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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.