Monday, July 25, 2016

For the '56 Braves, Change Was Looking Good (Status of NL Race, July 26, 1956)

The Braves crushed the Giants, 11-0, on July 26, 1956, to take a 5½-game lead in the National League. Their lackluster beginning behind them, the 1956 Milwaukee Braves were now threatening to do to the National League what the Yankees were doing in the Americanrun away with the pennant. Led by a scorching hot Hank Aaron, the Braves had won 15 of their 17 games since the All-Star break, and they were now 32-10 (.762) since Fred Haney replaced Charlie Grimm as manager on June 17.

For the '56 Braves, Change Was Looking Good 
(NL Race, 60 Years Ago)

Sometimes change is good, even ifin the case of major league baseball, for examplethere is no intrinsic evidence one way or the other that one manager (in this case, Fred Haney) is better than another (Charlie Grimm). In fact, neither man(ager) would go down in history as one of the game's top-flight managers. 

Although Grimm did win three pennants with the Cubs (1932, 1935, and 1945since which the Cubs have not been back to the World Series), there was a sense that his mid-1930s Cubs could have been more successful than they were (and not just in the World Series). And although Haney would eventually lead the Braves to two pennants and win a World Series, his reputation has not lived down the widespread perception that he managed to manage the Braves out of a third straight pennant in 1959.

Even though they had been swamped by the Brooklyn juggernaut of 1955, the Braves were considered one of the best teams in baseball going into the 1956 season, and certain to give the Dodgers a run for their money. Whether Grimm's managerial talents or style were at fault, or not, the Braves' getting off to a 24-22 start was definitely disappointing for the quality team they had, and so he paid the price. More importantly, no sooner had Haney taken over than the Braves got hot, as in really hot, winning their first 11 games under their new manager. At the All-Star break, in what was developing into a very competitive National League pennant race, the Braves were second to the Reds, down by a game-and-a-half, and the Dodgers were third, half a game back of Milwaukee.

The Braves' first four games after the break were at home against the Dodgers. Since these were the two clubs everyone expected to battle it out for the right to play the Yankees in the World Serieswhich seemed safe to say, since the Yankees had command of the American League racethis series would be a marker of where the two clubs stood. By winning all four, the Braves sent a clear message they intended to be top dog, and if any other NL team was going to the World Series, they were going to have to go through Milwaukee first. 

Their fourth win in the series, on July 14, came in dramatic fashion. Joe Adcock erased a 2-0 Brooklyn lead by tagging Sal Maglie for a two-run homer in the seventh. (The Dodgers had acquired Maglie from Cleveland in mid-May. He may have been 39 years old, but Maglie was a tough-minded veteran who knew what he was doing on the mound. His first victory for the Dodgers was a three-hit shutout against the Braves in Milwaukee back on June 4.) Back to the July 14 game. The clubs battled into extra innings after Adcock's homer, whereupon Hank Aaron's one-out single with runners on first and second in the bottom of the 10th inning for a walk-off win completed the Braves' four-game sweep of the Dodgers.

Hank Aaron was just getting started. At the All-Star break, the Braves' young phenom was batting .309 with 9 homers and 40 runs batted in. After going 3-for-5, including his 15th home run of the year, and driving in 4 runs in Milwaukee's 11-0 clobbering of the last-place Giants on July 26, in the 17 games since the break, Aaron hit .452 with 18 RBIs. He had hit in all but one game since the break and had 12 multi-hit games.Twelve of his 33 hits were for extra bases, including 5 home runs. Aaron was now leading the league with a .340 batting average.

The Braves as a team were revving on all cylinders coming out of the All-Star break. In their 17 games after the season resumed, they scored 115 runs, whacked 29 home runs, and batted .292. On the pitching side, they gave up 58 runs and limited opposing batters to a .264 average. Warren Spahn, just 7-7 at the break, had complete-game victories in all three of his starts since then, giving up just 8 runs.

As they left New York City after their victory on July 26 for two games in Philadelphia with a record of 56-32, it was 88 games down for the 1956 Milwaukee Braves and 66 to go. Their lead was now 5½ games over the second-place Redlegs and 6 over the Dodgers. On Monday they would be returning to New York, this time to the borough of Brooklyn, for four games with the Dodgers.

The last time they were in Brooklyn, the Braves came to town having lost 10 of their last 15 games, and Charlie Grimm was the man(ager) in charge. After dropping the first two of four at Ebbets Field, they left with Fred Haney running the show. Change was good.  

No comments:

Post a Comment