Signings that would feed the "almost dynasty" long into the future:  Joe Black, Jim Gilliam, Johnny Podres and Maury Wills.  The Dodgers took over first in mid May and by mid August they had built a 13 game lead.  They were starting to count their chickens (or playoff bonuses) with a month and a half left.  The closest team was the Giants.  There was no way they would catch the Dodgers.  It was over.

What was it that Yogi said?

The Dodgers went 27-24 the rest of the way.  Normally that record does well enough to maintain a 13 game lead.  Not when the Giants, led by Durocher and Willie Mays go 39-8.  The lead shrank and the Dodgers needed a 9-8, 14 inning win on the last day of the season just to remain tied and force a playoff against the Giants.

The Dodgers lost the first game of the series at home 3-1.  Game 2 was in the Polo Grounds and the Dodgers played like a team angry that Durocher was trying to take their pennant.  Jackie started it in the first with a Two Run Home Run.  Jackie would go 3-5 with 3 RBI on the day.  Rube Walker (playing for an injured Campy), Hodges and Andy Pafko would also hit Home Runs and the Dodgers won 10-0, tying the series.

The final game was played at the Polo Grounds but after the 10-0 demolishing the Dodgers were confident.  Say Hey! kids.  It was nice seeing you but it will be nicer seeing you go, especially you Leo.  You all head home.  We'll take on the Yankees.

The Dodgers confidence skyrocketed in the Top of the 8th.  Tied at 1, the Dodgers got to Sal "the Barber" Maglie.  The situation may have been too tense for Jackie to make his normal Maglie joke before the game. "Don't bother shaving. Maglie will pitch you close enough to do it for you."  To start the 8th Furillo shot a ball straight back at Maglie but Maglie caught it for out number one.  The two tough men may have glared at each other.  Furillo silently saying "I wish it would have hit ya, ya bastard."  Maglie silently saying "Sit down ya Dodger son of a bitch."  Reese and Snider singled. A Maglie wild pitch scored Reese.  Jackie was walked intentionally.  Pafko singled scoring Snider.  After a Hodges pop out, Billy Cox singled scoring Jackie and it was 4-1 Dodgers.

Big Newk pitched a perfect 8th and the Dodgers just needed three more outs. He gave up back to back singles before getting Monte Irvin to foul out.  When Whitey Lockman doubled Newk's day was over.  And then came Ralph Branca to face Bobby Thompson.  Cue Russ Hodges.

One Step Closer:
1950 saw the Dodgers come within a wide turn of forcing a three game playoff.  1951 saw the Dodgers lose a three game playoff.  In 1952 these guys were not messing around.  They won the NL by 4 1/2 games (though it wasn't necessarily that close) and faced the Yankees, who were playing in their fourth straight World Series.

Although it had only been a few years since the 1949 World Series this Yankees team was different.  DiMaggio, Keller, Henrich were gone.  Rizzuto, Reynolds, Raschi and Berra were still there but new were Martin, Mantle and Joe Collins.

This year was different.  In 1941 the Dodgers had shot themselves in the foot with the Owens passed ball.  In 1947 and 1949 they were just overpowered by a great Yankee team led by The Great DiMaggio.  In 1952 they actually struck first, they won Game 1 behind rookie pitcher Joe Black's complete game.  They lost Game 2 7-1 but came back and won Game 3 behind Preacher Roe.  Not only did they win it, they won it in Yankee Stadium with two runs in the 9th to beat the Yankees at home.  Joe Black pitched again in Game 4 and held the Yankees to only 2 runs.  Unfortunately Allie Reynolds was better holding the Dodgers to 0 runs to tie the series at 2.  The Dodgers had missed an opportunity, behind Black's well pitched game, to take a commanding 3-1 lead.

If Game 4 was a missed opportunity, Game 5 was a statement.  With a chance to take the lead again, Carl Erskine took the mound.  The Bums scored one run in the 2nd but left the bases loaded.  When they scored three more in the 5th (thanks to a Pee Wee sac fly and a two run blast from Duke) it looked like the men left on base was an after thought.  Hank Bauer started the bottom of the fifth with a single.  Billy Martin duplicated it.  Irv Noren pinch hit for the pitcher and followed Bauer and Martin's example, scoring Bauer.  Gil McDougald grounded to Reese who forced Noren but Martin scored.  It was 5-2.  Still a safe lead.  Rizzuto singled McDougald to third but when Mantle popped out for the second out Dodgers fans breathed a sigh of relief.  The collective released breath from Brooklyn may have created a tail wind because the next batter, Johnny Mize, launched a three run Home Run to tie the game.  In other years this team would have quit but not after last year.  This team fought back.  Snider had an RBI single in the 7th to tie it up.  In the top of the 11th Duke would untie it with an RBI double and the Dodgers were one game away from their first ever World Series win.  I wonder if Yogi said anything to the Dodgers after the game.

With elimination looming the Yankees started one of their Aces, Vic Raschi.  The Dodgers started... well let's see.  Erskine?  No he started Game 5.  Joe Black?  Nope. Newcombe?  Nope, he was in the military. (oh, how different it could have been if Big Newk were available).  Branca or Preacher Roe?  Nope.  The choice to start a potentially clinching game was... Billy Loes.  His name may not immediately jump out like Branca, Erskine or Newk but Billy Loes was 13-8 in 1952 and he had a 2.69 ERA.  So although it wasn't the flashy pick it was a good choice.  Through 6 innings he had allowed only 2 hits and 2 walks but no runs.  Raschi was just as good through 6 allowing only four hits and no runs.  It was another gut squeezing game.  In the bottom of the 6th the faithful at Ebbets Field thought they had it made.  Duke (they loved him again) led off with a Solo Home Run to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.  It didn't last long.  Maybe Yogi didn't say it out loud but his bat said it for him.  He led off the Top of the 7th with a game tying Home Run.  Then, missed opportunity number 2 for the Dodgers.  Gene Woodling walked.  Unnerved, Loes balked  Woodling to 2nd.  In true Dodgers fashion he didn't just balk.  He came set,  Thought about what he wanted to throw and then.,, he dropped the ball.  It just fell to the ground and Woodling advanced to second. Irv Noren struck out and Billy Martin popped up.  Two out.  All Loes had to do was get the pitcher and they were out of the inning.  Raschi hit a weak ground ball back to the mound.  Loes didn't react.  It hit off his leg, rolled into right field and Woodling scored from second on the error from Loes.  So what happened?  Loes lost the grounder, he said, in the sun.  What?  How can you lose a ground ball in the sun?  Erskine backed him up.  "In October the sun is right between the decks for probably no more than a couple mintues' time.  And that's exactly when that happened, and when Loes said he lost it in the sun everyone laughed, and the fact is, if you ever pitched in Ebbets Field you know that's possible in October with a ball that's hit with a little bounce on it."  In the top of the 8th Mantle made his presence known with a solo Home Run to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.  Snider hit his second Home Run of the game but no one was on base so the Yankees lived on for one more day.

Joe Black started Game 7 and the Dodgers were confident they had this one already.  Neither Black nor Reynolds was dominant.  The Yankees struck first in the fourth.  The Dodgers answered right back in the bottom of the third.  The Yankees took the lead again in the 5th on a Gene Woodling Solo Home Run.  The Dodgers answered in the bottom 5th.  The Yankees scored again on a solo Home Run from Mantle in the 6th.  The Dodgers were silent in the 6th.  The Dodgers scored in the 7th.  The Dodgers were silent in the 7th.  Well not exactly silent.

Here was missed opportunity number three.  Furillo walked to start the inning.  For Carl it was nothing more than a walk.  There was no hand clapping on the way down to first.  At this point it was nothing but a base runner.  Rocky Nelson pinch hit for Preacher Roe.  With a 1-1 count (Nelson and the crowd thought it should be 2-0) Raschi threw well outside and the Dodgers dugout came to life.  Cookie Lavagetto, Dodgers coach and fan favorite, was loud in rooting Nelson on.  Nelson popped a ball up to short.  Rizzuto fought the sun but caught the ball.  Billy Cox stepped in. The count went to 3-2.  Benches started to get uneasy.  Sitting positions were shifted.  Hats, the same ones that had sat in the same position for innings, now felt tight or tilted.  The hats came off as nervous hands ran through hair.  Cox lined a single sending Furillo to third and Pee Wee came to the plate with Duke on deck. As the count went to 3-1 Stengel got nervous. Yelling from the dugout he eventually took a walk to the mound.  The next pitch came in and Pee Wee started to walk to first but was called back.  It didn't take long for him to get to first.  He walked on the next pitch and Snider strode to the plate to face a new pitcher.

Bases loaded.  1 out.  All they needed was a base hit.  On an 1-1 count Duke checked his swing on an outside fastball and fouled it off.  He was furious with himself.  He shouldn't have even offered at it.  The count went full and the tension got bigger.  Snider swung and connected on the next pitch. It was on the outside part of the plate and if he could have made perfect contact with it he could have driven it for at least a double.  Instead it was popped up. The infield fly rule was called and there were two out.  That brought up Jackie Robinson.  Two out.  Bases loaded.  If there was any one person you would want at the plate in this situation it was Jackie.  He swung through strike one.  The Yankees stirred.  Ball one.  The Dodgers bench stirred.  On the mound Bob Kuzava fidgeted between pitches, played with the rosin bag.  Ball two and Yogi didn't like this one.  He started growling at the ump.  Lavagetto was still pacing, clapping, yelling from the dug out as Robinson fouled off another pitch.  It was on the inside part of the plate, the kind of pitch Jackie would love to pull.  He just pulled it too far.  The next pitch was identical and Jack tried to pull it inside the bag.  Foul ball.

With the bases loaded and a two run lead the Yankees were playing the middle infielders back and the corner fielders were guarding the line.  The next pitch was out over the plate.  Jackie swung.  Connected.  It went straight up in the air.  With two out Furillo was moving and crossed the plate.  Behind the plate Berra waited for Kuzava to take charge.  Cox hit third and turned the corner.  On the mound Kuzava looked straight up.  Watching.  Reese started jogging to second.  At short stop Rizzuto started to amble towards the mound.  Cox noticed the lack of urgency on the Yankees part and he headed home.  At second base Billy Martin knew this was not his ball.  It was Kuzava's or maybe Collins' at first.  Reese rounded second and headed for third as the ball started coming down and the Yankee fielders stood motionless.  Martin sprinted towards the infield.  Robinson was at second by now.  Dodgers fans saw the ball falling.  Jackie and Reese saw the same.  Cox crossed the plate.  Martin kept sprinting.  If the ball fell to the ground Furillo and Cox would have scored and Reese had a good chance.  Martin kept running.  Kuzava watched.  Rizzuto had lost it in the sun.  The ball was falling.  Martin sprinting.  Falling.  Sprinting.  Falling. Martin reached the field grass in front of the mound.  He stuck his glove out and just below his knees the ball dropped in his glove.  Three outs.  Threat over.  For all intents and purposes, Series over.  Better luck next year.

1953 was similar to 1952 in the fact that the regular season was an almost foregone conclusion by June.  Brooklyn ran away with the pennant by 13 games.  They finished with a 105-49 record.  Their World Series opponent again was the Yankees.  The Dodgers lost the first two games. won the second two and it looked like seven games again.  The Yankees took a 3-1 lead into the 9th inning of Game 6.  The Dodgers tied it when Carl Furillo launched a two run Home Run.  Dodgers fans, who moments before had given up, raised their eyes for a moment.  Maybe there would be a Game 7.  It didn't last long.  A Billy Martin single in the bottom of the 9th scored Hank Bauer giving the Yankees their fifth straight World Series win.  The Dodgers almost dynasty now had a clear pattern and the Dodgers were becoming the lovable losers.

Where the hell did they come from?
The Dodgers' 1954 season was not bad.  They won 92 games.  The problem was Leo Durocher and the Giants were better.  The Giants took over first on June 9 and although the Dodgers would continue chipping away at the lead they could never quite overtake the Giants.  While the Giants faced off against the heavily favored Indians the Dodgers brooded over another missed opportunity to win it all.

The off season brought Jim Gilliam to the team and there was a question of where he would play.  Gilliam was a second baseman, Jackie Robinson's position.  What about Billy Cox?  He was traded to Baltimore with Preacher Roe leaving Third Base open.  Jackie did not want to move to third but in the end he did.

There was drama in the 1955 season and it mostly centered around the fact that the Dodgers were now aging.  Robinson, Reese, Campy and Furillo were all now slowing down.  Snider and Erskine were middle aged.  Injuries were starting to take their toll.  There was a question of how long the window would remain open.

The National League picture had slowly been changing.  The Giants won in 1954 and the Braves were coming soon.  The Dodgers were building their youth for the future.  Roger Craig, Jim Gilliam, Johnny Podres, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Don Zimmer looked like they would keep the train rolling for longer but could they accomplish what the core eight had done.  One other player intended to be part of the new core was stolen away by the Pirates and their new club President, Branch Rickey.  Rickey had an eye for talent so when they had a chance to steal Roberto Clemente from the Dodgers, they jumped at the chance.

The 1955 Dodgers ran away with the league...again.  Their opponent for the 1955 World Series was the Yankees...again.  Big Newk lost Game 1 to Whitey Ford 6-5.  Billy Loes lost Game 2 to Tommy Byrne 4-2 and suddenly the Dodgers were down 2 games to 0.  The series shifted to Ebbets Field and the Dodgers fans expected this to be quick but painful.  Instead, the Dodgers scored runs in bunches, winning Game 3 8-3.

The Yankees jumped out to 3-1 lead in Game 4 which gave the impression that the series would have the same score by the end of the day.  In the bottom of the 4th Campy hit a solo shot to cut the lead to 3-2.  Furillo immediately followed with a single.  Up stepped Gil Hodges.  The big, intimidating ex-marine and future manager of the Miracle Mets.  Hodges, who had long overcome the pain of his horrible 1952 season, gave the Dodgers the lead with a two run Home Run.  One inning later, with Reese and Gilliam on base, Duke Snider hit a three run Home Run.  It gave the Dodgers a secure lead in the game and a tie in the Series.  Game 5 went to the Dodgers behind 6 strong innings from Roger Craig.  The Dodgers were (again) only one game from winning a World Series.

With the season on the line the Yankees wasted little time in putting up their fight.  Dodgers Starter Karl Spooner finished the game with 1/3 inning pitch.  He gave up 2 walks, three singles and a three run Home Run.  That made the game 5-0.  It would not get any better for the Dodgers that day.  To this point in the series the home team had won every game.  If the Yankees won Game 7 it would be the first time a home team had won every game of a 7 game series.  If they lost it meant it was the first time a Dodgers team had won the World Series.

The Yankees started Tommy Byrne.  The Dodgers started... Johnny Podres.    Podres?  Had Dodgers fans  not learned from the disaster of Billy Loes a few years before? Podres was brilliant.  Campanella scored the first run of the game on an RBI single from Hodges.  A sac fly from Hodges in the 6th gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead.  Now Dodgers' fans just had to sit and wait for the disaster to strike.

It didn't take long.  Don Zimmer had started the game at second.  The Dodgers had pinch hit George Shuba for Zimmer the inning before hoping to get an extra run.  It hadn't worked so as the bottom of the inning started some movement occurred in the Brooklyn defense.  Jim Gilliam moved to his natural position at second base.  That left an opening in Left Field.  The solution was a seldom used outfielder named Sandy Amoros.  Billy Martin opened the inning with a walk.  McDougald followed by trying to sacrifice Martin to second.  Instead he ended up with a single and two runners on base with no out.  Up to the plate stepped Yogi.  As Yogi always said about it being over...

The Dodgers outfielders were shifted towards the right.  Way to the right.  Berra never could drive a ball to left field.  Shocking everyone, Berra connected on a pitch that headed towards the left field corner.  Dodgers fans were sure this was it.  Amoros started running towards the ball.  Martin and McDougald were sure they would both score.  Berra had thoughts of a triple.  Amoros ran like hell.  He just ran until he was almost out of room and stuck out his glove.  The ball smacked in his glove.  The umpire's fist shot up in the air.  The runners, Martin and McDougald, stopped dead and reversed direction.  It was chaos.  As we have always said on the baseball eras blog, it does not matter what causes the chaos.  What matters is how you react to the chaos.  Amoros, with the ball secure, tried to stop but with his speed and momentum he couldn't stop dead.  He slammed into the wall, using the fence to stop his momentum.  He quickly recovered, turned and threw to Reese.  Reese, reacting quickly to the chaos, turned and threw to first.  McDougald slid back in but Hodges had already caught the ball.  Double play.  Threat over.  Where Billy Loes had failed a few years earlier, Johnny Podres had succeeded.

The Dodgers had their first World Series title.  Now, how about 2?

The Defending Champs:
As expected the Dodgers won the National League again.  As expected the Yankees were the opponent.  What was not expected was the difficulty the Dodgers faced in getting back to the series.  You can read more about that next week in the next "almost dynasty".  The Dodgers struggled greatly during the season.  The battles on the field were matched day by day by the battles between Dodgers' owner Walter O'Malley and the city of Brooklyn.  As the Dodgers fought for the pennant, the ownership fought for a new stadium.  Rumors swirled.  Not about whether the Dodgers would play in Ebbets Field or a new Brooklyn stadium.   Rumors swirled about whether they would play in Brooklyn at all.  During parts of the 1956 season they didn't.  For a few series they used a minor league stadium in Jersey City, NJ as their home stadium.  Despite the challenge from the Braves the Dodgers held on to, or stole away, the pennant.

The series started the same as the 1955 series, except the Dodgers won the first two this time, crushing Don Larsen 13-8 in Game 2. The Yankees won Games 3 and 4.  Game 5 was the classic.  The legendary game.  The perfect game.  So it came down to Game 6.  It was win or go home.

Game 6 was another classic.  Scoreless into extra innings, Jackie Robinson singled home the only run for a 1-0 win forcing Game 7.

With so many tight, hard fought games over the years between these two teams the anticipation for Game 7 was huge.  Everyone assumed it would be a classic and given the result of the 1955 Game 7 there was no way to tell who would win.  The Dodgers seemed to have the advantage with Big Newk starting for the Dodgers against Johnny Kucks for the Yanks.  The Yankees scored first in the first inning with a  two run Home Run from Yogi.  The Dodgers couldn't answer.  In the third inning the Yankees struck again with another two run homer from Yogi.  The Dodgers again couldn't answer.  A solo Home Run by Elston Howard in the 5th and a Grand Slam by Moose Skowron in the 7th would be all the scoring for the day.  Johnny Kucks pitched nine innings allowing only three hits and no runs for a 9-0 World Series clinching victory.  The "almost dynasty" of the Dodgers had missed the opportunity to win back to back championships.

The Decline and Fall:
The "almost dynasty" in Brooklyn fell quickly and was replaced by (in some parts running simultaneously with) the almost dynasty in next week's article.  The Dodgers hung in the race until mid season but by the end of July the team was in third place and they would never climb higher.  Injuries depleted their power and the talent expected to replace the aging players did not progress as quickly as anticipated.  Drysdale showed signs of success but Koufax was wild and unreliable.  Add to that rumors, which turned into reality, that the Dodgers would be moving to Los Angeles led to smaller crowds and a lack of interest in the team for the first time in team history.

The core eight were starting to slow down.

After the 1956 season  the Dodgers did the unthinkable.  They traded Jackie Robinson to the rival Giants.  Too bad they didn't know he had already planned to retire.

Following the 1957 season Campanella was in a car accident leaving him paralyzed his entire life.

At 37, Pee Wee's playing time diminished and he was playing games at third base instead of Short Stop.  He made the move to Los Angeles for the first season but retired after that first year.

Furillo also made the trip to Los Angeles for a few years but injuries and the sudden appearance of younger talent shrunk his playing time.

Big Newk suffered on the mound following the Game 7 loss in 1956.  He went just 11-13 in 1957.  He started out 0-6 in the first Los Angeles season before being traded to the Reds.

Gil Hodges played with the Dodgers until being drafted by the Mets in the 1962 expansion draft.  He would eventually manage the team to their first ever World Series title.

Carl Erskine always had Hall of Fame talent.  His arm was the only thing holding him back.  His injuries slowly took their toll.  He went just 5-3 in 1957, 4-4 in 1958 and 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in 1959 before retiring.

Duke Snider was the last man standing.  As Pee Wee, Campy and Furillo aged and saw less playing time, Duke became the team leader.  He stayed with the team through 1962, even making huge contributions to the Dodgers first World Series win in LA.

The Brooklyn teams of the late 1940's and early 1950's could have been a full fledged dynasty.  With six pennants between 1947 and 1956, as well as two other years (1950 and 1951) that were missed opportunities, the team had chance after chance to stake their claim as an actual baseball dynasty.  Instead, what they ended up with was one World Series title and second place in history to the Yankees dynasties of the 1940's through early 1960's.

The Dodgers signed Sandy Koufax as a "bonus baby" meaning that the size of his contract required him to remain on the major league roster.  In order to make room for Koufax on the roster the Dodgers had to send a player to the minor leagues.  What player was sent to the minors to make room for Koufax?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Congratulations to TJD for answering last week's question correctly!
Between 1941 and 1964 the Yankees, Indians and Red Sox dominated the top of the American League.  The Yankees won the American League in 1941, 1942, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964.  The Indians won the AL in 1948, and 1950.  Although the Red Sox came close in 1948 and 1949 they only manged to win the AL in 1946.  Only three other teams managed to sneak into the World Series from the AL.  The Senators and A's were not able to sneak in at all during that time.  The 1944 St. Louis Browns were able to win the American League and challenge the National Leauge's powerful St. Louis Cardinals in a cross town World Series.  The following year the 1945 Detroit Tigers rode the emotion of Hank Greenberg's return to beat the Cubs.  The 1959 White Sox led by Al Lopez reached the Fall Classic before losing to the Dodgers in their first ever West Coast World Series win.