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 percentage.
Campanella 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
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
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
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
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
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?
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.
Ward, Geoffrey, and Ken Burns. Baseball: An Illustrated
History. New York:
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
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Tony resides in Queens, New York and can be reached at email@example.com.