By Robert Schweppe
“Big bouncer over the mound, over second base, up with it is Mantilla, throws low and wild! Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!”1
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.2
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.