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. 

1 comment:

  1. Ah! The boys of summer. Brings back memories of my youth. Never liked the Dodgers because they won all the time. Hated the Yankees more because they won more than the Dodgers.
    I do remember the world series when the Dodgers beat the Yankees. I also remember when Don Larsen pitched the perfect game. Was at the playground when we were talking about the game.
    I always liked Campy because he was always smiling.
    Sometimes when I think of the Dodgers and Giants I think of them being in New York. If you take 1901 as the start of the Modern baseball league, the Dodgers and Giants are in California as long as they were in New York (57 years).

    My guess on the trivia is Carl Furillo was sent to the minors.



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