Thursday, November 5, 2015

Underdog Stories: The 1955 Dodgers

I'm not sure if anyone else was underwhelmed by this year's World Series, but I thought it was a real clunker. Though I agree that both teams were overdue for championships, the feel-good story I wanted to see was the Chicago Cubs finally rising to glory after more than a hundred years of futility. Baseball can be a frustrating and anti-climactic sport at times--as evidenced by the Mets epic October collapse this year.

I would like to wind up my latest set of blogs with an excerpt from my upcoming book, which is due out next spring. It carries the title of Baseball's Dynasties and the Players Who Built Them. This particular excerpt deals with my favorite underdog story--the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers.

...Beginning in 1947, the Dodgers captured six pennants in a ten-year span. They came remarkably close on two other occasions. In 1950, they spent most of June in first place, ultimately finishing two games behind the Phillies. The following year, they remained on top for a total of 147 days, but couldn’t hold off the rampaging Giants, who posted a 54-23 record in the second half while winning eight of the last ten head-to-head matchups. On the final day of the season, the two teams were locked in a first place tie. A rare three-game playoff format was employed to determine the pennant winner.

The Giants took the first game at Brooklyn thanks to a pair of solo homers by Monte Irvin and Bobby Thomson. But the Dodgers came storming back in Game 2 at the Polo Grounds, battering three different New York hurlers for a 10-0 victory. The third contest contained one of the most epic moments in playoff history.

Brooklyn led 4-1 in the ninth inning of Game 3 when starter Don Newcombe ran out of gas. With one out, two men on and a run already in, manager Chuck Dressen made an unfortunate decision, bringing in right-hander Ralph Branca to face third baseman Bobby Thomson. Branca had coughed up a homer to Thomson in Game 1, but Dressen apparently figured that lightning couldn’t strike twice. He was wrong. Thomson hit his famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” as radio announcer Russ Hodges immortalized the moment by manically repeating the phrase: “The Giants Win the Pennant!” In some newspapers, the Giants victory took up more space than a Russian atomic bomb test. Years later, several Giants players admitted that manager Leo Durocher had set up a sign-stealing operation at the Polo Grounds to inform New York hitters what pitches were coming.

The Dodgers recovered from the trauma, capturing back-to-back pennants in ‘52 and ‘53. Again, the Yankees robbed them of glory both times. The ’53 Series was the eighth consecutive postseason loss for Brooklyn. After the final pitch had been thrown, Roy Campanella (the eternal optimist) commented disconsolately: “It was a wonderful season, but it ended in a heap of nothing.” Asked by reporters what the Dodgers needed to do to beat the Yankees, Pee Wee Reese admitted: “I don’t know what the answer is. I’ve been trying to find it for twelve years now.”

The solution finally arrived in 1955, when the Dodgers ran away with the pennant and met the Bombers for the sixth time in World Series play. After dropping the first two games at Yankee Stadium, Walter Alston’s resilient crew bounced back with three straight wins at home. But the Yankees would not go quietly. A five-run explosion in the first inning of Game 6 was all they would need with staff ace Whitey Ford on the mound. Ford scattered 4 hits and struck out 8 in a 5-1 victory. Southpaw Johnny Podres, who had posted a substandard 9-10 record during the regular season, became the unlikely Series hero for Brooklyn in Game 7, picking up his second win with a complete game shutout. “Just give me one run,” he had asked his teammates before clinching the Series for Brooklyn.

It was the first championship in franchise history and, though the game was played at Yankee Stadium, a large throng of fans swarmed onto the field to celebrate. An Associated Press writer described the scene in the Brooklyn locker room as follows: “There was shouting and back pounding, cheering and embracing, and it was spontaneous, genuine and totally unabashed.”  In Flatbush, church bells rang, factory whistles blew and thousands of people danced in the streets. Banners and bunting flew from windows and effigies of Yankee players hung from lampposts. The Dodgers held a celebration dinner at the Bossert Hotel.  Jackie Robinson offered the following words to the cheering crowd outside: “The whole team knows it was the fans that made it for us. It was your support that made this great day possible. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

No comments:

Post a Comment