Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What If the Dodgers Had Won the 1951 Pennant?

Bobby Thomson, God rest his soul, couldn't hit anything but a fastball. Ralph Branca, good guy and a good pitcher in some situations, didn't have good command of anything but a fastball. Carl Erskine could have been brought in, and he had a really good curveball that became a great one...

Erskine gets Thomson to ground into a double play. The Dodgers win the Pennant.

Having won the 1951 National League Pennant, would the Brooklyn Dodgers have beaten the New York Yankees in the World Series?

It's certainly possible: The New York Giants, who beat the Dodgers in RL, took 2 of the first 3 against the Yankees. But the Yanks took the next 3 straight to win it in 6.

A look at the Dodgers' starting pitching, though, reveals a big problem:

* The World Series started on October 4, the day after the Playoff. It had been scheduled to start on October 2, 2 days after the regular season ended.

* There were no travel days when it was a Subway Series. If it went the full 7, it all happened within 7 days, barring a rainout.

* Don Newcombe pitched 272 innings in 1951, including 8 1/3 in Game 3 of the Playoff. He could not have started again until Game 4 of the Series -- Game 3 if Dodger manager Charlie Dressen were willing to risk him on 2 days' rest, like Phillies' manager Eddie Sawyer did with Robin Roberts the year before (and it almost worked).

* Clem Labine went the distance in Game 2 of the Playoff. Given 3 days' rest, he would not have been available until Game 2 of the Series.

* Ralph Branca went 8 in Game 1 of the Playoff, so while pitching to 1 batter (and warming up before that) in Game 3 wouldn't have hurt him, he wouldn't have been available until Game 2 of the Series, either.

* The last scheduled day of the regular season, September 30, the Dodgers went 14 innings in beating the Phillies and forcing the Playoff series with the Giants. Elwin "Preacher" Roe started, making him available for TTL-WS Game 1, but got rocked (a rare bad outing in a 22-3 season for him). Branca pitched an inning & a third, not much additional wear there. Clyde King and then and Labine followed with an inning each, Erskine 2, Newcombe 5 2/3 (meaning he went into the 9th on 2 days' rest to pitch the Pennant clincher), and Bud Podbelian went the rest of the way for the win, and also pitched the 9th in Game 1 of the Playoff.

* Joe Black, who did yeoman work for the Dodgers in 1952 and '53 while Newcombe served in the Korean War, was still in the minors, and not available for the '51 Series.


So, based on that, here's what the starting pitching matchups for the TTL-1951 World Series would likely have been:

Game 1: Roe vs. Allie Reynolds. In RL, the Giants started Dave Koslo, and beat the Yankees 5-1.

Game 2: Labine vs. Eddie Lopat. In RL, the Giants started Larry Jansen, who came in to relieve Sal Maglie in the Pennant clincher 2 days earlier, and he pitched well, but the Yankees won 3-1. This is the game where Giant rookie Willie Mays hit a ball to right center where Yankee veteran Joe DiMaggio waved off rookie Mickey Mantle, Mickey stopped short so as not to crash into Joe, stepped in a drain that had been left open, and tore up his right knee, leaving him out for the Series and damaging his career in ways that can be examined at another time.

Game 3: Newcombe vs. Vic Raschi. In RL, the Giants started Jim Hearn, and beat the Yankees 6-2.

Game 4: Branca vs. Reynolds. In RL, the Giants started Sal Maglie, and the Yanks won 6-2 thanks to a Gil McDougald grand slam.

Game 5: Roe vs. Lopat. In RL, the Giants started Jansen, but the Yanks smacked him around, scoring 5 in the 3rd and plugging away to a 13-1 win.

Game 6: Labine vs. Raschi. In RL, the Giants started Koslo, but the Yanks won 4-3 to take the Series. This was DiMaggio's last game. His last at-bat came in the 8th, and he doubled to left-center off Jansen.

Game 7: Newcombe vs. Reynolds. In RL, of course, this game was never played.

So let's speculate on what would have happened if it had been Dem Bums, rather than Da Jints, against the Bronx Bombers:

Game 1, October 4 at the original Yankee Stadium: If Koslo could shut down the Yankees, certainly Roe, with his sinker (cough-spitball-cough) could have. Different opponent, same result, same score: Dodgers 5, Yankees 1. Dodgers lead, 1 game to 0.

Game 2, October 5 at Yankee Stadium: The junkballing Lopat never seemed to get tired, while Labine, even on 3 days' rest, may not have been at his best, even though he usually pitched very well against the Yanks. (This included in the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh.) Perhaps if Duke Snider, a lefty pull hitter, were batting instead of Mays, the ball that DiMaggio took from Mantle goes right to Mantle, and he doesn't hurt his knee, but let's not consider the long-term implications yet. Lopat outduels Labine. Yankees 3, Dodgers 1. Series tied, 1-1.

Game 3, October 6 at Ebbets Field: Newcombe would not have been as rested as RL-Game 3 starter Hearn. Instead of a 6-2 NL win, the AL Champions get to Newk and the Dodger pen. Yankees 7, Dodgers 6. Yankees lead, 2 games to 1, and already we have a substantially different World Series in TTL.

Game 4, October 8 at Ebbets Field: The Dodgers get what they need so badly, a day's delay due to rain. No question about it, if Sal the Barber, with his devastating curveball (and he was never better than in 1951), could give up a grand slam to McDougald (a good contact hitter but not a lot of power), then surely Branca would have. Or would he? We're not in the Polo Grounds now. But, knowing that Branca is a fastball pitcher, McDougald may have tried to pull the ball, instead of not trying to against Maglie's hook. Figure a double instead of a homer. Yankees 4, Dodgers 2. Yankees lead 3 games to 1.

Game 5, October 9 at Ebbets Field: As breaking-stuff experts, neither Roe nor Lopat benefits much from the extra day of rest. But facing a rested Roe instead of a tired Jansen may mean the Yankees don't score 5 runs in the 3rd. Maybe the Dodgers win this one. Dodgers 5, Yankees 4. Yankees lead 3 games to 2. So now we're back to where we were in RL.

Game 6, October 10 at Yankee Stadium: Labine is now fully-rested, and maybe that makes the difference, since the fireballing Raschi will have had just 3 days' worth. Dodgers 3, Yankees 1. Series tied, 3-3, and the Game 7 that didn't happen in RL happens in TTL.

Game 7, October 11 at Yankee Stadium: Think the Yankees can't lose a Game 7 at home? They already had, in 1926 (St. Louis Cardinals). And they would again in 1955 (Dodgers) and 1957 (Milwaukee Braves). So we have Big Newk on 4 days' rest, and the Superchief on 3.

This is where, as it did in RL-1952 Game 7, the Yankee bullpen has a chance to make the difference, as Newk, closing in on 300 innings pitched for the year, is shaky, and Dressen can't bring in a reliever as good as Bob Kuzava, who pitches the 9th in relief of Reynolds. Yankees 7, Dodgers 4. Yankees win Series, 4 games to 3.


So what's the verdict? Was it really worth it for the Dodgers to win what was, in RL, the Bobby Thomson Pennant? They don't win the Series anyway, although they have their chances. Would it really have made the difference?

Maybe, if Walter O'Malley had started immediately to work with City officials to get a new ballpark to replace Ebbets Field, with its 31,497 seats and 750 parking spaces. Maybe the Dodgers don't move to Los Angeles. Maybe this leads to the Giants getting out of the Polo Grounds and into the stadium that Robert Moses wanted to build in Flushing Meadow, the one that became known in RL as Shea Stadium.

But let's get real: In RL, the Dodgers moved 1 year after winning a Pennant, and 2 years after winning a World Series. If that success didn't stop O'Malley from moving the team, surely an additional Pennant (or even title) wouldn't have swayed him.

What would have happened if the Dodgers and Giants had stayed in New York? That's an entry for another time. As are what might have happened had one stayed and not the other.


If the Dodgers had won the 1951 Pennant, I suppose the biggest difference is that the New York Giants get more forgotten in the wake of the celebrations of Casey Stengel's Yankees and the Dodger Boys of Summer. After all, the Giants didn't win title after title, and there was no great book written about them as they moved into middle age by an equivalent to Roger Kahn.

Bobby Thomson died in 2010. Without that home run, he'd be on the level of other '51 Giants, like Whitey Lockman and Don Mueller and Wes Westrum. Except they were still with the Giants when they won the '54 Series -- Thomson wasn't.

And, of course, Ralph Branca never gives up that home run, and is probably remembered as follows: "What happened to him? He won 21 games at age 21, and then... and then... Huh? How come he couldn't keep it going? I don't get it."

This makes it sound like Thomson did Branca a favor. Which, I assure you, is not what happened.

Someday, I'll do a post about what would have happened if, in the '54 Series, Willie Mays hadn't made The Catch. You may be surprised: He is actually the person who ends up the least affected by that, although it'll mean that the Giants' 2010 World Series win isn't their first since 1954, it's their first since 1933! 56 years is bad enough, but 77 years?

1 comment:

  1. i would like to hear your tale uncle mike about a no catch by willie.

    met wertz in mid 70s and asked him how it felt.
    he just walked away from me.

    i had intended him no ill feeling. i just wanted to know how he was doing when mays stuck his glove up blindly over his head and the ball stuck.

    mays does not receive enough praise. i only was able to see him during all star games. recalling 65.