Tagged: Yankees

Brooklyn Finally Wins It All in ‘55

Johnny Podres - Sportsman of the Year January 2, 1956 X 3298 credit: Richard Meek - staff

Johnny Podres – Sportsman of the Year (Richard Meek photo)

By Glen Sparks

Finally.

At last.

Lord o’mighty.

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.

Is Whitey Ford the GLYP?; Chairman of the Board Starts Game Six in ‘55

Whitey Ford pitched a complete game and struck out in Game Six.

Whitey Ford pitched a complete game and struck out in Game Six.

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?

Game 6

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?

Branch Rickey Built the Boys of Summer; Roger Craig Takes the Ball in Game 5 in ‘55

The Dodgers hired Branch Rickey to run the club on Oct. 4, 1942.

The Dodgers hired Branch Rickey to run the club on Oct. 4, 1942.

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.

Game 5

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?

Final score:

Dodgers: 5

Yankees: 3

Ebbets Field

Attendance: 36,796

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)

Brooklyn Muscles Up to Tie the ’55 Series against the Yankees

Duke Snider hit a three-home run in Game 4.

Duke Snider hit a three-home run in Game 4.

(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.

Roy Campanella slammed a fourth-inning solo shot for Brooklyn.

Roy Campanella slammed a fourth-inning solo shot for Brooklyn.

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.”

Final score:

Dodgers: 8

Yankees: 5

Ebbets Field

Attendance: 36,242

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 Builds His Field; Podres Leads Brooklyn to Victory in Game 3

EbbetsFieldFreeBy Glen Sparks

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 Ebbets broke ground on Ebbets Field on March 4, 1912.

Charles Ebbets broke ground on Ebbets Field on March 4, 1912.

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.

Game 3

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.

A Johnny Podres statue stands outside the Hall of Fame in Coopertsown, N.Y.

A Johnny Podres statue stands outside the Hall of Fame in Coopertsown, N.Y.

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.

Final score:

Dodgers: 8

Yankees: 3

Ebbets Field

Attendance: 34,209

Time of the game: 2:20

Winning pitcher: Johnny Podres

Losing pitcher: Bob Turley

Home runs: Roy Campanella (Brooklyn)

Mickey Mantle (New York)

Yanks Cruise in Game 2 of ’55 Series against Dodgers

Tommy Byrne pitched for the St. Louis Browns in between stints with the Yankees. The lefty hurled a complete game in Game 2 of the 1955 World Series.

Tommy Byrne pitched for the St. Louis Browns in between stints with the Yankees. The lefty hurled a complete game in Game 2 of the 1955 World Series.

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.

Dodgers' starter Billy Loes didn't last long in Game 2.

Dodgers’ starter Billy Loes didn’t last long in Game 2.

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.

Game 2

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.

Elston Howard rapped an RBI single in Game 2. (Arnie Lee photo)

Elston Howard rapped an RBI single in Game 2. (Arnie Lee photo)

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?

Final Score:’

Yankees: 4

Dodgers: 2

Yankee Stadium

Attendance: 64,707

Time of the game: 2:28

Winning pitcher: Tommy Byrne

Losing pitcher: Billy Loes

“Wait ‘til Next Year!” Would ’55 finally be the Year in Brooklyn?

The Yanks' Joe Collins hit two home runs in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers.

The Yanks’ Joe Collins hit two home runs in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the Dodgers.

(This is my game-by-game account of the 1955 World Series between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. Last year, I did a game-by-game account of the 1944 Streetcar Series that pitted the St. Louis Browns against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cards won that Series in six games.)

By Glen Sparks

The New York Yankees made a habit of sending the Brooklyn Dodgers into fall with a broken heart.

New York beat Brooklyn in 1947, ’49, ’52 and ’53. The ’47 and ’52 Series ended in an agonizing seven games. “Wait ‘til next year!!!” the fans cried out. What in the name of diehard Dodger fan Hilda Chester could Brooklyn do about it? Why, they could win, of course.

The two teams met again in 1955. The Yanks captured their 21st American League pennant that season. They finished 96-58, three games ahead of the second-place Cleveland Indians. Center-fielder Mickey Mantle led New York with 37 home runs. He drove in 99 runs and batted .306. Catcher Yogi Berra clubbed 27 homers and knocked in a team-high 109 runs. First baseman Bill “Moose” Skowron batted .319, and right-fielder Hank Bauer added 20 home runs.

Yogi Berra knocked in a team-high 109 runs for the 1955 Yankees.

Yogi Berra knocked in a team-high 109 runs for the 1955 Yankees.

On the mound, Whitey Ford enjoyed his usual role as the Yankee ace. He went 18-7 with a 2.63 ERA. Bob Turley (17-13, 3.06 ERA), Tommy Byrne (16-5, 3.16) and Don Larsen (9-2, 3.06) rounded out the rotation. Jim Konstanty (7-2, 2.32 11 saves) and Tom Morgan (7-3, 3.25, 10 saves) headed the bullpen.

The Dodgers ran away with the National League pennant. They won their first 10 games and started off 20-2. Brooklyn ended the year 98-55, 13.5 games in front of the runner-up Milwaukee Braves.

As usual, Brooklyn boasted a potent line-up. Center-fielder Duke Snider blasted 42 homers, drove home 136 runs and hit .309. Catcher Roy Campanella added 32 home runs and 107 RBI to go with a .318 batting average. Over at first base, Gil Hodges cracked 27 round-trippers with 102 RBI.

 Duke Snider blasted 42 homers and drove in 136 runs for the '55 Dodgers.

Duke Snider blasted 42 homers and drove in 136 runs for the ’55 Dodgers.

Right-fielder Carl Furillo enjoyed another solid campaign–26 homers, 95 RBI and a .314 batting average. Jackie Robinson, playing mostly at third base, hit just eight home runs in 105 games and batted only .256. He still had a good eye at the plate though, and put up a .378 on-base percentage.

Don Newcombe, with a 20-5 won-loss record and 3.20 ERA, led the starting staff. Carl Erskine provided support with an 11-8 won-loss record (3.79 ERA), while Billy Loes compiled a 10-4 mark (3.59 ERA), and Johnny Podres finished 9-10 (3.95).

Clem Labine (13-5, 3.24 ERA, 11 saves), Don Bessent (8-1, 2.70, 3 saves), Karl Spooner (8-6. 3.65) and Russ Meyer (6-2, 5.42) also played important roles. … On the squad were two young lefthanders—rookie Sandy Koufax and second-year man Tommy LaSorda. Koufax appeared in 12 games and went 2-2 with a 3-2 ERA. He struck out 30 batters in 41.2 innings and walked 28. LaSorda finished 0-0 with a 13.50 ERA in four innings.

Game 1 of the Series began Sept. 28 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Ford took the ball for the Yanks; Newcombe started for the Dodgers. Brooklyn broke out on top with two runs in the top of the second inning. Furillo hit a lead-off home run to right field. Robinson tripled with one out and scored on a Don Zimmer single.

The Dodger lead lasted only for a few minutes. New York tied the score in the bottom of the second on Elston Howard’s two-run homer. Hey, wasn’t this supposed to be a pitching duel? No one said anything to the Duke of Flatbush. He knocked a Ford pitch into the seats to lead off the top of the third.

Back and forth it went. The Yanks tied the score 3-3 in the bottom of the third. Ford walked and Bauer singled. With one out, Irv Noren singled home Ford.

Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times in his career. He did it once in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series.

Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times in his career. He did it once in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series.

Joe Collins put New York ahead 4-3 on a lead-off homer in the fourth. That shot was the third lead-off home run of the day. In fact, of the eight lead-off batters for both teams through the first four innings, six reached safely.

The Yanks grabbed a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth. Berra singled with one out, and Collins followed with a two-run homer, the fifth round-tripper of the game. Collins, a lefty batter from Scranton, Pa., notched 13 home runs in the regular season. He split time between right-field and first base, platooning with the right-handed hitting Skowron. Collins enjoyed his best season in 1952, the year he reached career highs in home runs (18), RBI (59) and batting average (.280).

Brooklyn crept back into the game in the eighth inning. Furillo lined a single to start the rally. With one out, Robinson reached second base safely on an error and Furillo ran to third. Zimmer knocked a sacrifice fly to score Furillo, a.k.a. “Skoonj” (Italian for “snail,” Furillo’s favorite dish). Robinson sprinted ahead 90 feet. Then, No. 42 did what he did 19 times in his career. He stole home.

Pinch-hitter Frank Kellert followed by rapping a single. Jim Gilliam ended the rally with a pop-up to third base. The Yanks hung on to win 6-5.

What was Hilda Chester, famous for clanging her cowbell at Ebbets Field, thinking? Were the Dodgers doomed again? Well, it was just Game 1.

Final Score:

Yankees: 6

Dodgers: 5

Yankee Stadium

Attendance: 63,869

Time of the game: 2:31

Winning pitcher: Whitey Ford

Losing pitcher: Don Newcombe

Save: Bob Grim

Home runs:

Joe Collins (2) (New York)

Elston Howard (New York)

Carl Furillo (Brooklyn)

Duke Snider (Brooklyn)

Mantle and Murcer, Alike and Different

Bobby Murcer

Jim Accordino photo/Bobby Murcer

By Glen Sparks

Someone, in a fit of enthusiasm but with no mind for giving a young ballplayer the proper break, stuck the “next Mickey Mantle” sign onto Bobby Murcer’s back. It never quite fit.

Yes, both Mickey and Bobby were native born to Oklahoma, Mickey from Commerce and Bobby from Oklahoma City. Yes, they were both christened with little boy names, ones to convey perpetual youth even in middle age. (Murcer’s given name was “Bobby Ray Murcer.” He was never “Bob Murcer,” let alone “Robert Murcer.”)

And, yes, they were both Yankees, outfielders on America’s most popular, most successful sports franchise. But voters elected Mantle to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 88.2 percent of the vote. The Mick hit 536 home runs over 18 seasons, led the American League in homers four times and made 20 All-Star teams. He won three Most Valuable Player honors and the Triple Crown in 1956. Mantle retired with an oWAR of 116.0 ponts.

Murcer stayed on the Hall of Fame ballot for one year, getting 0.7 percent of the vote in 1989. He hit 252 home runs over 17 seasons, finishing runner-up in that category in 1972. He made five All-Star teams and finished in the top 10 in the MVP balloting three times. Murcer retired with an oWAR of 42.7 points.

So, no, Murcer didn’t quite turn out to be the next Mickey Mantle. He still put together a long, solid career. Bill James in his Historical Baseball Abstract, selected Murcer as the centerfielder on his All-1970s All-Star team. (Murcer played centerfield for the Yankees, mostly right-field for other teams.)

The Yankees called up a 19-year-old Murcer in 1965 and gave him 37 at-bats (.243 batting average). He came to the plate 73 times (.174 average) the following season before losing two years to Army service. Murcer hit 26 home runs in 1969, his first full season in the Bronx.

A lefty batter, he took advantage of the short porch in right-field at Yankee Stadium. Murcer hit 23 homers in 1970 and 25 in ’71. He also drove in 94 runs in 1971 and led the league in on-base percentage (.427), OPS (.969) and OPS+ (181).

Murcer smacked 33 homers in 1972 and drove in 96 runs, both career highs. He topped the A.L. in runs scored (102) and total bases (314). The writers voted him fifth in the MVP race.

In 1973, Murcer hit 22 homers with 95 RBI and batted .304. He slumped in 1974 (10/88/.274), and the Yanks traded him to the San Francisco Giants straight-up for Bobby Bonds. The deal left a wound. Murcer loved playing for the Yankees and didn’t like being exiled 3,000 miles away from his baseball home. He loathed cold, windy Candlestick Park. It was summer everywhere but in San Francisco, Murcer complained one July day.

Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle

He ripped just 11 homers, but still drove in 91 and hit .298 that first year. The next year, he hit .259 but rebounded with 23 homers. The Giants sent him packing to the Chicago Cubs in 1977. There, Murcer knocked 27 home runs but managed only nine in 1978.

Midway through 1979, the Cubs sent country-boy Murcer back to the Yankees. He spent the rest of his career there as a part-time player and retired early in the 1983 campaign.

Murcer retired with 3 Blank Ink points, denoting how many times he led the league in a particular category. (Black because the league leader is usually listed in bold.) The average Hall of Famer has 27 Black Ink points. Murcer had 95 grey ink points (to donate Top 10 finishes). The average Hall of Famer has 144. Mantle retired with 62 Blank Ink points and 272 Grey Ink points.

Following his playing career, Murcer opened a few businesses in Oklahoma and did some broadcasting for his beloved Yankees. Mantle, meanwhile, began battling health issues. He had done plenty of drinking during his career, sure that he would die an early death from Hodgkin’s disease just like his dad (40 years old).

As it turned out, Mantle lived many years longer than Charles “Mutt” Mantle. (He famously once said, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”) Mantle died of liver cancer on Aug. 13, 1995, at the age of 63.

Murcer smoked for much of his life. Later, he gave it up for chewing tobacco. He underwent surgery for a brain tumor on Dec. 28, 2006, and spent much of his time afterward warning people, especially youngsters, of the dangers of tobacco. Rebounding a few times, Murcer died July 12, 2008, at the age of 62.

Mantle and Murcer.

Babe Ruth in Death Remains Bigger than Life

Original caption: New York: In the Yankee clubhouse at the Polo Grounds this afternoon, George Herman

By Glen Sparks

Babe Ruth, dead at age 53, lay in state at Yankee Stadium, the house he built.

Fans, former teammates, dignitaries and assorted drinking buddies paid their respects to America’s greatest athlete on Aug. 17-18, 1948. About 77,000 people filed by.

The site of a forever-still Ruth probably struck many of them odd. Did the Babe ever stay still in life? One of his New York Yankee teammates, Ping Bodie, said, “I didn’t room with Babe Ruth. I roomed with his suitcase.” (This quote is attributed to most of Ruth’s roommates over the years.)

Fans knew him as the Babe, the Big Bam, the Wizard of Wham, the Colossus of Clout, the Prince of Pounders, the Rajah of Rap, the Maharajah of Mash and more.

He did things big. “I swing big,” he said. “I like to live as big as I can.” He made headlines. “Babe Hits 60th Home Run of Season.” “Sultan of Swat Slams No. 714.” He did the improbable. In 1920, the Bambino blasted 54 home runs, more than any one team in the American League hit that year. He did the controversial. “He called a shot in the World Series!” some insisted… “No, he didn’t!” many cried.

Ruth suffered in 1925 from a bellyache “heard round the world.” Or, did he battle something more sinister? (“Syphilis,” some whispered.) He ate, drank, and wanted nothing more than to be merry. He punctuated the Roaring ‘20s.

Born in Baltimore, Ruth grew up rough and tumble. He learned baseball at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Ruth compiled a 94-46 won-loss mark as a big-league pitcher, complained that he wanted to play every day and then led the American League in home runs 12 times. Dizzy Dean said, “No one hits home runs the way Babe Ruth did. They were something special.” Ruth said of himself, “If I’d just tried for them dinky singles, I’d have hit .600.” Maybe.

Throat cancer did in the Babe. The day before he died on Aug. 16, Ruth said to the great Philadelphia A’s manager Connie Mack, “the termites have got me.”

Family and friends filled St Patrick’s Cathedral for Ruth’s funeral mass on Aug. 19. It was hot that day in New York City. One former Yankee supposedly turned to Ruth’s old teammate Waite Hoyt. “I could sure use a beer,” the ex-ballplayer said.

Hoyt: “So could the Babe.”

The funeral procession left St. Patrick’s Cathedral and headed north to the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, N.Y., in Westchester County. About 6,000 people met the Babe’s casket.

Ruth’s second wife, Claire, who died in 1976, is buried next to her former husband (His first wife, Helen, died in a fire in 1929.) The grave site is marked by a tall, sandblasted image of Christ with his arm on a young boy. The Ruths share space at Gate of Heaven with, among others, actor Jimmy Cagney, manager Billy Martin, writer Herman Melville, and mobster Dutch Schultz.

Thousands of fans visit the Ruth site every year, according to an article written by Spencer Fordin for mlb.com. (Ruth’s former teammate and co-slugger Lou Gehrig is buried next door at Kensico Cemetery.) Some arrive by tour bus. In death, as in life, Babe Ruth remains an attraction. No one, not Cagney, not Martin, not Schultz, not Melville– the author of Moby Dick–gets as much attention as Ruth.

Some fans drop off a bat, a baseball or a ribbon from a youth baseball tournament, Fordin writes. Others bring a hot dog or a pizza. How many people have dropped off a beer?

Andrew Nagle, an employee of the cemetery, operated by the New York Archidiocese, confirms that the Babe tops ‘em all.

“No graves are visited like Babe Ruth’s grave,” he says.

George Herman Ruth Jr., the kid from the Baltimore waterfront, the “incorrigible” youngster dropped off at St. Mary’s, the one-time great pitcher, the long-time preeminent hitter, remains the stuff of legend, of tales fit for the ages.

“Tuck” Stuck Around for 13 Seasons

TuckFree

By Glen Sparks

George “Tuck” Stainback wasn’t blessed with the most musical surname. Nor did he enjoy the most accomplished career as a Major League baseball player.

Over 13 seasons, from 1934 through 1946, Stainback put on the uniform of seven different teams. He didn’t star for any of them. In fact, he retired with just a .259 career batting average and hit only 17 home runs.

Stainback went to bat 359 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie for the Chicago Cubs. That was his career-high mark in the big leagues.

Even so, the right-handed batter made his mark, both on the field and off it, even if he did not possess the most powerful bat, the fastest feet or the strongest throwing arm.

Stainback, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1911, attended Fairfax High School, near Hollywood. He broke into pro ball in 1931 with the Bisbee, Ariz., Bees. From there, he played two years with the hometown Angels of the Pacific Coast League and signed with the Cubs.

The rookie outfielder batted .306 in 1934 with Chicago, the second-highest mark of his career. (He hit .327 in just 104 at-bats for the Brooklyn Dodgers.) Stainback lasted four seasons in Chicago and then went to the St. Louis Cardinals. He got into just six games in St. Louis being released. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up on waivers. Midway through the year, Philadelphia sent Stainback to Brooklyn.

He later played with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees and finished up with the Philadelphia A’s

  • As a Cub, Tuck led a bench-jockeying episode against umpire George Moriarty. The name calling so infuriated Moriarty that he cleared the Chicago bench.
  • That Stainback trade to the Cardinals also involved a pretty good pitcher, Dizzy Dean. On April 16, 1938, St. Louis sent future Hall of Famer Dean to Chicago for $185,000, plus hurlers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun as well as Stainback.
  • The Phillies selected Stainback off waivers on May 28, 1938. Soon after, he single-handedly kept the great Carl Hubbell from tossing a perfect game. He drew a walk and hit a single, the only Phillies player to get on base.
  • Stainback played in two World Series, in 1942 and ’43 with the Yankees. He earned a ring in that second Series.
  • While the Great Depression was on, Stainback, along with Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti, helped put together the Majors’ first pension fund. The two solicited donations of $250 from each player as a way to start the fund and assist ballplayers down on their luck.

Stainback settled in the L.A. area after retiring. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for southern California, he asked Dodgers executive Red Patterson for a job. Over the next few decades, Stainback worked in group sales for the Dodges and also ran the team’s Knothole program, providing free tickets for boys and girls.

Stainback died in 1992 at the age of 81.