By Glen Sparks
The New York Yankees (actually, the New York Highlanders until 1913) muddled around a bit in their first few decades of play, finishing in the American League’s second division as often as not. They didn’t win their first pennant until 1921. A pitcher turned outfielder named George Ruth led the way.
Once the Yankees got it going, there was little stopping them. They boasted a line-up so intimidating that writers dubbed it Murderers’ Row. The Babe and Lou Gehrig belted home runs at a record pace.
Later, as that first great era closed, the Yanks signed an outfielder from the West Coast, Joe DiMaggio. The team kept winning. As Joe D’s time ended, the Yogi Berra-Mickey Mantle era began. More championships followed.
The 1955 pennant was the 21st for the Bronx Bombers, the 21st in the previous 34 years. They had already celebrated 16 World titles. They were the game’s best team; they played in American’s biggest, brashest city. Rooting for the New York Yankees, someone wrote, was like rooting for U.S. Steel.
The Greys, the Trolley Dodgers, the Bridegrooms, etc.
Real estate tycoon and baseball fan Charles Byrne founded the Brooklyn Base Ball Club in 1883. Before they were the Dodgers, they were the Greys. Someone came up with the Trolley Dodgers nickname in 1895.
Trolley cars zipped through the crowded Brooklyn borough, located on the southwest corner of Long Island. You had to be careful when you were crossing the streets with all those trolley cars. You had to dodge them.
But, the team uniform indicated only a “B” for Brooklyn, nothing else. Through the years, fans called the team the Greys, the Trolley Dodgers, the Grooms, the Bridegrooms, Superbas, the Robins, etc. They were almost—but, not quite—dubbed the Brooklyn Canaries. Imagine that.
Finally, in 1933, team owners put “Dodgers” onto the front of the home and away jerseys. Players were officially Brooklyn Dodgers. The change did little for the team’s won-loss record, though. Brooklyn—“Dem bums!” to exasperated fans—suffered through six straight losing seasons (1933-38). During those years, the team finished a combined 155.5 games out of first place. It was tough being a Dodger fan.
The Dodgers hired Branch Rickey in 1942 to run the club. (The team actually won a pennant in ‘41, its first since 1920. Some of the pieces, including Pee Wee Reese, were in place.) Rickey already had built the St. Louis Cardinals into a National League powerhouse. Could he do the same thing in Flatbush? Rickey developed Duke Snider and many of the other Boys of Summer. Most famously, he did the right thing. This deeply religious man cited Christian principles in signing Jackie Robinson and breaking the game’s color barrier.
The ’55 team was Rickey’s fifth Brooklyn club to claim the N.L. crown. Each time prior, the Dodgers met the Yankees in the World Series. Each time, the Yankees, won. Would ’55 be any different? New York won Game 1 by a score of 6-5.
Billy Loes started Game 2 for Brooklyn. The 25-year-old right-hander compiled a 10-4 mark for the ’55 team. He notched a 50-25 won-loss record over his five seasons in the Majors. Loes, from Astoria, Queens, was a funny guy. He once said that he didn’t want to be a 20-game winner. “Then, I’d be expected to do it every year,” he reasoned.
If Loes was funny, Yankee starter Tommy Byrne could be downright frightening. The left-hander from Baltimore uncorked his fastball and neither man, beast nor ballplayer was safe. During his early days, he gave out more free passes than a concert promoter.
In 1949, he walked an astounding 179 batters in 197 innings. And, he still finished 15-7 for the Yanks with a 3.72 ERA. The following year, he walked 160 in 203.1 innings. And, you thought Tarzan was wild.
New York traded Byrne to the St. Louis Browns during the 1951 campaign. Combined, he walked 150 batters in only 143.1 innings. Over those three years, he also hit 45 batters. (And don’t ya think the Yankee hitters were happy when Byrne got dealt to an A.L. team? Hey, now we have to step into the batter’s box against this guy.)
The Yankees reacquired Byrne in 1954. They tamed him a little bit. In ’55, he gave up just 87 walks in 160 innings. Heck, he was practically a control artist. Byrne went 16-5 with a 3.15 ERA. He only hit seven guys.
Brooklyn broke out on top in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium with a single run in the top of the fourth inning. Reese doubled and scored on Snider’s single.
Loes, though, fell apart in the bottom half of the inning. He gave up five hits, a walk and a hit by pitch. The Yankees scored two runs on RBI singles from Elston Howard and Billy Martin. Byrne added a hit of his own, a two-run single. New York led 4-1.
Robinson led off the top of the fifth with a walk. Don Zimmer followed with a base hit. Frank Kellert killed any hopes for a big rally by grounding into a double play. Jim Gilliam saved the Dodgers by lining an RBI single. The score was now 4-2.
And, that’s how it ended. Byrne pitched a complete game. Yes, he walked five, but he struck out six and scattered five hits.
Things didn’t look good for the Dodgers. They were down 2-0 in a best-of-seven series. But, the teams were headed to Brooklyn. Hilda Chester would be ready. She’d be clanging her cow bell and wearing one of those loud flower-printed dresses that she liked. And, the Sym-Phony band would be playing. The Dodgers, they had the Yankees right where they wanted them. … Right?
Time of the game: 2:28
Winning pitcher: Tommy Byrne
Losing pitcher: Billy Loes