by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
January 21, 2007
Go Back to Part 1
Mantle waged a war all his own
1952: This was probably the worst season of the
decade. In December of the previous year, Joe DiMaggio was forced to retire
after enduring quite a few injuries to his feet, ankles, and his heel. Also, in
1952, for the second time in nine years, the army came calling. Players like
Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Ted Williams, Don Newcombe, and a myriad of others
were called to fight for our country. In spite of plenty of players losing time
due to the war, one player that wasn’t drafted was Mickey Mantle, due to his
knee injury. 1952 saw the
blossoming of the great Mantle, which really was the only bright spot of the
year. After a frustrating rookie season in 1951, he went on to hit .311/.394/.530
with 23 HR. Mantle also began his career-long World Series onslaught with a
blistering line of .345/.406/.645 along with 2 four-baggers.
Attendance had been slipping at a rapid rate after
peaking only three years earlier, as attendance figures had slipped from 21
million to 17 million. At the time, many theories were prevalent. One of them
was that as good as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants were for New York baseball
fans, it wasn’t so good for baseball in general. Many fans of teams that weren’t
from New York were disappointed with the lack of success and therefore did not
want to attend games.
Branch Rickey, who was the GM of the Pirates at the time,
believed that television was to blame, and he had the numbers to prove it.
Profits fell fastest in parts of the country where more games were televised.
“Radio created a desire to see something,” Rickey explained. “Television is
giving it to them. Once a television set has broken them of the ball park habit,
a great many fans will never acquire it.”
Not only were the major leagues feeling the wrath of
television, the minor leagues were getting hit hard, and perhaps even harder,
than the major leagues. The number of teams decreased by a dramatic 34%, and
there were roughly 8,000 minor league players at the beginning of the 50’s compared to 2,500
at the end of the decade. This not only hurt baseball economically, but the
quality of the major leagues could be questioned since the pool of players that were
being drafted was shrinking by the year. However, a move west (something we’ll
get into later) saved the sport.
1953: It had finally looked like this would be “next
year” for the Dodgers, as they dominated the Senior Circuit. They won 105 games,
the most ever by a Dodger team, and quite possibly, this may have been they very
best regular season Dodger team of all time. Their offense was nothing short of
amazing. Roy Campanella won the MVP that season with an OPS+ of 155. He also
knocked in 142 men and launched 42 moon shots. However, despite Campy’s MVP
Award, this offensive juggernaut that scored 955 runs was led by none other than
Duke Snider. The Silver Fox raked to the tune of .336/.419/.627, popped 42
long balls, and drove in 126 runners. Jackie Robinson played the Honus Wagner
role, aka Super Utility Man, as he was able to post the team’s highest OBP at
.425 and steal 17 bases at an 80% clip.
Speaking of stolen bases, the Dodgers stole 90 bases with
the help of Rookie of the Year Award winner Junior Gilliam, who stole 17 bases
as well. Normally, I wouldn’t even mention a team stealing 90 bags, but that
was the most in the National League that decade. This implies that in the 50’s a
lot of station-to-station baseball was played ie: get men on and hit homeruns.
This style of play is very similar to today’s, yet people still complain,
wishing the game was played the way it was “back then.”
On paper, the 1953 Subway Series heavily favored the team
from Brooklyn, offensively. The Dodgers outscored the Yankees 955-to-801 that
season, however, the Yankees led the league in opponents’ on-base percentage and
was second in opponents’ batting average.
The series that year actually played out the way one would
have expected based on the regular season. The Dodgers out-hit the Yankees .300
to .279 and had more extra base hits: 22-19. However, outside of Game 4, the
Dodgers could never get their pitching on the same page as their hitting. In
games where the Dodgers scored five runs or more, they gave up an average of a
little more than seven runs. And when they held the Yankees to four runs or
less, they were simply out-pitched, losing by scores of 4-2, and 4-3. At the end
of the series, Dodger fans, and maybe even some Yankee fans, were in disbelief as
the Yankees went on to win a record fifth World Series in a row.
1954: If 1954 would have been an ordinary season, we
would have seen yet another Subway Series, this time consisting of the Yankees
and the Giants. However, Cleveland had finished in second place the previous
three seasons, and they made sure not to make it a fourth. So sure that they won
111 games while the Yankees won 103 (more than any of the previous five
seasons). The Tribe also had a team ERA of 2.78, which had been the lowest total
ERA by any team since 1918.
In the senior circuit, the Giants dominated, as Willie Mays
returned from military service. In his first year back, Mays hit
.345/.411/.667 with 41 HR and was awarded the first MVP of his career. On the
other side of the ball, Johnny Antonelli led the league in ERA with a mark of
2.76, held batters to a .219 batting average, and went 21-7. Not to be
forgotten, though, was that the Giants’ amazing bullpen very well may have been
their key to success. It was anchored by a forgotten great, Hoyt
Wilhelm, and Marquis Hughes, as the two won 22 games and saved 26 combined.
If the 1954 World Series could be summed up in one word, it
would be “disappointing.” The Indians had an unbelievable pitching staff, and it
was the first time since 1948 the team representing the American League was not
the Yankees. On the other hand, the Giants had a phenom in Willie Mays, who was
young, powerful, and African-American. The country anticipated a great World
Series, and what they got was a dud with one of the most overrated catches in
To be fair, Game One was a great game. In the eighth inning,
with two men on, Vic Wertz sent a 425-foot shot to center field, only to be
robbed by Willie Mays. In the bottom of the 10th, Dusty Rhodes hit a
can of corn to right field that landed in the seats, awarding the Giants three
runs and a Game One victory. From that point on, the Giants outscored Cleveland
16-7, giving the Indians a 4.84 ERA for the series, which was 2.06 runs higher
than their regular season ERA.
Unless you’re incapable of independent thinking, you should
be questioning why I’m calling this the Fabulous 50’s, because I know I am.
After hearing plenty of people wax poetic about this being baseball’s Golden
Age, I thought it would be worth chronicling the 1950’s. However, the decade
started off with Branch Rickey, who is arguably one of the top 10 most
important/influential people in the history of baseball, getting conned out of
his job. Happy Chandler, who could have been a great commissioner, was denied a
seven-year contract extension. In 1952, a major attendance crisis was cast over
the head of baseball, and put the sport in serious danger as minor leagues teams
were wiped out. Many of the teams played very similarly: they would get men on
base and blast them home, which could be boring at times.
Will the second half of the 50’s be any better? Do yourself
a favor and
check it out.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.