Monthly Archives: April 2016

The magnificent seventh

After a disastrous fourth-quarter collapse in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Playoffs, the Indiana Pacers rebounded (no pun intended) to force a seventh game against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors won eleven more games than the Pacers did, but there’s something about this Pacers team that you can’t help but like. Frustratingly, the series would be over if the Pacers hadn’t collapsed in Game 5, but I’ve seen Pacers teams collapse and throw the next game away, too. They are staying the course as well as they can. The common knock on them is that aside from Paul George, they’re just a “team of sixth men,” which means that none of them would be starting on any other team. I wonder if perhaps this plays into their fire – they don’t necessarily shoot the ball well, which could hurt them heading back to Toronto, but they also defend the ball well. I don’t know the numbers, and they’re kind of complicated to explain, but it is what it is.

This will be the eighth time that the Pacers have played in a seventh game. The previous records are as follows:

Lost 4-3 against New York Knicks, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals
Won 4-3 against New York Knicks, 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals
Lost 4-3 against Orlando Magic, 1995 Eastern Conference Finals
Lost 4-3 against Chicago Bulls, 1998 Eastern Conference Finals
Won 4-3 against Boston Celtics, 2005 Eastern Conference First Round
Lost 4-3 against Miami Heat, 2013 Eastern Conference Finals
Won 4-3 against Atlanta Hawks, 2014 Eastern Conference First Round

They don’t necessarily have that “clutch” factor that could have propelled them to the Finals, but take this into account – only one of those seventh games has been played at home, the most recent one against the Hawks in 2014. Yes, they almost collapsed as a #1 seed, but remember, the Hawks made the conference finals one year later. So, yes, it would be fair to label them as not being able to get it done in the clutch. They’ve only made the NBA Finals once, in 2000, which Reggie Miller and crew lost 4-2 to the Los Angeles Lakers. But even in that final, the Pacers didn’t roll over and die. They were a missed three-pointer away from being ahead 3-2 in games going back to Los Angeles, instead of down 3-2. And in the clincher, they did lead going into the fourth quarter. I wonder if perhaps being the road team tends to handcuff them. There were a few they should have won but didn’t. Hopefully, it can happen soon. Even if they don’t win, they never make it easy on teams. They’re the gritty opponent – they make you earn every inch. I’d like to see the Pacers earn that final inch on Sunday.

They say that in 49 other states, it’s just basketball. Basketball is said to be to Indiana what football is to Texas or hockey to Minnesota. Obviously, you’d love to win every series you can try. But I disagree with the notion that you don’t get points for trying. I’d love it if the Pacers could win the series, but against the Raptors, the number two seed to the Pacers seventh seed, it might be asking a little too much. Still, as recently as 2010, a seventh seed has beaten a two (the Spurs over the Mavericks). I’m not asking to win the NBA Finals, or even the series. Just put on a great effort, and look toward next year. There’s a lot to be proud of. And you can perhaps use it as a stepping stone for better things. So, no, you’re not going home with accolades, just going home. But is that always as bad as people make it out to be? Sometimes, what you take with you is knowledge, a better understanding of weaknesses. You then are able to turn them into strengths.

And here’s the thing: the Raptors are beatable. From what I’ve seen of them, I’m not entirely impressed. In each of the last two years, the Raptors came into the playoffs as the higher seed and lost both times. Is the third time a charm for the Raptors, or can my team, the Pacers, add to their playoff nightmares? Game 7 is scheduled for 8:00 PM on Sunday, May 1. Many Raptors fans talked about how they hoped it wouldn’t be an early afternoon game – spoiler alert, the Raptors don’t do well then – but primetime might favor both teams. And at the very least, it’s the ending this series deserves. This is the first playoff series between these two teams, so there are no ghosts to be chased here. This just comes to who can get the lucky breaks and hard work for 48 minutes. If it’s not my guys, I at least want to say thank you for taking it as far as you can take it. But if we do win, it would show that the Pacers can move beyond certain labels: chokers, a team of sixth men, boring to watch.

The seventh game is just something you do. Here’s hoping for a good game, from the seventh seed – maybe they can become the magnificent seventh.


The most frequent World Series matchups

So, you all know how I’m doing my World Series project. Here’s a little offshoot of that, the most frequently played World Series. Please note that these re not necessarily the greatest rivalries, just the ones that have been played the most frequently. There have been ten with two, so those won’t be featured so much, but I will mention those. There have been nine with at least three, so I’ll focus more on those. I’ll go by most recent chronological matchup for a lot of these, and will list teams alphabetically by team name for convenience.

1. Dodgers vs. Yankees
Meetings: 11
First Meeting: 1941
Most Recent Meeting: 1981
Head-to-Head Record: Yankees 8 (1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1977, 1978); Dodgers 3 (1955, 1963, 1981).
7-Game Series: 4 (1947, 1952, 1955, 1956)

This is the classic World Series rivalry. It’s a shame we haven’t had a meeting in over 30 years. You might think that the Yankees have dominated the Dodgers, both in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, since the beginning. But this isn’t necessarily true – although the Dodgers have had their heart broken against the Bronx Bombers, they’ve always played each other reasonably well. Eight of those eleven head-to-head matchups have gone to at least six games, and four of them have gone to seven games – 1947, 1952, 1955, and 1956. The Dodgers finally broke through against the Yankees in the hallowed Stadium – it was finally “next year.” There are so many amazing moments: the Mickey Owen dropped third strike; Cookie Lavagetto and Al Gionfriddo pulling off heroics; Billy Martin’s catch; the next year, Martin hits a single to win the Series in six; the Dodgers break through; Don Larsen’s perfect game; Sandy Koufax’s 15-strikeout game; Reggie Jackson becoming Mr. October. We need to have this rivalry come back. I’m not a Yankees fan, but it’s better for baseball that way.

2. Giants vs. Yankees
Meetings: 7
First Meeting: 1921
Most Recent Meeting: 1962
Head-t0-Head Record: Yankees 5 (1923, 1936, 1937, 1951, 1962); Giants 2 (1921, 1922)
7-Game Series: 1 (1962)

The Yankees have had better success since 1922, and this wasn’t ever really that close as you would think. The Giants took the first two meetings, in Babe Ruth’s first two appearances with the Yankees, but the Yankees have won all five meetings ever since. Still, there have been some moments, particularly in their two most recent – the Yankees beat the Giants after the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and had a famous 1962 World Series, where Willie McCovey came within inches of giving the Giants the championship, losing 1-0 in Game 7. Not as great as the rivalry with the Dodgers, but this does go back further.

3. Cardinals vs. Yankees
Meetings: 5
First Meeting: 1926
Most Recent Meeting: 1964
Head-to-Head Record: Cardinals 3 (1926, 1942, 1964); Yankees 2 (1928, 1943)
7-Game Series: 2 (1926, 1964)

Here’s a fun fact: The Cardinals are the only team to have a winning record in the World Series against the Yankees. They first met in 1926, when Rogers Hornsby famously summoned in Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game 7, striking out Tony Lazzeri to keep the Cardinals ahead. The 1928 Series was a sweep, and the next two weren’t all that great either, but the 1964 World Series, the most recent one, saw the curtain call for the last great team of the original Yankee dynasty. Although the Yankees scored more runs, the Cardinals had Bob Gibson on the mound. And Mickey Mantle had his last moment in the sun, hitting a walk-off home run against Barney Schultz in Game 3. It was Mantle’s last World Series, and the Yankees wouldn’t win another pennant until 1976.

4. Cardinals vs. Red Sox 
Meetings: 4
First Meeting: 1946
Most Recent Meeting: 2013
Head-to-Head Meetings: Cardinals 2 (1946, 1967); Red Sox 2 (2004, 2013)
7-Game Series: 2 (1946, 1967)

This is a better rivalry than people have given it credit for. It’s Gibson vs. Yaz, Enos Slaughter’s Mad Dash, several great series, and the Red Sox finally breaking through in 2004. Yes, it was a sweep, and the Cardinals under-performed, but they did win 105 games that year. And in 2013, when the “Boston Strong” Red Sox clinched for the first time at home since 1918, it showed that the rivalry could be great for years to come. The Cardinals have won both seven-game series, but the Red Sox have always played the Cardinals well in the Series, and have in fact won more games in the World Series (14 to 10).

5. Braves vs. Yankees
Meetings: 4
First Meeting: 1957
Most Recent Meeting: 1999
Head-to-Head Meetings: Yankees 3 (1958, 1996, 1999); Braves 1 (1957)
7-Game Series: 2 (1957, 1958)

The Braves won the first meeting, when they were still in Milwaukee, with Lew Burdette winning three games, and giving Hank Aaron his only title. The following year was Casey Stengel’s last championship, and the Yankees became the second team to rally from 3-1 down to win the series. After the Braves moved to Atlanta, the Yankees won their first title since 1978, and began their own dynasty again. The Braves won the first two, and had three Hall of Fame pitchers, but after the clutch Game 4 plays (Jim Leyritz hitting a home run and Wade Boggs drawing a clutch walk off of Steve Avery), the momentum had switched to the Yankees. 1999 was a dud, because the Braves were probably exhausted from their NLCS matchup with the Mets. Both teams were in the playoffs for several years after that, but haven’t met up since.

6. Athletics vs. Giants 
Meetings: 4
First Meeting: 1905
Most Recent Meeting:1989
Head-to-Head Meetings: Athletics 3 (1911, 1913, 1989); Giants 1 (1905)
7-Game Series: 0

People forget about this one, because it extends back to before most of us were born. And quite honestly, none of these Series were particularly good. Yes, Christy Mathewson had three shutouts in five days, but he was so dominant that it didn’t matter all that much. And their most recent matchup in ’89 was disrupted by the earthquake in the Bay Area. And the A’s won in a sweep, so it was a dull World Series. This is what I mean when I say it’s not about the greatest, but the most frequent.

7. Cubs vs. Tigers 
Meetings: 4
First Meeting: 1907
Most Recent Meeting: 1945
Head-to-Head Meetings: Cubs 2 (1907, 1908); Tigers 2 (1935, 1945)
7-Game Series: 1 (1945)

This one hasn’t been played for a while, but was one of the better rivalries for the first fifty years in the World Series. Had the Cubs held on to beat the Padres in 1984, we would have had a fifth head-to-head matchup. It’s likely the Tigers would have won the Series, but you never know. The Cubs won their first two – and only two, as of 2015- World Series titles against Ty Cobb and his Tigers, but Detroit won their first two against the Cubs, including the disastrous 1945 Game 7, which is the last World Series game played at Wrigley Field. This is a rivalry that probably needs to come back, if for no other reason than it might be what the Cubs need to overcome their losing streak.

8. Cardinals vs. Tigers 
Meetings: 3
First Meeting: 1934
Most Recent Meeting: 2006
Head-to-Head Meetings: Cardinals 2 (1934, 2006); Tigers 1 (1968)
7-Game Series: 2 (1934, 1968)

Even though these Series date us a little bit, there are still some iconic moments: the Gashouse Gang Cardinals, the Year of the Pitcher with McLain and Gibson facing off; Gibson’s 17-strikeout performance in 1968 Game 1, still a record; and the Cardinals winning their tenth title in 2006, the only team besides the Yankees to reach double digits They also did it with 83 wins, the worst record for a World Series-winning team. Geographically, it doesn’t get the respect it deserves because of the Midwestern roots, but for others, myself included, it makes it great that way.

9. Reds vs. Yankees 
Meetings: 3
First Meeting: 1939
Most Recent Meeting: 1976
Head-to-Head Meetings: Yankees 2 (1939, 1961); Reds 1 (1976)
7-Game Series: 0

I’m kind of glad this one is listed last, because none of those series have been close – the Yankees swept the Reds in 1939, and the Reds returned the favor in 1976, the last great moment for the Big Red Machine. (T0 be fair, the Reds did become the most recent National League team to go back-to-back, and only the third NL team to do so).  Although Maris and Mantle had the home run race in ’61, it was really no contest in the Series, with the Yankees winning 4-1 over Frank Robinson and the star-crossed Reds. So, the history doesn’t have the same ring that the other ones do.

The other ten (2 matchups) 

1. Phillies vs. Yankees (1950, 2009) – Yankees 2, Phillies 0
2. Braves vs. Indians (1948, 1995) – Braves 1, Indians 1
3. Athletics vs. Reds (1972, 1990) – A’s 1, Reds 1
4. Athletics vs. Dodgers (1974, 1989) – A’s 1, Dodgers 1
5. Orioles vs. Pirates (1971, 1979) – Pirates 2, Orioles 0
6. Pirates vs. Yankees (1927, 1960) – Yankees 1, Pirates 1
7. Cubs vs. Yankees (1932, 1938) – Yankees 2, Cubs 0
8. Giants vs. Senators (1924, 1933) – Senators 1, Giants 1
9. Athletics vs. Cardinals (1930, 1931) – A’s 1, Cardinals 1
10. Athletics vs. Cubs (1910, 1929) – A’s 2, Cubs 0

All other matchups have occurred once. So in total, we’ve had 113 World Series played, and only 19 have had multiple matchups, only 17%. We’ll see when – and if – new series are added, and new rivalries are created.

MLB opening month storylines

So, here are some things we’ve seen from the opening month of the 2016 Major League Baseball season:

-Chris Colabello and Dee Gordon have each received 80-game suspensions for a positive PED test.

-Jake Arrieta of the Cubs pitched his second career no-hitter, and had a streak of 52 2/3 innings of shutout ball snapped last night.

-Speaking of the Cubs, they have the best record in the Major Leagues.

-The other Chicago team, the White Sox, have done just fine so far on their own. In fact, if we broke it down, both the Cubs and White Sox would have the best record in each league. If we go by pre-1969 format, we’d have another Subway Series.

-Don’t sleep on the NL West. That Giants-Dodgers rivalry seems to be a great one right now.

-David Price has a 3-0 record for the Red Sox, and their pitching is improved, but there’s still something lacking. It’s getting better, but hopefully a little faster this time. And Rick Porcello is 4-0.

-The Nationals and Mets are engaging in a two-team race in the NL East. The Phillies have a 12-10 record, which is much better than anybody expected.

-Although they won last night, the Braves are undoubtedly the worst team in the Majors. Not only do they have the worst record, but they’re not interesting to watch. They lost their first nine games, and then lost eight straight before winning last night.

-So far, looks like a great season.

-Today is the 30-year anniversary of the Roger Clemens 20-strikeout game.

Postseason picture (as of April 29, 2016)
American League
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Baltimore Orioles
3. Texas Rangers

Wild Card: Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox

National League
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Washington Nationals
3. Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants

Wild Card: New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates

1952 World Series: Be-Kuzava you

The 1952 World Series was the fiftieth year overall (and forty-ninth played) of the modern World Series, which began in 1903. The Yankees, fresh off of a three-peat, were aiming to extend their World Series. For their opponents, the Brooklyn Dodgers, they were hoping next year was here.

(Photo courtesy of

1952 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over Brooklyn Dodgers (NL), 4-3 

Managers: Casey Stengel (New York); Chuck Dressen (Brooklyn) 

Hall of Famers
New York: George Weiss (executive), Casey Stengel (manager), Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto 
Brooklyn: Walter O’Malley (executive), Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider.

The Dodgers came into the World Series finally convinced this was “next year.” Led by Chuck Dressen, they rallied to win the pennant by 4.5 games over the Giants. They led the league in runs, home runs, and stolen bases. Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and George “Shotgun” Shuba each hit .300, and were led by Joe Black and Don Newcombe on the mound.

The Yankees won their fourth straight pennant, despite losing Joe DiMaggio to retirement and Bobby Brown to the Korean War. The Ol’ Perfessor still had the services of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and pitchers Allie Reynolds, Vic Raschi, and Eddie Lopat.

The first game matched Black against Reynolds in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. An early home run by Jackie Robinson in the second inning staked the Dodgers to an early lead. It could have been more after Roy Campanella singled, but he was caught stealing second base. The Yankees tied it one inning later on a solo home run by Gil McDougald. But Black settled down after that, striking out the side in the third. Another caught stealing attempt doomed the Dodgers in their half. Phil Rizzuto and Mickey Mantle singled, but Black pitched around the jam in the fourth. The Yankees made a baserunning blunder of their own; McDougald walked, and future Yankees manager Billy Martin singled, but left fielder Andy Pafko nailed McDougald at third. Finally, the Dodgers broke through with a two-run home run in the sixth inning. It was 3-1 Dodgers. The Yankees got to within 3-2 when Gene Woodling led off with a triple and Hank Bauer hit a sacrifice fly. But with two outs, Black struck out Mantle to end the inning. A solo home run by Pee Wee Reese gave the Dodgers an insurance run. Black struck out Irv Noren to end the game, and the Dodgers won the first game, 4-2.

The Yankees struck back in Game 2, winning 7-1. The Dodgers loaded the bases in the second on three walks, but couldn’t score against Vic Raschi. Pitcher Carl Erskine, “Oisk” to the fans in Brooklynese, flied out to end the inning, and the Dodgers had blown their chance. It would pay off for them in the third, though. Snider singled, and Reese hit a bunt single of his own, and after a force out, Roy Campanella drove in Reese. The Dodgers had a 1-0 lead, but wouldn’t score again. The Yankees tied in the fourth on a Berra sac fly, and took the lead in the fifth on Billy Martin’s single, and ran themselves out of further runs later in the inning. Mantle led off the sixth with a bunt single, and Woodling singled to send Mantle to second. A wild pitch and walk loaded the bases with nobody out. Billy Loes came in to replace Erskine, and got a fielder’s choice that scored a run. It would have been a double play, but Gil Hodges dropped the throw and Joe Collins was safe at first. After a bunt single drove in another run, Billy Martin followed with a three-run homer to make it 7-1. Neither team scored again and the Yankees evened the series, with Raschi striking out Carl Furillo.

Switching for three games to Yankee Stadium, it would be the Yankees who scored first off of Preacher Roe. Two walks, one intentional, allowed pitcher Eddie Lopat to drive in a run. But the Dodgers tied it on a Jackie Robinson sac fly. The Yankees had the bases loaded in the fourth but a force out to Rizzuto got Roe out of it. Pee Wee Reese singled in a run to make it 2-1 in the fifth. The Dodgers could have broken it open in the eighth, but could only manage one run on a sac fly by Andy Pafko. The Yankees would get back to 3-2 on a Berra home run in the eighth, who had made an error in the top of the seventh. With Pafko up in the top of the ninth, a passed ball scored both Reese and Robinson. Those runs would be needed, as Johnny “Big Cat” Mize hit a solo home run in the bottom of the ninth. A 5-3 win gave the Dodgers a 2-1 series lead.

Game 4 saw Reynolds and Black face off again, and this time, Reynolds came through, winning 2-0. A solo home run by Mize and a triple and fielding error gave the Yankees the cushion. The Dodgers had rallies in the first and fifth, but didn’t score either time. Andy Pafko was caught trying to steal home, and the Dodgers never really threatened after that.

Game 5 went into extra innings, with the Dodgers prevailing 6-5. Brooklyn scored first, when Pafko drove in Jackie Robinson. A force out at home plate later in the inning prevented another run from scoring, and extra innings may not have been needed. The Dodgers led 4-0 after a Hodges sac fly and a two-run home by Snider, both in the top of the fifth. But the Yankees rallied back to take the lead in the bottom half. Pinch-hitting for pitcher Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell, Irv Noren ignited a five-run rally, capped off by a three-run homer by Mize, his third of the Series. The Dodgers rallied in the seventh when Snider drove in Billy Cox. Erskine would pitch all eleven innings, and his boys won the game when Billy Cox got his third hit of the game, and Snider drove him in two batters later. Facing three future Hall of Famers – Mantle, Mize, and Berra – Erskine set them down in order, and the Dodgers needed only one more victory headed back to Brooklyn. They were on the cusp of next year.

Heading back to Ebbets Field, the Yankees showed their resolve. Dressen switched the lineup around, leaving Pafko out and pushing Campanella and Hodges down in the order. It was scoreless until the bottom of the sixth, when Snider homered. Brooklyn was up 1-0 and only nine outs away. But Loes couldn’t hold it, giving up a leadoff homer to Berra in the seventh, and Vic Raschi drove in a second run later in the inning. Mantle’s home run in the eighth gave them insurance, especially after Snider’s second home run in the game. With the tying run on base in the ninth, Billy Cox couldn’t replicate his heroics, grounding out. The Yankees won, 3-2, and forced a seventh game at Ebbets Field.

It would be Reynolds versus Black in the deciding game. Brooklyn had chances to score in each of the first two innings, but couldn’t come through, and would later pay a price for not doing so. Mize got the Yankees on the board first when he singled home Rizzuto in the fourth inning. Hodges tied the game with a fly ball. A Gene Woodling home run made it 2-1 Yankees, but Reese drove in Cox to tie it at 2-2. The Dodgers would rue their missed chances, as Mantle hit a solo home run that proved to be the winning run. He added insult to injury by driving in a run with a single one inning later.

The Dodgers came alive in the bottom of the seventh. They loaded the bases with one out, and Vic Raschi was relieved by Bob Kuzava. Duke Snider popped up, bringing up Jackie Robinson with two out. He hit a pop-up, that looked like it would fall in. They would get at least one run, perhaps tie the game. But Billy Martin hustled in and made a catch at the last possible second, getting the Yankees out of the inning. The Dodgers were deflated, and never got back in it. Reese flied out to end the game, and Kuzava had held his nerve. The Yankees had won their fourth consecutive World Series, matching the 1936-39 Yankees. The Dodgers were still ruefully waiting for “next year.” They would get another chance the following year.

Fun Facts
Billy Loes once bobbled a ground ball hit back to him. He claimed, “I lost it in the sun.”

Preacher Roe was known for throwing spitballs, or at the very least, would cut baseballs with his wedding ring.

Dwight D. Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson to win the presidency.

The Braves played in their final season in Boston. For the first time in 50 years, a team would relocate, and the Braves went to Milwaukee in 1953. This would ironically and tragically set a precedent for the Dodgers and Giants several years later.

It was a great seven-game series. The Yankees held on – again – but it was clear the Dodgers were getting closer. If only they could have converted on more chances in Game 7.

References and Sources 
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Reference
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns 
When It Was a Game (HBO Sports)
The Seventh Game (Barry Levenson)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….Walter O’Malley (ESPN Classic)

The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….The Chicago Cubs for trading Lou Brock

We’re counting down the top 5 reasons you can’t blame the Chicago Cubs for trading Lou Brock.

The setup
After three seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Lou Brock was struggling to adjust to the left field position. He wasn’t hitting, and the sun of Wrigley Field would often get in his eyes, so he had defensive deficiencies as well. No tears were shed when the Cubs traded Brock to their rival St. Louis Cardinals for right-handed pitcher Ernie Broglio on June 15, 1964. At first, many people thought this was the pitcher that would finally push the Cubs over the top. As it turned out, the Cubs had received damaged goods. Broglio was out of the game two years later and never pitched again, while Brock helped lead the 1964 Cardinals to an upset victory in the World Series over the Yankees. Brock won two World Series with the Cardinals (1964, 1967) and a third NL pennant (1968), finished with 3,023 hits and broke Ty Cobb’s record for stolen bases in a career, finishing with 938 in total (Rickey Henderson has since passed him). To gift-wrap a Hall of Famer is seen as yet another mistake from the Cubs organization.

Here’s why the Chicago Cubs are not to blame for trading Lou Brock.

Best of the Rest. 
A. Bing Devine. 
The Cardinals GM was asked to specifically seek Brock at the behest of manager Johnny Keane. Keane wanted more speed, and gave Brock a green light to basically run whenever he wanted to, and it paid dividends.

B. The Phillie Phold. 
Yes, the Cardinals won the World Series. But if the Philadelphia Phillies hadn’t collapsed during the final two weeks of the season, perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as it was in Chicago.

Top 5. 
5. The Decade of the Pitcher.
With offenses down to lows not seen in about fifty years, the 1960s was known as the “Decade of the Pitcher.” For much of the rest of the decade, the teams that won the World Series relied around one or two dominant pitchers – Bob Gibson with the Cardinals, Jim Palmer with the Orioles, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale with the Dodgers, Denny McLain with the Tigers, etc. Brock wasn’t hitting, but who really was in that decade?

4. Ernie Broglio. 
Sometimes, trades turn out well for both teams. This wasn’t one of them. Broglio had won 21 games in 1961, and 18 in 1963, but for the former season, he was known for taking at least sixty shots of Cortisone that year. Arm injuries hurt his career just two years later, and incidentally enough, the Cubs did get Ferguson Jenkins that year, so they did get the right pitcher, it just took two years.

3. Buck O’Neil.
Known for his joy of playing, O’Neil convinced Brock to stay the course in college. Brock was reluctant to play baseball, and in his first year at Southern University, hit under .200. But O’Neil took Brock under his wing, and convinced the Cubs to take him. Without O’Neil, who knows if Brock even gets to the majors.

2. Brock wasn’t that good. 
The trade originally favored the Cubs by a wide margin. Brock eventually became a Hall of Fame player, but it took the trade to make him that great. There was no bad reason to trade Brock at the time. He couldn’t hit for power or average, and because there were no lights in Wrigley Field at the time, all games were played in the sun. The Chicago sun cost him numerous fly balls, and he had a supreme lack of confidence. Brock wasn’t good in Chicago, so it wasn’t that big of a mistake to trade him at the time.

1. The College of Coaches. 
Although it had largely been phased out by 1964, Brock’s first two years (1961-62) in Chicago were played under the controversial system known as the “College of Coaches.” Phil Wrigley rotated managers numerous times throughout the season, and the practice continued unofficially until 1965. Without any coach in a defined role to guide Brock to his style, Brock never had a chance. With so many men sharing so many different styles, Brock would be asked to do it one way one week, then another way the next week. So, don’t blame the Cubs for trading Brock – but you can and should blame them for never developing him properly.

1951 World Series: The art of fiction

Sorry for being away for so long.

The 1951 World Series was the forty-ninth year overall and forty-eighth played of the modern World Series, which began in 1903. It wasn’t a terrible Series, but it paled in comparison to the lead up to it.

(The 1951 World Series program – photo courtesy of

1951 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over New York Giants (NL), 4-2 

Managers: Casey Stengel (Yankees); Leo Durocher (Giants) 

Hall of Famers 
Yankees: George Weiss (executive), Casey Stengel (manager), Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto 
Giants: Leo Durocher (manager), Monte Irvin, Willie Mays 
Umpires: Al Barlick 

In a certain sense, the National League pennant race was the “real” World Series that year. The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, old arch-rivals, were locked in neck-and-neck coming into the final week of the season. Led by Chuck Dressen, the Dodgers had been leading by 13.5 games in August, but slowly began to fall apart, while the Giants won 37 of their final 44 games. They were led by former Dodger manager Leo Durocher, and had a future Hall of Famer as a rookie – Willie Mays. Many believe that Mays is the greatest all-around ballplayer of all time. This first year, he would hit .276.

The two teams finished tied at the end of the season – there would be a three-game playoff. A coin flip was used to determine who would get home-field advantage. The Dodgers won the toss, but shockingly decided to open at home and play the final two games in the Giants home of the Polo Grounds. The Giants won the opening game at Ebbets Field, 3-1. Bobby Thomson hit a home run against pitcher Ralph Branca. The Dodgers took the second one at the Polo Grounds, setting up a decisive clash for the NL pennant. Sal Maglie of the Giants faced off with Don Newcombe of the Dodgers, and Jackie Robinson drove in Pee Wee Reese in the first inning. The Giants tied the game at one when Thomson hit a sacrifice fly off of Newcombe. Brooklyn rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth, including a ball that ricocheted off of Thomson’s glove at third base. Newcombe was handed a three-run lead with three outs to go, but his arm was tired. He told Jackie Robinson that he was having trouble. Robinson told him, “Keep pitching until your arm falls off!”

Alvin Dark led off the ninth with a single. For whatever reason, the Dodgers made a huge defensive blunder – first baseman Gil Hodges held Dark close to the bag. Don Mueller followed with a a single, inches past a diving Hodges at first base. Had Hodges been off the bag, there likely would have been a double play. This took on extra importance because Monte Irvin popped up on the next at-bat. The Dodgers could have won the pennant right then and there. As it was, the Giants were still alive. Whitey Lockman doubled, scoring Dark and sending Mueller to third. Sliding hard into the bag, Mueller had to leave the game with a broken ankle. Clint Hartung was sent in to pinch-run for him. Up came Bobby Thomson. At long last, Dressen went to the bullpen. Warming up in the bullpen were Carl Erskine and Ralph Branca. Erskine would have better to face Thomson, but he had bounced his final warm-up pitch in the dirt, something he would do regularly with catcher Roy Campanella. Unfortunately, “Campy” wasn’t available for this game with an injury, and Rube Walker was taking over that day. Dressen signaled for Branca.

Branca got a strike on Thomson. From the broadcast booth, broadcaster Russ Hodges described what happened next:

Branca throws . . . There’s a long drive . . . It’s gonna be, I believe . . . The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the lower deck of the left field stands! The Giants win the pennant and they’re going crazy . . . They’re going crazy! Whoa-oh! I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I do not believe it!”

I can’t do the call justice, so here’s the actual call of it:

The Giants had shockingly won the pennant. But rumors later came out – and were proven true – that the Giants had cheated. Stealing signs from the dugout is considered okay, but the Giants were doing it from deep in the bullpen in center field. Backup catcher Sal Yvars was the one who usually made the signal. Nevertheless, it would be a Subway Series again, and Branca was vilified as the goat. Thomson’s home run became known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and the lesser-known “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff.”

This post’s title comes from Red Smith’s opening in the next day’s papers at the New York Herald-Tribune: “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.”

Given the buildup surrounding the NL pennant race, it’s a little easy to see why the Yankees weren’t the story this year (I’ve already written 800 words and haven’t talked about the Series yet). They won their third straight pennant, in what would prove to be Joe DiMaggio’s final season. They had a rookie of their own waiting in the wings – Mickey Mantle. The coal miner’s son from Oklahoma burst in during the 1951 season and would quickly become a terrific player in his own right, challenging Mays and Duke Snider for the title of the best center fielder in New York in the 1950s.

The Series opened at Yankee Stadium. Playing off of their momentum of Thomson’s home run, scoring twice in the first inning when Whitey Lockman doubled in a run and Monte Irvin later stole home. The Yankees got back to within 2-1 when Jerry Coleman singled in Gil McDougald in the bottom of the second. The Yankees loaded the bases later in the inning, but Dave Koslo snuffed them out, and wouldn’t allow any more runs. Alvin Dark finished the scoring with a three-run home run, giving the Giants a 5-1 victory. Allie Reynolds had been shockingly beaten.

But the Yankees were still the Yankees. Eddie Lopat would pitch the Yankees to a 3-1 victory over Larry Jansen, the winner pitcher when Thomson’s home run was hit. Jansen had won 23 games, but single runs in the first two innings, including a solo home run from Yankee first baseman Joe Collins, gave Lopat an edge he wouldn’t surrender. After allowing the Giants to within 2-1, Lopat drove in a run to give the Yankees their margin of victory. A sad moment occurred in the fifth inning. Mays hit a fly ball to right center. DiMaggio and Mantle both approached the ball. DiMaggio called for it, and Mantle prepared to back off. But as he did, he lost his footing, catching his cleat in a drain pipe cover, wrenching his knee in the process. (For what it’s worth, DiMaggio did catch the ball.) He was done for the rest of the Series. Various stories have Mantle never forgiving DiMaggio for that incident.

The Giants took a 2-1 Series lead with a 6-2 victory at the Polo Grounds. Willie Mays drove in Thomson with a single in the first. The big blow came in the bottom of the fifth – Alvin Dark drove in Eddie Stanky (one of the players who initially refused to play with Jackie Robinson on the Dodgers), and later in the inning, Whitey Lockman hit a three-run homer. Because Yogi Berra had dropped the ball on the previous at-bat, allowing a run to score, all three runs were unearned. The Yankees would rally in the last two innings – a bases loaded walk got them on the board, and Gene Woodling hit a solo home run to end the scoring.

By the same score, the Yankees evened the Series. The Giants scored first on a Monte Irvin single in the first inning, but Joe Collins tied it one inning later. After Allie Reynolds drove in a run in the fourth, Joe DiMaggio made it 4-1 with a two-run home run in the fifth. The Yankees got two more runs on a botched pickoff play and a single by Gil McDougald. Reynolds allowed only one more run in the ninth, when Bobby Thomson drove in Hank Thompson (no relation – notice the spelling). It was tied in games, two each.

The Yankees showed their mettle in Game 5, winning 13-1. Once again, the Giants scored first, on a Monte Irvin sacrifice fly. But the Yankees broke it open, scoring five runs in the top of the third. DiMaggio singled in a run and advanced one base on an error. Johnny Mize was intentionally walked, and then McDougald followed with a grand slam. In the top of the seventh, DiMaggio got his final career hit, a two-run double making it 13-1. Hank Bauer hit a ground ball, and DiMaggio was forced out at third base.

Heading back to Yankee Stadium for Game 6, the Yankees looked to close in on their third straight championship. Gil McDougald got the scoring started for the Yankees with a first-inning sacrifice fly. The Giants tied it the same way in the fifth, with Stanky sacrificing in Mays. The big blow came in the bottom of the sixth. After Berra singled, DiMaggio was walked intentionally. Johnny Mize walked later in the inning, and Hank Bauer cleared the bases with a triple. All three runs scored, and it was 4-1 Yankees. The Giants had the tying run at the plate with nobody out in the seventh, but couldn’t score off of Vic Raschi. In the eighth, the Giants loaded the bases again, but still couldn’t come through. There could have been a Game 7 with less blown chances. With three outs to go, the Giants mounted one final rally. Three straight singles loaded the bases. Consecutive sacrifice flies brought the Giants to within a run at 4-3. It was up to Sal Yvars against Bob Kuzava. With the tying run on second base, Yvars lofted a fly ball to right, which Bauer caught. The Yankees had their three-peat. And there was still more to come.

Fun Facts 
Joe DiMaggio was actually revealed later as a less-than-likable figure. He was rumored to have Mafia connections, neglected his brothers and son, and was rumored to have a violent relationship with Marilyn Monroe.

In the famous tollbooth scene in the legendary film The Godfather, Sonny Corleone is listening to the Shot Heard ‘Round the World on the radio.

On October 3, 1951 – the day of Thomson’s home run – future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was born.

Willie Mays’ first hit was a home run, coming off of Warren Spahn. When asked what happened by reporters, Spahn said, “For the first sixty feet, that was a hell of a pitch.” For frame of reference, it’s sixty feet, six inches from the mound to home plate.

Mickey Mantle was known for wearing jersey number 7, but for the first few weeks, he wore number 6 instead.

Mantle was demoted to the minors early in the 1951 season. He despondently called his father, who he thought was going to give him some words of encouragement. Instead, his father came to his hotel, began packing his bags, and said he was taking Mickey home. His father said, “I thought I raised a man, but you’re nothing but a coward.” This convinced Mantle to plead his case to stay, and he was up for good later in the season.

Mantle was named Mickey after Mickey Cochrane, one of his father’s favorite players. According to Mantle, he loved telling this story, because Cochrane’s real first name was Gordon.

Russ Hodges’ famous call of the home run by Bobby Thomson was actually recorded by a Brooklyn fan, who wanted to hear Hodges give a losing speech. Originally, the fan thought to destroy the tape, but gave it to Hodges, and the rest is history. Famously, Hodges’ scorecard is marked with a giant smudge mark from the graphite of the pencil when Thomson hit the home run.

Were it not for some ribbing by Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen, the three-game playoff wouldn’t have been necessary. During the Giants started their winning streak,  he had Jackie Robinson steal home in a game where the Dodgers already had a significant lead. They were playing the Braves, and they came out angrier the next day, and upset the Dodgers. Had Dressen followed the old maxim “Let sleeping dogs lie,” the Dodgers wouldn’t have needed the playoff.

This was the final Subway Series between the Giants and Yankees.

Final Thoughts 
Not a bad series, but nothing could compare to the emotional high of the NL pennant race. As a result, it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. The next two years would also be Subway Series, between the Yankees and Dodgers.

References and Sources 
Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown (Bruce Nash, Allan Zullo)
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns
When It Was a Game (HBO Sports)
61* (Billy Crystal film)
Yankees Suck! (Jim Gerard)
Rob Neyer’s Big Book of Baseball Blunders (Rob Neyer)
It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings (Howard Peretz)
The Ultimate Book of Sports Lists (Andrew Postman, Larry Stone)
The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame….Ralph Branca (ESPN Classic) (link here:
Joe DiMaggio: The Hero’s Life (Richard Ben Cramer)
Summer of ’49 (David Halberstam)
Red Smith. The New York Herald-Tribune. October 4, 1951.

501 Must-Be-There Events: My list

I know, you’re probably sick of these by now. But hey, I write these to see how many others my friends have been to. If you want to see any of the 501 titles I have, let me know, and we can figure it out. I mean to share the pleasures of travel, that’s it.

So, here’s the most recent one in the collection, which was delivered today. It’s called 501 Must-Be-There Events, and I showed it to my dad. I thought I had only one on this list, but I have three after confirming, and if you stretch it a little bit, a fourth (I’ll explain what I mean in just a second).


This was the best photo I could find – I took four in total, but one looks really blurry, and the others I don’t like very much. Plus, you can see the book cover itself better, which is what I was going for anyway. When you’re relying on your computer to act as a camera, these things happen sometimes. But that’s not important.

Anyway, what I meant by stretch it is that I can’t technically say I’ve been to one (Pukkelpop in Belgium), as it takes place in Hasselt in mid-August; but when we were in Mechelen in late July-early August 2010, I still went to a concert that was very similar to it, and in fact is sort of a prelude to Pukkelpop. It’s the same organizing group, same sponsors, etc., but not exactly the same. So I’m in the middle here. I’d love to include it if I could, but I’m not sure. My dad told me it was okay to cheat on this one. Still, I don’t feel like I can include this one. To the readers, I’ll leave it up to you. Would I be cheating if I included Pukkelpop, or should I leave it off despite going to an event that is almost the same thing at almost the same time?

Anyway, here’s my list on this one. Same rules apply (must remember doing something, driving through doesn’t count, chronologically by order visited, etc.). Not as many as on other lists, but I can happily put a few on here. There’s one title I have where I don’t have any yet, so I need to remedy it soon.

501-Must-Be There Events: My List

United States (1) 
1. Independence Day
Number of Times: Numerous
Dates: July 4, numerous years  

This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – celebrating the fireworks, grilling out, getting the glow sticks, and everything in between. I don’t get into it as much as I used to, but I’ve gotten to see the fireworks at the Stadium, near the airport, and also did it on the river one time in Evansville, with Kentucky right across the river. The dates on these may be different, because they’re focused on events themselves, as much as where they take place. Some of them, like these, are included in a broader context than usual.

Belgium (2) 
1. La Flèche Wallonne
Number of Times: 1 
Dates: April 1994 

Known as La Flèche for short, this is one of Belgium’s biggest cycling races. In fact, in a beautiful moment of irony, the most recent event just occurred today (this post was originally written on April 20, 2016). Spain’s Alejandro Valverde became the first four-time winner of La Flèche. So, apparently, I have been to Wallonia at least once, although I was only around six going on seven when it happened. But I do remember parts of this one: Belgium’s Johan Museeuw led much of the race, although Moreno Argentin of Italy ended up winning the race. We got there a little late, so we had to wedge ourselves in the crowd. I remember we were right next to a statue, and saw many of the riders pass by. La Flèche Wallonne (literally, “the Walloon arrow”) leads up to Belgium’s biggest bike race of the year, the Liège–Bastogne–Liège, which is one day of strenuous uphill mountain racing.

2. Ommegang Pageant 
Number of Times: 1 
Dates: July 2004

In the weeks preceding Belgium’s independence day (July 21, if anybody is interested), this is a parade that celebrates Belgium’s religious and civic history. Its apex is at the Grand Place/Grote Markt, although it extends for most of the city of Brussels. I remember being by a fence in a pillar as the former king, Albert II, briefly passed by. My stepmom is certain he waved to her, or at the least in her direction. Again, I had to rely on my dad for this one, and I don’t know if I got the details exactly right, but I’m trusting him on this. I’m pretty sure about this one, though, because the dates work out almost perfectly, and I don’t think it really be anything else, in terms of time and location. “Ommegang” loosely translates as “walk around” in Dutch, and in Belgium it’s considered an important festival, because of its connection with Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his Joyous Entry.

Other ones I’ve seen on TV: 
United States: World Series, Stanley Cup, U.S. Open (golf and tennis), Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500 (I’ve been to the Motor Speedway once, but it was in July, and I’m a little ashamed to admit I’ve never been to the race yet, considering how close it is), Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Rose Bowl Parade, New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
France: Tour de France
England: Wimbledon Championships

Totals (as of April 20, 2016): 3 out of 501 (0.6%) – it’s a start. If you can count Pukkelpop for me, then I can say four, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say not quite.

1950 World Series: The Whiz Kids

The 1950 World Series was the forty-seventh played (and forty-eighth year overall) of the modern World Series, which began in 1903. Winning titles was nothing new to the New York Yankees, but I don’t think even they saw their dominance for the period of 1949-1964. This was the second year of said dynasty. They would face a team of baby-faced youngsters, making only their second World Series appearance in their history. They were so young that they were known as the “Whiz Kids.” Unfortunately, it would prove to be over fast, and a rather dull series at that. This is one I’m going to hate writing about, but I’ll keep it as short as I can.

(Managers Casey Stengel and Eddie Sawyer. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.) 

1950 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over Philadelphia Phillies (NL), 4-0 

Managers: Casey Stengel (New York); Eddie Sawyer (Philadelphia) 

Hall of Famers 
New York: George Weiss (executive), Casey Stengel (manager), Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto 
Philadelphia: Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts 
Umpires: Al Barlick, Jocko Conlan, Bill McGowan 

The Series itself was something of a dud. Instead, much of the lead-in will be focused on the National League pennant race that year. The Dodgers and Phillies were in a neck-and-neck pennant race for much of the year. Pitchers Robin Roberts and Jim Konstanty won 20 and 16 games respectively, with the later being named NL MVP – one of the first relief pitchers to gain fame. At bat, outfielder Del Ennis hit 31 home runs, drove in 126, and finished with a .311 batting average. Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn chipped in with a .303 mark. It would come down to a home run from Dick Sisler late in the season, giving Philadelphia a clinching 4-1 victory over the Dodgers in ten innings.

Because Roberts had pitched the clincher for the Phillies, he was unable to start the opening game. Normally a pitcher out of the bullpen, Konstanty got the ball for Game 1. Actually, Konstanty pitched well, allowing only one run on a double by Bobby Brown and a sacrifice fly by Jerry Coleman. But that one run would be enough for the Yankees’ Vic Raschi, as he allowed only two hits, both of them in the fifth inning. After that, the Phillies would have only one more runner on base all day, with an Eddie Waitkus walk.

Game 2 was also close – 2-1 was the final scoreline. After threatening in the first, the Yankees broke through in the second inning when Gene Woodling knocked in Jerry Coleman. The Phillies put the tying run on third in the bottom of the inning but didn’t score. Richie Ashburn drove in the Phillies first run of the Series with a sacrifice fly. The big moment came in the sixth inning. Leading off the inning was RBI man Del Ennis, who hit a fly ball into the deep center field gap at Shibe Park. But Joe DiMaggio ran it down and a potential rally was stopped. DiMaggio won the game in the tenth with a solo home run. The Yankees had stolen two games on the road from the star-crossed Phillies.

Neither team was scoring a lot of runs, but Game 3 was probably the best game. The Phillies took the lead this time in the top of the seventh, giving them their only lead in the Series at 2-1. Ken Heintzelman pitched well for the Phillies, and was pitching into the eighth inning. But with two outs, the floodgates opened. The Yankees had three straight walks, and Konstanty replaced Heintzelman. Konstanty got Bobby Brown to hit a ground ball…except that shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner bobbled the ball, and the tying run scored. Konstanty got out of the inning but the damage was done. Russ Meyer came on to pitch in the bottom of the ninth; he got two quick outs, but allowed consecutive singles. Jerry Coleman came up, and rapped a single to left center. Gene Woodling scored and the Yankees were up 3-0 in the Series with a 3-2 win.

Lefty Ed “Whitey” Ford got the ball in Game 4. Ford, a rookie, would go on to make the Hall of Fame. He was helped when Yogi Berra hit a two-run home run in the first inning. No matter what the Phillies tried, they couldn’t score. In the bottom of the sixth, Berra hit his second home run to clinch it for the Yankees. They would score two more runs in the inning, making it 5-0. Heading into the ninth, the Phillies would get two runs when Gene Woodling dropped a fly ball with two outs. Although a single kept the inning alive, Allie Reynolds came in out of the bullpen and struck out Stan Lopata to save the game and clinch the series. Despite scoring only eleven runs, the Yankees did enough to win, although it’s not really saying much.

Fun Facts 
Eddie Waitkus was the victim of a shotgun blast to the chest by an obsessed admirer. Writer Bernard Malamud would use this in his novel The Natural.

Richie Ashburn once fouled off consecutive pitches that struck the same fan in the face both times (the second time as she was being taken off in a stretcher).

Granny Hamner once was ejected from a game for arguing a call – except he was called safe. Largely, the umpire felt he was showing him up and ejected him after a lengthy argument.

This was a great Series for umpires – three Hall of Fame members this year.

Dick Sisler, whose home run won the pennant for the Phillies, was the son of Hall of Fame first baseman George Sisler.

I am writing this next paragraph to say I got to 1,000 words for this column. This has nothing to do with baseball at all. There, I did it.

Final Thoughts
Well, I got nothing. A boring World Series, and the Yankees won. So what?

References and Sources 
Baseball Reference
Baseball Almanac
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
The Baseball Hall of Shame: The Best of Blooperstown (Bruce Nash, Allan Zullo)

1949 World Series: The Mighty Casey

The 1949 World Series was the forty-fifth played (and forty-sixth year overall) of the modern World Series, which began in 1903. After a third-place finish, the Yankees fired Bucky Harris and hired the lovable, if not successful, Casey Stengel. Known for his personality as much as his play, Stengel would begin a new string of Yankee dominance.

(After clinching the AL pennant, Casey Stengel celebrates with the players. Photo courtesy of

1949 World Series 
New York Yankees (AL) over Brooklyn Dodgers (NL), 4-1 

Managers: Casey Stengel (New York); Burt Shotton (Brooklyn) 

Hall of Famers 
New York: George Weiss (executive), Casey Stengel (manager), Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Mize, Phil Rizzuto 
Brooklyn: Branch Rickey (executive), Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson 
Umpires: Cal Hubbard 

1949 was a very underrated year in baseball history. In Brooklyn, many thought it would finally be”next year.” Jackie Robinson won Most Valuable Player, pitcher Don Newcombe was Rookie of the Year, and catcher Roy Campanella had broken in the previous year. Because Leo Durocher had managed to head to the rival Giants, they kept Burt Shotton as manager.

The Yankees were predicted to fall back to both the Boston Red Sox and defending champion Cleveland Indians. Having finished third the previous year, they fired Bucky Harris, who had led them to the 1947 World Series title. Who was hired as his replacement was controversial – Charles Dillon Stengel, better known as Casey. Stengel was a pretty good player in his day, but was known for his daffy personality more than anything. He had previously managed the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1930s, known as the “Daffiness Boys,” and the Boston Braves in the early years of World War II. In what was an eight-team league at the time, Stengel’s teams had never finished higher than fifth place. When he was hired by the Yankees, he was quoted as saying, “There is less wrong with this team than any other team I have managed.”

Still, there were signs that the old guard wasn’t what it used to be. Joe DiMaggio lost much of his season due to a bad ankle. Rookie Jerry Coleman needed to put on weight, and many thought the Red Sox had the talent – and the pitching, finally – to beat the Yankees. For a while, that didn’t happen – the Yankees were 12.5 games ahead in July. But the Red Sox went on a furious rally in August and September, heading into Yankee Stadium with a one-game lead with two games to play. All Boston had to do was win one and the pennant would be theirs. They were up 4-0, but the Yankees rallied to beat Mel Parnell,  5-4, setting up pennant drama on the final day. Although he was trailing, Boston starter Ellis Kinder was only down 1-0 in the seventh. But Joe McCarthy called for a reliever, and Jerry Coleman hit a sinking fly ball. Right fielder Al Zarilla just couldn’t quite get under it, and with the bases loaded, all three runs scored. It was 5-0 Yankees. It was even the more cruel that Boston rallied to make it 5-3. But Casey Stengel finally had his pennant. The Dodgers-Yankees rivalry would have its third chapter.

Game 1 opened at Yankee Stadium, matching Don Newcombe and Allie Reynolds. Spider Jorgensen hit a double in the first inning, but the Dodgers would only get one more hit in the entire game. Still, they almost scored first, on consecutive walks in the second to Gene Hermanski and Carl Furillo. But first baseman Gil Hodges grounded into a double play, and Roy Campanella flied out. A golden chance for Brooklyn was lost. The Dodgers also had two runners on in the fifth and eighth, but didn’t score either time. It was especially frustrating because Pee Wee Reese stole second in the eighth with one out, before Reynolds struck out Jorgensen and Duke Snider. It was still 0-0 heading into the bottom of the ninth. Newcombe had struck out eleven men, and made only one bad pitch. Unfortunately, Tommy Henrich was waiting, and hit a game-winning home run to lead off the inning. It was the only run of the game, and the only time the home team won in the Series.

The Dodgers also won 1-0 to tied the Series at a game apiece. Lefty Preacher Roe threw a complete game; although he only struck out three, he allowed only six hits and no walks. The only Dodgers run came in the second inning. Jackie Robinson led off the inning with a double, and with two outs, Gil Hodges singled and went to second on an error by left fielder Johnny Lindell. Roe had all the support he needed, and although the Yankees were always threatening, they couldn’t break through.

Switching to Ebbets Field for the next three games, the Yankees broke through off of Ralph Branca in Game 3. With runners on first and third, Phil Rizzuto hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Cliff Mapes from third. A walk to Tommy Henrich kept the inning alive, but the Yankees only got one run. The Dodgers tied the score on Reese’s solo home run in the fourth. Brooklyn later loaded the bases in the inning with one out, and Tommy Byrne was relieved by Joe Page. Luis Olmo and Duke Snider couldn’t convert, and the Yankees dodged a bullet. It would stay 1-1 into the top of the ninth. With one out, Yogi Berra walked. After a pop up, Bobby Brown singled. Gene Woodling walked and the bases were loaded. Johnny Mize, a mainstay of the Cardinals in the 1930s, singled and two runners scored. Jerry Coleman followed with another single, and it was 4-1 Yankees. That final run would be crucial. In the bottom of the ninth, Luis Olmo and Roy Campanella both hit solo home runs, making it 4-3. But pinch-hitter Bruce Edwards struck out, and the Yankees had narrowly survived.

Two big innings gave the Yankees the win and a 3-1 Series lead in Game 4. Brooklyn got an unusual double play in the first inning, on runner interference. Both runners on the basepaths were put out. Don Newcombe then walked two batters before getting out of the inning. But it was clear Newcombe was struggling. In the fourth, the Yankees broke through. A one-out double by Bobby Brown and a walk to Gene Woodling opened the door.Cliff Mapes followed with a double which scored both runners. Later in the inning, pitcher Eddie Lopat helped his own cause with a double. Newcombe was done and Joe Hatten came in to relieve him. One inning later, Brown tripled to clear the bases, and it seemed that the Yankees had an insurmountable 6-0 lead. But the Dodgers had a rally in them. With two out and a runner on third, Jackie Robinson started the rally with a single. Gil Hodges singled, sending Robinson to third. Three more singles from Olmo, Campanella, and Hermanski brought the Dodgers to within two runs. Allie Reynolds came in for Lopat and held on, getting Jorgensen to strike out. The Dodgers would never get that close again, and the Yankees held on for a 6-4 win.

The Yankees closed it out the next day in Ebbets Field. Two runs off of Rex Barney gave the Yankees a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Joe DiMaggio put a dagger in the heart of Brooklyn with a home run to make it 5-1 in the top of the fourth. The Yankees kept scoring and the Dodgers were reeling. But they did have one last run in them. Trailing 10-2 in the bottom of the seventh, Robinson drove in Jorgensen, and Duke Snider followed later with a three-run home run. Suddenly, it was 10-6 Yankees. But the Dodgers ran out of chances, and outs. It was a final great tease, too little, too late. Facing Joe Page in the last of the ninth, Eddie Miksis led off with a double and Gene Hermanski walked. But Page struck out the side, finishing off Gil Hodges with two on. Casey Stengel had his first title. Many more were to come. For Brooklyn, it was the same sad song. Many had a new nickname for Stengel now – “The Ol’ Perfessor.”

Fun Facts 
A Cleveland Indians fan named Charlie Lupica stayed atop a flagpole for 117 days, hoping to bring a good luck charm and help the Indians reclaim first place. It never happened, and he finally came down on September 25th, after Cleveland was mathematically eliminated.

Casey Stengel had beaten the Yankees in 1922 as a player with the Giants.

Umpire Cal Hubbard is the only man inducted into both the Pro Football and Baseball Hall of Fame. He was an offensive lineman for the Chicago Cardinals before moving to baseball as an umpire. This was Hubbard’s fourth and final World Series as an umpire.

In 1964, the Red Sox and Yankees had a reunion meeting. Red Sox player Bobby Doerr asked Tommy Henrich if the Red Sox had a good team. Henrich responded yes, that the Yankees were always afraid of them. The only reason they didn’t win, Henrich reasoned, was that Tom Yawkey was able to give better bonuses, which made the Red Sox complacent.

Final Analysis 
Even for the Yankees, they were about to begin one of the best stretch runs in baseball history – dominance never before seen before or since. And it was all thanks to a man who had once played an exhibition game with a pigeon in his hat. Who knew?

References and Sources
Baseball Almanac
Baseball Reference
100 Years of the World Series (Eric Enders)
Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns 
When It Was a Game (HBO Sports)
Summer of ’49 (David Halberstam)

New book is in! 501 Must-Take Journeys

One of the two 501 books I ordered online came in today! This one is called 501 Must-Take Journeys, much in the same style as the other previous ones. Here is the list I remember:

United States (2)
1. Blue Ridge Parkway 
Times Visited: at least 2, if I remember correctly, maybe 3
Dates: fall 1997-spring 2000, exact dates inconclusive

Highlights: After checking with my dad on this, he’s confirmed that I’ve been here, which is what I thought. It’s been a while, though – I couldn’t have been older than twelve or thirteen, and I never did get the exact dates. I’m pretty sure I remember at least two, because it leads into the Smoky Mountains (near Asheville, NC) from the Appalachian Trail, but how much we actually saw in those times is lost to memory. Still, I do remember doing a lot of things around the area, and seeing the woods surrounding it, so I’m counting it. There is a Cherokee history museum nearby, which is rather interesting. I wonder if it’s still there.

2. Lower Manhattan 
Times Visited: 1
Dates: March 2009

Highlights: Wall Street; Staten Island Ferry to the Statue of Liberty. We never left the ferry and set foot inside the statue itself, but I clearly remember the bull in the Wall Street district. We weren’t there that long, but I remember that. Also, they were beginning construction of One World Trade Center, and we stopped to remember what had happened that fateful day.

France (3) 
1. Paris 
Times Visited: 2
Dates: July-August 2004; March 2005

Highlights: Although officially listed as bus #38, you can get there by foot or train. Along this route, we saw Notre-Dame, Île de la Cité, and Centre Pompidou. Even if this doesn’t officially count, it says “Paris,” so I’m counting it.

2. Normandy Beaches
Times Visited: 1
Dates: July 2004

Highlights: the monuments; the bunkers; the gravestones that were nearby. The beach itself is incredible, and you can see the crashing of waves. It’s too hard to explain – the history is too amazing.

3. Brittany’s Emerald Coast 
Times Visited: 1
Dates: July 2004

Highlights: Mont Saint-Michel, which was mentioned on another list; Saint-Malo, which is similar to Saint-Michel. I remember getting a plaque with my name on it in French. This could be on the inconclusive list, because I’m not sure whether or not Mont Saint-Michel is contained in the Emerald Coast, but the names and places look familiar. For the time being, I’ll place it on here.