Thursday, September 29, 2016

Last Day 60 Years Ago, September 30, 1956

On Saturday, September 29, the Dodgers swept the Pittsburgh Pirates in a doubleheader at Ebbets Field while the Braves lost a 12-inning heartbreaker in St. Louis. That meant Brooklyn held a one-game lead over Milwaukee going into the final day of the regular season. Win with their ace, Don Newcombe, on the mound, and it wouldn't matter what the Braves didthe Dodgers would be back in the World Series with a chance to make it two championships in a row at the Yankees' expense. Lose, however, and a win by the Braves would mean the Dodgers would be in their third best-of-three playoff series for the National League pennant in eleven years. Only twice before in National League history was a playoff necessary after completion of the 154-game schedule to decide the pennant-winner, the Dodgers were in both, and the Dodgers lost on both previous occasionsto the Cardinals in 1946, and (most famously) to the Giants in 1951.

Last Day
(60 Years Ago, September 30, 1956)

The Dodgers trailed the Braves by half-a-game going into the final day of the season. It was 151 down for Brooklyn and three to go; for Milwaukee, 152 down and two to go. Making his first start since his no-hitter against Philadelphia four days before, Sal Maglie won the opener of Brooklyn's Saturday doubleheader, 6-2. The Pirates wasted no time breaking up any hope of Maglie having a Johnny Vander Meer moment and depriving him of a shutout in the 1st inning when Dale Long singled and Frank Thomas homered. But in the bottom of the 1st, Jackie Robinson drove in the first Dodgers run with a single and came home on Sandy Amoros's 14th home run of the season. Maglie shutout Pittsburgh the rest of the way. 

Indicative of how times were different back then, Dodgers' relief ace Clem Labine pitched a complete game 3-1 victory in the second game. It was only the third start Labine had made all year, all in September. Manager Walt Alston had been using Labine exclusively in relief as his bullpen ace until then. And Clem Labine was excellent in the role, appearing in 59 games with a 9-6 record, league-leading 19 saves, and a 3.34 ERA in 97 innings of relief. He had figured directly in 28 of the Dodgers' first 91 wins as a reliever, and his victory in Brooklyn's 153rd game meant he had now contributed directly to 29 of the Dodgers' 92 wins as they went into the final day.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, after the Braves' Bill Bruton smacked his 8th home run of the year as the second batter in the game, Milwaukee did not score in any of the next 11 innings, even if Hank Aaron did go 3-for-5. Fresh off his 20th win (on the same day Maglie pitched his no-hitter), Warren Spahn shut out the Cardinals through the first five innings before back-to-back doubles with two out in the 6th tied the score. Tied at 1-1 it remained after nine, ten, and eleven innings. 

Spahn was still on the mound in the 12th. Stan Musial, whose propensity to torture the Dodgers at Ebbets Field had long ago earned him the grudging sobriquet "Stan the Man" (as in, here comes "that man" again) from a frustrated Brooklyn resident, doubled with one out. Ken Boyer, having a terrific second season with 26 homers, 98 RBIs, and a .306 batting average, was intentionally walked, after which Rip Repulski touched Spahn for a game-winning walk-off double.

So the Dodgers started the last day of the 1956 schedule with a one-game lead over the Braves. Don Newcombe, taking a 26-7 record to the Ebbets mound, retired the Pirates in order in the 1st, and then happily watched Duke Snider hit his league-best 42nd homer with two runners on before Pittsburgh starter Vern Law had retired anyone. Roberto Clemente's 2-run single in the 3rd cut Brooklyn's lead to 3-2, but Jackie Robinson hit his 10th homer of the year, and the 137th and last regular-season home run of his career, in the bottom of the inning. Newcombe led off the 5th with a double and scored on a sacrifice fly, after which Snider increased his league-lead with another home run, giving him 43. A homer by Amoros in the 6th made it a 6-2 lead.

But four-run leads can be tenuous. Pittsburgh came back with 3 in the 7th, and after Lee Walls touched Newcombe for a homer with one out in the 8th to cut Brooklyn's lead to 7-6, Big Newk was given the rest of the day off. With Labine having pitched a complete game the day before, Alston could not call on his relief ace. Instead he went with second-year right-hander Don Bessent, who had already saved 8 games in 37 relief appearances. Bessent pitched the rest of the game to save Newcombe's 27th win of the 1956 season.

It didn't matter that the Braves beat the Cardinals in St. Louis on that same last day. With 154 games down and none to go, Milwaukee had run out of time. They came up one game short. The Brooklyn Dodgers had won their 9th National League pennant since 1901. It was time to . . . bring on the Yankees.

There were some warnings and minor rumblings, but little did the Brooklyn faithful expect 1956 would be the last time their borough would host a World Series.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pitchers' Day--September 25, 1956 (Sixty Years Ago)

On September 25, 1956, with less than a week left before the regular season ended, Cleveland's Early Wynn beat Kansas City for his 20th win. That had no bearing on the American League pennant race since the Yankees had already officially punched their ticket to the Fall Classic. But in a game that did have significant pennant-race implications, Milwaukee's Warren Spahn won his 20th beating Cincinnati, a pretender that had become a real contender. That kept the Braves on top of the National League and all but officially eliminated the Reds from contention. Oh, and Sal Maglie's 12th win of the year kept the Dodgers within half-a-game of the Braves. But Maglie's 12th wasn't just any win. It was a no-hitter.

Pitchers' Day
(60 Years Ago, September 25, 1956)

In the bottom of the 10th on September 25, rookie Rocky Colavito made a 20-game winner of Cleveland starter Early Wynn with his 21st home run against the KC Athletics. For Wynn it was his fourth 20-win season in six years going back to 1951.  

Wynn's win, however, did not come in the heat of a pennant race since the Cleveland Indians had been officially eliminated nine days earlier when they split a doubleheader with the Yankees. They won their next six games. The fourth of those wins was a 5-hit shutout by Wynn's mound mate, Bob Lemon, on September 19, which made him the second pitcher in the American League, after Chicago's Billy Pierce on September 13, to win 20 games in 1956. Four days after Lemon's shutout, Detroit's Frank Lary ended the Indians' 6-game winning streak with his 20th win of the season.

So, Early Wynn was the fourth American League pitcher to join the 1956 chapter of the 20-win club. The next day, he and Lemon were joined in the 20-win club by their teammate, Cleveland's phenomenal southpaw, Herb Score. It was the third time in six years that the Indians' staff featured three 20-game winners; Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, and Wynn did it for Cleveland in 1951, and Wynn, Garcia, and Lemon in 1952. No other team had as many as three 20-game winners in a single season since the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics with Lefty Grove, George Earnshaw, and Rube Walberg.

Meanwhile, over in the National League, it was 150 games down and just 4 to go when Warren Spahn took the mound at Cincinnati's Crosley Field on September 25, 1956. Not only was he going for his 20th win, which would make for seven 20-win seasons so far in his career, but more importantly, his Braves had the slimmest of leads in a taut three-team pennant racehalf a game up on the Dodgers and just 1½ ahead of the Reds. 

Once again for the Redlegs, another critical game. They had won six straight since four consecutive lossestwo to the Dodgers and two to the Phillies (discussed in the two previous posts)—had seemed to put an end to their pennant ambitions. But Cincinnati didn't fold; instead they picked up three games in the standings. But they had also played 151 games and were down to their final 3. Lose this game, and they would need to win both of their remaining games against the Cubs in Chicago while hoping that the Braves lost all of their final three games against the Cardinals and that the Dodgers won no more than one of their remaining games.

Larry Jansen started for the Reds. Once a premier pitcher for the New York Giants from 1947 to 1951, he was back in the minor leagues in 1955 trying to recover from arm problems. Signed by the Reds before the '56 season started, Jansen pitched for Seattle in the Pacific Coast League before being called up in August to help with the pitching. He won his first two startsboth complete-game victories—but was 0-2 with an 8.40 earned run average since then, dating back to August 24. He had given up 8 runs in his last 10 innings. Reds ace Brooks Lawrence, meanwhile, had not pitched since working in his seventh game in eight days five days before.

Perhaps Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts should have tried Lawrence. Jansen got just 4 outs and gave up 3 runs before he was shown to the showers. After three innings, the Braves led, 6-1. Lawrence pitched two shutout innings later in the game. Spahn was efficient9 innings, 6 hits, 1 walk, just 2 strikeoutson his way to becoming the National League's second 20-game in 1956, more than a month after Don Newcombe had won his 20th. 

It was also a very good day on the mound for the Dodgers' Sal Maglie. He didn't win his 20th. It was only his 12th win of the year. Not only did he not give up any runs, Maglie also didn't give up any hits. Like Spahn in winning his 20th, Maglie was efficient on the mound, striking out three, walking two, and hitting one, and, of course, no hits.

Maglie took the mound knowing this was a crucial game. Since Carl Furillo's walk-off homer to beat Brooks Lawrence eight days earlier, the Dodgers had lost four of six. If he could pitch his team to a victory and Milwaukee lost, Brooklyn could end the day in first place. The other way around, they'd be 1½ back.

Maglie retired the first eight Phillies he faced before walking the opposing pitcher. The Phillies did not have another base runner until Willie Jones walked to lead off the 8th. He was wiped out in a double play. Maglie also hit Richie Ashburn with a pitch with two outs in the 9th, then got Marv Blaylock to ground out to second to end the game. Roy Campanella's 2-run homer in the 2nd was all that Maglie needed in what was, in the end, a 5-0 Dodgers win to stay within a half-game of the Braves. 

It was now 150 games down and just 4 to go for the 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers. With one game left against the fifth-place Phillies, who were 69-81 after being no-hit, and three with the sixth-place Pirates, who were 66-85, while the Braves would be up against a better teamthe 74-76 fourth-place CardinalsBrooklyn, with the same number of losses and one fewer victory than Milwaukee, was in a good position to make up the difference and try to defend their 1955 World Series championship against the Yankees.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

This Wouldn't Happen Today (60 Years Ago, Sept. 19, 1956)

As if pitching in five games in six days between September 12 and 17 wasn't enough as the Cincinnati Reds fought to stay close to the National League front-runners with the 1956 season rapidly approaching its end, Brooks Lawrence pitched each of the next two days as well, both times in relief. In fact, from the first day of September, when he pitched a complete game victory, to the 19th, Lawrence started 3 games and relieved in 7 others for a total of 10 appearances on the mound in the space of 20 days. 

This Wouldn't Happen Today
(60 Years Ago, September 19, 1956)

When Brooks Lawrence walked off the mound having given up Carl Furillo's 10th inning walk-off at Ebbets Field on September 17, Cincinnati's pennant prospects looked bleak indeed. Since winning three of four against the first-place Braves at Milwaukee in the beginning of September to get to within 1½ games of the top as of September 5, the Redlegs had won just 3 and lost 6, including that heart-breaker against the Dodgersthe new first-place club in the National Leaguethat seemed quite possibly to be a season-ender.

There were only 11 games left to play, and they were in third place, 4 games behind, and now the Reds faced back-to-back doubleheaders in Philadelphia the next two days. The Phillies, however, were a fifth-place club with a losing record whose pitchers and defense had given up 39 more runs than any other team in the National League. The Dodgers, meanwhile, would play two over the next two days against the fourth-place Cardinals, a team with a winning record. The Braves over the next two days had one against the sixth-place Pirates. If the Reds could win all four of their games and the Dodgers lost both of theirs, they could move within a game of Brooklyn. It would be a real three-team race again.

Instead, they lost the first game of their September 18 doubleheader, 4-3. Not a good opening. Lawrence did not pitch in that game. In the nightcap, the Phillies took an early 5-0 lead behind their ace, Robin Roberts. But a 3-run homer by Ed Bailey capped a 4-run top of the 8th, and with his team now in striking distance of a possible victory, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts once again called on . . . Brooks Lawrence to hold the Phillies in place.

Including the 6 innings he had thrown in his start on September 15, it was the fourth consecutive day that Lawrence had to pitch for his team. After striking out Roberts, he walked Richie Ashburn, gave up a double to Solly Hemus, and intentionally walked Stan Lopata to load the bases with just one out and the dangerous clean-up hitter Del Ennis at bat. And Lawrence got him to hit a double play grounder, 6-to-4-to-oops . . . second baseman Johnny Temple's relay to first turned into a two-base throwing error. Two runs scored, the first of which was earned. Cincinnati lost, 7-4, dropping both games of the doubleheader.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee moved into a first-place tie with Brooklyn, who lost, and the Reds were now 4½ games behind with just 9 left on the schedule. Still not impossible, but not looking good.

The next day, the Reds scored 4 in the top of the 1st and took a 6-1 lead into the 8th when their starter, Johnny Klippstein, faltered. The score was now 6-3, runners on first and third, and Granny Hamner at the plate representing the tying run when, once again, Tebbetts called on Brooks Lawrence to get the Reds out of the inning. Even though he was not yet 30, Hamner was no longer the Whiz Kid he had been when the Phillies unexpectedly won the 1950 pennant. He was nearing the end of his career. Hamner was hitting only .224, but had a hot handhe already had two hits in the game, one a triple, and had two hits off the Reds the previous day. 

Lawrence was taking the mound for the fifth day in a row. For the fourth day in a row, Tebbetts was asking his ace starter to get outs as a reliever in a high-stakes situation. He was exhausted. He should have known Lawrence was exhausted. Tebbetts could have called on Hersh Freeman, his relief ace. 

As poorly as he pitched in August, giving up 9 earned runs and 17 hits in 8 inningsFreeman was throwing well in September. He had appeared in 10 games so far in the September stretch and given up just 3 earned runs in 20 innings. But he had also pitched in each of the four previous days, totalling 5 innings, compared to Lawrence's 9. Notwithstanding a run he gave up to the Dodgers in the game Lawrence ultimately lost, Freeman was pitching more effectively. That was the only run he had given up in his four straight days of work, compared to Lawrence having surrendered seven, six earned.

But Lawrence was who Tebbetts wanted. His stalwart right-hander walked Hamner to load the bases, and then Tebbetts decided to bring in Freeman. Freeman got the final out of the inning and pitched a scoreless 9th for his 14th save, and Cincinnati's four-game losing streak had come to an end.

The Reds also won the second game of the September 19 doubleheader, a 3-hit shutout thrown by rookie Tom Acker who was making just his 6th major league start. Even though the Dodgers won their game that day, by winning two, the Reds were able to pick up a half-game on Brooklyn. They now trailed first-place Brooklyn by 4 and were 3½ behind second-place Milwaukee. Cincinnati had played 147 games, however. There were just 7 to go.

Brooks Lawrence had pitched in 7 games in 8 days dating back to September 12, totaling 10 innings, given up 9 earned runs on 14 hits, four of which were homers, and had walked 5. He would get the next five days off.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Paging Brooks Lawrence, Again (60 Years Ago, September 17, 1956)

Just as he had two weeks earlier, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts called on his front-line ace Brooks Lawrence to save the day in relief  just two days after he had started and won a critical game in a tight pennant race, this time against the new first place clubthe Brooklyn Dodgers. Once again, a must-win game in the other team's ballpark. How did it go?

Paging Brooks Lawrence, Again
(60 Years Ago, September 17, 1956)

The Cincinnati Redlegs had been hanging close in the National League pennant race all summer, but had not been on top since the first day after the All-Star break. They had some close calls that could have dropped them from realistic contention earlier than this.

Up till now, the Reds' most important series of the season was in the beginning of September when they took three of four against the Braves in Milwaukee to stay relevant in the pennant race. As readers will recall from an earlier post, Brooks Lawrence arguably saved their season with 7 strong innings in relief for his 18th win on September 3 by coming into a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the 3rd inning, his team's lead in jeopardy, and retiring Hank Aaron on a short fly out and getting Eddie Mathews to hit into a double play. That was just two days after he had pitched a complete-game victory against the Cubs. His aborting a Braves' rally may have meant a two-game difference in the standingsbetween the 3½-game deficit they in fact ended the day with, or a 5½-game deficit had they lost.

Lawrence had started twice and relieved twice since his pitching heroics against the Braves. Given four days of rest after pitching 16 innings in three days, Lawrence lost his next start on September 8 in St. Louis, failing to make it out of the 3rd inning. Both of his next two appearances on back-to-back days, in New York at the Polo Grounds and in Pittsburgh, were in relief. Against the Giants on September 12, he came into the game in the 6th inning with the Reds already behind 6-0 and gave up three runs in one-third of an inning. And against the Pirates on September 13, manager Birdie Tebbetts called him into the game with the score tied 3-3 in the 7th. Pitching just the one inning, Lawrence gave up the tie on a home run to Frank Thomas, but Cincinnati scored twice in the 9th to win.

Two days after that, on September 15, Lawrence was back on the mound against the Pirates, making his 30th start of the year. He won his 19th, but left in the 7th inning after surrendering back-to-back homers to Bill Mazeroski, a two-run shot, and Hank Foiles that narrowed the Reds' lead to 6-4, the final score. He had given up 18 hits and 11 earned runs in 9⅔ innings since rescuing, at least temporarily, the Reds' season in Milwaukee back on September 3. The Reds had not been home since, and their next two series were also on the road.

Lawrence's victory in Pittsburgh kept the Reds within two games striking distance as they went to Brooklyn's Ebbets Field for exactly two games with the first-place Dodgers. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Braves, who were tied with the Dodgers in first, were also in New York for two games, against the Giants at the Polo Grounds.

For the Reds, this was their new most critical series of the season. Thirteen games were all they had left on the schedule. They trailed both the Dodgers and the Braves by two games. These were the last games they had left on their season-schedule against the Dodgers. If they were to make their move towards first place, this was the time. Winning both would put them in a tie with the Dodgers. There was nothing they could do about the Braves, but should the Braves lose twice at the Polo Grounds, all three teamsBrooklyn, Milwaukee, and Cincinnatiwould be tied for first place.

With Sal Maglie on the mound, the Dodgers won the first of the two games,     3-2. Lawrence, the very day after pitching 6⅓ innings in his start against the Pirates, was called in to get the Reds out of the 2nd inning with runners on second and third and one out; he did so, retiring Roy Campanella and Maglie  without giving up a run. His job done successfully, and the pitcher's spot due up first in the 3rd, he left the game for a pinch-hitter. 

The Reds' loss left them three behind the now first-place-all-by-themselves Dodgers with just 12 games remaining on their schedule . . . making the second game of the seriesand their season finale against the Dodgers on the scheduleone they REALLY HAD TO WIN. Clem Labine started for Brooklyn. Hal Jeffcoat started for Cincinnati. After the Reds scored three times in the 9th on a two-run homer by catcher Ed Bailey and a solo shot by pinch-hitter Ray Jablonski to tie the score at 4-4, it was Brooks Lawrence who Tebbetts once again called upon . . . this time to win the game.

Lawrence was pitching for the fourth time in five days, which included his 6⅓-inning start just two days before. What was Birdie Tebbetts thinking? Especially since the overworked Lawrence hadn't exactly been pitching very well? Perhaps that he had used his putative relief ace, Hersh Freeman, in the 8th (he gave up a run) and pinch hit for him in the top of the 9th? And that, at 19-9, Lawrence was the best pitcher he had available, despite his recent struggles and no rest, and with their pennant chances on the line . . . he had no choice but to go with his best?

Lawrence gave up a single and a walk in the 9th, the runners advancing to second and third on a passed ball with two out, but he got Sandy Amoros on a pop up to short to end the inning and the game went into extra innings. The Reds got their first two batters on in the 10th, but Carl Erskine came in to retire the side without giving up a run.

The first batter in the Dodgers' 10th was Carl Furillo, who was batting .298 and had already driven in two runs in the game. Furillo sent the Ebbets Faithful home happy with his 20th home run of the season over the left-center field wall. Instead of winning his 20th, Lawrence lost his 10th. And for the Cincinnati Redlegs

—With 153 games down and just 11 to go, times were now desperate. They now trailed Brooklyn by four games and Milwaukee by three. Their next stop   . . .  Philadelphia. For four games. In back-to-back doubleheaders. Perhaps now, Brooks Lawrence would get some rest. Perhaps.


Monday, September 12, 2016

Catching Up on the '56 Home Run Chase (60 Years Ago, Sept 13, 1956)

On September 13, 1956, at Kansas City's Municipal Stadium, Mickey Mantle's 3rd inning home runhis 48th of the yearnot only proved the margin of victory in the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Athletics, but ended a drought of 10 games and 35 at bats in which he had not hit a home run. With slightly more than two weeks left to the season, he was no longer likely to match, let alone eclipse, Babe Ruth's iconic 60 homers hit in 1927. Meanwhile, both the Cincinnati Redlegs collectively and their spectacular first-year left fielder, Frank Robinson, remained poised to set new single-season records for home runs by a major league team and by a rookie. 

Catching Up on the '56 Home Run Chase
(60 Years Ago, September 13, 1956)

When last we left Mickey Mantle in 1956, his 47th homer of the season had led the Yankees to victory on the last day of August. He was then well ahead of Babe Ruth's pace for 60 home runs. But no more. The Yankees had played 10 games in the first 12 days of September and won 6 of them to run their American League advantage up to 10 games over Cleveland. They had scored 58 runs and hit 13 homers, but Mantle, despite playing the entirety of all 10 games, had none.

It was, of course, inevitable that the best baseball player on the planet in 1956 was bound to hit a wall. He had just 5 hits in those 10 games and went hitless in 6 games. His only extra-base hit was a double, and he had exactly zerothat's "0"runs batted in. It was not, however, the Mick's first extended long ball drought of the season. From June 22 to July 1, Mantle also went 10 games (and, ultimately, 33 at bats) without going deep, but he did hit .344 with 3 RBIs as the Yankees went 5-5. And from August 15 to 23, he went 9 games without a homer and hit just .121, striking out 10 times in 33 at bats, for the worst stretch of his season. He did drive in 2 runs. The Yankees were 4-5 in those games. Despite those slumps, he was still ahead of Ruth in his quest for 60, or even 61, going into September.

Mantle's 3rd-inning homer off KC's Tom Gorman on September 13 may have ended his latest homerless stretch of games, but it left him with little chance of out-homering the Bambino in a single-season. With the Yankees having played 140 games, they had just 14 remaining in which Mantle, now with 48 homers, would have needed 12 more just to tie the Babe with 60. Through the Yankees' first 140 games in 1927, Ruth had hit 52. It wasn't impossible for Mantlejust nearly so.

Even so, Mickey Mantle was still the Triple Crown leader in the American League. Besides having hit by far the most homers in baseball, his 119 RBIs were the most, and nobody had a higher qualifying batting average than his .353. 

The home run record that seemed almost certain to be broken was the 38 for a rookie set by Wally Berger in 1930. Frank Robinson started the month with 35, hit his 36th off the Braves' Lew Burdette in the first game of a September 3 doubleheader; hit his 37th in the 10th inning the next day off Braves' reliever Ernie Johnson to win the game; and his 38th on September 11 off the Giants' Steve Ridzik at the Polo Grounds to tie Berger's rookie record. 

Robinson went 1-for-4 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh on September 13, without a home run, but his 9th-inning single off Pirates' relief ace Elroy Face drove in the winning run in another must-win game for Cincinnati. With an 82-58 record, the Reds were 3½ games behind the first-place Braves, and 1½ back of the Dodgers. With 140 games down(they had actually played 141, one game having ended in a tie because of rain)and just 14 to go, Cincinnati was running out of time to catch Milwaukee. For Frank Robinson, however, there seemed to be plenty of time for him to send one going-going-gone at least once more to set the new record for home runs by a major league rookie.

While Robinson did not go deep in Cincinnati's victory over Pittsburgh, George Crowe, pinch hitting, did. It was the 202nd home run of the year for the Redlegs in 141 games. The 1947 Giants, whose team record of 221 was in sight, had 204 through their first 141 games (also one of which had ended in a tie, same as for the '56 Reds), so the Redlegs were now slightly behind the Giants' pace . . . But not by much. They still had 14 games to hit 20 more homers to set a new record

And, of course, hopefully win the pennant for the honor of facing Mickey Mantle and the Yankees in the 1956 World Series.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Final '56 Showdown, Braves at Dodgers (60 Years Ago, Sept 11 & 12, 1956)

The 1956 Milwaukee Braves came to Brooklyn for one final series with the Dodgers on September 11 and 12, sixty years ago, with a slim one-game lead and the season winding down to just 17 games remaining for both. For the Dodgers, who were last in first place (tied) way back on May 20, this was a critical series, and they had their two aces in line in their effort to send the Braves out of town in second place. Don Newcombe, already with 23 wins, was to pitch the second game. Pitching the first game would be Sal Maglie. The Dodgers surely would not have been in contention without Big Newk's extraordinary season. But just as certainly, they would not have been in contention without Maglie, who once upon a timewhen he was younger and a Giantwas a despised arch-enemy.

Final '56 Showdown, Braves at Dodgers
(60 Years Ago, September 11 & 12, 1956)

At 39 years old, Sal Maglie was thought to be over the hill as the 1956 season got underway. After pitching just five innings in two games for the Cleveland Indians through the first four weeks of the season, the Dodgers paid a nominal sum to procure his services. They were 12-9 at the time, the season was still young, and there was no compelling reason why they would need Sal Maglie, but the Dodgers knew exactly what they were doing. They had a history with Sal Maglie. It was not a pleasant one for them, which was precisely why they wanted him.

Sal Maglie had been a nasty thorn in their side pitching for their arch-rivals, the New York Giants, through the first half of the 1950s. Nicknamed "The Barber" for his aggressiveness in giving close shaves to opposing batters, Maglie's high-and-tight reportoire provoked numerous contretemps, as in players-on-the-field confrontations (ugly words, pushing, shoving, sometimes worse), with Dodgers batters taking exception to his pitching philosophy. 

When he walked into the Dodgers' clubhouse for the first time in mid-May, Maglie had a career record of 104 wins and 48 losses. More than a fifth of his wins were against Brooklyn; he had beaten the Dodgers 23 times as a hated Giant and lost to them just 11 times. He had thrown more innings against the Dodgers (302) than against any other team, and Maglie pitches had hit 8 Brooklyn battersa modest number, given both his reputation and the ferocity of the two teams' rivalry. 

And the Dodgers no doubt had painful memories of his 5-1 record against them in 1951a year that lives in Brooklyn infamy because of the huge August lead they blew and Bobby Thomson's "Giants win the pennant! Giants win the pennant!" home run. Maglie started that game for the Giants, and would have been the losing pitcher, but for that home run. Three of Maglie's 8 wins during the Giants' miracle surge to the pennant in August and September to force a playoff series for the pennant came against the Dodgers. He was 23-6 in 1951, which turned out to be the only 20-win season he'd have in his career.

Since coming to the Dodgers, Maglie was giving the Ebbets faithful lots of love, not hate. His first victory for the Dodgers came on June 5 when he shutout the Braves in Milwaukee on 3 hits. He had made three starts against them since then, all without a decision, but pitched well. As he took the home-town mound in the top of the 1st against the Braves on September 11, 1956, Maglie's record stood at 9-4, he had won 7 of his last 8 decisions, and his earned run average in his 11 starts in that time was 2.33. Against the Braves, Maglie was only 1-0 in four starts, but he had given up just 7 earned runs on 20 hits in 29⅓ innings for a 2.15 ERA.

Maglie gave up solo home runs to Eddie Mathews in the 2nd and Joe Adcock in the 9th. They were the only two runs the Braves scored. Maglie's single in the 3rd off Braves' starter Bob Buhl gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead, and in the 8th, Jackie Robinson, still a menace on the bases at 37, scored from second base when, reacting to Jackie's dancing off the bag, reliever Ernie Johnson's pickoff attempt went awry, and Gil Hodges followed with a homer of his own. The Dodgers and Braves were now tied for first place.

The next day, it was a matchup of each team's pitcher with the most wins. For the Dodgers, Newcombe took the mound with a 23-6 record; Newk was 13-1 with a 2.18 ERA in his 16 starts since July 4th. For the Braves, it was Lew Burdette, who was 18-9 and had a 2.37 earned run average so far for the year. Burdette was 6-3 with a 1.55 ERA in 9 starts since July 5. 

Both had a terrible day. Burdette failed to make it out of the 1st inning, giving up 3 runs, and Newcombe, after having retired the side in order in the first and now with a 3-0 lead, could not get a single batter out in the second. He left after giving up a walk, a pair of singles, and a triple that tied the score, and Bill Bruton, the guy who hit the triple, scored after he left. The Dodgers, trailing 7-4 in the 7th, scored three times to tie the game, but the Braves won in the 8th on a single by Hank Aaron, a walk, and an RBI single by Bruton. 

Milwaukee left Brooklyn with the same one-game advantage they came to Ebbets Field with. At the close of the day on September 12, 1956, for both the Braves, at 84-55, and the Dodgers, at 83-56, it was 139 games down and 15 to go. It was also 139 down and 15 to go for the Cincinnati Redlegs, who were still hanging around at 3 games behind. The Dodgers had two games left against the Reds at home. The Braves had just one left against the Reds, in Cincinnati. For the Braves and the Dodgers, their season series was overMilwaukee had won 12, Brooklyn 10unless, of course, a playoff between them would be required should they have identical records at the end of the 154-game schedule.

Maglie might come in handy then.


In case you were wondering why Braves' ace Warren Spahn was not lined up to start in this all important series . . . It was because the Dodgers totally owned Warren Spahn. Since 1948, Spahn was 6-18 in 27 starts against Brooklyn. He did not pitch a single inning against them in 1955. In 1956, the Braves decided to see if maybe a year of not pitching at all to Brooklyn batters might have made a difference and gave Spahn a start against them on June 5 in Milwaukee. The Dodger curse plaguing the great Spahn continued; he gave up 2 runs on 4 hits while getting just 4 outs before being removed from the game. He did not get another chance against the Brooklyn Dodgers.

For more on Warren Spahn's troubles with the Dodgers, see the following post on Baseball Historical Insight from July 21, 2015 (last year), "No Spahn Sighting in Brooklyn" (:

Friday, September 2, 2016

Brooks Lawrence to the Rescue (60 Years Ago, Sept. 3, 1956)

To those who might have said that Brooks Lawrence's failure to win any of his six starts in August may have cost the Cincinnati Reds the 1956 pennant: if it was not for his gutsy performance against the Milwaukee Braves on September 3rd, the Reds' pennant chances could well have ended right then and there, and it would have been a two-team Milwaukee vs. Brooklyn race to the end, instead of a three-team duel also involving Cincinnati.  

Brooks Lawrence to the Rescue
(60 Years Ago, September 3, 1956)

Trailing the Braves by 3½ games and tied with the Dodgers in second place, the Redlegs traveled to Milwaukee for a critical four-game series that would start with a doubleheader on September 3. This was their chance to cut into the Braves' lead, or it could have been the death knell to their season. That second scenario looked more plausible when their loss in the first game of their doubleheader on a walk-off win by the Braves dropped the Reds 4½ back, especially since they failed to hold onto a 2-0 lead because Hank Aaron hit home runs in the 4th and 7th innings to tie the game, then doubled and scored the winning run on Joe Adcock's single in the 9th. 

In the second game, the Reds held a 5-2 lead in the 3rd when the Braves loaded the bases with nobody out in the last half of the inning. Due up next were Aaron and Eddie Mathews, followed by Adcock. Aaron had 23 home runs, including his two in the first game, 78 runs batted in, and was batting .327. Mathews had 37 homers and 86 RBIs, and had been red-hot since the end of July, having belted 15 round trippers and driven in 38 runs in 39 games since August 1. Adcock had 34 homers, 93 RBIs, and was batting .305.

Did I mention the bases were loaded and there were no outs? Even with a 3-run lead, Cincinnati manager Birdie Tebbetts had no choice but to remove starting pitcher Larry Jansen from the proceedings, because that 3-run lead was looking very precarious. And the reality was: if the Reds hung on to win, they'd be back to a manageable 3½ games behind. But should they lose, they would be 5½ back. That potential two-game swing in the standings could make all the difference going forward. A 3½-game deficit with just 23 games left to play after this one was not too large to overcome, but 5½ games behind just might be.

So, who was he gonna call? Hersh Freeman was the Reds' relief ace, but Tebbetts probably thought it was too early in the game to call on him. Freeman rarely came into games before the 7th inning, and just once as early as the 5th. Art Fowler had often come into games in the early and middle innings and was rested, having last pitched four days ago, 6 innings of shutout ball to get a win against the Giants. There were a few other options, too, but

—With the bases loaded, nobody out, Aaron and Mathews up next, Birdie Tebbetts wanted Brooks Lawrence, even though Lawrence had pitched a 9-inning complete-game victory just two days before. That was his 17th win of the year, but his first as a starting pitcher in more than a month (since July 29, to be precise).

In fact, Lawrence would not look back kindly on August 1956. He had won his first 13 decisions of the season, although four them were in games he came in to relieve. He ended the month of July on a high note with a complete-game victory in Pittsburgh in which he allowed just 4 hits. He was 15-2 at the time. His earned run average was 3.32. 

Then came August. Brooks Lawrence made 6 starts in August and lost them all. His earned run average for the month was a rather unsightly 5.89. Lawrence's one win was in relief, on August 9 against the Cubs; he entered a tie game in the top of the 9th with a runner at second and one out, retired Ernie Banks and Monte Irvin, pitched a scoreless 10th, and came out a winner on Gus Bell's walk-off homer. 

Two of Lawrence's August losses were against the Braves, the team out front in the National League. On August 12, pitching in Milwaukee where a victory would have cut the third-place Reds' deficit from two games behind to one, Lawrence gave up six runs before being sent to the showers in the third inning. Eight days after that, Lawrence gave up only 3 runs in 8 innings against the Braves, but was the losing pitcher because the Reds' offense was limited to a solo bottom-of-the-9th home run by Frank Robinson. All three runs Lawrence surrendered scored on homersa two-run shot by Mathews, who was due up after Aaron in our game in question, and a solo shot by Adcock, due up after Mathews.

Lawrence's most recent engagements with the Braves didn't matter to Tebbetts. Neither did his very bad month of August. What mattered was that the bases were loaded, there were no outs, the Reds' 3-run lead was in jeopardy, the Braves three most dangerous hitters were next up, a loss could be devastating to Cincinnati's pennant chances, AND Brooks Lawrence, for all his August struggles, was his best pitcher.

Brooks Lawrence retired Aaron on a short fly to left and got Mathews to hit into a double play. End of inning. He left the mound with the Reds' 5-2 lead intact. Then he pitched the remaining 6 innings of the game. He gave up 3 runs, but not until after Cincinnati had taken a 5-run lead. And he pitched those 7 innings against the Braves in a must-win game on just one day of rest after pitching a 9-inning complete game. Lawrence was now 18-8, and the Reds were back to 3½ games behind the Braves.

Their season rescued by Lawrence, the Reds won the next two games against the Braves and left Milwaukee in second place, 1½ games behind and half-a-game up on the Dodgers. As of that dateSeptember 5, 1956there were 134 games down for the Cincinnati Reds and 20 to go. 

Pitching on the three days of rest that were typical for pitching aces back then, and assuming he would get them after this intrepid performance, Brooks Lawrence could still to make as many as 6 starts in those 20 games, not taking into account the times his manager might want to use himas he did on September 3 in Milwaukeeto pitch critical innings as a reliever in a must-win game. 

Problem was, Lawrence had now pitched 204 innings, and there were still maybe those 6 starts and some relief appearances to go. The most major league innings he had pitched before this was 158 in his rookie season of 1954 with the Cardinals, a total he exceeded in the first week of August, explaining perhaps why August 1956 was not kind to Brooks Lawrence.