Monday, April 30, 2012

1954 World Series: Rhodes, ph

The Team
National League: New York Giants (97-57) - 13th World Series (Won in 1905, 1921, 1922, 1933)
American League: Cleveland Indians (111-43) - Third World Series (Won in 1920, 1948)

What Happened
There is a common phrase to describe a great baseball player: a "five-tool" player. What that means, simply, is that a player can run, field, throw, hit, and hit for power. Willie Mays was the perfect definition of the five-tool player, a player capable of affecting a game any number of ways. Dusty Rhodes, meanwhile, was a one-tool player. He could hit the ball a mile, but not much else. Five-tool players are hard to find; it's just as hard to find a one-tool player who sticks around the majors long enough to make a difference.

Mays and Rhodes were teammates for the 1954 Giants, with Mays playing nearly every game in center field, and Rhodes being used primarily as a pinch-hitter - when he was sober enough to be trusted at the plate. The powerful, 111-win Indians probably had pages and pages of scouting reports on how to try to stop Mays in the World Series; they likely didn't pay nearly enough attention to that Rhodes guy at the end of the bench.

Mays and Rhodes each played a major part in the Giants' stunning upset of Cleveland in the World Series, beginning with Game 1. With the game tied at 2 and two runners on base, Cleveland's Vic Wertz crushed the ball to the deepest part of center field. Wertz had already made a big impact on the game, sitting on a 3-for-3 day and having driven in the two Indian runs with a first-inning triple. This blast in the 8th was his farthest one yet. Unfortunately, the Polo Grounds had the deepest center field of its time, and the ball that would have been a home run in any other ballpark then standing ended up in Mays' glove.

Mays' back-to-the-infield, over-the-shoulder catch quickly became the most well-known defensive play in baseball history, the first truly great catch televised coast-to-coast. It forever became known as The Catch, and it saved the Giants. A ball that should have scored two runs, if not three, instead scored none, and when the Indians left the bases loaded that inning, the play looked even bigger.

But Mays wasn't done. With one out in the bottom of the 10th, he reached on a walk, then stole second to put himself in scoring position. After an intentional walk, Giants manager Leo Durocher summoned Rhodes from the end of the bench. Rhodes responded with a shallow popup to right field. But it was enough. See, although the Polo Grounds had the deepest center field in the game, it also had the shallowest measurements down the lines in the outfield. So while Wertz's great drive became The Catch, Rhodes' shallow popup became a game-winning three-run home run.

Rhodes and Mays weren't done, either. With the Giants trailing Game 2 1-0 in the fifth, Mays again drew a walk. Two batters later, Rhodes again was summoned to pinch hit, and he delivered again, driving in Mays with a single to tie the game. The Giants took the lead later that inning, and then Rhodes' seventh-inning home run clinched the game, letting New York go to Cleveland with a stunning 2-0 series lead.

The Indians won 111 games during the regular season, then an American League record. But after the two devastating losses in New York, they were cooked. In Game 3, Mays drove in a run in the first, and Rhodes drove in two more with yet another pinch hit in the third, leaving him with a perfect batting average for the series. Cleveland had had enough, and they intentionally walked him in his next at bat. By the time they finally got Rhodes out, on a seventh-inning strikeout, they were down 6-0 and the series was essentially over. A 6-2 Giant win was followed by a 7-3 win in Game 4, completing the most surprising sweep in World Series history.

Defining Game
Game 1 was one of the quirkiest games in World Series history, starring the stadium with the strangest dimensions and two players on opposite ends of baseball's historical spectrum. Rather than rehash what I've written here or elsewhere, I'll instead link to my previous post about that game.

This was the last year with no official World Series MVP, but Dusty Rhodes won the unofficial MVP that was handed out that year. It may seem a bit odd to give the award to someone who was only a pinch hitter, but with four game- and series-changing hits in the first three games, his selection was really a no-doubter.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Cleveland 2 123
New York 5 (10) 36 7

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

67. 1954 - New York (N) def. Cleveland (A) 4-0
68. 1978 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
69. 2006 - St. Louis (N) def. Detroit (A) 4-1
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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