1959: “We go to Chicago!”
“Big bouncer over the mound, over second base, up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 29, 1959
On a hot fall day in October, in the fourth hour of the 12th inning of a National League playoff game, after a grueling 154-game 1959 pennant race, Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully exclaimed to 36,000 fans and millions more listening on transistor radios his famous line as a team and a city new to Major League Baseball celebrated a National League pennant.
It has been 50 years since the 1959 World Champion Los Angeles Dodger team earned the highest honor in baseball, and yet the season doesn’t often come to mind in the way 1955 does with Johnny Podres, 1963 with the four game sweep over the Yankees, the 1981 comeback triumphs, and the 1988 season with Orel Hershiser. One noted baseball historian said the 1959 Dodgers might have been the worst team ever to win a World Series“It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over, Baseball Prospectus
And yet, if only more was known about the 1959 season, it would receive greater appreciation. In fact, it was really the beginning of a Dodger dynasty, if you are one of those who only count World Series titles as a way of keeping score. From 1959 to 1966, a seven year span, the Dodgers would have the best record in baseball, win three World Championships, win four pennants, miss a pennant by one game and have a strong second place finish in another season.
The 1959 season had remarkable games in an excruciatingly tight pennant race with stalwart individual performances. And when you consider that one fewer win and one more loss in the season sends the team home for the winter, then 1959 takes on greater meaning. And the Dodgers did win the World Championship, making them the best of all 16 teams that season, no matter what a contemporary historian may assert.
How unique was this team and the season? Five players on the 1959 World Series Championship team were in the minor leagues when the season opened. Roger Craig had a World Series win to his credit, but pitching struggles found him in Spokane, the Dodgers’ AAA team. Larry Sherry, who attended Fairfax High School in Los Angeles, would be a World Series hero with a hand in each of the Dodgers’ four World Series wins. Maury Wills was a longtime minor leaguer who was traded to the Detroit Tigers for spring training. However, the Tigers showed no interest in the player and returned him to the Dodgers for no consideration. Chuck Churn would provide critical relief in four games in September. And finally, Chuck Essegian, acquired in a minor league deal in July, would set a World Series record that still exists today.
There were other players on this team coming into their formative years as major league players. Six seasons later, these players would be there when the Dodgers would win a World Championship in 1965. John Roseboro, Jim Gilliam, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Sandy Koufax, Johnny Podres, Sherry and Wally Moon would all be around for those seasons. And, 1959 would be a final World Championship moment for Dodger veterans as Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Clem Labine and a team coach named Pee Wee Reese. Even the 1955 World Series hero, Sandy Amoros, would play in September and have one important RBI.
The journey of the 1959 World Championship season starts with the 1958 season, a dismal one for everyone involved with the Dodgers. A team that had averaged more than 92 wins a season from 1950 to 1957 (approximating 96 wins a season if based on a modern 162-game schedule) won just 71 games. The season started slow, and although they climbed to within three games of .500 in August, they faltered in September. To add insult to injury, they lost 16 of 22 games to the San Francisco Giants.
The 1959 season’s first victory did not come on the field, but rather in the courtroom. On January 13, 1959, the California Supreme Court in a unanimous 7-0 decision agreed the city of Los Angeles had negotiated a proper contract to exchange land with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers would transfer ownership of property to Wrigley Field in Los Angeles along with the obligation to build a 50,000 seat baseball stadium.Neil Sullivan, The Dodgers Move West
However, 1958 did promise bright things on the horizon. During the season, amateur free agents Willie Davis from Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles, Frank Howard from Ohio State, and Ron Fairly from Southern California signed their first professional contracts.
Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi knew the team needed improvement and acquired left-hand hitting outfielder Wally Moon from the St. Louis Cardinals for Gino Cimoli, and Moon would provide heroics throughout the 1959 season. Bavasi even traded a future Hall of Famer in order to improve the club when he acquired pitchers Gene Snyder and Jim Golden, and outfielder Rip Repulski from the Phillies for second baseman George Anderson. Anderson was a superb fielding second baseman who won the Silver Glove for fielding excellence in 1958 in the minor leagues. Eleven years later, George Anderson would be known as “Sparky” and manage World Championship teams with the Cincinnati Reds and the Detroit Tigers and be voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
When does a pennant race start? Is it the first day of the season? Is a game played in May with the same amount of tension as a game in September? Every game and every win counts during the season, but if there is a real beginning to the 1959 pennant race and the ultimate World Championship for the Dodgers, you could easily point to the night of August 31, 1959 and the emergence of Sandy Koufax.
August 31, 1959 should be considered a modern classic. It was an unusual type of game, the last game of a three-game series with the Giants, ending on a Monday instead of the weekend. The announced attendance in the Coliseum was listed at 60,194, but that total did not take into account more than 22,000 complimentary passes issued by the Dodgers to three service organizations and the total attendance was a breathtaking 82,794. No one asked for a refund.
Bob Hunter described it as” One of the Dodgers’ most magnificent and significant victories.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 1, 1959 The Los Angeles Times’ Frank Finch was less modest. “One of the most momentous victories in their glorious history last night before a roaring mob of 82,794 coronary cases at the Coliseum.” Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1959
The Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax and the Giants’ starting pitcher, Jack Sanford, both allowed a run in the first inning. Koufax, one start removed from fanning 13 Phillies, struck out the first two hitters of the game, then allowed doubles to Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda for the Giants’ first run. The Dodgers scored a run without the benefit of a hit as Gilliam walked, stole second, went to third on a passed ball, and scored on an infield out.
In the second inning, Koufax walked one, but struck out Sanford, the Giants’ pitcher. The third inning for Koufax was approximately as the second inning. He walked one, but left the runner stranded at first with two ground ball outs and a foul out. After three innings, Koufax had fanned three. So far, a nice start, but nothing record setting.
Koufax’ fourth inning had him in a slight jam when the Giants led off the inning with two singles. Koufax left the runners on first and second, getting a foul pop and then fanning the number eight and nine hitters in the Giants’ lineup, Danny McConnell and Sanford. In the fifth inning, Koufax fanned Jackie Brandt to start the inning, but the Giants’ great rookie and future Hall of Famer, Willie McCovey, broke Koufax’ strikeout string with a solo home run and the Giants gained a 2-1 lead. Sandy then fanned Mays and Cepeda for the final out of the fifth.
The Dodgers did little with Sanford of the Giants. Koufax went to the mound in the sixth inning still behind 2-1 and he struck out the side. The last eight outs by the Giants had been strikeouts with only the McCovey home run to break the run. In the seventh inning, Koufax allowed a leadoff double and after a sacrifice of the base runner to third, he kept the Dodgers close as he struck out Brandt and McCovey.
For all that pitching, Alston came ever so close to removing Koufax from the game in the bottom of the seventh inning. Roseboro singled to lead off the inning and Wills intended to sacrifice.
If Wills had gotten the sacrifice down, moving Roseboro to second, Alston would have sent a pinch-hitter for Koufax, removing him from the game. However, Wills bunted into a force play, leaving him at first, and Alston stayed with Koufax and allowed him to hit. Koufax did sacrifice successfully, but Sanford again kept the Dodgers from scoring, but Koufax, more importantly, stayed in the game.
Sandy talked about the incident. “(Walt) Alston called Carl’s (Furillo) name. I knew he was going to have Furillo hit for me. To myself, I silently prayed he would let me keep going, but even more I wanted victory for the team.” When the sacrifice attempt by Wills was not successful, Koufax was not quite ready. “I heard him (Alston) yell for me and I almost fell down getting my helmet and bat before he changed his mind.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 2, 1959
Koufax walked to the mound to start the eighth inning with 13 strikeouts in the game and he added two more to his total as he fanned the first two hitters. He retired the side, still trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth. Sanford had kept the Dodgers at bay all night, but his own wildness led to the Dodgers tying the game. Moon had walked to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second. During an at bat with Snider, Sanford threw two wild pitches. The first moved Moon to third and the second plated the tying run.
The greatest broadcaster in the history of sports, Scully had thousands listening to him on transistor radios at the Coliseum and maybe millions more from Southern California to Las Vegas and Arizona were tuned in as he described Koufax against the Giants in the ninth inning.
Koufax had struck out 15 Giants through eight innings. He was two strikeouts from the National League mark of 17 set by Dizzy Dean and he had to fan the side to tie the major league record of 18 in nine innings by Bob Feller.
Eddie Bressoud leads off in the ninth inning and he went down on three pitches as the 16th strikeout. Koufax’ strikeout of Bressoud set a new major league record for most strikeouts in two consecutive games with 29, breaking the mark of 28 by Feller. Next, Danny O’Connell struck out on three pitches for the 17th strikeout, tying the National League record of 17. As Koufax threw strike one to Sanford, Scully noted, “Koufax is shooting for all the marbles.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, August 31, 1959 Koufax missed the plate with a ball and then threw a second strike past Sanford, Scully reported, “This crowd just ready to lift the Coliseum! 1-2 pitch, fastball, got him swinging!Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, August 31, 1959
Koufax needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the ninth inning and his 147th and last pitch of the night tied the major league record of 18 strikeouts in nine innings.
As the cheering of the crowd subsided, Scully admitted on the air, “Boy, I never thought I’d see it. I never thought I’d see a man strike out 18 major league players in a game. And Sandy Koufax did it. After 8 ½ innings, it’s a 2-2 tie.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, August 31, 1959
The game was still only tied, not won, and yet, with one out, Alston let Koufax hit and he singled to left. After Gilliam singled to left to put Koufax in scoring position, the left hand-hitting Moon homered a “Moon shot” over the screen in left field and the Dodgers had an ecstatic, wondrous, 5-2 win and moved the team to within one game of first place. As Scully said at the end of the broadcast as the team celebrated, “What a night!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, August 31, 1959
Columnist Mel Durslag compared the Koufax 18-strikeout game finish to the 1951 Bobby Thomson home run and called it a “radiant moment.” He also said there was a second great moment in the game when he caught a foul ball hit into the press box by Mays.Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 2, 1959
An interesting sidelight to Koufax tying the major league record was later revealed. Koufax admitted “That was the best game I ever pitched” and that he had been nursing a cold all week.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 1, 1959 What did Sandy do after his 18-strikeout win? “I shaved and showered and went home to bed. I just wanted to go to sleep to see if it was a dream.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 2, 1959
Bob Hunter also uncovered a discrepancy in the pitching mound for the game with the Giants. The football Rams had played an exhibition two days earlier, and the pitching mound at the Coliseum was removed to provide a level field. However, the burden to get the mound to the 15 inch regulation size within 24 hours was more difficult than realized. Efforts to stabilize the mound for the Sunday and Monday games would only succeed if there was additional height and the mound became feasible at 17 inches, two above the league rules. Giants’ manager Bill Rigney admitted he noticed the difference in the height of the mound in the game on August 30th and could have protested, but in his words, “Decided to forget it.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 1, 1959
Moon, the ninth inning home run over the left field screen was nothing new to the left hand hitting outfielder. Moon explained, “When I came to the Coliseum, I started hitting to right and center like other lefties. But with the size of the fields out there, this was really battling the odds. So I started to work on something new.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 1, 1959
Mel Durslag described Moon’s new swing. “Moon says he adjusts to a left hander (pitcher) merely by crowding the plate a bit, thus giving a better shot at balls that break away…..The result has been a calculated slice in which Moon keeps his hands close to his body and maneuvers his wrists in such a way as to crack the ball to the opposite field.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 1, 1959 Moon told writer Frank Finch “I changed my style in the Coliseum early in the season after I ripped some pretty good shots the right fielders turned into easy outs. If you want to slice the ball, it’s simply a matter of bringing the hands closer to the body and slightly delaying the swing.”Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1959
August turned into September. It is only a day of difference, but to ballplayers in a tough pennant race, it’s significant. August days are long, hot, and frustrating, but to be on a ball club in September means just a little more interest to go to the ballpark and the promise of cooler days and nights and a possible October of games.
And after that dramatic, rousing 5-2 win over the Giants that pushed the Dodgers to within one game of first place, the Dodgers opened September with a thud by being shut out by the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson, losing a half game in the standings.
The season thus far had been a series of heroes on the team: Drysdale, Koufax, Craig, Sherry, Wills, Hodges, Snider, Gilliam, Neal, and Moon, but September would find room for role players who had not received much attention. The first player to step forward would be pitcher Chuck Churn.
To be formal, his full name was Clarence Nottingham Churn and he was pitching in his 11th pro season. He had brief stops at Pittsburgh and Cleveland in previous seasons, but he had not pitched well and did not stick in the majors. Churn had been acquired by the Dodgers in May 1959 from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for minor league pitcher Dick Hanlon. Hanlon would later have a distinguished scouting career for the Dodgers and was the signing scout for standouts as Dave Stewart and John Wetteland.
Churn had been a steady workhorse at Spokane and had good control and was to provide “mop-up” help. In four of his first five games on his arrival in August, he pitched in Dodger defeats, providing capable relief. But for three weeks in September, he was as valuable as any Dodger pitcher.
On September 2nd, the Cardinals scored five runs in the third inning off Danny McDevitt and led 5-1. By the fourth inning, the Dodgers had tied the game at 5-all, and in the fifth inning, after the bases were loaded with one out for the Cardinals, Churn induced the hitter to hit into an inning-ending double play. The Dodgers scored four runs in later innings and Churn finished the Cardinals off with 4 2/3 innings and one run to gain his first major league win in a 9-6 Dodger win. The journeyman pitcher would play a larger role later in the month.
All pennant races have their highs and lows and 1959 was no different. One day your club is invincible, ready to take on the entire world, and the next day it is the lowest of lows, and it seems as if all is lost. On September 3rd, with actor Jimmy Stewart and film director Mervyn LeRoy in the press box, the Cardinals stopped the Dodgers, 5-3. After two days off, the Dodgers met the Cubs in a Sunday doubleheader and two former Dodgers hurt them.
In the first game, pitcher Art Ceccarelli threw 10 scoreless innings to defeat the Dodgers, 3-0 when Ernie Banks hit a three-run home run off Sandy Koufax in the 10th inning. Koufax had shutout the Cubs for nine innings and made 159 pitches before the Cubs broke through. Ceccarelli never pitched for the Dodgers but signed his first pro contract with the Dodgers in 1948. In the spring of 1959, he had gone to camp with the Giants, but he didn’t make their club and instead pitched for the Cubs. One writer said of Ceccarelli, “Yesterday he may have won the pennant for the Giants.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 7, 1959
In the second game, the Dodgers came as close to winning the game without winning. Don Drysdale held a 3-2 lead with two out in the ninth inning. Two Cubs were on base by singles and with two strikes on the hitter, Walt (Moose) Moryn. The slugging outfielder who had signed his first pro contract with the Dodger organization then swatted a three run home run for a 5-3 Cub lead and later the win. The only thing easing the sting of the double defeats was a Giant loss to St. Louis, but the rough day pushed the Dodgers three games out of first place.
The writers’ mood matched the state of Dodger fans. “It’s now three down (from first place) and 18 (games) to go and the calendar is running out of days,” said one writer.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 7, 1959 Another wrote, “The odds against the Dodgers rescuing the pennant at this stage are distressingly long.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 9, 1959 The columnist went on to say that no one in the Dodger organization had given up. “It’s going to happen like this,” said one of the fighting administrators (of the Dodgers). “We’ll lick them three straight in San Francisco.” The columnist responded, “It is indeed a beautiful dream.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 9, 1959
The Giants were in the process of the construction of their new stadium and were hoping to finish the building of Candlestick Park so it could be ready for the World Series. The columnist concluded, “The first World Series at Candlestick (in San Francisco) may not be so easy to forget….. The series will definitely be played at Candlestick.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, September 9, 1959
But, this is a pennant race where anything can happen. On September 8th, a hero from the 1955 World Series returned to play for the Dodgers. Sandy Amoros, whose catch in the seventh game was the deciding factor for the Dodgers’ first World Championship was promoted after a fine 1959 season at Montreal in the International League. Amoros hit 29 home runs for the Montreal Royals and his experience, speed, and left side hitting ability would provide a small, but significant difference in a one-run win over the Braves.
That night, the starting pitcher of Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, Podres stopped the Phillies in a 7-1 win and struck out 14, including six straight. The next night, Don Drysdale pitched the first 1-0 game in the nearly two seasons at the Coliseum, but Giant wins on both days kept the Dodgers still three games from first place. The Dodgers were doing all the little things right. The only Dodger run in the 1-0 win over the Phillies came in the sixth inning. Moon was on first base and Norm Larker squared to bunt Moon to second on the sacrifice.
Larker popped his bunt foul high into the air behind home plate. The Phillie catcher made the extra effort and dove head long to catch the foul popup, but the alert Moon, knowing the difficulty of the catcher getting up and throwing to second, tagged at first base when the ball was caught and sprinted to second. The Phillie catcher, on the ground and facing away from the diamond, had little chance to throw out Moon and he was in scoring position. One out later, Hodges singled and Moon scored the only run of the game.
The Dodger fortunes continued to hold. In the seventh inning, nursing a 1-0 lead, Drysdale had two Phillies on base. The hitter, Anderson, hit a ball that was described as being “barely foul down the left-field line.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 10, 1959 Drysdale escaped from the inning and the Dodgers had their hard earned win.
The next night, Craig continued the excellent work of Dodger pitchers as he pitched a complete game to beat the Phillies, 5-0. In the last three games, Dodger pitching had two shutouts and a one run win. Craig received a boost from Wills, who had four hits, including three singles and a triple and scored a run. The Giants lost, and their three game lead shrank to two.
The hot pennant race got the weather it deserved on the 11th day of the month as the Dodgers faced the Pirates at the Coliseum in a memorable doubleheader. Southern California broke out in one of its patented September heat waves and the first game began with a 104-degree temperature and the game would be hotter than the weather. In fact, the humidity even caused a brief amount of rain in the fifth inning, the first time it had ever rained in the Coliseum during a Dodger game.
The Pirates and Dodgers went back and forth in the game and Moon got the Dodgers close in the eighth inning with a solo home run. In the ninth inning, the Pirates had a 4-3 lead and ace reliever Elroy Face on the mound. Face had won 17 consecutive games pitching in relief for the Pirates. He had not lost a game since May 30th of the previous season. Worse, he had pitched in the Dodger minor league organization for two seasons before getting his chance with the Pirates and helped them to become competitive. Face was only 5’8” but had a superb forkball as his out pitch and the Dodgers would have their hands full.
Wills led off the ninth inning and singled, his third hit of the day. After a sacrifice moved Wills to second, Gilliam tripled to right field to score Wills and tie the game. Then, on an 0-2 count, Neal singled home Gilliam for the magical, come from behind 5-4 win and the first loss for Face in 18 decisions. Reliever Chuck Churn got his second major league win in 1 2/3 innings in relief.
The second game had fewer dramatics, but it was no less important. It was all Larry Sherry as he struck out 11 and gave up just six hits in a 4-0 Dodger win. The double win combined with a Giant loss to the Phillies in San Francisco had shaved the lead to a half game over the Dodgers and the Giants were one game ahead of the surging Braves.
The second game of the doubleheader was remarkable for two other reasons, but the context requires some explanation. The first game of the Dodgers’ doubleheader against Pittsburgh had started in the late afternoon before the Giants’ night game. However, the Dodgers’ second game had started after the Giants’ game, and the Giants were concluding their game as the Dodgers were only in the sixth inning. The Giants’ game was of importance to the Dodgers because if the Giants lost in San Francisco, a Dodger win in the second game against Pittsburgh would move the Dodgers to within a half game of first place.
As the Pirates batted in the sixth inning, one of the special moments in Coliseum history was about to occur. Dodger broadcasting great Vin Scully told the radio listeners, “By the way, we have direct control to Seals Stadium in San Francisco. There are two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning at Seals Stadium, Philadelphia leading 1-0.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 At that time in major league baseball, the means to keep track of out of town scores was by use of the ticker tape. Information would come clattering from a machine, but was limited to providing pitching changes, runs scored, and home runs. The capability to receive pitch by pitch and hitter by hitter information was not available as it was today.
As the radio audience, including the fans inside the Coliseum, listened, Scully began to do play by play of not only the Dodger game, but the Giant game in San Francisco. The greatest broadcaster in sports was going to do it in a fashion only he could.
“We have direct wire now to San Francisco…..Well, we’re doing two ball games almost simultaneously.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 Scully was getting information on the Giants’ game from producer-engineer Clay Sanders, who was talking to someone in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, relaying the news from there. Scully described Larry Sherry pitching to the Pirates’ Fred Green and giving a pitch by pitch description to the Giants’ McCovey. At one point, Scully laughed briefly and said, “Boy, if somebody tunes in late feeling good, they’re really going to get confused.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
As Sherry pitched to the Pirates, the Phillies’ Robin Roberts was facing McCovey in San Francisco and Scully went back and forth between pitches, announcing the pitches as they occurred in the Dodger game and then providing information on the Giant game given to him by Sanders on the phone to Candlestick Park.
Scully continued with the dual broadcast. “Sherry’s pitch is fouled away, two balls, two strikes. Ball three to McCovey.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 Scully laughs again. “If there’s confusion but if you’re a baseball fan, you asked for it.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
McCovey takes ball four for a walk from Phillie pitcher Roberts and as Scully announces the Giants have a base runner at first over the air, an audible groan can be heard from those fans that have brought their radios to the game and are listening.
The attention of the moment was not toward the Dodgers, but the outcome of the game in San Francisco. Scully was aware the crowd in Los Angeles was hearing his report. “The crowd here at the Coliseum, many of them with transistors, and the oohs and the ahhs really whirling around the saucer. We’ll try to keep you right up to every pitch.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
Bob Skinner of the Pirates was at the plate and without missing a beat, Scully provided all the information Dodger fans wanted to hear. “Thanks to the ingenuity of our producer-engineer Clay Sanders, we’re giving you every pitch in both ballparks. Curve ball to Skinner, a bouncer to Charlie Neal (second baseman), he’s up with it, throws him (Skinner) out.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959 In the next breath, Scully announced, “ Orlando Cepeda has just hit a fly ball to center field aaannnd it is caught! Philadelphia won it!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 11, 1959
Dodger fans in the Coliseum hear the report and break out into a tumultuous roar that lasted 15 seconds as they celebrated the final out of the Giant game. Pirate players wondered what could have happened to make the Coliseum crowd break out into such a sustained cheer in the middle of a game where nothing of importance had appeared to happen. The country was changing with transistors, jet aircraft, and baseball on the West Coast and now fans, even inside the stadium, were grateful for the information the great Dodger announcer could provide and they responded.
Sherry finished the game with the shutout and the Dodgers moved a half game behind the Giants. Almost lost in the pennant race excitement was a three home run-day by Moon. Moon homered twice in the first game to help the 5-4 win and hit a three run-home run in the second game to put Sherry and the Dodgers ahead. The two home runs in the first game started a stretch for Moon where he hit five home runs in six games, the best power display of his career. Moon was the model of understatement when he told a reporter, “I’m getting so I like the screen.Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1959
Veteran Hodges spoke of the 1959 Dodger team, a mixture of players who played in Brooklyn and those players just now getting their chance to play for the Dodgers. “I’ve never seen such spirit—short of winning a pennant or World Series--as we’ve had in our clubhouse recently.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 14, 1959
The Dodger hopes may have been high, but there were plenty of games left in this pennant race. After the twin win over the Pirates, consecutive losses by the Dodgers to the Pirates and the Braves moved the Dodgers again two games behind the Giants and the Milwaukee Braves were coming fast. The Braves had begun their own move to capture their third consecutive National League pennant. After trailing the Giants by 4 ½ games on September 5th, the Braves had won eight of nine games, including the opener of a two-game series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on September 14th.
Before the game, Alston got a look at a future Dodger, but not in the way he expected. Alston noticed a young man on the field behind the Dodgers’ cage in batting practice. Not recognizing the man, Alston summoned team publicist Red Patterson to have the person removed from the area as Alston believed him to be a reporter. Checking out the situation, Patterson informed Alston the young man was Willie Davis, a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Los Angeles who had been signed by the Dodgers to a pro contract.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 15, 1959 Davis had just completed a superb first pro season playing for Reno in the California League and Green Bay in the Three I league (Illinois, Iowa, and Indiana). He showed himself to be the next bright promise with 216 hits combined and 43 doubles, 16 triples, and 12 home runs. In the next decade, he would help the Dodgers patrol center field and be part of the 1963 and 1965 World Championship teams.
Every game was now a must game and it was not impossible for baseball and possibly sports to have its first three-way playoff and the National League office was hard at work to determine what the teams would do to establish the pennant winner. And if it was possible, the wild National League pennant race got a little crazier in the Dodgers’ September 15th game against the Braves.
It wasn’t enough the Braves and the Dodgers were going head to head in a pennant race, this game being the last meeting of the season for the two teams. There would be three lead changes, the game would be tied in the 9th inning, a team would go ahead in the 10th inning. The game-winning runs would be scored in the bottom of the 10th inning. There would be a protest of the game. Wills would have his first five-hit game of his career. When the dust settled, the Dodgers would edge out the Braves in 10 innings, 8-7.
The Braves took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a two-run home run by Joe Adcock, whose role in the game would not be over. Craig started and was not effective, but in the fourth inning, the Dodgers put five runs across the plate, including two runs scoring with two out. A notable at bat came in that Dodger five-run fourth inning when Sandy Amoros was safe at first on a fielder’s choice and the third Dodger run scored. The one RBI by Amoros allowed the Dodgers to be tied in the ninth and get a chance to win in the 10th inning.
After the Dodgers’ big inning, the Braves’ Adcock led off and hit a drive to left field toward the Coliseum’s screen. In order to play baseball at the Coliseum, the diamond was laid out in 1958 with the left field fence only 250 feet away. To mitigate the effects of the close left-field fence, a 40-foot high screen was established from the left field foul pole to a point in left center field. The National League had permitted the use of the screen at the Coliseum and the approved ground rules provided that any batted ball that remained stuck in the screen would be considered a ground-rule double, limiting the batter and any base runners to two bases.
Adcock’s ball went toward the left-field screen, and the ball hit a supporting tower beam and became lodged in the screen. Second-base umpire Vin Smith gave a signal for a home run, but center-fielder Fairly pointed to the ball stuck in the screen and Alston came onto the field to protest the decision. Both player and manager made their argument to the crew chief, third-base umpire Frank Dascoli that this was not a judgment call in dispute, but rather an issue of the ground rules. Dascoli reviewed the situation with his umpires and it was agreed the ball had stuck in the screen and under the Coliseum ground rules, Adcock was to be given a double, he would remain at second base and instead of Adcock’s ball being a home run, a run was taken off the scoreboard.
Braves’ Manager Fred Haney wanted to get the run back and argued his case, and losing his direct appeal to the umpires, announced he would play the game under protest. Haney’s point was that Adcock’s ball lodged behind the screen and should be considered over the screen for a home run, but he lost that decision and the protest was his only hope, if granted, to have the run count and the game replayed from that point.
The Braves would enjoy a big offensive day with seven runs scored, 16 hits and seven walks from Dodger pitchers, but they hit miserably in the clutch, driving in just three of 21 runners in scoring position, and they would leave Adcock stranded and the score remained 5-2, Dodgers.
The two teams swapped runs (the Dodgers scored their run when pitcher Podres hit a sacrifice fly) and the Dodgers led 6-3 in the eighth inning. Dodger pitching was not effective and the Braves scored twice in the eighth inning and one run in the ninth inning to tie the game at 6-6. During the winter, the Braves would often point to the disputed call on Adcock’s double in the fifth inning and complain at the end of nine innings, they would have had seven runs to the Dodgers’ six and ultimately, a Braves victory.
Chuck Churn came out of the bullpen and the Braves scored a run in the top of the 10th inning for a 7-6 lead. The Giants were winning easily that day in San Francisco over Cincinnati and a Braves win would keep them one game behind the Giants, while dropping the Dodgers three games behind first place if the Dodgers would lose.
With one out in the bottom of the 10th inning, Wills singled for his fifth hit of the day. Wills had been on a tear of late and his fifth hit of the game was his 15th in his last 24 at bats over seven games, helping the Dodgers win five of seven. Chuck Essegian singled Wills to third. After catcher Joe Pignatano ran for Essegian, Gilliam hit a fly ball to center field and Wills scored the tying run. Neal singled to move Pignatano to second, and then in a duel with the Braves’ pitcher, Moon coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases for Fairly.
Fairly, signed as a bonus player from Southern California, had not driven in a run since August 21st and he would only drive in one run in the month of September, but he chose his spot well. He drew a walk to force in the winning run as the Dodgers won a tough, tight 8-7 game. The Braves fell back one game to two games out, and the Dodgers stayed within two games.
After the game when the media met with Alston, the manager wearily said, “Don’t ask me much about the game. I’ve forgotten most of it already.”Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Examiner, September 16, 1959
As grateful as Alston was to win the big game against the Braves to keep the Dodgers two games from first place, he had to admit the club had their problems after a 7-4 loss to the Reds on September 16th.. Alston said, “Our pitching is in bad shape. (Larry) Sherry needs a rest and if I don’t use him in relief he may start against the Giants (in San Francisco). Our pitching is in bad shape because I had to use guys who haven’t pitched much lately (Alston used Stan Williams and veteran Clem Labine). (Sandy) Koufax seems to get steadily worse. I don’t know why. His shoulder’s all right but he hasn’t been fast lately.”Dan Hafner, Los Angeles Examiner, September 17, 1959 Despite the loss to the Reds, the Dodgers did not lose ground to the Giants and remained two games behind, but it was the Braves who defeated the Giants and they moved into second place, pushing the Dodgers into third place, one game behind them.
Despite the loss of the previous night, it was a celebration for the Dodgers on September 17, 1959 as Walter O’Malley, the team president, Manager Walter Alston, club executives and players welcomed approximately 5,000 fans to the groundbreaking of Dodger Stadium. A baseball diamond was drawn with the home plate, bases, and a pitcher’s mound marked off an estimated area where they would belong in the new stadium. Looking at the hardscrabble area with its gullies and ravines, it is hard to believe a stadium could be built there, much less anything else being established, but for the city officials of Los Angeles and the Dodgers, the long term vision for the city could now be reality.
Groundbreaking was the first step of a dream of Walter O’Malley and the Dodger organization to build the finest baseball stadium ever. National League President Warren Giles and architect-engineer Emil Praeger were among the guests that turned the first ceremonial shovels of dirt. Moments later, a group of bulldozers came over the hill to do preliminary leveling and Dodger Stadium was no longer a dream, but a start on what is known to still be baseball’s finest stadium.
And the celebration continued to that night as the Dodgers defeated the Reds, 4-3. Snider hit a three-run home run in the first inning. Gilliam drove in the decisive run in the eighth inning. Alston hoped he would not have to use his top relief pitcher, Sherry, but the Reds threatened in the 9th inning and scored twice when Sherry allowed two walks and a two-run single, but he nailed down the final out. The Giants won in San Francisco over the Braves, and the Braves fell into a tie again with the Dodgers, both teams two games behind the Giants. However, the Dodgers’ home season was over. They had eight games left to play, all on the road, and the first three games of the trip began in San Francisco.
Friday, September 18th, the Dodgers flew to San Francisco just as Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev was flying into Los Angeles during his visit to the United States. Los Angeles weather was fine for the Soviet Premier, but the Dodgers were met with 2 ½ inches of rain up north and the Friday game was rained out. Saturday’s game would be a split doubleheader, an afternoon game started at 1:25 p.m. and a night game to start at 8:10 p.m. with two different admissions for fans. After the first game, the stadium would be cleared and the two teams would wait for several hours before starting the night game portion.
National League President Warren Giles also rendered his decision on the Braves’ protest of the Dodger game on September 15th. Giles decision was “After personal inspection of the left-field screen at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and satisfying myself as to the place the ball hit the screen support and the exact spot the ball lodged in the screen, both of which generally agree with (Braves’ GM John) McHale’s report and as a result of a verbal report from all of our 16 umpires the last two days, I have definitely concluded the call of a Ground Rules double on the hit by Adcock in your game of September 15 was a correct decision. It was the unanimous decision of our 16 umpires that the ruling conformed with the understanding and the Ground Rules interpretation under which all National League games have been played at the Coliseum in 1959. Milwaukee’s protest is, therefore, denied.”Warren Giles, National Leagues President, September 18, 1959
Three National League teams are within two games of each, two of them, the Dodgers and Giants, going head to head and the Braves are in Philadelphia, playing their game and watching the scoreboard.
The decision Alston had to make was to which starting pitcher would begin the day game and the night game. Alston had Craig and Drysdale, but in Alston’s opinion, Craig had a better overall day record than Drysdale and it was Craig who received the nod.John Old, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 19, 1959
If the pennant race did not need additional attention, a sponsor had supplied a two-week vacation for two to Japan for the Most Valuable Player of the critical Dodger-Giant series. Craig laid first claim when he pitched a complete game for the 4-1 win over the Giants. Craig not only pitched well, but he had a single and drove in a run for his own support. The Giants’ starting pitcher was left hander John Antonelli, and Alston wanted as many right-hand bats in the lineup, so Furillo was in the lineup in right field and Joe Pignatano was behind the plate in place of Roseboro. All of Alston’s moves paid off. Furillo singled to drive in a run and scored one run, Pignatano had two hits and drove in a run and Wills had three hits with one RBI. The top of the Dodger lineup was a combined two hits in 22 at bats, but the bottom of the lineup came through with seven hits and three RBI in 14 at bats.
After the first game win, Craig lay on the trainer’s room table and told Alston, “I’m ready to work in relief (for the second game).”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 19, 1959 Alston again went with a right-handed lineup against the Giants’ left hand pitcher, Mike McCormick. Moon was the only starter who hit from the left side exclusively. This meant Pignatano would start and play the second game as catcher and he would provide physical and mental support to the Dodger starter, Drysdale.
In the bottom of the first inning, Drysdale couldn’t find his control and walked the first three hitters to load the bases with none out. The veteran Pignatano took charge of the situation. He went to the mound and said he told Drysdale, “I told him not to let up. I told him to keep firing the ball.”Jimmy Cannon, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 23, 1959 Drysdale started to fire the ball. He fanned the next three Giants and prevented a big inning. However, in the second inning, the Giants pushed over a run and led 1-0 through six innings. The top of the seventh inning changed the game, the doubleheader, and maybe the pennant.
With one out, singles by Don Demeter and Wills and a walk to Pignatano loaded the bases. Essegian was then safe at first on a fielding error, and the tying run scored. Gilliam broke the tie when he drove home two runs with a double and Neal followed him with a two-run double for the Dodger five-run outburst and they finished the seventh inning leading, 5-1.
Everyone on the team was coming through. Pignatano, catching two games in one day, had a single and scored a run. Wills singled and scored a run. Four Dodger pitchers fanned 13 Giants in the second game.
Alston went with his best in the later innings. The relief pitcher Sherry, who had an easy seventh inning, wobbled in the eighth. The last out of the inning came when Alston brought in left-hander McDevitt to face the great power hitter McCovey with men on the corners and McDevitt got a strikeout. In the ninth inning, Alston went to Churn, and Churn put the Giants’ down without a run. The Dodgers had a doubleheader sweep. For the first time since July 29th, the Dodgers were in first place, although tied with the Giants.
From September 2nd to September 19th, Churn had been a life saver. He pitched in six games with three wins and one save. The second game save over the Giants would be his only major league save. His effective relief had been a necessary component for the club down the stretch.
The Braves were keeping the race tight also. Their win over the Phillies put them a half game behind the Dodgers and the Giants as the Braves now had one less win than the identical Dodgers and Giants’ record of 82-66.
The 1958 season had been a long one for the Dodgers. Their record fell below .500 for the first time since 1944 and to add insult to injury, the Giants had defeated the Dodgers in 16 of 22 games. The National League race was incentive enough, but to beat the Giants in San Francisco was always satisfying to any Dodger club.
In the final game of the series, Alston’s dilemma was to choose between starting pitchers Koufax and Podres and Podres was elected. After the game, Alston decided on Podres as Koufax would have been pitching on three days’ rest.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 21, 1959
Podres, who had won several big games for Alston in the past, again gave him the performance he was seeking. He lasted until two outs in the eighth inning and struck out nine Giants. Meanwhile, the Dodgers took an early 2-0 lead and added two more seventh inning runs for a 4-0 lead. The man leading the team was the seventh place hitter, Wills, who had another three hits and an RBI in the game. His second-inning double was his 21st hit in his last 38 at bats. He would later add two more hits in the game and be named the player of the series, winning the trip to Japan. On September 7th, Wills’ average had dropped to .209, but his torrid hitting now had his average at a robust .274. Bob Hunter would write of Wills a few days later, “It looks as if a new star is born.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 23, 1959
Giant pitchers did not help their cause with eight walks and a 4-0 Dodger lead narrowed to 4-2 in the eighth inning. Koufax retired the final hitter in the eighth inning with the tying runs on base and in the ninth inning, the Dodgers scored four times to break the game open and the extra runs were invaluable.
Koufax opened the ninth by walking the first two Giants and in the middle of the at bat of the third hitter, he was relieved by Clem Labine. Labine walked Landrith, but the walk was charged to Koufax. The lead may have been 8-2 for the Dodgers, but with none out, it appeared McCovey would get one more at bat and Mays and Cepeda would follow McCovey. However, Labine finished off the Giants with a strikeout and a double play to clinch the three-game sweep over the Giants and the right to first place. The save by Labine was his first for the team since July 24th, almost two months earlier.
It had been a remarkable day, one that began with the Giants and the Dodgers tied for first place, the Braves a half game behind. The Braves won the earlier game, making them tied for first in the middle of the Dodger-Giant game. The Dodger win over San Francisco put them alone in first place, the Braves were now in second place, a half game behind and the Giants fell to third place, albeit just one game behind the Dodgers.
On Monday, September 21st, the Dodgers had an open date, but despite their 3 a.m. arrival in St. Louis, the players had requested they work out. The Giants were traveling to Chicago to play the Cubs. The Braves, the only team among the pennant contenders playing, defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh and now their record was identical with the Dodgers at 82-67 and the Giants remained one game behind.
The National League office made plans for a potential of a three-way playoff between the Giants, Braves, and Dodgers. Two teams had met before in league playoffs, but never had three teams been tied at the end of the season. The National League at that time had a playoff system of two wins in three games, but fairness required each team to play each other and each team requiring at least one game at home. There were several possibilities and still five games left to play by the three teams.
The Los Angeles Examiner newspaper had columnists Bob Hunter covering the Dodgers, Mel Durslag following the Braves, and general columnist Vincent X. Flaherty, notable for his support to bring the Dodgers to Los Angeles, traveling with the Giants. The impact of the games could be measured by three major newspapers in Los Angeles now putting the game report on the front page of the newspaper and not just the sports page.
The games between the three clubs on September 22nd would provide two clubs with unpleasant surprises. The first blow was to the Giants who took a 4-3 lead into the ninth inning in Chicago, but a lightning-bolt home run by George Altman with a man aboard made the Cubs winners and the late loss hurt the Giants severely.
As the Dodgers prepared to meet the Cardinals, the Braves scored early and never trailed in the game as they defeated Pittsburgh for a half-game lead. The Dodgers batted first in St. Louis and scored three early runs, but the Cardinals responded with four runs in the bottom of the first. The Dodgers tied the game in the second inning and took a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the third inning, but it wasn’t the night for the Dodger pitchers. Starter Koufax did not get out of the first inning and Alston went to the bullpen five more times with effective relief only in the last three innings.
Taking advantage of his bench, Alston set a major-league record by using nine pinch-hitters in the game and had success with three of them, driving in five runs. The Dodgers trailed 11-7 in the ninth and young Frank Howard got them closer with a three-run home run, but a game that saw 21 runs, 28 hits, 14 walks and four home runs only meant the Dodgers were a run short and with the Braves win, one game from first place.
On this date, Walter O’Malley announced the three games in Chicago would be televised back to Los Angeles on KTTV. Previously, only games played by the Dodgers in San Francisco had been televised back to Los Angeles, but O’Malley knew the fan interest of the moment would be high for his team. Bud Furillo of the Los Angeles Herald-Express said the announcement made one famous fan very happy. Furillo wrote, “When I told Frank (Sinatra) the final Dodger series was televised here he clicked his French heels and advised producer Jack Cummings to draw up another shooting schedule.” (Sinatra was in the process of starring in the film, “Can-Can.”)Bud Furillo, Los Angeles Herald-Express, September 23, 1959
Another game, another day off the September calendar, a bitter month for the Giants. They would lose their fifth game in a row on September 23rd, a 9-8, 10th inning loss to the Cubs and again the winning run came on a home run in the Cubs’ last at bat. Meanwhile, the Braves were frustrating themselves in Pittsburgh. Eddie Mathews of the Braves hit a two-run home run in the eighth inning to tie the game. Mathews got new life when a Pittsburgh fan upset the Pirates’ catcher’ chance to catch a foul pop fly when the catcher reached into the stands. The big moment for the Braves was cut short as the Pirates scored a solo run in the eighth inning and the Braves took a 5-4 defeat, forcing them to see the outcome of the Dodger-Cardinal game.
In St. Louis, Craig was taking the mound for the Dodgers. Craig, the pitcher who had started the 1959 season in Spokane, shut out the Cardinals, 3-0, allowing just two hits over the last five innings. Don Demeter broke open a 1-0 game with a two-run single in the eighth inning for the cushion used by Craig. Now again, the Dodgers and Braves were tied for first place with three games to play, and the Giants’ skid had them at two games back, but it felt like 10. The Dodgers had concerns during the game when Hodges was hit by a pitch and his left elbow swelled to the point where he was considered questionable for the final three games of the season.
Walter O’Malley and Buzzie Bavasi made the trip to Chicago for the final weekend of the regular season. The Dodger-Cub game was typical for the team for the 1959 season. Both teams scored single runs in the first and fifth innings for a 2-2 tie, but in the sixth inning, Hodges, who was not expected to play because of the elbow, slugged a two-run double for a 4-2 Dodger lead. The Cubs had defeated the Giants in two straight and pushed over single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to tie the game. McDevitt had come into the game in the eighth inning for Drysdale and after a solo home run by Ernie Banks to tie the game, held the Cubs scoreless until removed for Sherry in the 10th inning. There were two on and one out and Sherry was facing Banks, the 1958 National League Most Valuable Player going for a consecutive National League Most Valuable Player Award. The reliever got Banks on a strikeout for the second out and then got the final out of the 10th inning without the Cubs scoring.
In the 11th inning, Hodges, one day removed from a swollen elbow and not expected to play, homered to left field for a one-run lead and Sherry earned his win by stopping the Cubs in the 11th inning, leaving a runner stranded in scoring position. The Dodgers ended their game a half game in front of the Braves and then the 6-3 loss to the Phillies that night moved the Braves one game back.
Saturday was no day for the Dodgers. The Cubs began hitting early and by the third inning led 9-0 and by the fourth inning, it was 12-0 Cubs and there would be no Dodger magic that day. And, the 1959 National League pennant race took another turn as the Braves defeated the Phillies in a 3-2 squeaker as the Braves scored the deciding run in the bottom of the eighth inning. The National League pennant race was knotted again.
Sunday, September 27, the final day of the regular season had the Dodgers and Braves both tied for first place and the Giants 1 ½ games back. Remarkably, the Giants still had an actual mathematical chance to make a three-way tie if the Dodgers and Braves both lost and the Giants won a doubleheader in St. Louis.
The possibilities were numerous for the endgame of this season. The Dodgers or Braves could win the pennant outright, the Dodgers and Braves could tie, the Giants could be involved with a three way tie. And everything pinned on one day and one game for two teams and two games by the Giants. Karl Hubenthal’s cartoon on the cover of the sports page for the Los Angeles Examiner had his prototypical Los Angeles citizen collapsed in front of a television set, smoke billowing from the screen with a caption, “We’ll Never Be The Same.”Karl Hubenthal, Los Angeles Examiner, September 27, 1959
Alston spoke with his team before the game. Alston told reporters he said, “Let’s just play like we have been, men. The pressure today is no different than any other day.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959
Craig was given the ball for the start and as he had done since his recall in June, came through with a 7-1 complete game win. It was Craig’s third complete game win in nine days. Craig beat the Cubs with his arm and his bat as he drove home the Dodgers’ first run and Wills scored from first base on the same play when a slow relay from the Cub outfield gave him time to score and the Dodgers never faltered from the 2-0 start. In appreciation, Cub fans in Wrigley Field gave Craig a loud ovation for his pitching when Craig came to bat in the eighth inning.Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959 Los Angeles Times writer Frank Finch revealed what a confident Craig had said to him over a month ago. Apparently, in a conversation with the writer, the Dodger pitcher had said, “You are now shaking the hand that will pitch the club to the top.”Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1959 Walter O’Malley praised his staff and team. “I’ll say one thing for this team of ours. You know in baseball you can win the easy way or the hard way. But not the Dodgers. They’ve got to win the craziest way.”Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1959
Meanwhile, in Milwaukee the Braves were defeating the Phillies and the Giants were handed a bitter end to their season when the Cardinals scored two eighth inning runs for another late-inning Giant loss. After 154 games, the Dodgers and Braves would meet in a best two of three-game playoff for only the third time in National League history and the Dodgers had been involved in the previous two playoffs, losing in 1946 to St. Louis and 1951 to the New York Giants.
Roy Campanella, the Dodgers’ great hitting catcher who ended his playing career from serious spinal injuries suffered in an auto accident told columnist Vincent X. Flaherty of his admiration for the team and how he knew the outcome for the season would be. “I know the Dodgers are going to beat the Braves in a playoff. And that’s what counts now. Tell ‘em Campy’s coming. (to Los Angeles)”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959 Campanella had great praise for starting pitcher Craig and Alston. “I caught him (Craig) in 1955. I said, “Roger, if you learn to keep sliders inside on left-hand hitters, you got it made.” Campanella cheered the Dodger team. “I never saw any Dodger team work harder than the Dodgers at spring training. Above all, tell that skipper (Alston) I think he did a great job just as he always does. The Dodgers wouldn’t be the Dodgers without him.”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, September 28, 1959
Nothing during this season had ever been easy and the playoffs would be no break for the Dodgers. They had played a Sunday game in Chicago, would face the Braves in Milwaukee for the first game of the playoffs on Monday and on Tuesday play the Braves in Los Angeles.
The first game of the playoffs had Alston in a bind. Over the weekend, he had used his three top starting pitchers, Drysdale, Podres, and Craig and he made his choice to start McDevitt. The Dodgers scored early and led 1-0, but in the second inning McDevitt allowed a walk and two singles and Alston went to his best relief pitcher, Sherry. The Braves took the lead in the second inning on an infield out, but after that, Sherry locked the door. In the last 7 innings, he allowed just four singles and he retired nine of the last 10 hitters. Roseboro hit a solo home run for the Dodgers to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning and the advantage moved to the Dodgers in the first game, 3-2.
During and after the game in Milwaukee, long lines formed at the Coliseum to purchase tickets for the playoff game in Milwaukee. Newspaper photos showed Los Angeles citizens, students, cab drivers, restaurants cooks and all employees in every walk of life listening to the outcome on radio and rooting for their home team. And now, their team was within one game of the 1959 World Series.
The Dodgers and Braves flew from Milwaukee into Los Angeles to play a day game on September 29, the Dodgers’ third city in three days. This time they would have the home advantage, but the Braves early on held the whip hand on the Dodgers. The Braves immediately went after Drysdale and led 3-1 after two innings. The Braves added a single run in the fifth and in the eighth inning and the Coliseum crowd watched morosely as Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette allowed just two hits from the fifth through the eighth inning. In the ninth inning, Koufax walked the bases full and with two out, Labine relieved to hold the game in place. Labine fanned Mickey Vernon of the Braves for the final out and keeping the Braves from scoring in the ninth would turn out to be critical.
So many Dodger wins had been done in unexpected ways in 1959 and their hands were full, down by three runs in the ninth inning. The rally started innocently with a single by Wally Moon. Snider then singled, and Hodges singled to load the bases. Norm Larker, the Dodgers’ hottest hitter, with seven hits in his last 13 at bats then singled off the left field screen for two runs and Hodges went from first to third base. Braves’ manager Fred Haney brought in his ace left-hand pitcher Warren Spahn to face John Roseboro, but Alston’s counter move was Carl Furillo and it was Furillo who tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
Scully told the listening audience of Hodges scoring the tying run, “The Los Angeles Dodgers come roaring back in the bottom of the ninth and 36,000 people are roaring with them. It’s a brand new ballgame!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 29, 1959
This long pennant race, extended past the regular season, went into extra innings. Stan Williams now pitched for the Dodgers and retired the side in order in the 10th inning, but in the 11th inning was in a jam. After a walk to Eddie Mathews, and then an intentional walk to Henry Aaron and an unintentional walk to Al Spangler loaded the bases with two outs, Williams retired the power hitting Joe Adcock to end the inning. The Dodgers threatened in the bottom of the 11th inning and had the first two hitters on base and eventually loaded the bases with two outs, but were retired without scoring. Williams had an easy 12th inning with the Braves and in the bottom of the 12th inning, the Dodgers broke through. With two outs, Hodges walked, and Joe Pignatano singled Hodges to second. Furillo, who drove in the tying run in the ninth inning, had stayed in the game. It would be Furillo who would hit the ground ball that as Vin Scully said, “We go to Chicago!”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 29, 1959
It was up to Scully to summarize the moment for the Dodger organization and their fans. “The Cinderella team of the National League. For the first time in history a 7th place club has come back to win the pennant the following year and it had to be the Dodgers…..In their third playoff they finally win one and go to the Series….The crowd going wild as the fairy tale has come true…..The Los Angeles Dodgers have won the National League pennant for 1959……So, our suitcases that are down in the clubhouse are not there to idle out the night. They’ll be on the plane and the Dodgers will meet head on with the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. One of the truly great stories….It took four hours and 10 minutes and it seemed like an eternity.”Vin Scully, Los Angeles Dodgers, September 29, 1959
They had almost no time to celebrate. The 1 p.m. game ended after five in the afternoon, but by nine o’clock that evening, the Dodgers were in the air on their way to face the White Sox. Their stretch run was remarkable in its scope. They had won six of their last eight games, on the road, to force the playoff. The Dodgers had the best record in baseball in September and they were the best performing club in the National League from May 1st until the end of the season and the third best team overall from that point. They had won five straight games against their two biggest rivals, the Braves and the Giants, and they had won four of those five games on the road.
However, even the Dodgers were prone to a pratfall. As they flew into Chicago on Tuesday night that became Wednesday morning, the players were in their fourth city in four days. They had been in Chicago on Sunday, Milwaukee on Monday, Los Angeles on Tuesday, and they returned to Chicago on Wednesday. Even a travelling salesman would have been exhausted by such an itinerary.
Their hopes were brightened when they received the wonderful surprise of being greeted on arrival in Chicago by their former teammate, Campanella. The future Hall of Fame catcher was now living in New York, but had made the journey to Chicago to be with his team and accompany them through the World Series.Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 1959
It seemed as if the entire city of Los Angeles was ready to follow the World Series. For the first time in history, the World Series was to be broadcast in Spanish over KWKW radio in a re-creation form.Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 1, 1959 Several companies took out advertisements giving their best wishes to the team. Morning newspapers carried the broadcast information, the rosters and a blank scorecard on the first page with the starting lineups. Dodger fans had to be ready as the broadcast on radio and television was to start at 9:45 in the morning, only 11:45 a.m. in Chicago.
White Sox owner Bill Veeck provided some early controversy. When asked by columnist Mel Durslag how many people would attend the World Series in Los Angeles, Veeck estimated 75,000 for Game Three and 50,000 fans for Game Four. Veeck then added, possibly with tongue in cheek, “I’m not figuring on more than four games. That’s all we’ll (the White Sox) need”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, October 1, 1959
Durslag added a prediction for the winner in his column, “Just to be officially on record, in the event we’re right, we’ll say seven games. If we’re wrong, forget where you read it. We’ve been wrong on the Dodgers all season. If we are again, at least it’s going to be picking with them.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, October 1, 1959 Cartoonist Karl Hubenthal drew a Dodger climbing into a pumpkin coach labeled “World Series” and the caption read, “Our Cinderella Dodgers.”Karl Hubenthal, Los Angeles Examiner, October 1, 1959
The opening game of the 1959 World Series was a tremendous achievement for the Chicago White Sox as they were playing in their first World Series since the “Black Sox” scandal of 1919. The team was known as the “Go-Go Sox” as the team relied on excellent team defense, a stalwart starting pitching staff, a deep bullpen and a daring, running offensive attack that utilized getting on base, advancing runners, and reducing strikeouts per plate appearance. The White Sox had only two players hitting home runs in double figures, but they were easily the class team in the American League.
They may have been called the “Cinderella” Dodgers, but for them in the first game, it was not midnight that struck them, but the number 11. The headlines in the newspaper that day and the next day defined the whole afternoon. “Dodgers Get Clobbered”Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 1, 1959 and “ChiSox Smash Dodgers”Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 1, 1959 and “We”re Not Dead Yet Vow Dodgers”Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1959 and “11 (gulp) to 0, Big Klu Rips Dodgers, 11-0”Los Angeles Examiner, October 2, 1959
Despite the reputation of being a running team and not a power team, the first game belonged entirely to the White Sox as they thumped the Dodgers, 11-0. The White Sox scored twice in the first inning helped by their base running and a seven-run third inning put the game away. White Sox first baseman Ted (“Big Klu”) Kluszewski hit two home runs. By the fifth inning, it was 11-0 White Sox and that was how it finished. The Dodgers had eight hits and they were all singles in the one-sided loss, but the club had overcome larger obstacles in 1959 and was confident they would do so again.
Alston said, “It was just one of those (games) where you get the hell knocked out of you. But that kind of defeat doesn’t count any different than one that goes 13 innings and goes 2-1.”Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1959
In Game 2, Alston went with his ace of the 1955 World Series, Podres. This would be the third time Alston had started Podres after a Dodger loss in a World Series. In 1955, Podres started and won Game Three after the Dodgers had lost the first two games. He came back and pitched a complete game shutout in Game Seven after the Yankees had won Game Six to tie the Series. Podres would get this win following a Series loss and tie the Series and he would get help from teammates Neal, Essegian, Sherry, and a quick peek taken by shortstop Maury Wills.
The White Sox scored twice in the first inning and led 2-0 until Neal drove in the Dodgers’ first run of the Series with a solo fifth-inning home run. The home run was notable the next day in wire photos throughout the world. As White Sox left fielder Al Smith followed Neal’s home run into the left-field stands, a bleacher fan in reaching for Neal’s home run toppled his beer cup over the left field wall, and the unfortunate Smith was soaked in suds.
The game stayed 2-1 White Sox until the seventh inning and with two outs, Alston went to his bench and had Essegian hit for Podres. Essegian, a graduate of Los Angeles’ Fairfax High School who had played for Stanford in the Rose Bowl, gave the team a lift when he tied the game with a solo home run. Undone by this, the White Sox pitcher walked Gilliam and then had to face Neal again. The second baseman belted his second home run of the game with Gilliam aboard and for the first time in this World Series, the Dodgers had a 4-2 lead. Neal became only the fifth player in World Series history to hit home runs in consecutive at bats.
Reliever Larry Sherry had an uneventful seventh inning. In the eighth, the White Sox rallied. After singles by Kluszewski and Sherman Lollar put White Sox on first and second and none out, Sherry faced White Sox outfielder Al Smith. Smith doubled to deep left center, and the White Sox were in business. Earl Torgeson, running for Kluszewski, scored easily from second, but in the blink of an eye, or the peek of an eye from shortstop Wills, the 1959 World Series turned.
Base runner Sherman Lollar admitted later he had hesitated rounding second on Smith’s double to be sure the ball had dropped safely, but he continued running. Wills went out to left field to take the relay from left fielder Moon who had picked up Smith’s drive. In the time Wills had to catch the first throw from Moon, he made an intuitive play. As the throw was coming into him, he glanced quickly at the location of Lollar, the potential tying run, and he realized Lollar was trying to score. Wills explained after the game, “There was so much noise I couldn’t hear any shouted instructions (where to throw the relay) so I looked over my shoulder while the ball was still in the air. I saw Lollar rounding third and I knew where the plate was, so I just wheeled and threw.”Milton Richman, Los Angeles Herald-Express, October 2, 1959.
After the relay by Moon, Wills saved himself split seconds by turning immediately and throwing to home. His throw was on target and Roseboro had the ball in his hands before Lollar even had a chance to slide and the tag was made for a huge first out. Instead of the game being tied at 4 all and the lead runner at third base with none out, it was still a 4-3 Dodger lead and a White Sox runner at third with one out. There, Sherry stranded the base runner, and the Dodgers finished the eighth, hanging on to their 4-3 lead. In the bottom of the ninth, Sherry induced three infield outs, and the 1959 World Series was tied at one game apiece.
The World Series now moved to Los Angeles and the big question is would a new attendance record be set in the Los Angeles Coliseum? White Sox owner Bill Veeck had predicted the largest crowd in Los Angeles would be 75,000 for Game 3 with reduced attendance in later games. Veeck no doubt hoped to maintain the Game 5 World Series attendance record in 1948 at 86,288, set when Veeck was owner of the Cleveland Indians.
The question of a World Series record for game attendance was answered quickly by Los Angeles fans. The Coliseum began to fill and fill and fill, until no one could deny the popularity of major league baseball in Los Angeles. More than 92,000 fans would be there to set a major league attendance record, a record that would last one day, but a major league record all the same. Among those in attendance helping to set the record were Hollywood stars as David Niven; Kirk Douglas; Bing Crosby; Edward G. Robinson; Jack Benny; Glenn Ford; Danny Thomas; Anthony Quinn; Milton Berle, and Gene Kelly.Joseph Finnegan, Los Angeles Herald-Express, October 5, 1959
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman described the day. “It (the 1959 World Series) has been wonderful for the city….for business…for everyone. There’s absolutely nothing as exciting as this.”Jean Davis, Los Angeles Herald-Express, October 5, 1959
Alston named Van Nuys High School graduate Drysdale his starting pitcher for the day and voiced his confidence in the pitcher. Alston said, “I think Don (Drysdale) is about due to pitch one of his real good games and he agrees with me.”Frank Finch, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1959 Drysdale had a two-day growth of beard and a writer said, “You’re not going to look good on TV.” Drysdale responded in game ready fashion, “I don’t care. I just want to look good on the scoreboard.”Los Angeles Times, October 4, 1959
The White Sox were not a power-hitting team, but they had a patient, effective offense. Early in the 1959 season against Kansas City, they had scored 11 runs in one inning on walks and errors and just one hit, a single. It was an offense that prided itself on getting runners on base, moving them into scoring position and then scoring runs.
The “Go-Go” Sox were after Drysdale early. They loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, but Drysdale retired the next two hitters. In the second, the White Sox had two walks and a single, but they left runners stranded. By the end of the second inning, Drysdale had already made 51 pitches.
The third inning had the White Sox with two more hits after two outs, but Drysdale got out of another jam. It went this way all day for the Sox. They were never retired in order. In seven innings, Drysdale gave up 11 hits, all singles, and he walked four, but the White Sox could not get out of their own way. They hit into two double plays, had three base runners caught stealing, and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers had been checked themselves by White Sox pitcher Dick Donovan. Donovan had allowed just one single in six innings and had faced the minimum 18 hitters when a double play eliminated the only Dodger base runner.
The game turned in the seventh inning. With two outs, the White Sox had consecutive singles, but Drysdale fanned outfielder Jim Landis and the score remained 0-0. In the bottom of the seventh, Donovan may have faltered from the summery temperature. After a one-out single to Neal, Donovan got another out, but then walked Larker and Hodges to load the bases. The chess game between Alston and White Sox Manager Al Lopez began as Gerry Staley relieved Donovan. Alston had Demeter up, but Alston had a hunch and sent up Carl Furillo, another right hand hitter, to hit for Demeter. Alston explained after the game, “I wanted Furillo up there because I’ve got great confidence in him and because we just needed a single. Furillo gets those base hits and doesn’t strike out much. So he was my choice in that situation. I didn’t have to do any debating with myself.”Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, October 5, 1959
Furillo came through on Alston’s hunch. He hit a bouncer through the middle that just eluded White Sox shortstop Luis Aparicio and Neal and Larker scored to put the Dodgers up 2-0. The 2-0 lead was some margin of comfort, but the White Sox came back in the top of the eighth. Drysdale started the inning, but leadoff singles by Kluszewski and Lollar put runners on second and Alston put out a call for Sherry to relieve. Sherry complicated the issue by hitting Billy Goodman with a pitch to load the bases with none out.
It was not the White Sox’ day. Outfielder Al Smith hit a ground ball comparable to Furillo’s two-run single in the seventh inning, but Wills was able to grab the ball and start a 6-4-3 double play. One run did score, but the Dodgers took the heart out of the inning and one out later, Sherry was out of the jam.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Dodgers got an insurance run when Wills singled, was sacrificed to second, and scored on Gilliam’s two-out double. In the ninth, Sherry fanned the first two hitters, allowed the 11th and final White Sox hit, and then struck out the last batter for his second save of the Series and the Dodgers now led, 2 games to 1.
Game Four was described by Bob Hunter as the “type of game played all season”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, October 6, 1959 (by the Dodgers.) Another World Series attendance record would be set by the Game 4 crowd as again more than 92,000 fans came to watch Craig start for the Dodgers.
The White Sox went after Craig early. In the first inning, they had two walks, a stolen base, and a double, but an inning ending ground ball double play stopped them from scoring. Craig allowed consecutive singles in the third inning, but again a ground ball double play turned the White Sox aside.
White Sox starter Wynn, who had stopped the Dodgers for seven innings in Game 1, was again shutting out the Dodgers. With two outs in the bottom of the third, he allowed a single to Moon. And the Dodgers played their own form of running baseball. When Larker singled to center, Moon took the extra base to third and then scored when an errant throw to third base got away and Larker took an extra base on the error. Hodges singled to score Larker. After Demeter singled, Hodges ran two bases on the single and ended up at third. Hodges then scored the third run of the inning on a passed ball and Demeter moved into scoring position. Roseboro picked him up with a single to right field, and the Dodgers with their hitting and base running, scored four runs with two outs for a 4-0 lead. Since first scoring in Game 2, the Dodgers had now scored 11 runs with two outs and with a 2-1 lead in the Series, they held a 4-0 advantage.
The White Sox threatened against Craig in the fourth and the sixth innings, but he held them scoreless and he entered the seventh inning with a 4-0 lead. With two outs in the seventh, Craig allowed three singles for a White Sox run, and he faced Lollar, the tying run for the White Sox. Alston had Sherry heating in the bullpen and he elected to remain with Craig. Lollar upset Alston’s plans by hitting a three run home run to tie the game at 4 and give the White Sox new life. Craig retired the final hitter in the seventh, but then gave way in place of Sherry in the eighth inning.
Sherry was pitching his third consecutive game in the Series, and kept the White Sox from scoring. In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Dodgers’ home-run hitting first baseman Hodges hit against White Sox reliever Gerry Staley. Hodges broke the tie game as he homered over the left field screen to give the Dodgers a 5-4 lead. As Hodges crossed home plate, he blew a kiss to his wife Joan, sitting in the stands. He had followed the same routine in Brooklyn and now continued to do it in Los Angeles.Jeane Hoffman, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1959 For the first time in the Series, the Dodgers had scored a run with less than two outs and it would be the deciding run.
Sherry, now in line for the win, got good defensive help on a ground ball charged by Wills for a putout, and one out later, got the final out. Sherry had a win and two saves and the Dodgers had a 3-1 Series lead. British actor Niven had high praise for the Dodgers and Walter Alston. Niven was new to baseball, but had become a faithful Dodger fan through his son’s interest. He told a reporter, “The thing that intrigues me is the generalship that goes on. Our boy Walt Alston is quite good at it.”Bob Thomas, Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 6, 1959.
Optimistic Dodger public relations director Red Patterson wrote on the Dodger chalkboard in their clubhouse, “One to Go-Go-Go”, in reference to the “Go-Go” White Sox and the idea the Dodgers were now one game away from a World Championship.Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1959
Game 5 saw a third major league attendance record set as 92,706 fans came to the Coliseum to see if the Dodgers could win their second World Championship in team history. The attendance record for the game today, still stands 50 years later as the largest crowd to see a major league game to count in the record books.
Both clubs were pulling out all the stops, the White Sox to win the game in order to return to Chicago and the Dodgers to win the Series. The White Sox’ idea to change their luck was to change their socks. All season long, the White Sox had worn black stirrups socks with white bands. For the World Series, the White Sox had been wearing white stirrup socks with red and black bands, maybe to fully emphasize their team brand. However, after three losses in four World Series games, the team needed something drastic.
Walter O’Malley would wear a blue and green sports shirt for the third consecutive game in Los Angeles, but it was presumed he had washed it after each wearing.
Hall of Fame great Ty Cobb met with the teams before the game. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were in attendance. It was reported that Sinatra had seats in the front row, but exchanged his seats with another person so he could say he sat in the grandstand.John Hall, Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 7, 1959
Alston started Koufax in Game 5. Alston’s reasoning was to give Podres an additional day of rest as he had started Game 2 and Koufax had thrown the ball well in Game 1. Koufax got off to a smooth start. As Los Angeles readers picked up their afternoon newspaper, the Los Angeles Herald-Express, fans could read that Koufax had retired the side in the first inning on seven pitches.John Old, Los Angeles Herald-Express, October 6, 1959
The game was scoreless until the fourth. Singles by Nellie Fox and Jim Landis put White Sox runners on the corners with none out. Percentages dictated the Dodgers play the infield back to allow a run and hopefully get a double play to shorten the inning. That’s what Koufax wanted, as Lollar hit into a double play and Fox scored the first and what would be the only run of the game. Koufax said after the game, “If our foresight had been as good as our hindsight, we would have gone for the out at the plate.”Sid Ziff, Los Angeles Mirror-News, October 7, 1959 The Dodgers had played the percentages and they had allowed one run, but felt a one-run disadvantage could be overcome with their offense.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Hodges tripled to right center with one out, but White Sox pitcher Bob Shaw retired the next two Dodgers and Hodges was left stranded. In the fifth inning, Gilliam singled and stole second with two outs, but was left there. The Dodgers had a two-out single in the sixth inning and nothing else. The frustration that met the White Sox was now claiming the Dodgers.
Koufax, despite allowing one run, was setting down the White Sox. He pitched seven good innings with just one hit allowed over the last four, but he still trailed. In the seventh inning, White Sox Manager Al Lopez made a defensive move that helped save his lead. With two outs, the Dodgers had Podres on second and Gilliam at first on a single.
This needs to be backed up a little. Yes, Alston had put in pitcher Podres in place of Snider to be a pinch-runner. With one out and a runner on first, Snider hit for Koufax and Snider hit into a force play. Snider had a sore knee that limited his running, and Alston with only three reserves, Carl Furillo and Rip Repulski to pinch-hit, and back-up catcher Joe Pignatano.
Not wanting to be without a top pinch-hitter or his only reserve catcher, the Dodger manager went to a pitcher to pinch-run. Podres was not known for his base-running ability, but he had better mobility than Snider at that point, and so it was Podres running for Snider at first base. Gilliam then singled Podres to second and with two outs, both base runners moved up on a wild pitch to third and second.
Here, it was Lopez who made a key strategic decision. With Neal up, the White Sox manager moved reserve outfielder Jim Rivera into right field and Al Smith went into left field. Rivera was known as a good defensive outfielder and Neal was known to hit toward the alleys. The move worked. Neal hit a deep drive to right center field and Rivera made a long run to glove it to retire the side and prevent the Dodgers from scoring.
The Dodgers were not through. Stan Williams pitched a scoreless eighth inning, and the wheels really started to turn in the bottom of the eighth. Moon led off with a single and one out later, Hodges singled him to third and Hodges took second when the throw went to third base. Demeter was slated to face White Sox pitcher Shaw, and Alston decided to counter with left hand-hitting outfielder Fairly as a pinch-hitter. Lopez then changed his pitcher, Shaw, to left hander Billy Pierce to face Fairly. Alston then counter moved to have right hand-hitting reserve Eldon “Rip” Repulski hit. Lopez was not to be outmaneuvered. Knowing the requirement his relief pitcher, Pierce, had to face one hitter, Lopez gambled and had Repulski walked intentionally to load the bases, knowing the left hand-hitting John Roseboro waited on deck. After Alston announced Furillo would pinch-hit for Roseboro to face the left hander Pierce, Lopez re-countered by bringing in a right-hand relief pitcher, Donovan.
Lopez knew Alston had run out of left-hand pinch hitters on the bench and Alston knew that Lopez knew. Even though the Dodgers had the bases loaded with one out, Lopez liked his percentages better with Donovan facing two right-hand hitters, first Furillo and then Don Zimmer. And Donovan came through for Lopez. Two fly ball outs later, the White Sox were out of the eighth inning, clinging to their 1-0 lead.
The White Sox went quickly in the top of the ninth inning and in the bottom of the ninth, Alston had run out of answers. Pitcher Stan Williams was scheduled to lead off. All Dodger reserves, except for Pignatano, were already in the game. Alston was reduced to sending up Larry Sherry to hit for Williams. Sherry grounded out and when Gilliam and Neal grounded out, the White Sox had won 1-0 to send the Series back to Chicago.
It had been an exceedingly frustrating game. The Dodgers had no hits in 9 plate appearances with men in scoring position and they had left 11 men on base. Alston had tied a World Series mark with six pinch-hitters, but the number of moves made in the game had him run out of regular players. And now, the team would have to go to Chicago.
Despite the loss, O’Malley was confident in his team. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll end the agony on Thursday. Call today’s game a good demonstration of the national pastime. It was—a temporary setback. We have consolidated our forces. Like the folks are saying, it’s “On To Chicago.”Frank Donoghue, Los Angeles Examiner, October 7, 1959
If there could be anyone who could be pleased about the results of Game 5, it would be Los Angeles Examiner columnistVincent X. Flaherty. It had been Flaherty who had been the driving voice of the media to encourage major league baseball in Los Angeles. He had gone back into his files and found a column he had written in 1946 making the prediction that Los Angeles would break all attendance records as a site for a major league baseball team. “Major league baseball would start breaking all-time baseball attendance records right here off the bat, beginning with the first game that is played. It won’t matter who’s playing, either—just as long as they have major league labels. A Los Angeles team will become the best patronized team in baseball—which means it eventually will land in a World series. When that day comes—and it will come—your Los Angeles Coliseum won’t be large enough to hold the crowds.”Vincent X. Flaherty, Los Angeles Examiner, October 7, 1959 For three consecutive days, Los Angeles crowds had set attendance records of more than 92,000, the total increasing every date, the greatest attendance for a major league game that made a difference in the standings.
Game 6 would have the Dodgers returning to Chicago and southpaw Podres to start. Podres had always been an ace in the hole for Walter Alston. Podres had won two games following Dodger losses in the 1955 World Series, including Game 7. He had started and won Game 2 following the Game 1 White Sox romp.
The White Sox were confident. They were returning home. Their club had won 35 of 50 one-run games during the season. Four of the five games had been close and they had Wynn scheduled for Game 6. Sox manager Lopez told reporters, “We’ll win it now. I couldn’t be more specific than that.”Bob Hunter, Los Angeles Examiner, October 8, 1959
Columnist Mel Durslag warned Dodger fans on the possible loss of one of their effective pitchers. Durslag wrote, “It is our feeling that we won’t be seeing Larry Sherry in the sixth game, even if trouble should befall the starter, Johnny Podres. Unless it is a special spot, with just a batter or two involved, Walt Alston isn’t likely to gamble with Sherry, but will keep him for the final game as either the man who starts or the one who is first to the rescue.”Mel Durslag, Los Angeles Examiner, October 8, 1959
The Dodgers’ starting lineup had one addition for Game 6 as Snider started in center field. Snider had started Games 1 and 2, but had just one plate appearance in Los Angeles limited by a sore knee. He was back in the lineup for this important game.
The first two innings were scoreless, but in the third inning, Snider put the Dodgers on the board with a two-run home run. The home run was Snider’s 11th , second only to Mickey Mantle in World Series history.
Podres kept the 2-0 lead through the third inning and the Dodgers batted in the fourth. Larker singled and Don Demeter ran for him, and Demeter was sacrificed to second. Five batters later, the Dodgers would effectively be World Champions.
Wills drove home Demeter for the third run. After a pitching change, Podres doubled to center field and Wills scored. After Gilliam walked, Neal doubled home Podres and Gilliam. Moon then homered and it was a six run inning for the Dodgers and an 8-0 lead.
The game was far from over. The White Sox may have been down 8-0, but they tried to rise up against Podres. After a hit batsmen and a walk, Kluszewski hit a three run home run. When Smith walked, Alston went to his bullpen, specifically Larry Sherry. White Sox hopes soared as the first White Sox batter singled off Sherry. With two outs, Sherry walked a runner to load the bases to face future Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio. This was the White Sox’ best chance to get back in the game, but their best hopes ended when Aparicio popped to Wills. It was the last serious threat for Sherry.
In the ninth, Essegian hit for Snider and hit his second pinch-hit home run of the World Series, a record that stands today. It had been quite a day for Southern California natives to help the Dodgers win their first World Championship in Los Angeles. Snider, from Compton, hit a two-run home run. Sherry pitched 5 2/3 innings for the win and had two hits, and Essegian hit his second pinch-hit home run. Three players who had started the season in the minor leagues had played important parts in the Game 6 Championship win, again Sherry, Essegian, and Wills.
In Los Angeles, Campanella celebrated and discussed the value of the move by the Dodgers to Los Angeles. “After all”, said Campanella, “when 92,000 people come out to see games, it’s tremendous. Why, you just couldn’t get a crowd like that in Brooklyn.”Dwain Esper, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1959 City Councilwomen Rosalind Wyman said, “This is Los Angeles’ great hour. In two short years, the Dodgers have gone from rags to riches.”Los Angeles Examiner, October 9, 1959 The Los Angeles Times wrote in an editorial, “What a season! What a series! What a town!”Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1959
Alston said after winning the second World Championship for the Dodgers, “This is the greatest team I ever was connected with, or any manager was ever connected with. This team never quit. It came from behind all the way. It won against big odds.”Al Wolf, Los Angeles Times, October 9, 1959
A confident Walter O’Malley had arranged for the wives of the Dodger players to be there in Chicago for Game 6 and it was O’Malley and his wife Kay as the hosts for the World Championship party that night. At one point in the festivities, a conference call was set up for Buzzie Bavasi, still in Los Angeles recovering from a virus, to speak with Walter Alston. Alston brought down the house when at one point he said to Bavasi, “What do I do now, Buzzie?” Charlie Park, Los Angeles Mirror News, October 9, 1959
The celebration was festive, everyone enjoying the relatively easy 9-3 win to win the World Championship after such a rollercoaster of a 1959 season. At midnight, October 8th swung into October 9th, and the members of the Dodger family sang “Happy Birthday”, his 56th to Walter O’Malley.
One final victory remained for the team. On October 19th, 1959, the United States Supreme Court denied federal review of the California Supreme Court decision affirming the Dodgers’ contract with the city of Los Angeles. The last legal hurdle had been removed, and in a short time, the construction would begin that would eventually result in Opening Day, 1962 at Dodger Stadium.
Persons hoping to revise history would vociferously state the 1959 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers were not a great team. They didn’t have to be. They were good enough when it counted to win the National League pennant race, and they outplayed the American League Champion White Sox. During a seven-season span from 1959 to 1966, the core of this 1959 club would win three World titles, four National League pennants, and have the best record in baseball. The success of this organization would be noteworthy through sports, on and off the field, and plaques at the Los Angeles Coliseum today honor the 1959 team and the Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley and their contributions to Los Angeles.
And it all happened only 50 short years ago.