Hoping for “Old Times”
Before becoming a lifetime citizen of the Evil Empire I was, by birthright, a member of the Flatbush Faithful. If one was born in Brooklyn between 1895 and 1957 you were a fan of the Brooklyn (Trolley) Dodgers of the National League. A long suffering franchise, “dem Bums” didn’t make it to their first World Series until 1941 and only won one while in Brooklyn, in 1955. And that’s where my story begins.
I was in first grade at South Bay School in Babylon (on Long Island) in September of 1955 and was aware that my parents (both Brooklyn natives themselves) were extremely excited about the Dodgers making it to the World Series. In those days, of course, before big television money demanded all the games be played under the lights, the games were in the afternoon, usually starting around one or two p.m. My enduring memory of that World Series is coming home from school and seeing my mother standing in front of the (black and white) television set, ironing clothes. My mother, it should be noted, was not a big tv viewer and always ironed the clothes in our kitchen. So this was an extraordinary sight for this six year-old and it made clear that these Dodgers were very important! Johnny Podres, a left-handed rookie pitcher, became the star of the Series (and a particular hero in our household of Southpaws), winning two games (including Game 7) and was presented the first every World Series MVP Award, which included a red Chevrolet Corvette. By my next birthday, in May of 1956, I got my first left-handed baseball glove and thought the Dodgers would be my team forever, as they had been for my parents.
In earlier Blasts I have written about seeing my first baseball game at Ebbets Fields and then tragically watching the Dodgers pack up and leave Brooklyn. They have now been in Los Angeles for about the same amount of time they played in Brooklyn and they just won their 10th National League pennant (surpassing the 9 they won in Brooklyn) last night. And that’s why I’m writing this Blast. If the surging Baby Bombers that are this year’s edition of the New York Yankees should defeat the Houston Astros tonight or tomorrow night, we will have a New York Yankee-Los Angeles Dodger World Series! This would be a record 12th meeting between the two franchises (Yankees-Giants has occurred 7 times & Yankees-Cardinals 5 times) and I have to admit I can barely contain my excitement at the prospect.
The Yankee-Dodger World Series rivalry has been one of the most iconic in the history of baseball, starting with their first meeting in 1941. In the 4th game of that Series, with the Yankees leading two games to one, the Dodgers were one out away from taking Game Four when Brooklyn pitcher Hugh Casey threw a hard breaking curveball that Dodger catcher Mickey Owen couldn’t handle. The Yankee batter, Tommy Henrich struck out but reached first before Owen could recover the ball and the Yankees then proceeded to reel off a two-out rally that won the game and gave them a commanding 3 to 1 lead. Mickey Owen was infamous in Brooklyn lore from that day forward.
In 1947 the Dodgers almost pulled it out but dropped the 7th game. In another pivotal game 4, with the Yanks leading 2-1 again, the Dodgers hadn’t gotten a hit off Yankee starter Bill Bevens through 8 and one-third innings (although Bevens had walked 9, which explains the 2-1 score in the bottom of the 9th). Bevens walked Carl Furillo & his pinch runner, Al Gionfriddo, stole second, so the Yankees intentionally walked slugger Pete Reiser, bringing up the light hitting Eddie Stanky. Hometown favorite Cookie Lavagetto (please note all the Dodger names ending in vowels --- Branch Rickey knew his audience in Brooklyn) was sent up to hit for Stanky and promptly smacked a double, driving in the winning runs and getting the Dodgers even at 2-2. The other memorable play from the series was Gionfriddo’s great catch of a DiMaggio smash which led the Yankee Clipper to actually kick up some dirt as he approached second base, a rare display of emotion.
The Series in 1949, 1952, and 1953 were all Yankee victories, with only ’52 going to 7 games. After the 1955 Brooklyn win the Yankees came back to win in 1956 with Don Larsen’s perfect game highlighting the seven-game series. By 1963 the Yankees were starting to show their age and Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, and, yes, Johnny Podres, totally dominated the Pinstripes. Mickey Mantle only got 2 hits, Roger Maris was injured in game 2 and Maris & Yogi Berra only had 6 at bats in the Series. The Yanks made it back to the Fall Classic in 1964 (losing in 7 games to the Cardinals) but failed to appear again until 1976. The Dodgers returned in 1965 to win the Championship again for their 4th overall (and third in L.A.).
By the time the 1977 and 1978 Dodger-Yankee World Series rolled around I was an adult but still had my kid’s passion as a fan and loved every minute of both Series, particularly Reggie Jackson’s 3 home run game in 1977 and the fielding magic of Graig Nettles in 1978. In 1981 the Dodgers returned with rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela and, after losing the first two games in New York, won three consecutive one-run games back in Chavez Ravine. They then won game 6 in New York as Yankee reliever George Frazier suffered his third loss of the Series!
The Yankees, of course, truly became the Evil Empire during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s as the Steinbrenner juggernaut resurrected the old Yankee tradition of “Championship or Bust,” but never faced the Dodgers in all those (6) Fall Classic appearances. The Dodgers haven’t been in the Series since the Kirk Gibson “miracle” in 1988. "Fingers crossed" for the latest edition of the Evil Empire to prevail and bring back one of the greatest World Series rivalries of all time, 2017 style.
The Yankee-Houston game is on FS1 at 8:00 p.m. (EST) tonight.