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The Fabulous 50's: Baseball in a New York State of Mind - 1955-1959
by Tony Aubry, BaseballEvolution.com
January 21, 2007

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1955: “Next Year” had finally come. For some fans, it may have been a few years too late, but it arrived nonetheless. In 1955, like 1953, the Dodgers had an amazing offense, and were poised to make a run at the World Series. The Dodgers would lead their league in most major categories, including batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentageCampanella would win another MVP, while Snider would anchor the offense.

The American League’s New York team had a MVP catcher of their own in Yogi Berra, and while the Yankees didn’t get off to the fast start the Dodgers did (Brooklyn won 22 of its first 24 games) or have the offense, they had the confidence and pitching that would help them reach their seventh World Series in nine seasons.

For the sixth time, these two New York juggernauts would meet in the World Series: one team looking to go 6-0, while the other would hope to just claw one win out. For the first two games of the series, it appeared that it would be déjà vu all over again. The Yankees won the first two games at Yankee stadium by the scores of 6-5 and 4-2.

The next three games would be played at Ebbets Field, and the Dodgers made the most of it. Surprising pitching by Johnny Podres and Brooklyn’s bats won Game 3 easily by a score of 8-3. For the next two games, the Dodgers turned Ebbets Field into a launching pad by hitting five homeruns, three of which came off the bat of Duke Snider. The Dodgers would go up in the series three games to two, but all Dodger fans had to think about was 1952, when the Dodgers went back to Yankee Stadium up three games to two and lost consecutive games.

The Dodgers would go into to Yankee Stadium looking to get out of there as soon as possible, but the Yankees were thinking otherwise. Yankee ace Whitey Ford shut down Brooklyn’s potent offense by giving up only one run on four hits in nine innings.

Johnny Podres and Tommy Byrnes pitched the seventh and final game. Campanella knocked an RBI single in the 4th, and hit a sacrifice fly later on in the 6th. That would be all Podres needed, as he would shutdown the Yankees once again, this time by a score of 2-0.

It was finally time for the Dodgers to bathe in glory while the Yankees would be forced to watch in sorrow. The telephone lines in Brooklyn overloaded, and ultimately collapsed, while the Western Union office in Brooklyn sent out the most telegrams since the US defeated Korea.

1956:  Mickey Mantle would “finally” live up to his hype. Mantle’s 1956 and 1957 seasons would have made Babe Ruth jealous. In ’56, he hit .353/.467/.705, smashed 52 balls into orbit, knocked in 130 runs, won the Triple Crown, and his first MVP. The Dodgers, like the Yankees, were also having another great season on the field. Despite having the Braves and the Reds (who hit a record-tying 221 HR that season) breathing down their neck, the Dodgers would win yet another pennant. However, the team across the river had off-the-field problems once again. As if wiggling Rickey out of his job wasn’t enough, Walter O’Malley was thinking the unthinkable: to move the Dodgers out of Brooklyn.

O’Malley was exercising the thought of a new stadium due to such poor attendance records. To show New York City, which would ultimately deny him that stadium, that he was serious about playing elsewhere, O’Malley had his Dodgers play nine of their home games in Jersey City.

The 1956 World Series was an eventful one at the very least. There were slugfests, pitchers’ duels, and, of course, the only Perfect Game ever pitched in the World Series or in post-season play. Brooklyn would win the first two games by scoring a combined 19 runs. However, they would score a combined 5 runs in the next two games, allowing the Yankees to tie the series.

This brings us to Game 5.  The match up seemed to favor the Dodgers as Sal Maglie squared up against Don Larsen. Maglie, looking for his second win of the Series, was actually pitching better than he did in Game 1. Maglie would hold the Yankees hitless into the fourth inning, when Mantle hit a solo shot. As good as Maglie was that day, no one would have been able to match Larsen. Aside from a line drive in the second inning, and Mantle robbing Gil Hodges of an extra base hit in the fifth, Larsen would retire the Dodgers with ease while striking out seven batters. Something that does not get talked about often enough is that right after Larsen pitched the game of his life, the Dodgers came right back next day and won in 10 innings on the strength of Clem Labine’s superb pitching and a Jackie Robinson line drive. The finale, unfortunately, was a dud. The Yankees went Pearl Harbor on Don Newcombe (something they did quite often in the World Series), scoring nine runs, four of which came off two homers by Yogi Berra.

1957: This would be the last year that the Dodgers and the often forgotten Giants would play in New York City. The fact that many people forget about the Giants is understandable, since they weren’t as good as the Dodgers, nor were they as popular. But that doesn’t mean Giants fans of the 50’s took their move to the West Coast lightly.

I’ve touched on the O’Malley topic lightly in the 1956 and 1953 portions of this article. Since this was the year the Dodgers actually left, I feel it is necessary to go into detail about both the Dodgers and Giants.

Throughout the 1950’s, attendance was down, which obviously hurt Major League Baseball economically. One of the teams that really got hit, but really didn’t deserve to be, was the Dodgers. The team that Rickey and O’Malley had built was nothing short of great. They won numerous pennants, and even when they didn’t reach the World Series, they were competitive. Each year, the crowds at Ebbets Field had contracted, and it seemed as though the Dodgers would never draw like they previously had.

The demographic evolution of Brooklyn may also have played a role in the Dodgers' departure.  By the mid-1950s, the once all-white borough of Brooklyn had transformed into a mix of white, Puerto Rican, and black sections.   To many white people, pre-conceived fears of Puerto Ricans and blacks now made Brooklyn seem like a dangerous place.  Despite the fact that the color barrier had been broken by the Dodgers themselves in 1947, this was still the 1950's, and a baseball stadium on gameday in the 1950's was still a sea of white faces.   If many whites were scared to come to Brooklyn – whether justified or not – baseball in the borough was in trouble.

O’Malley received a never-ending amount of telegrams and letters from fans begging him not to move west. Well, maybe if the fans didn’t waste so much time writing letters and went to games, this might have never happened. Or maybe if New York would have given O’Malley the stadium that he had desperately asked for he wouldn’t have had to leave. Without a choice, O’Malley was forced to move to LA, where the people would salivate whenever the thought a baseball team in their hometown had popped into their minds. It became official in May of 1957, leaving Brooklyn natives walking around Flatbush as if they were zombies, looking for pieces of their shattered hearts while uttering O’Malley’s name in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin.

I don’t want to sound like the son of Lucifer himself, and my heart goes out to all of the Dodger fans, but in reality, when you look at what really went down, O’Malley certainly isn’t the leading suspect in an act that was a crime in many people’s eyes.

The Giants had been looking to move for a while as well. Attendance had been down for them too, the players got older so fresh faces sounded even better with a fresh scene, and if you would have passed the Polo Grounds, you would have thought a tornado had just passed through it. Horace Stoneham, the owner of the Giants was urged by O’Malley to join him, and he did, choosing San Francisco. After the last game was played in the Polo Grounds on September 29th, 1957 fans chanted a song that went:

We want Stoneham
We want Stoneham
We want Stoneham with a rope around his neck.

When a reporter asked Mrs. McGraw, who had been invited to the game, about what her husband would have thought, she replied, “It would have broken John’s heart.”

1958: With the Dodgers and Giants out of New York, the city would no longer be the “capitol” of baseball. This didn’t affect the Yankees, as they were out for revenge on the Milwaukee Braves, who beat them in the previous World Series. The Yankees, though, would be the only thing that the move west didn’t affect. The Dodgers broke the NL Opening Day attendance record by drawing 78,672 fans. Across the state, San Francisco embraced rookie Orlando Cepeda, but didn’t do the same for Willie Mays; perhaps his complaints about moving out west had something to do with that.

The Yankees did get their wish in 1958, defeating the Braves. However, such a task didn’t come with out great difficulty. The Yankees were down 3-1 in the series, and Warren Spahn made a comment about how the Yankees would have been an average team in the National League. That comment may very well have lit a fire under the Yankees’ asses. They outscored Milwaukee 17-5 in the next three games, becoming the second team to come back after being down 3-1 in a best of seven series.  The Pirates became the first in 1925.

1959: This was the first year since 1948 that a New York team wasn’t in the World Series. The Yankees failed to win 80 games for the first time in 34 years! Also, the Dodgers won the World Series that year despite failing to win 90. They would be the first team to do so since the 1918 Red Sox, who only won 75 games that war-shortened season. 1959 was the beginning of the end of New York dominance and American League dominance overall, as the National League started to integrate more, and they slowly became the stronger league.    


Were the 50’s really that bad? Was I just frustrated because the 50’s weren’t what I thought they would be? Well, yes and no. Now that I look at the 1950’s through an objective pair of lenses, I’m not quite sure which way the pendulum is swinging. The 50’s certainly had its moments: Larsen’s perfect game, integration, and the rise of Mantle and Mays. However, the attendance scare put the sport on life support and caused millions of fans grief as their beloved teams were forced to leave. And if you weren’t living in New York, you probably replaced your baseball cards with football ones. How about we take the safe route and say the 50’s were overrated?

Author’s note: I’d like to say that I have never worked so hard, nor have ever been so proud of my work. Throughout this article I gave myself a history lesson, and I hope you picked up a few things along the way. With that being said, I’d like to thank and dedicate this to my grandfather. If it wasn’t for him or his vivid stories, none of this would have been able to be written. Thanks, Papa.

Additional Sources:

 Ward, Geoffrey, and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated History.  New York: Knopf, 1996.

James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Abstract.  New York: Free Press; Revised edition, 2003.

Thorn, John, and Phil Birnbaum, and Billy Deane. Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball
           Encyclopedia. Toronto: Sports Media Publishing, 2004.



Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at tony@baseballevolution.com.

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