Becoming a baseball fan in the early 90′s was exciting. I can remember being excited by the Oakland Athletics and Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Dave Stewart, the Philadelphia Phillies and Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, and John Kruk and the Toronto Blue Jays and Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter and his amazing walk-off homer.
What excited me the most was that every year the Yankees seemed to get better and better. Watching them win four World Series in five years was an amazing accomplishment. I was sure I was watching something I would never forget. But I could never stop thinking about how great the Yankees must have been to win five in a row from 1949 until 1953.
Over the years I’ve read as much as I could about those teams, but nothing I read had a bigger impact than Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer. That book was not about the Yankees, but about the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers. Being from Brooklyn myself I always had a soft spot for the Dodgers despite the fact that I grew up obsessing over the Yankees. Reading that book though always makes you feel like that Dodgers team was very special and it was as it was probably one of the best lineups of all-time.
Just look at this lineup:
C – Roy Campanella…154 OPS+
1B – Gil Hodges……….140 OPS+
2B – Jim Gilliam……..105 OPS+
SS – Pee Wee Reese….104 OPS+
3B – Billy Cox…………106 OPS+
CF – Duke Snider……..165 OPS+
RF – Carl Furillo………146 OPS+
UT – Jackie Robinson.138 OPS+
As great as they were, the Yankees couldn’t be stopped. Behind a stacked starting rotation of Whitey Ford, Vic Raschi, Ed Lopat, Allie Reynolds, and Johnny Sain the Yankees took that World Series in six games. That Dodgers lineup and that Yankees rotation is why if I could go back to any moment in Yankees history, I’d go back to the 1953 World Series.
Reynolds started the first game against the Dodgers and didn’t have his best stuff. In 5.1 innings he allowed home runs to George Shuba, Hodges, and Gilliam. But Sain came in and held the Dodgers as the Yankees took advantage of Brooklyn’s shaky pitching. The Bombers went on to win 9-5.
Games two and three were pitchers duels where every pitcher went the distance over the two games. Game two was between the Dodgers’ Preacher Roe and the Yanks’ Lopat. Homers from Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin were the difference in that one. Game three was between Brooklyn ace Carl Erskine and Raschi and it did indeed take an ace-like performance from Erskine to beat Raschi as he won 3-2 behind 14 strikeouts.
To this point the Yankees are ahead 2-1 in the series and most importantly they managed to split the two games against Brooklyn’s best pitchers Roe and Erskine. With Ford going for the Yankees in game four it seemed as though they had a certain edge. Of course things wouldn’t be that easy against a Brooklyn lineup that scored 955 runs and the Dodgers won 7-3 to even the series at two games a piece.
The Yankees lineup scored only 801 runs that year, like I said the pitching was their strong point, but they managed to break out in game five to score 11 runs. They did it behind homers from Gil McDougald, Martin, Mantle, and Gene Woodling and some small ball tactics of manager Casey Stengel. The final score was 11-7 and the Yankees had a chance to put the Dodgers away.
For game six, Stengel went with Ford over Reynolds after The Chief came up short in game one of the series. The move paid off and was perhaps a omen of things to come. Ford went seven innings striking out seven and allowed just one run. Reynolds eventually came in for relief and allowed a game tying two-run home run in the ninth inning.
But the Yankees wouldn’t win five World Series in a row without a little bit of magic and in the bottom of the ninth inning of the game, tied at three, Clem Labine going into his third inning of work started off the inning giving up a walk to Hank Bauer. Yogi Berra lined out and then back-to-back singles from Mantle and Martin put them over the top. 4-3 win. Game over. World Series over.
A walk-off win to cap off a fifth consecutive World Series. Amazing. One of the greatest pitching staffs of all-time against one of the best lineups ever. This one had everything.