Sunday, September 27, 2015

60 Years Ago (1955): Before "Next Year"--the Dodgers Vexed World Series History

The Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Yankees had vastly different post-season histories as they squared off in Game 1 of the 1955 World Series at Yankee Stadium on September 28. The Yankees had been to 20 World Series and won 16 of them. The Dodgers did not win any of the seven World Series they had played, the last five of which were all against the Yankees. And their Fall Classics history seemed particularly vexed, because it always seemed that some odd eventor Billy Martindid them in.

Before "Next Year: Brooklyn's Vexed World Series History

1916: After the Dodgers—then known as the "Robins" after their manager, Wilbert Robinson—lost the opening game of their first World Series to the Boston Red Sox, the two teams battled into the 14th inning of Game 2 in Boston. Both starting pitchers, Sherry Smith for Brooklyn and some guy named Babe Ruth for the Red Sox, were still in the game. After Ruth retired the Robins in order in the top of the inning, Smith walked the lead-off batter, who went to second on a sacrifice bunt, from where he scored on a walk-off single by Del Gainer, pinch-hitting for veteran third baseman Larry Gardner. Gainer was strictly a bench player, but was sent up to hit for the left-handed-batting Gardner, whose .308 batting average was fifth in the league, as a percentage move against the southpaw Smith. Gainer's game-winning hit was his only plate appearance in the 1916 World Series.

Down two games-to-none, Brooklyn owner Charles Ebbets caused some controversy by banishing the Red Sox' band of Royal Rooters (a real band) to the far reaches of his ballpark when the Series moved to Ebbets Field, which may or may not have helped his team win Game 3. The Robins took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 4, only to watch the aforementioned Mr. Gardner slide under the catcher's tag with a three-run inside-the-park home run. (There was no New York review.) The Red Sox won the game, and the next day the Series as well when the teams returned to Boston, where the Royal Rooters put up a celebratory hoot.

1920: Now oh-for-one in World Series competition, Brooklyn was back in the Classic in 1920, against the Cleveland Indians. With the Series tied two games apiece in Game 5 in Cleveland, the Indians jumped off to a 4-0 lead in the first inning when their first three batters touched future Hall of Fame pitcher Burleigh Grimes for singles to load the bases and clean-up hitter Elmer Smith hit the first grand slam in World Series history. And the Indians still had all 27 outs to play with. 

Later in the 5th inning, as if that World Series first was not enough to victimize the Dodgers—still called the Robins—they hit into the first and only unassisted triple play in World Series history. With runners at first and second, and behind 7-0 in the score, Clarence Mitchell, a very good-hitting pitcher who had relieved the ineffective Grimes, hit a line-drive that seemed destined to land safely in center field—except that second baseman Bill Wambsganss leaped to his right and snared the drive for the out. Both Robins took flight for the next base when the ball was hit—it sure looked like a hit—allowing Wambsganss to touch second to double-up the lead runner and tag out the runner from first, standing just off the keystone sack, for unassisted out number three.

The Robins were shut out the next two games and were now oh-and-two in World Series play. Brooklyn did not return to the Fall Classic for 21 years, during which time the Robins went back to being called the Dodgers once Wilbert Robinson retired.

1941With the Yankees and Dodgers tied at a game apiece, Brooklyn manager Leo Durocher called upon his ace reliever, Hugh Casey, to hold the Yankees at bay in a scoreless tie in Game 3 at Ebbets Field. Casey gave up four consecutive singles and wound up the losing pitcher.

The next day, having entered the game in the sixth inning, Casey was protecting a 4-3 lead that would have tied the Series and had the Yankees down to their last strike—which he got, except that strike three got passed catcher Mickey Owen and Tommy Henrich reached first base, whereupon Casey proceeded to unravel, surrendering a single, a walk, and a pair of doubles that resulted in the Yankees winning the game. The Series mercifully ended the next day, the Dodgers never again with a lead.

1947: Jackie Robinson tormenting the Yankees with his base-running, Al Gionfriddo’s robbery of Joe DiMaggio causing the normally unflustered Yankee Clipper to kick the dirt, and Cookie Lavagetto’s two-out last-of-the-ninth double not only breaking up Bill Bevens’ no-hitter but turning him into the losing pitcher were Brooklyn highlights in the 1947 World Series. But Yogi Berra had the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history, Bobby Brown went three-for-three as a pinch hitter, and Joe Page pitched five scoreless innings allowing only one runner to reach base to win Game 7 and send the Dodgers to their fourth straight World Series defeat.

1949Don Newcombe, 17-8 in his rookie year with Brooklyn, was dominant for the Dodgers in Game 1 of the World Series, making history as the first black pitcher to start in the Fall Classic. He shut out the Yankees through eight innings, giving up just four hits and striking out 11. Unfortunately, Allie Reynolds was just as good for the Yankees. Henrich led off the bottom of the ninth for the Yankees and hit a home run to defeat Newcombe, 1-0. The Dodgers won the next day by the same score, but Brooklyn lost the Series in five games. This game was the undeserved beginning of criticism that Newcombe had a tendency to choke in big games.

1952The Yankees and Dodgers met again in the 1952 World Series. The Dodgers had a 3-games-to-2 advantage, lost Game 6, and in the bottom of the 7th of Game 7, trailing by 4-2, loaded the bases with just one out . . . and did not score a single run. Their last hope died on a popup around the pitcher’s mound that looked for sure like it would drop for a cheap game-tying hit when the Yankee first baseman lost the ball in the sun and the pitcher just stood there. But to the rescue came Billy Martin, charging in from his position at second base, losing his hat racing to the interior of the infield, and making a knee-high catch to end the threat. The Dodgers did not threaten again, and were now oh-for-six in World Series play.

1953It was Billy Martin to the Yankees’ rescue again the next year. This time it was the Yankees batting in the bottom of the 9th of Game 6 with a 3-games-to-2 advantage, the score tied 3-3, runners at first and second, one out, Dodgers ace reliever Clem Labine on the mound, and darned if Billy the Kid doesn’t slap a game-winning, World Series-winning, single up the middle. It was his 12th hit of the Series, tying a record, and his 8th run batted in.

The Ebbets Faithful always consoled themselves with, "Wait till next year."

But the Dodgers were up against the Yankees once again in 1955. And wasn’t it just their luck that Billy Martin had returned from his service commitment in September, just in time to help the Yankees win the ’55 pennant and play in the World Series.

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