Forty five years ago, the 1963 Dodgers won 99 games and a World Championship. Their names still conjure the magic of a proud organization with a rich history – Koufax, Drysdale, Wills, Davis (Tommy and Willie), Podres, Perranoski, Gilliam, Howard, Roseboro, Sherry. Their accomplishments still as relevant and memorable today as they were when the final out was recorded in Game 4 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium.
A team of destiny, perhaps, but a team with heart for certain.
By Brent Shyer
Fairy tale endings were shattered in the Dodgers’ 1962 season. The script had been perfectly crafted until a free Fall. The September swan song saw the sizzling San Francisco Giants gain ground on the first-place Dodgers, who lost 10 of their final 13, and pull into a flat-footed tie at season’s end. Not since July 7 had the Giants led the National League.
Dodger Stadium’s inaugural seal had been broken on April 10 and the home field was a sight to behold, earning vast fan acceptance from the start. Rave reviews poured in about the dream stadium that Walter O’Malley built, privately financed and helped to design. The new ballpark, called by sportswriters “O’Malley’s Taj Mahal,” was so disparate from the cavernous and unique Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which served as the Dodgers’ temporary home from 1958-61, had the Dodgers literally off and running.
Speedster Maury Wills stole a major league record 104 bases – shattering Ty Cobb’s mark of 96 – and was named National League MVP. The Dodgers won 102 games, third highest total in franchise history, but it still was not enough to win the pennant from the rival Giants, who defeated them in a three-game playoff series.
The 1962 season had its own trial, as ace pitcher Sandy Koufax, who led the N.L. in earned run average at 2.54, was sidelined in mid-July with a circulatory problem in his left hand. Despite the Dodgers’ lead in the standings, that condition would serve as perhaps the biggest blow of the season. Koufax did return to pitch four games in September/October, but went 0-2.
The late Giants’ charge whittled away at the Dodger advantage, until there was none. The Dodgers lost the first playoff game 8-0 to the Giants, but bounced back to win game two, 8-7 and force the third and final game for the N.L. Pennant.
Leading 4-2 going into the ninth inning, the Giants stunned the Dodger Stadium crowd with a comeback and sent the Dodgers packing, 6-4. Dodger Executive V.P. and General Manager Buzzie Bavasi said not winning in 1962 “was my biggest disappointment.”