By Glen Sparks
This is a story about the day Mickey Owen of Nixa, Mo., dropped a baseball.
It was Oct. 5, 1941. Much of the world was at war. The United States would be, too, in just a few months. Now, though, at least in New York City and among all baseball fans, news about the World Series held sway.
The Yankees, 101-53 during the regular season, were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers, 100-54. It was Game 4; New York held a 2-1 advantage in this best-of-seven match-up. Yankees starter Red Ruffing gave up six hits in a complete-game effort in Game 1. Second baseman Joe Gordon drove in two runs, and New York won 3-2.
Brooklyn tied the Series with a 3-2 victory in Game 2. Whit Wyatt scattered nine hits over nine innings; Owen, Pee Wee Reese and Dolph Camili each drove in one run. The Dodgers overcame two errors by Reese at shortstop.
Yankee Stadium hosted the first two games. The World Series moved to Ebbets Field for Game 3 on Oct 4. Marius Russo started for New York, Freddie Fitzsimmons for Brooklyn. Each pitcher tossed shutout ball through the first seven innings.
Hugh Casey relieved Fitzsimmons in the eighth inning. The right-hander from Atlanta didn’t bring his good stuff. He only recorded one out and surrendered four hits. RBI hits by Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller gave the Yanks a 2-0 lead. Reese’s run-scoring hit in the bottom of the eighth wasn’t enough. New York won 2-1.
The following day, Ebbets Field hosted Game 4. The Yanks’ Atley Donald faced the Dodgers’ Kirby Higbe. “Swampy” Donald, a Louisiana guy, went 9-5 in 1941 with a 3.57 ERA in 159 innings. Higbe, from South Carolina, finished 22-9 and posted a 3.14 ERA. Interestingly, he struck out 121 batters in 298 innings and walked 132. Higbe led the National League in victories, walks, games pitched (48), starts (39), batters faced (1,266), earned runs (104) and wild pitches (nine). It was an odd year.
Neither “Swamp” nor Higbe pitched his “A” game in this one. Or, his “B” or “C” game. Donald went four innings and gave up four runs. Higbe, meanwhile, pitched 3.2 innings and allowed three runs. Each team’s bullpen did solid work, though; the Dodgers led 4-3 going into the ninth inning.
Casey, a 27-year-old right-hander with a decent curveball and a better spitball, went out to pitch the ninth. He had thrown 3.1 shutout innings up to that point in Game 4.
The first two Yankee batters grounded out. Right-fielder Tommy Heinrich stepped into the batter’s box. Owen got into his crouch behind home plate. The catcher was 25 years old. He grew up in Nixa, in southern Missouri. As a teen, he lived in southern California for a few years and graduated from Washington High School in south Los Angeles.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed Owen in 1935 and promoted him to the big club in 1937. Owen played four years for the Redbirds and hit .257 in 450 games. The Cardinals traded him to Brooklyn before the 1941 season began.
Owen made the N.L. All-Star team in ’41. He hit one home run on the season, drove in 44 and batted .231, actually an off-year for him. More importantly, he made 530 putouts and committed only thee errors.
Heinrich worked the count to 3-and-2. Casey’s next pitch moved down and in on Heinrich, a left-handed hitter. Heinrich swung and missed for strike three. Owen, though, couldn’t catch the ball. It glanced off his mitt and rolled far enough for Heinrich to reach first base. Instead of strike three and out No. 3, the Yankees had new life. Joe DiMaggio, in the year he hit in 56 straight games, followed with a single. Keller ripped a double to score both runners, and New York won 5-4.
The Bronx Bombers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the Series. They celebrated a championship after winning Game 5 by a 3-1 margin. It was the ninth World Series title for the Yankees and their fifth in six years. For Brooklyn, it was simply a disappointing end to a pennant-winning season. The Dodgers would not win a World Series until 1955.
Owen went on to play 13 seasons in the majors. He spent five years in Brooklyn and made four All-Star teams. He later played for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox. He hit 14 career-home runs and batted .255 with a .318 on-base percentage. Despite that famous play in Game Four, Owen was known as a top-notch defensive catcher.
Later, he started a baseball camp near Springfield, Mo., and served four terms as Greene County sheriff. Arnold Malcolm “Mickey” Owen, born April 4, 1916, died July 13, 2005, at the age of 89.
He talked many times throughout his life about that dropped third strike, of course. He told Dave Anderson of the New York Times that the pitch was definitely a curveball and not one of Casey’s spitters.
“When we got to 3-and-2 on Tommy, I called for the curveball,” Owen said. “I was looking for the quick curve he had been throwing all along. But he threw the overhand curve, and it really broke big, in and down. Tommy missed it by six inches.”
Mickey missed it, too.
By Glen Sparks
Frank Baker swung a mighty bat.
The dead-ball slugger wielded a 52-ounce piece of lumber (nearly 20 ounces heavier than the typical major-league bat used today). Just 5-feet-11 and 173 pounds, Baker took a solid rip. He credited the strong wrists he developed while working on the family farm in Maryland.
Baker, born March 13, 1886, signed a pro baseball contract in 1905 for $5 a week. He tripled that figure one year later by cutting a deal with the Sparrows Point Club in Baltimore. Baker, a third baseman, hit .299 in 1908 for the Reading (Pa.) Pretzels of Class B Tri-State League. Philadelphia A’s manager and executive Connie Mack liked what he saw and bought Baker’s contract.
The left-handed batter hit .305 and led the American League in triples (19) in his rookie season of 1909. He popped four home runs and drove in 85 runs. Baker’s numbers dipped across the board in 1910; he still tripled 15 times, hit .283 and drove in 74. Baker also hit .409 (9-for-22) in the World Series as the A’s beat the Chicago Cubs.
Now, baseball historians call the dead-ball era the “dead-ball era” for a reason. Teams counted on stolen bases, hit-and-run players and other “small-ball” tactics to score runs. Between 1900 and 1920, the league leader in home runs hit 20 or more just four times. Thirteen times, the leader finished in single digits.
Ballparks were huge (635 feet to the center-field fence at the Huntington Avenue Grounds in Boston), the ball was mushy and pitchers loaded up those mushy balls with spit, tobacco juice and anything else to make it dip and do other funny things. Some baseball people sneered at “show-off” home runs. Fans marveled at the rare sightings.
That brings us back to Frank Baker. He played on the $100,000 infield with the A’s, along with first baseman Stuffy McInnis, second baseman Eddie Collins and shortstop Jack Berry. (Note: Yes, being part of a $100,000 infield in the early years of the 20th century was quite a compliment.) In 1911, Baker was as good as anyone in that quartet.
Baker drove in 115 runs and batted .344. He also hit an AL-leading 11 home runs. The A’s once again made it to the World Series, this time against the New York Giants and skipper John McGraw. Always looking for an advantage, McGraw wanted to intimidate Baker.
A few years before, Ty Cobb had spiked Baker while sliding into third. Mack stood up for Baker and accused Cobb of playing dirty. A photograph, though, showed that Baker had reached across the base to tag the Detroit Tigers superstar. Some people thought Baker was soft.
McGraw ordered his runners to go hard into third base. Rough up this Baker guy, McGraw said. Get him off his game. The Giants tried. It didn’t work. Baker at least did not let the Giants’ antics bother him at the plate.
Baker smashed a home run in the sixth inning of Game 2 as the A’s evened the Series at a game apiece. The next day, Baker belted a ninth-inning homer off the great Christy Mathewson. That round-tripper tied the game 1-1. Philly won the game 3-2 in 11 innings.
The A’s celebrated their second straight World Series championship by beating the Giants in six games. The Series included a week-long rain delay. Baker hit .375 (9-for-24). He didn’t hit any more homers after those first two, but that was enough. He would be forever known as “Home Run” Baker.
And, Baker did his best to live up to his new nickname. He slugged one more World Series homer, in 1913 as the A’s beat the Giants again. He also led the league in homers in 1912 (10), 1913 (12) and 1914 (nine).
“Home Run” Baker retired after the 1922 season with 96 career homers. He is 870th on the all-time list, with Bernie Carbo, Rick Dempsey and a handful of other guys. Baker hit one fewer career home run than Tim McCarver. Only, Baker, though played dead-ball baseball.
By Glen Sparks
Fred Snodgrass died a successful businessman on April 5, 1974, in Ventura, Calif. The New York Times really let him have it in the obit: “Fred Snodgrass, 86, dead. Ball Player Muffed 1912 Fly.”
Snodgrass, born on Oct. 19, 1887, played nine years in the big leagues, mostly with the New York Giants. He hit .275 over his career, with a .367 on-base percentage. Fleet afoot, Snodgrass stole 212 bases. He played in three World Series.
The center-fielder is most remembered for one play, the aforementioned “muffed” one. It all went down in the final game of the 1912 Series against the Boston Red Sox. Snodgrass, not yet 25 years old, was in his third full season in the big leagues.
Giants manager John McGraw discovered Snodgrass in the spring of 1907. McGraw’s ballclub had set up spring training in Los Angeles. Snodgrass was playing for St. Vincent’s College, the school now known as Loyola Marymount University.
Impressed with the young ballplayer’s talent and spunk, McGraw signed Snodgrass to a contract. At first a catcher, Snodgrass later settled in as an outfielder, in large part because of his blazing speed. Snodgrass played in six games for the Giants in 1908 and 28 games in ’09.
The right-handed hitter earned a regular job in 1910 and batted what would be a career high, .321. He followed that up by hitting .294 in 1911. His average went down again, to .269, in 1912. He still stole 43 bases, giving him 127 in his first three full seasons.
The 1912 Giants won their second straight National League pennant. They finished 103-48, 10 games in front of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. They had compiled a 99-54 record in 1911 and lost the World Series in six games to the Philadelphia A’s.
These were the Giant teams of Christy Mathewson and Rube Marquard, of Chief Meyers and Larry Doyle. McGraw, the great taciturn man from nearby Truxton, N.Y., known by many as “Little Napoleon,” led this group.
New York and Boston were tied 3-3-1 after seven games in 1912 World Series. (The umpires called Game 2 on account of darkness with the score tied 6-6 after 11 innings.) Fenway Park was half full for the deciding match-up. New York scored a run in the third inning, and Boston plated one in the seventh. The game was tied 1-1 after nine.
Red Murray doubled for New York in the top of the 10th. Fred Merkle (yes, that Fred Merkle) singled him home. The Giants were now up 2-1.
Clyde Engle led off the bottom of the 10th for Boston with a fairly routine fly ball to center field. Snodgrass camped underneath the ball, stood ready to catch it and … watched as it dribbled off his glove and to the ground. The Red Sox now had a runner on first.
Snodgrass made an excellent running catch on the next play, a line shot from Harry Hooper. Engle, though, tagged and sprinted to second base. Mathewson then walked Steve Yerkes.
The great Tris Speaker, batting next, lifted a pop up. Several Giants players converged onto the scene, but no one caught the ball as it bounced in foul territory. Speaker, given another chance, hit a single to score Engle and advance Yerkes to third. Mathewson waked Duffy Lewis to load the bases.
Larry Gardner ended the game and the Series with a one-out sacrifice fly to bring home Yerkes.
Afterward, Snodgrass said, “It (the ball) just dropped out of the glove.” Some baseball people began calling Snodgrass’s error, “the $30,000 muff,” in reference to the approximate difference between the total winning and losing teams in the Series.
McGraw, though, didn’t blame Snodgrass for the Series loss. In fact, he supposedly gave his maligned player a $1,000 raise in 1913. Snodgrass hit .291 in ’13, and the Giants went to the World Series for the third straight season. Once again, they lost, to the A’s for the second time in three years.
Snodgrass played for McGraw and New York until being traded mid-way through the 1915 campaign. He retired after the 1916 season.
Returning to California, the former player began a second career as a banker. He also served for a time as mayor of Oxnard, Calif. Later, he grew lemons and walnuts on his ranch in Ventura.
Snodgrass was one of the players profiled by Lawrence S. Ritter in his wonderful book, The Glory of Their Times. In it, Snodgrass mentions that even 50 years after “the play,” he’d be introduced as the guy who dropped an easy fly ball in the World Series. The cutting comments didn’t bother him. “If I had a chance, I’d gladly do it all over again,” he said, “every bit of it.”
By Glen Sparks
The first thing to know about Orval Overall is that his name really was Orval Overall.
Mom and pop Overall did not bless their son with a middle name, either. Nor did Orval ever go by a nickname. He was simply, and forever, “Orval Overall,” born Feb. 2, 1881, in Farmerville, Calif., less than an hour from Fresno.
The right-handed pitcher grew up on the sandlots of central California, attended the University of California-Berkeley and enjoyed a seven-year career in the major leagues. He spent most of that time with the Chicago Cubs.
Overall broke in with the Cincinnati Reds in 1905 and compiled a hefty 18-23 won-loss mark. The following year, he started off 4-5, and Cincinnati shipped him to Chicago. Overall cruised to a 12-3 record the rest of the way. He enjoyed a 23-7 season in 1907.
The mighty Cubs ruled the National League (107-45) in ’07, finishing 17 games ahead of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. Chicago met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Overall pitched two games, went 1-0 and had a 1.00 ERA. The Cubs beat the Tigers in four straight.
The following year, Chicago won 99 games, just one game more than the New York Giants. The Cubs claimed the pennant in part due to Merkle’s Boner, maybe the greatest base-running gaffe in baseball history. (Read more about that here.)
Once again, Chicago met Detroit in the World Series. The Cubs won a 10-6 slugfest in Game 1. Overall pitched one/third of an inning in relief and was charged with one earned run. He started Game 2 and gave up a lone run over nine innings. Chicago won 6-1.
Detroit beat Chicago 8-3 in Game 3 and lost 4-0 in Game 4. Overall started Game 5, the potential World Series clincher. On this date in 1908, Orval shut out the Detroit Tigers 2-0 at Bennett Park in Detroit. He gave up three hits, walked four and struck out 10 in front of the smallest crowd in World Series history (6,210).
As you’re probably aware, no Cubs team has celebrated a Series title since Overall and that 1908 team popped champagne. To put it all into perspective (This is always entertaining.), in 1908:
- Tolstoy was still alive. So was Mark Twain.
- Machine Gun Kelly turned 8. Bugsy Siegel turned 2.
- The start of World War I was still six years away. The Spanish-American War had been over for just a decade.
- Winston Churchill married Clementine.
- The movie, In the Sultan’s Power, was released. It was the first film completely made in Los Angeles. The city of L.A. had about 300,000 residents when the cameras started rolling.
- Henry Ford introduced the Model T.
Overall, the star of the 1908 World Series, threw 18.1 innings with a 0.93 ERA. He continued his fine pitching in 1909, going 20-11 with a 1.42 ERA (179 ERA+). The Cubs won 104 games and still finished 6.5 games behind the Pirates.
In 1910, Overall ended up 12-6. He missed several starts due to a sore arm, probably caused by tossing too many curveballs. Overall threw a nasty bender. The Cubs won 104 games once again; this time it was enough. The Philadelphia A’s, though, beat the Cubs in five games in the World Series.
Overall figured that he was done. His arm ached. He left for California to work in—get this—a gold mine that he co-owned with teammate Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown. He also played some semi-pro ball.
Overall returned to big-league ball, and to the Cubs, in 1913. He went a pedestrian 4-5 in 11 games, with a 3.31 ERA. Overall retired with a 108-71 mark and a 2.23 ERA (123 ERA+) in the run-suppressed dead-ball era.
Following baseball, Overall ran and lost a bid for Congress, made a lot of money in real estate and ran the family’s citrus farm. He also worked as an executive at a local bank. Overall died July 14, 1947, in Fresno, Calif. He was 66 years old.
By Glen Sparks
The Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series. Wait ‘till next year? Not this year. Not in 1955.
The Dodgers dropped the first two games in the Series. Oh, no. Here we go again, Brooklyn fans cried. The Yankees, the mighty Bronx Bombers, had taken control. Once again.
They already had defeated the Dodgers in the World Series in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. It looked like they would go it again in ’55, for the fifth time in nine years. All told, the Dodgers had won 10 pennants since 1890. They had still not won a World Series.
Brooklyn came back to tie the 1955 series at 2-2. Then, they won Game 3. They were one victory away from a championship. They could do it. .. Could they do it? The Yankees won Game 6 to force a seventh game.
The Dodgers started 23-year-old Johnny Podres in Game 7 at Yankee Stadium. He was just about flawless. This was the year.
Brooklyn held on to an early 2-0 lead. Veteran shortstop Pee Wee Reese handled a ground ball from Yankee batter Elston Howard and threw it to first baseman Gil Hodges for the final out.
Let the celebration begin. Podres and catcher Roy Campanella jumped into each other’s arms.
“That was a thrill of all thrills,” right-fielder Carl Furillo said in Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock.
Pitcher Carl Erskine said: “You can’t believe the hunger that existed in my belly, along with the rest of the guys, to win a World Series.”
Podres matched up against the 35-year-old veteran Tommy Byrne in the deciding game. Byrne had won Game 2 for the Yanks. He gave up two runs and struck out six in a complete-game effort. The Yankee beat the Dodgers 4-2. Podres, meanwhile, had won Game 3 for Brooklyn. Like Byrne in his victory, Podres went the whole way. He gave three runs, two earned. Like Byrne, he struck out six.
Game 7 stayed scoreless through three innings. In the top of the fourth, Brooklyn broke through with one run. Campanella doubled and scored on Hodges’ two-out single.
Brooklyn made it 2-0 in the sixth on another RBI from Hodges. His sacrifice fly brought home Reese. The Dodger shortstop had led off the inning with a walk. He raced to second on an error and went to third on a groundout.
The Yankees threatened several times but could not score. In the sixth inning, the Yanks had two men on base and nobody out. Yogi Berra belted a ball into left field. It looked like a sure double and two runs. Sandy Amoros, though, sprinted into the corner and grabbed the hard-hit drive just a few feet from the stands. Billy Martin and Gil McDouglad, as surprised as anyone, raced back to their bases. Amoros whirled and fired to Reese, who threw a dart to Hodges. The throw barely beat McDougald for a double play. Hank Bauer then grounded out to Reese for the final out of that inning.
Podres scattered eight hits and walked two in the biggest 2-0 victory in Dodger history. The lefty from upstate New York, a life-long Dodger fan, won the World Series MVP and was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year, thanks to his two complete-game victories. He had gone just 9-10 in the regular season with a 3.95 ERA (103 ERA+). He threw 18 innings in the World Series with an ERA of 1.00.
“In winning,” Robert Creamer wrote in his Sports Illustrated article about Podres (The Year, the Moment and Johnny Podres), “Johnny became the personification, the living realization of the forgotten ambition of thousands and even millions of onlookers.”
The Brooklyn Dodgers had finally done it.
By Glen Sparks
The New York Times ran an article about Whitey Ford in its Sept. 24 edition, in the wake of Yogi Berra’s death. Who now, writer George Vescey asked, is the greatest living Yankee ballplayer?
Vescey then proceeds to run through this exercise. It is an admittedly morbid one, he writes. After all, the unofficial title only passes from one player to the next after someone’s death. But, it still stands up as an interesting parlor game for baseball fans.
Yes, of course, Babe Ruth held the crown until his untimely passing, from cancer and excess, in 1948 at the age of 53.
Did Mickey Mantle ever claim the tile? Vescey doubts it. Mantle died in 1995 at age 63, from the same two things that killed the Babe. Joe DiMaggio, the regal center-fielder, lived until 1999. So, then—following the Yankee Clipper’s death–the GLYB handle went to Yogi Berra, the three-time MVP and 10-time World Series winner (as a player), maybe the greatest catcher of them all.
Berra died Sept. 22 at the age of 90. Now, Vescey writes, Ford deserves the title of Greatest Living Yankee Ballplayer. He deserves it even over Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez, among others.
Edward Charles Ford, 86 years old, never intimidated anyone with his imposing stature. He stood 5-foot-10 in his prime and weighed 175 pounds. He looked like a regular guy. He had blond hair and a ready smile.
Ford compiled a 236-106 won-loss record over his 16-year career, all of it spent with the Yankees. His .690 won-loss percentage ranks him first all-time for post-1900 pitchers with at least 200 wins. He enjoyed seasons of 19-6 (1956), 25-4 (1961, his Cy Young-winning season) and 24-7 (1963).
The left-hander retired with a nifty 2.75 ERA. He did it with a curveball, guile and grace under pressure. “I never threw the spitter, well maybe once or twice when I really needed to get a guy out real bad.” Yankee Elston Howard nicknamed him the Chairman of the Board.
Born in New York City on Oct. 21, 1928, Whitey grew up in Astoria Queens. He took an hour-long bus ride to attend high school at the Manhattan School of Aviation Trades, not because he wanted to fix aircraft engines for a living, but because local Bryant High didn’t field a baseball team.
The Yankees signed Ford for $7,000 in 1947 and assigned him to the Binghamton (N.Y.) Triplets of the Eastern League. The Yankees called him up in 1950, and he went 9-1 with a 2.81 ERA. Following his two years of military service, Ford compiled an 18-6 won-loss mark and 3.00 ERA. Whitey remained in the New York rotation through the 1965 season and retired early in the 1967 campaign.
Ford won more games than anyone in World Series history (10) and lost more Series games than anyone in history. At one point, he accumulated 33 2/3 innings of scoreless innings. He broke the record of 29.2 innings set by Babe Ruth, the pitcher.
In Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ford threw eight innings and gave up five runs. Only three of those runs were earned, however, and he picked up the win in a 6-5 Yankee victory.
Manager Casey Stengel put Ford out there for Game Six of the ’55 Series at Yankee Stadium. Brooklyn was now up three games to two. Would the Dodgers celebrate on this day, or could Ford force a Game Seven?
Late-arriving Yankee fans missed much of the fun in Game Six, played on Oct. 3. The Bronx Bombers scored all five of their runs in the first inning off Dodger starter Karl Spooner, who managed to get just one batter out before manager Walt Alston sent him to the showers.
Phil Rizzuto led off the game by walking. Spooner struck out Billy Martin, but walked Gil McDougald. Berra and Hank Bauer followed with RBI singles. Moose Skowron put the game away with a three-run homer. The Yanks held a 5-0 lead after bringing just six men to the plate. Russ Meyer replaced Spooner.
The Yankees didn’t score any more runs the rest of the way. Not that it mattered. Brooklyn managed a lone run, in the top of the fourth. Carl Furillo knocked a single that scored Pee Wee Reese. Ford shut down the Dodgers. He went the whole way in the 5-1 victory. Ford gave up just four hits, walked four and struck out eight.
The Yankees had tied up the Series. The Dodgers had to be muttering to themselves. Not again. Game Seven would be played the next day at Yankee Stadium. Were we headed for one more Yankee championship, or would this finally be the year that the Dodgers win it all?
By Glen Sparks
Branch Rickey chomped on thick cigars and knew baseball better than anyone.
He studied players through intelligent eyes set just below bushy brows. He said things like “luck is the residue of design” and “leisure is the handmaiden of the Devil.” Rickey counted on a memory filled with hundreds of stories for just the right occasion. He quoted from only the best sources, often the Bible. Branch Rickey was a Methodist.
Born Dec. 20, 1881, in Stockdale, Ohio, Rickey played baseball and football at Ohio Wesleyan University. But, he didn’t play on Sundays. He did not so much as attend Sunday baseball games. Branch Rickey kept the Sabbath Day holy.
Rickey lasted just a few seasons in the majors. He batted .239 in 120 games as a catcher with the St. Louis Browns and New York Yankees. Over his 343 career at-bats, he hit three home runs, all of them in 1906 for St. Louis. Due to a shoulder injury, he couldn’t throw much. The Washington Senators stole 13 bases off him on June 28, 1907.
He fought tuberculous for a few years, made a comeback and still couldn’t hit a curveball. He enrolled in law school at the University of Michigan and coached the Wolverines’ baseball team.
Rickey didn’t enjoy being a lawyer. But, he loved baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals hired him in 1919, shortly after his return from World War I. He had served in the 1st Gas Regiment and had seen the horrors of war. He wrote down scary words onto scrap paper—“shock” and “discolored skin.”
The Redbirds hired Rickey as a manager. That lasted six seasons and got him fired. The team only finished above .500 twice. Owner Sam Breadon had seen enough.
“You can’t do this to me, Sam,” Rickey pleaded. “You’re ruining me.”
“No,” Breadon responded. “I am doing the greatest favor one man has ever done for another.”
Rickey was no manager, Breadon suspected. The owner, though, knew that Rickey could spot talent and develop players.
General Manager Rickey put together the fabled Gas House Gang in St. Louis. Players like “Ducky” Medwick, “Pepper” Martin and “Dizzy” Dean. The team won six pennants and four World Series during Rickey’s tenure (1926-42).
Probably Rickey’s greatest innovation was the creation of a farm system. He put the team’s money into minor league clubs and relied on those clubs to replenish his Redbird rosters.
Tension increased between Breadon and Rickey even as the Cardinals turned into a powerhouse. Finally, Rickey had enough. The Brooklyn Dodgers hired him in the fall of 1942.
The Dodgers had just finished as runner-up in the National League and had won a pennant in 1941. What could possibly be wrong? Well, Rickey said, the roster was getting old. How many more good years did players like Dolph Camilli and Billy Herman have in them?
Rickey introduced the Boys of Summer. He combined players already in place (“Dixie” Walker and “Pee Wee” Reese) with guys like “Duke” Snider, Carl Furillo, Gil Hodges and Carl Erskine. He famously said that he could not meet his Creator and tell Him why a black man should be able to play baseball. That led to his signing of Jackie Robinson. Later, he signed Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Joe Black.
The Dodgers won pennants in 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953 under Rickey. But, they had never won a World Series. Not ever, not even before Rickey’s time. Would 1955 be different? The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees went into Game 5 tied at two games apiece.
Roger Craig began the 1955 season with the Montreal Royals of the International League. He went 10-2 with a 3.54 ERA, and Brooklyn called him up to the big club. The rest of the way, Craig pitched in 21 games for the Dodgers and started 10. He ended up going 5-3 with a 2.73 ERA. Walt Alston gave him the ball to start Game 5 against the Yankees at Ebbets Field.
Bob Grim, a Brooklyn guy from Lane High School, opposed Craig. A right-hander like Craig, he compiled a 7-5 record with a 4.19 ERA during the season.
The Dodgers hit Grim hard in Game 5. He pitched six innings and gave up four runs, including three long balls. Sandy Amoros, the Cuban-born outfielder, ripped a two-run home run in the bottom of the second inning. Duke Snider belted his third home run of the Series in the third.
Billy Martin knocked a run-scoring single in the top of the fourth off Craig. In the bottom of the fifth, though, Snider took Grim deep again to make the score 4-1 in favor of Brooklyn.
Bob Cerv’s homer in the seventh cut the Dodgers’ lead to 4-2, and Yogi Berra’s solo homer in the eighth off reliever Clem Labine made things interesting. The Dodgers finally put things away with a Jackie Robinson single that brought home Carl Furillo in the bottom half of the eighth.
Labine held the Yankees scoreless in the ninth. The Dodgers took a 3-2 Series lead. They were just one win away from their first-ever World Series championship. The Series, though, was moving back to Yankee Stadium and the Bronx. Could Brooklyn keep the momentum going, or were the Yankees primed for a comeback?
Time of the game: 2:40
Winning pitcher: Roger Craig
Losing pitcher: Bob Grim
Save: Clem Labine
Home runs: Sandy Amoros (Brooklyn)
Duke Snider 2 (Brooklyn)
Bob Cerv (New York)
Yogi Berra (New York)
(Red Reilly is a fictitious character who works for a fictitious radio station. This is his third appearance in the Dazzy Vance Chronicles.)
By Glen Sparks
–Red Reilly Sports Report–
Brooklyn–“Good evening, sports fans. This is Red Reilly, senior correspondent for the American Radio Sports Network. I’m reporting today from cozy Ebbets Field in the busy borough of Brooklyn. The Dodgers and the New York Yankees have just completed Game 4 of the World Series.
The Dodgers muscled out three long balls and beat the Yankees 8-5. The victory ties this Series at two games apiece, with Game 5 scheduled for tomorrow afternoon back here in Brooklyn.
As for a brief recap of Game 4—
The veteran right-hander Carl Erskine started the game for Brooklyn. He won 11 games during the regular season. It was a bit of a down year for the hurler from Indiana. Erskine won 18 games last season and 20 during the 1953 campaign.
Big Don Larsen started for the Yankees. The 6-foot-4-inch right-hander finished an impressive 9-2 in his first season in the Bronx. Last year, he went a dismal 3 wins and 21 losses for the Baltimore Orioles.
Neither pitcher brought his good stuff to the ballpark. Larsen lasted just four innings and gave up five runs. The Yankees chased Erskine with nobody out in the fourth. Carl gave up three hits and three runs.
The Yankees broke out with single runs in the first inning and in the second. Gil McDougald belted a solo home run in the first. Phil Rizutto-Scooter-hit a run-scoring single in the second.
Brooklyn made it 2-1 in the third inning on an RBI double from Jim Gilliam, the talented and versatile young Dodger infielder. Billy Martin, one of the most competitive players you’ll ever meet on a ballfield, got the Yanks ahead by two runs once again with his single that plated Joe Collins.
Finally, the hard-hitting Dodgers began to swing for the fences. Roy Campanella, the probable MVP in the National League this season, slammed a solo shot to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. Gil Hodges added a two-run homer. The Dodgers took a 4-3 lead.
Duke Snider, who banged out 42 homers during the regular season, cracked a three-run round-tripper in the fifth inning. Brooklyn went ahead 7-3. If Campy doesn’t win that Senior Circuit MVP award, the Duke just might. The young man from Los Angeles has emerged as one of the game’s great sluggers. He has now topped the 40-homer mark in three straight seasons. In addition, he drove in a league-high 136 runs.
The Yankees kept this game close. RBI hits by Martin and Eddie Robinson cut the Dodger lead to 7-5. Brooklyn, though, held on and Hodges added a run-scoring hit in the seventh to make it 8-5.
The winning pitcher today was Clem Labine. The lanky right-hander out of Woonsocket, R.I., pitched 4 1/3 innings in relief and gave up two runs. Clem won13 ballgames for the Dodgers this season and lost only five. He has a rubber arm and a good sinker. The Dodgers’ brass really likes this young man.
Larsen was the losing pitcher. Now, the Series is knotted up with one more game here in Brooklyn before we go back to the Bronx and to Yankees Stadium. Can the Dodgers finally do it? Can they finally break through after so many heart-breaking losses in the World Series to the Bronx Bombers?
One thing you can say is that this team will never give up. Neither will the fans. They cheered their Dodgers from the first pitch to the last pitch. I can still hear Hilda Chester’s cowbell ringing in my ears.
Well, so long for now. This is Red Reilly with the American Radio Sports Network.”
Time of the game: 2:47
Winning pitcher: Clem Labine
Losing pitcher: Don Larsen
Home runs: Roy Campanella (Brooklyn)
Duke Snider (Brooklyn)
Gil Hodges (Brooklyn)
Gil McDougald (New York)
Charles Ebbets built his ballpark, made of concrete and steel, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. He broke ground March 4, 1912, on a cold afternoon. His shovel barely bit into the hard ground.
Hogs and goats milled about. The place was a dump, literally. It stank to high heaven. New Yorkers called the area “Pigtown.”
But, several trolley lines ran through all this mess. A subway line would open soon, and the busy Brooklyn Navy Yard stood not far away. Fans could easily get to this ballpark.
Ebbets planned to call the new Dodger home Washington Park, the same name as the old wooden park it was replacing. Then, a reporter piped up.
“Call it Ebbets Field, Charlie,” the newspaper man said, according to a New York Times article. “You put yourself in hock to build it.” And, so it was christened Ebbets Field.
Charles Hercules Ebbets Sr, born Oct. 29, 1859 in New York City, began working for the Dodgers as a bookkeeper in 1883. By 1890, he held some shares in the team. Eight years later, the Brooklyn Base Ball board promoted Ebbets to team president.
Washington Park, capacity of 18,800, also opened in 1898. Ebbets, an ambitious but humorless man by most accounts, quickly began dreaming of an even bigger home for his Dodger team. He quietly started buying land in Flatbush.
Ebbets Field opened April 9, 1913, on a blustery day. The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Dodgers 1-0 in front of fewer than 10,000 fans, or about 15,000 less than capacity. Casey Stengel, future manager and orator, patrolled center field for Brooklyn.
Like most ballparks, Ebbets underwent several changes through the years. Originally, it was 419 feet from home plate down the left-field foul line and 477 feet to center. The right-field line measured just 301 feet from home plate. Lefty hitters loved Ebbets Field. Right-handed batters loathed the place. Ebbets was a pitcher’s park.
The team added more seats in the 1920s, bringing in the fences in left field and center field. Extension of a double-decked grandstand in left and center expanded seating capacity to about 32,000. The Fences continued to get closer and closer to home plate. The dimensions eventually settled in at about 348 feet down the left-field line, 389 to center and 297 to right. Welcome to a bandbox.
Dodger attendance boomed, as it did at most ballparks, following World War II. The team that drew fewer than 9,000 fans a game in 1943 and fewer than 8,000 fans a game in 1944, attracted almost 23,000 fans per game in 1946.
This sudden popularity also coincided with the arrival of the Boys of Summer. Players like Duke Snider and Roy Campanella and, of course, Jackie Robinson, helped make the Dodgers a force in National League pennant races.
By 1955, though, this group had lost four World Series. Would they ever win one? They were already down two game to none in ’55 against their nemesis, the New York Yankees. Time was running out.
Johnny Podres, 22 years old, born in Witherbee, N.Y., battled his way to a 9-10 won-loss record in 1955 and a 3.74 ERA. He gave up 160 hits in 159.1 innings and struck out 114. The lefty was still learning. He’d be starting Game 3 for the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.
Bob Turley took the ball for the Yankees. A right-hander from East St. Louis, Ill., Turley went 17-13 in ’55 with a 3.06 ERA. The 24-year-old made the American League All-Star team for the second straight year. Turley struck out 210 batters, but he also walked 170.
The big guy (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) didn’t bring his “A” game to Ebbets Field. He didn’t bring his “B” game, either. Turley lasted just 1.1 innings. He gave up three hits, one walks and four runs, all earned.
Roy Campanella belted a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning. The popular catcher had slammed 32 home runs in the regular season and driven in 107 runs. The two-time MVP and veteran of the Negro Leagues also hit .318 with an on-base percentage of .395. Too many, Campy was the good-natured heart and soul of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Yanks tied it up in the top of the second. Mickey Mantle, the young Yankee slugger, hit a lead-off homer. Phil Rizzuto added an RBI single that scored Moose Skowren.
Brooklyn went up 4-2 in the bottom half of that inning. First, Jim Gilliam walked with the bases loaded. That free pass ended Turley’s day. It did not, however, put an end to the Yankee wild streaks. New pitcher Tom Morgan came in and promptly walked Pee Wee Reese to plate another run.
The Dodgers’ lead increased to 6-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Campanella ripped a run-scoring single. Carl Furillo followed with a sacrifice fly.
New York closed the gap to 6-3 in the top of the seventh. Andy Carey smacked a triple to bring in Rizzuto, who had walked. Brooklyn put up its fourth two-run inning in the bottom of the seventh off reliever Tom Sturdivant. Sandy Amoros and Reese both lined base hits to score runners.
Podres cruised to victory. He hurled a complete game, scattering seven hits, while striking out six and walking two. The final score ended up 8-3. Dodgers were still in it, down just two games to one. They could tie things up in Game 4. The Dodgers loved playing at Ebbets Field.
Time of the game: 2:20
Winning pitcher: Johnny Podres
Losing pitcher: Bob Turley
Home runs: Roy Campanella (Brooklyn)
Mickey Mantle (New York)
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