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Legends On Deck

California or Bust: 1953 Yankees vs 1959 Dodgers

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The 1953 New York Yankees, managed by Casey Stengel, had just done something that had never been done in major league baseball history. They had in 1953, won their fifth consecutive World Series title. Stengel managed the Yankees from 1949 until 1960, in the process making the World Series 10 times and coming away with seven World Series titles. Truly the 1950’s were a period where New York ruled the baseball world as a New York team (either the Yankees, Dodgers or Giants) was a part of every World Series between 1950 and 1960. The Dodgers had just moved to Los Angeles before the start of the 1958 season and in 1959 they had just won the second World Series title since their beginnings in the borough of Brooklyn after the World Series had begun in 1903.

Stengel had a lineup that included both scrappers and superstars. The Yankees lineup for the 1953 season consisted for the most part of the following players. Catching would be Yogi Berra, at first base would be Joe Collins, the scrappy second baseman was Billy Martin with Phil Rizzuto at shortstop and Gil McDougald at third base. In the outfield was Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer and the superstar Mickey Mantle who had replaced the recently retired superstar Joe DiMaggio. Stengel had his choice of the following for pitchers. He could pick either Whitey Ford, Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat or maybe Allie Reynolds.

For Walter Alston and the Los Angeles Dodgers, catching would be John Roeboro with veteran Gil Hodges at first base. Charlie Neal was the second baseman and Don Zimmer was the shortstop with Jim Gilliam rounding out the infield at third base. The Dodgers outfield that patrolled their home park (the L A Coliseum) was Wally Moon, Don Dementer and Duke Snider. Alston’s choices of pitchers included Don Drysdale, Johnny Podres, Roger Craig, Danny McDevitt or maybe Sandy Koufax.

Catching for the Yankees was Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra (149 hits, 23 doubles, five triples, 27 home runs, 80 runs scored, 108 runs batted in and a .296 batting average).Berra had made his sixth consecutive All Star team that year and in 1954 and 1955 he would win his second and third American League MVP Awards. For the Dodgers their catcher was John Rosebro ( 92 hits, 14 doubles, seven triples, 10 home runs, 39 runs scored, 38 runs batted in, .232 batting average). As good a catcher that Roseboro was Yogi Berra wins this in a runaway, he was just that good.

At first base for the 1953 Yankees team was Joe Collins (104 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs, 72 runs scored, 44 runs batted in, .269 batting average). Playing first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers was Gil Hodges (114 hits, 19 doubles, two triples, 25 home runs, 57 runs scored, .276 batting average). Hodges was a steady player for the Dodgers first in Brooklyn and then when they made the move to Los Angeles. Making All Star teams and winning some Gold Gloves for fielding. He would later go on to manage the New York Mets to a World Series title in 1969. As with the previous matchup at catcher, this one is a runaway with Hodges and the Dodgers securing the advantage.

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Billy Martin was not a superstar. What Billy Martin was, was a hardnosed, tough ballplayer who gave 110% on the playing field at all times. He was thought of highly by manager Casey Stengel and would later use the lessons learned from the “Old Perfessor”to become a successful manager in his own right. In the 1953 season Martin ( 151 hits, 24 doubles, six triples, 15 home runs, 72 runs scored, 75 runs batted in, .257 batting average) provided the spark the Yankees had to win their fifth consecutive World Series title. The Dodgers second baseman in 1959 was Charlie Neal (177 hits, 30 doubles, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 103 runs scored, 83 runs batted in, .287 batting average) who had just made his first All Star team during the 1959 season. Neal certainly had better numbers than Martin did during their respective seasons, but Martin’s spark and hustle has to be worth something and he and the Yankees get the advantage here by just the slightest margin.

Many Yankee pitchers said they never worried when a ball was hit in the area of shortstop when Phil Rizzuto was out there. He was not a superstar but go the most out of the ability he had and he was one of the best bunters around. In 1953 Rizzuto (112 hits, 21 doubles, three triples, two home runs, 54 runs scored,54 runs batted in, .271 batting average) made his fourth consecutive All Star game. Don Zimmer ( 41 hits, seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 21 runs scored, 28 runs batted in, .165 batting average) had just finished his sixth major league season. He later on went on to become one of the most beloved figures in baseball as manager and bench coach for a number of teams. However Rizzuto and the Yankees get the advantage at this position over Zimmer and the Dodgers.

Gil McDougald (154 hits, 27 doubles, seven triples, 10 home runs, 82 runs scored, 83 runs batted in, .285 batting average), was the Yankees third baseman during the 1953 season. McDougald who was the Rookie of the Year in 1951 would go on to lay for the Yankees his entire 10 year career. The Dodgers third baseman was Jim Gilliam (168 hits, 31 doubles, 17 triples (league leader), six home runs, 125 runs scored, 63 runs batted in, .278 batting average) was also a winner of  the Rookie of the Year winning it in the 1953 season. This one is not close and as good a third baseman as McDougald was Gilliam gets the nod here for the Dodgers.

The Yankees outfield in 1953 was Gene Woodling (121 hits, 26 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs, 64 runs scored, 58 runs batted in, .306 batting average), Hank Bauer (133 hits, 20 doubles, six triples, 10 home runs, 77 runs scored, 57 runs batted in, .304 batting average) and Mickey Mantle (136 hits, 24 doubles, three triples, 21 home runs, 105 runs scored, 92 runs batted in, .295 batting average), who had taken the place in centerfield for New York from one of the all-time greats of the game, Joe DiMaggio. For the Dodgers in the outfield was Wally Moon (164 hits, 26 doubles, 11 triples, 19 home runs, 93 runs scored, 74 runs batted in, .302 batting average), Don Demeter (95 hits, 11 doubles, one triple, 18 home runs, 55 runs scored, 70 runs batted in, .256 batting average), Duke Snider ( 114 hits, 11 doubles, two triples, 23 home runs, .308 batting average). Any outfield with Mickey Mantle in it, has a leg up on the competition and that alone gives the Yankees the advantage over the 1959 Dodgers in the outfield Part.

When a team wins more than one World Series in succession, that team must be considered one of the greatest of all-time. The 1953 Yankees had won their fifth consecutive title in 1953 something never before or never since happening. Of course the team known as the Bronx Bombers were sluggers but all the runs in the world mean nothing if the pitching cannot hold the other team from crossing the plate. These Yankees could do that and Stengel always seemed to make the right choice. He had the following to choose from to see if New York could advance. First there was Whitey Ford (18-6, 3.00 ERA, 30 starts, 11 complete games, three shutouts), Vic Raschi (13-6, 3.33 ERA, 26 starts, seen complete games, four shutouts) or Eddie Lopat (16-4, 2.42 ERA, 24 starts, nine complete games, three shutouts) and if any of these hurlers got into trouble Johnny Sain or Allie Reynolds were more than capable of taking over to hold the other team at bay.

 

Kevin Larkin

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.