Wednesday, May 30, 2012

1955 World Series: Finally

The Teams
National League: Brooklyn Dodgers (98-55) - Ninth World Series
American League: New York Yankees (96-58) - 21st World Series (Won 16 previous times) 

What Happened
The story of the 1955 World Series started with the 1941 World Series. That was the first time the Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees in the World Series. That year started a pattern. Six times, the Dodgers topped the National League, and six times, they lost to the Yankees in the World Series. No matter how good the Dodgers were, no matter how ho-hum the Yankees were, the Yankees were always better when it counted.

There were other losses, of course. Losing the pennant to Philadelphia on the final day of the 1950 season. Losing to the Giants in the 1951 playoff. But the narrative always came back to Dodgers vs. Yankees. And the story always ended the same.

There wasn't much reason to believe that 1955 would be the proverbial Next Year for Brooklyn. That was supposed to be 1953, when the Dodgers tore through the National League, putting together one of the best seasons in that league's history. And still, they lost. In 1955, they were a little bit older, a little less skilled than they had been. Time was running out.

Robinson steals home in Game 1,
perhaps the defining moment of his career.
The series didn't start well for Brooklyn. Five home runs were hit in Game 1 - three by the Yankees. Jackie Robinson, the aging pride of the Dodgers, stole home with two outs in the eighth Game 1 and the Dodgers down 2, but it wasn't enough, as the Dodgers fell by 1. In Game 2, the Yankees got 5 singles in the fourth inning, giving them all four runs they needed to take a 2-0 lead to Brooklyn.

In the friendly confines of Ebbets Field, the Dodgers' mighty bats woke up. The Dodgers scored 8 runs in both games 3 and 4, with Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider all homering in Game 4. Snider hit two more bombs in Game 5, and Brooklyn took a 3-2 series lead back across the East River. They were one win away from finally breaking through. But the Dodgers were always one win away when it came to playing the Yankees. Whitey Ford made sure they had to wait, getting five first-inning runs to cruise to a complete-game Game 6 win.

So decades of frustration, six years of heartache against the Yankees, all came down to one game, played in historic Yankee Stadium, with a 22-year-old starter who had gone 9-10 during the regular season the man tasked with giving the Dodgers a championship. Here's the ball, Johnny Podres. Go win us a World Series.

And so he did.

Amoros makes the catch in Game 7.
Hodges got single runs batted in in the 4th and 6th innings, and Podres was cruising through five. In the sixth, the Dodgers started preparing for the end game, putting Sandy Amoros into the game for his defense, two batters later, there were two men on and nobody out when Yogi Berra sliced a ball deep to the left field corner. Amoros ran, and ran, and ran. And he caught it, the kind of catch that the Dodgers never used to make, the kind of catch that can win you a championship. Plus, he got the ball back in the infield in time to turn the double play.

The Yankees still had three more innings to try to catch up, and they mounted some threats, but the game was over after Amoros' catch. He had single-handedly saved Brooklyn. In the end, when the game was over and Brooklyn was finally World Champions, the heroes weren't one of the famous Boys of Summer, like Robinson or Snider or Hodges or Campanella or Reese. No, they were Amoros and Podres.

Defining Game
I have Game 7 ranked as the 13th best  Game 7 of all time. Try telling a Brooklyn fan it's anything but number 1. I've written about it before; see that post here. 

Snider could have been named MVP for his series-high four home runs and seven runs batted in. But the first official World Series MVP award was given to Podres, the 22-year-old kid who stared decades of disappointment in the face and laughed.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Brooklyn 528 8512
New York 643 5350

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

57. 1955 - Brooklyn (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
58. 1979 - Pittsburgh (N) def. Baltimore (A) 4-3
59. 1987 - Minnesota (A) def. St. Louis (N) 4-3
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis 4, Philadelphia 2
29. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0 
31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0

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