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 time—when he was younger and a Giant—was a despised arch-enemy.
Final '56 Showdown, Braves at Dodgers
(60 Years Ago, September 11 & 12, 1956)
(60 Years Ago, September 11 & 12, 1956)
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 batters—a 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 1951—a 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 over—Milwaukee had won 12, Brooklyn 10—unless, 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" (: http://brysholm.blogspot.com/2015/07/60-years-ago-no-spahn-sighting-in.html