Saturday, March 10, 2012

What If the Red Sox Had Beaten the Yankees in 1949?

NOTE: I first posted this on "Uncle Mike's Musings" on October 2, 2009, the 60th Anniversary of the game in question. It has been corrected for grammar, spelling, and one historical error: I had Roger Maris in Kansas City at a point where he would still have been in Cleveland.

October 2, 1949, Yankee Stadium, New York. Regular-season finale. Winner takes the Pennant.

The New York Yankees lead the Boston Red Sox 5-1 going into the ninth inning. But the Sox rally, and a fly ball goes out to the great Joe DiMaggio in center field. DiMaggio had a bad heel in the first half of the season and pnuemonia now, the Yankee Clipper had played his usual sensational in between. But Joe D dropped the ball.

That made the score 5-3, and the tying runs were on base. DiMaggio walked in from center field, disgusted with himself, taking himself out of the game.

Pitcher Vic Raschi had one more out to get, Sox catcher George "Birdie" Tebbetts. Get him out, and the Yanks win the first Pennant of the Casey Stengel era, and begin the transition of the 1940s DiMaggio-Henrich-Rizzuto Yankees to the 1950s Mantle-Berra-Ford Yankees (though Rizzuto is still a vital contributor for the first half of the Fifties). Lose the game, and...

This single game may be the most important in Yankee history other than their first Pennant win in 1921. If the Yankees fail to win, and thus lose the Pennant to the Red Sox, it's not hard to imagine baseball history taking some very different turns...


An injured and frustrated DiMaggio, already not happy with Stengel, tells owners Del Webb and Dan Topping, "Either he goes, or I go."

Committed to Stengel, at least in the short term, and with plenty of talent already on hand and coming up through the farm system -- including Mickey Mantle, who just finished his first pro season -- the owners call the Yankee Clipper's bluff.

He retires at age 35, having spent only 11 seasons in the majors (having lost three due to World War II). He still makes the Hall of Fame, and is still one of the most revered players ever due to his 1941 hitting streak and his comeback from injury to almost lead the Yanks to the Pennant in 1949. But with only enough games to amount to 10 full seasons under his belt, no one thinks of him as "Baseball's Greatest Living Player."

The Red Sox, confident after their 1949 Pennant, beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, and come back in 1950 and win another Pennant, beating the Philadelphia Phillies in the Series. No one questions Ted Williams' ability to play in the clutch, or that he is a "greater player" than DiMaggio. And the Red Sox' World Series drought ends at "only" 31 years. Of course, after 1950, it takes them another 54 years to win another, but nobody talks about a "Curse of the Bambino." Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy has to come up with another explanation as to why the Red Sox haven't won a World Series since the early days of the Korean War, rather than the last days of World War I.

The Cleveland Indians succeed the Red Sox as the dominant team in the American League, winning Pennants in 1951, '52 and '54. They beat the New York Giants in the '51 World Series and the Dodgers in '52, but lose to the Giants in '54.

The Dodgers finally win their first World Series in 1953, giving Brooklyn its greatest day. This gives Walter O'Malley the impetus he needs to get his new stadium built in downtown Brooklyn. He has more time to work City officials, getting around City and State construction boss Robert Moses, and Dodger Stadium opens in 1958. The Dodgers still win the World Series in 1959, '63 and '65, plus the Pennant in '66, but as the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The City also builds a new stadium for the Giants, opening in 1960 in Flushing Meadow Park. It's called Stoneham Stadium, after the Giants' owner. Bill Shea, a noted New York attorney, has nothing to do with it, aside from being a Giants season-ticket holder, and lives the rest of his life with almost nobody outside the City ever hearing his name. And the Giants still win the Pennant in 1962.

However, when expansion comes in 1962, there's no need to put a new team in New York. So the team we know as the Mets goes somewhere else. Since the American League got the Los Angeles Angels in 1961, the National League gets San Francisco in 1962, a team named the Seals after, as were the Angels, the preceding Pacific Coast League team.

When Divisional play begins in 1969, the Dodgers, Giants, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs and expansion Montreal Expos are put in the Eastern Division, while the West has the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Seals and expansion San Diego Padres. When the three-Division setup begins in 1994, the East has the Dodgers, Giants, Philadelphia, Montreal and the expansion Florida Marlins; the Central has Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis; while the West has Houston, the San Francisco Seals, San Diego and the expansion Colorado Rockies.

Assuming each franchise still wins as many games as it did in real life, with Divisions adjusted for geography, this means the following teams win the following Division Titles:

* Arizona Diamondbacks: West, 1999, 2002, '07, '08; Wild Card, '01.
* Atlanta Braves: West, 1983, '91, '92, '93; Central, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, '02, '03; Wild Card, '04, '05.
* Brooklyn Dodgers: East, 1973, '74, '78, '80, '81 first-half, '83, '85, '88, '95, '96, 2006, '09.
* Chicago Cubs: East, 1969 and '84; Central, 2007, '08.
* Cincinnati Reds: West, 1970, '72, '73, '74, '75, '76, '77, '78, '79, '81 first-half, '90 in the West; Central, none yet; Wild Card, '95.
* Colorado Rockies: West, 1995, 2009; Wild Card, 2007.
* Florida Marlins: East, 1997; Wild Card, 2003.
* Houston Astros: West, 1980, '81 second-half, '98, 2001, '03, '05.
* Milwaukee Brewers: None since moving to NL Central; Wild Card, 2008.
* Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals: East, 1981 second-half, losing to Brooklyn in the playoff forced by the strike year's split-season format.
* New York Giants: East, 1987, '89, '93, '98, '99, 2000, '01, '02, '03; Wild Card, '97.
* Philadelphia Phillies: East, 1976, '77, '82, '86, 2005, '07, '08; Wild Card, '09.
* Pittsburgh Pirates: East, 1970, '71, '72, '75, '79, '90, '91, '92; Central, none yet.
* St. Louis Cardinals: West, 1971, '82, '85, '87; Central, 2001, '04, '05, '06, '09; Wild Card, '96, 2000, '02.
* San Diego Padres: West, 1984, '89, '96; Wild Card, '98, 2006.
* San Francisco Seals: West, 1969, '86, '88, 2000, '06; Wild Card, '99.

The Playoffs take some different turns. The Cubs and Seals (our reality's Mets) are in different Divisions, so they both win Divisions. But the Cubs still lose, and the Seals, so horrible from 1962 to '68, continue their '69 miracle, with all those hippies in the stands at Kezar Stadium (since Horace Stoneham isn't there to approve the mistake known as Candlestick Park).

The Pirates beat the Cards instead of the Giants in '71. There's a New York team beating the Reds in '73, but it's the Dodgers. The Dodgers do it again in '74. The Phillies win more games than the Dodgers in '77, but not in '78; each team beats the Reds in the NLCS. Instead of one game for the NL West, the Dodgers and Astros play a best 3-of-5 for the Pennant, and the Astros reach the World Series 25 years sooner.

The Dodgers still beat the Expos in '81, but a round sooner. The Astros beat the Reds, and the Dodgers beat the Astros, but a round later. In '82, the Phillies finally get revenge on the Cards for the 1964 collapse. The Dodgers beat the Braves for the '83 Pennant -- Sorry, Braves manager Joe Torre, but your home Borough wins this one. The Cub fans still get their hearts broken in '84, and Jack Clark still beats the Dodgers with a homer for the Cards in '85. With the Seals (Mets) in the West, they beat the Phils rather than the Astros in a nail-biter of an NLCS.

The Giants finally end a 25-year first-place drought in '87, but lose to the Cards. The Dodgers still beat the '62 expansion franchise in '88. With the Giants and Cubs in the same Division, the Cubs miss the Playoffs in '89; the Giants beat the Padres for the Pennant. The Giants then lose not the Division, but the Pennant to the Braves in '93.

In 1995, Braves over Dodgers, Reds over Rockies, Braves over Reds. In '96, Braves over Dodgers, Cardinals over Padres, Braves over Cards. In '97, Braves over Giants, Marlins over Astros, Marlins over Braves. In '98, Padres get Wild Card, not Cubs, despite Sammy Sosa's 66 home runs and Kerry Wood's rookie pitching heroics, Braves over Astros, Padres over Giants, Padres over Braves. In '99, Braves over Seals, Giants over Diamondbacks, Braves over Giants.

In 2000, Giants over Braves, Seals over Cards, Giants over Seals. In '01, Cards over Astros, D-backs over Giants, D-backs over Cards. In '02, Giants over Cards, Braves over D-backs, Giants over Braves. In '03, Braves win Central, so Cub fans get their hearts broken again, but at least Steve Bartman is off the hook; Marlins over Braves, Giants over Astros, Marlins over Giants. In '04, Astros over Dodgers, Cards over Braves, Cards over Astros. In '05, with the Expos moving to become the Washington Nationals, Cards over Braves, Astros over Phillies, Astros over Cards. In '06, Seals over Dodgers, Cards over Phillies, Cards over Seals. In '07, Rockies over Phils, D-backs over Cubs, Rockies over D-backs. In '08, Phils over Brewers, D-backs over Cubs, Phils over D-backs. In '09, it'll be Dodgers over Cards, Phils over Rockies, Phils over Dodgers. In 2010, Phils over Reds, Wild Card Giants over Padres, Giants over Phils. In 2011, Cards over Phils, Brewers over D-backs, Cards over Brewers.

The New York Giants last won a Pennant in 2010. The Brooklyn Dodgers last won a Pennant in 1988. The San Francisco Seals -- TTL's stand-in for the Mets -- last won a Pennant in 1986.


And what about the Yankees? Frustrated that Stengel hasn't won them a Pennant, Webb and Topping fire him after the 1952 season. Bill Dickey, who had briefly managed the Yanks in 1946, is asked to rise from the coaching ranks and take over again. After all, he's a winner, and Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto trust him. He gets the Yankees back in gear, as they win the Pennant in 1953, their first in 6 years. But they lose the World Series to the Dodgers, finish second to the Indians in '54, and lose the Series to the Dodgers again in '55 and '56, as Mickey Mantle never quite warms up to Dickey the way he did to Stengel in RL, even though Mantle is from Oklahoma and Dickey from neighboring Arkansas.

After the Copacabana Incident in '57, general manager George Weiss cleans house. Billy Martin is traded away, and Dickey is fired. Charlie Dressen, who had managed the Dodgers to the '52 Pennant and the '53 World Championship, had just been fired by the Washington Senators, and Weiss picked him up. Following the season, in which the Yanks lost another World Series, this time to the Milwaukee Braves, Mantle went over the head of Weiss, who never liked him, to owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, saying he and Dressen couldn't get along. "Either he goes, or I go," the Mick said.

At the start of the 1958 season, Mickey Mantle was playing center field for the Kansas City Athletics, having been traded for several prospects.

The Yanks still win the '58 Pennant, but again lose to the Braves. They had now won four straight Pennants, five in six years, but had lost the World Series every time. (In essence, the TTL-Yankees have become what the RL-Dodgers were: A star-crossed club, close but no cigar.) After a few more deals with the A's, including obtaining promising young outfielder Roger Maris, the Yanks finish third in '59, and win the Pennant in '60, but lose the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dressen is fired, and replaced by Ralph Houk.

Without Mantle to bat behind him, Maris doesn't get as many good pitches to hit, and finishes the 1961 season with 45 home runs. Babe Ruth's 60 in 1927 remains the single-season record until 1998, although, with the steroid explosion of that time, many still consider the Babe's 60 to be the real record. The Yanks finish second to the Detroit Tigers, who beat the Cincinnati Reds for the World Championship.

The Yanks win Pennants in '62 and '63, but lose a Subway Series each time, to the Giants in '62 and the Dodgers in '63. Houk is fired, and replaced by Berra. The Yanks finish third behind the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles in '64; the White Sox lose the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. This time, there is no second chance: Yogi is gone, and never again appears in Yankee Pinstripes.

Since winning the whole thing in 1947, the Yanks had played 17 seasons, and won 8 Pennants, including four straight from '55 to '58, but lost all eight World Series. Then the team collapses, and never wins another Pennant while playing in Yankee Stadium.

In 1972, along with the NFL's New York Giants, the Yanks accept a deal to play at the proposed Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There is only a minor outcry, as they are the 3rd most popular team in the City, and Mayor John Lindsay does not feel obligated to lift a finger to stop it, any more than Robert Wagner Jr. did in RL when (at least theoretically) he had the chance to save the Giants and Dodgers in 1957.

Yankee Stadium is demolished after the 1973 season, and the Yankees share Stoneham Stadium in Queens with the Giants for two dreary years.

Meadowlands Stadium opens in 1976, and while the Yankees are good enough to win the American League East that season, they lose the League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals win the Pennant again in 1977, but lose the '78 ALCS to the Boston Red Sox, who battled injuries and the onrushing, but not quite successful, Yanks. The death of Thurman Munson crushes the Yanks in '79, and after a rough 1980 regular season in which they beat the Orioles, they get swept by the Royals.

Dave Winfield signs with the Dodgers instead of the Yankees prior to the '81 season, and after the Yanks get embarrassed by the Milwaukee Brewers in the strike-forced Division Series, Reggie Jackson, to use his own words, "got on the first thing smokin' and headin' west," signing with the California Angels. He could've made the Meadowlands his for all time, but he didn't want to deal with that meddling George Steinbrenner anymore. And, not having won so much as a Pennant in his first nine years as owner, Steinbrenner begins making some crazy deals that further doom the franchise.


The World Series is won by the San Francisco Seals over the Orioles in '69, the O's over the Reds in '70, the Pirates over the O's in '71, the A's over the Reds in '72, the A's over the Dodgers in '73 and '74, the Reds over the Red Sox in '75, and the Reds over the Royals in '76.

In 1977, in their 95th season of operation, the Philadelphia Phillies finally win a World Series, beating the Royals. The Dodgers beat the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1978 World Series when light-hitting shortstop Bill Russell -- who had the same name as a Boston sports legend, no less -- hits a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, off Mike Torrez. It was the first World Championship for a New York team since the '65 Bums.

The Pirates beat the Orioles in 1979. In 1980, the Royals lose the World Series to the Astros, who have never won a World Series in our reality. There is bedlam in Brooklyn again in 1981, as the Dodgers beat Billy Martin's Oakland A's in the World Series. The Phillies beat the Brewers in 1982, the Orioles dethrone the Phils in '83, the Tigers over the Padres in '84, and the Royals finally break through in '85 against the Cards.

Some things don't change. Bill Buckner is one of them, although when Mookie Wilson hits that grounder between his legs, it's not at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow against the New York Mets, but, rather, it's at Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park against the San Francisco Seals.

The Minnesota Twins, with hometown hero Dave Winfield leading the way after his contract runs out in Brooklyn, beat the Cards in the '87 Series. In '88, Kirk Gibson's homer off Dennis Eckersley lands in the right-field pavilion of Dodger Stadium in Brooklyn -- any further and it would've landed on the Long Island Rail Road tracks heading out to Nassau and Suffolk.

When word reaches Stoneham Stadium in Flushing that an earthquake has rocked the home region of the A's, the Giants' 1989 World Series opponents, Game 3 is postponed, and, though there is talk about having the entire rest of the Series in New York, the Series is resumed as scheduled. As it turns out, a move is not necessary, as the A's complete a sweep. They are then swept by the Reds in 1990.

Twins over Braves in '91, Jays over Braves in '92 and '93, with a shaky Charlie Liebrandt giving up Joe Carter's capper. (Remember, the Braves won more games than the Phillies in '93, and in this version are in the same division. The Phils are still better off, title-wise.)

George Steinbrenner is sick of sharing Meadowlands Stadium with the football Giants and the Jets. At least, after 1993, he'll never again have to share it with Rutgers University's pathetic football program. Sickened by the labor strife of the 1994 strike, he sells the Yankees. "It's not like I'm selling the Mona Lisa of baseball," Steinbrenner tells the press. "Maybe the Yankees were that, once upon a time, but not anymore."

The man who buys the Yankees from Steinbrenner is Donald Trump, who promises a fabulous new stadium in New York City. With an obliging Mayor in Rudy Giuliani and an obliging Governor in George Pataki, it happens. In 1998, Trump Stadium opens at what was once John Mullaly Park in the South Bronx, across from the housing project where the original Yankee Stadium stood from 1923 to 1973. It is hailed by the New York media as an architectural marvel, half cathedral of baseball, half modern steel fortress. Outside the New York Tri-State Area, however, it is ripped as the ultimate in Trump's tacky taste.

Trump Stadium has field dimensions similar to Yankee Stadium, but that was too late to save the Yankees in 1996. In Game 1 of the ALCS, the Yanks trail the Orioles 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth. Rookie shortstop Derek Jeter hits a fly ball to right-center field, where it falls harmlessly into the glove of Tony Tarasco. About 20 feet away, behind the 375-foot mark on the fence at Meadowlands Sta- ... excuse me, First Union Field, I forgot that the naming rights had been sold... 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier sulks. For a moment, he thought that not only would this be a home run, but that he'd have a chance to catch it. The Orioles beat the Yankees in four straight, and are then bombed into submission in a five-game World Series by the defending Champion Braves. The Yanks don't win the Pennant in 1997, either, eliminated in the Division Series by the Cleveland Indians, who lose to the Florida Marlins.

It has now been 50 years, half a century, since the Yanks won a World Series. In comparison to The Curse of Pinky Higgins by Dan Shaughnessy (the Boston Red Sox ruined by their failure to pursue black players) and The Curse of Rocky Colavito by Terry Pluto (the Cleveland Indians ruined by one big trade), Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post writes a book titled The Curse of Casey Stengel.

Stengel, who has been dead since 1975 and had managed nothing but minor-league teams after his firing by the Yankees in 1952, has been nearly forgotten outside the Tri-State Area, remembered, if at all, for being the old ballplayer who got booed by some fans, tipped his cap to them, and having a sparrow he'd hidden under there fly out, literally giving the fans the bird.

With the opening of Trump Stadium in 1998, the Yanks have a truly formidable team. They set a new American League record with 114 wins, and look unbeatable. But the Curse of Casey strikes Chuck Knoblauch in Game 2 of the ALCS against the Indians, and the Yanks never recover. The Tribe wins in five games, and take their first World Championship in 46 years with a six-game win over the San Diego Padres.

The 1999 season is no better, as the Yanks fall apart in the ALCS against the Red Sox, making 10 errors in the five games, while the Boston fans beat up visiting New Yorkers in the stands at Fenway. The Red Sox end their curse, sweeping the Braves to win their first World Series in 49 years. Now, the only "cursed teams" left in baseball appear to be the Yankees and the two Chicago teams, the Cubs and the White Sox.

Somehow, the Yanks make a run for the ages in 2000, although a September nosedive makes it look like Casey is doing his dirty work again. But they hang on, and beat the A's and Seattle Mariners to win their first Pennant in 37 years, since the tragic last days of the Kennedy Presidency. This sets up a Subway Series with the Giants, who have their own drought: They haven't won a World Series since beating the Yankees 38 years earlier. (But nobody has said the Giants are under the Curse of Bobby Richardson, who, in this reality, just missed Willie McCovey's series-winning line drive in 1962.)

The symbol of the Series is an epic at-bat in the bottom of the ninth of Game 1 at Trump Stadium. Yankee right fielder Paul O'Neill fouls off pitch after pitch against Giant closer Robb Nen, but Nen finally gets him to fly out to left field, where Barry Bonds makes an easy catch.

Game 2 erupts in controversy, as Roger Clemens takes the broken barrel of Bonds' bat, and seemingly throws it at him. Bonds charges the mound, and the biggest fight in World Series history erupts. With both the Yanks and the Jints behind the Dodgers in the City's imagination, both sets of fans have their frustrations boil over, and fights break out in the stands as well. It takes the umpires five minutes to settle things, and public-address announcer Bob Sheppard tries to shame the crowd into behaving. Of course, since Sheppard has been there since 1951 and has never been there for a Yankee World Championship team, it's not like he's "the voice of God" or anything like that. As the game continues, there are still fights. The Giants win, and Mike Lupica writes in the New York Daily News that the Bonds-Clemens matchup is "the biggest reason yet why baseball must crack down on steroids."

The Giants take Game 3 at Stoneham Stadium, and while the Yankees salvage Game 4, Game 5 is a Giant victory. The Curse of Casey has struck again.

After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the hearts of baseball fans everywhere are with the Yankees as they make an improbable comeback against the A's and shock the 116-win Mariners to take the Pennant. The Arizona Diamondbacks slam the Yanks in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The Yanks take Game 3 and, incredibly, last-out homers save the Yanks in Games 4 and 5. But the D-backs win Game 6 in an ugly blowout.

In Game 7, Alfonso Soriano homers off Curt Schilling to give the Yanks a 2-1 lead in the top of the eighth. In the bottom of the ninth, the Yanks need three more outs to win their first World Championship in 54 years -- the same length as the Stanley Cup drought that the New York Rangers had (1940-1994). The D-backs are only in their fourth year of operation. But Mariano Rivera can't hold the lead, both his control and his fielding betraying him. Luis Gonzalez singles home Craig Counsell, and the Yanks have their most shocking postseason defeat yet. The Curse of Casey seems stronger than ever.

The 2002 Playoffs are a wash, as the Yanks lose to the Anaheim Angels, who go on to beat the Giants in an epic World Series. But 2003 seems hopeful for the Yanks, as they advance to the ALCS. Despite another brawl in Game 3 at Fenway, the Yanks need to win only Game 6 or Game 7 at Trump Stadium to win the Pennant against the hated Red Sox. They lose Game 6, and Game 7 looks lost as well. But four straight doubles by Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, bracketing Sox manager Grady Little's mind-bending decision to leave a tiring Pedro Martinez in, ties the game. Rivera silences his critics with a stunning three-inning performance, and Aaron Boone becomes perhaps the greatest postseason hero in Yankee history by homering on the first pitch of the 11th inning against Tim Wakefield. There is pandemonium in The Bronx.

But joy turns to anger in Game 4 of the World Series, as Jeff Weaver gives up an 11th-inning homer to Alex Gonzalez, and the Marlins clinch on Josh Beckett's shutout in Game 6.

The choke to the Red Sox in October 2004 is still too painful to discuss here. And the flop against the Angels in the 2005 Playoffs still has some fans calling for the heads of Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. As the 2006 Playoffs began, there were those who hoped for a Subway Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers, but both teams are beaten in the Division Series. Again, Yankee fans call for A-Rod's head, or at least for his trade.

Finally, Yankee owner Donald Trump can't take it anymore, and tells manager Joe Torre, "Yuh fie-uhd!" Lee Mazzilli failed to get the job done in 2007, the 60th anniversary of the last Yankee World Championship, and the Yanks finished 3rd behind Tampa Bay and Boston in 2008.

The Yankees swept the Twins in the 2009 Division Series, and beat the Angels to win the Pennant. But they lost Game 1 of the World Series to the Phillies. Then, before Game 2, the intended performance of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys doesn't happen when the power goes out. The same is true for the Yankee lineup, and the Phillies take the Series in 5 games.

The Yankees lose the 2010 ALCS to the Texas Rangers in 6 games, and the 2011 ALDS to the Detroit Tigers in 5 games. Randy Velarde is now Yankee manager.

It's been 64 years since the Yankees won it all. The Curse of Casey Stengel lives. The only question for the 2012 season is, How will the Yanks blow it this time?


Of course, it didn't happen that way. Vic Raschi got Birdie Tebbetts to pop up to Tommy Henrich, at first base, and the Yankees won the 1949 American League Pennant.

Not only did this mark the first real Yankees-Red Sox Pennant race -- 1904 doesn't count, as neither team had adopted its current name and the Babe Ruth sale hadn't happened yet, and 1948 was a three-team race won by neither, rather by the Indians -- but it was the beginning of the most unbelievable run of success in baseball history.

It was the start of 9 World Championships and 14 Pennants in 16 years -- 7 World Championships and 10 Pennants in 12 years under Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel. As the man himself said, "And you can look it up."

Well, if you do look it up, you'll see that this didn't really begin the Yanks-Sox rivalry. At least, not in the minds of Yankee Fans. Sure, there were the comparisons of Joe DiMaggio to Ted Williams, and maybe of Phil Rizzuto to Johnny Pesky.

But the Sox were pretty much terrible from Ted's 1952 reactivation by the Marines to serve in the Korean War until their 1967 Impossible Dream season. And by that point, the Yankees had collapsed. After all, nobody ever really compared Williams to Mickey Mantle, or Mantle to Carl Yastrzemski, or Mantle to Tony Conigliaro. It wouldn't have been worth the effort.

Not until the 1970s did it really catch on, with both the Yanks and the Sox falling a little short in '72, a Thurman Munson-Carlton Fisk fight in '73, both teams gunning for the Division but falling short to the Orioles in '74, the Sox holding off the Yanks to win the Pennant in '75, the Fisk-Lou Piniella collision starting a wild brawl on route to a Yankee Pennant in '76, the three-way race with the Sox and O's in '77 culminated with Reggie Jackson's blast ending a previously scoreless September game, and, of course, 1978, ending in the Boston Tie Party, featuring Bucky Dent's home run.

After that, there wasn't really a Yanks-Sox race again until '86, and the Sox won that. There was a five-way race in '88, with the Yanks finishing only 3 1/2 games behind the Sox, but in 5th place behind them, Toronto, Milwaukee and Detroit. The next one was in '95, with Mattingly heading out and O'Neill, Pettitte and Rivera having arrived, and the Sox won.

Then came 1999, the first Yanks-Sox race with Jeter, Cone, Tino and a few other Dynasty-makers having arrived to face off against Pedro and Nomar. And from there, it's been even more hate-filled than in the Seventies, certainly more so than in the Thirties and Forties, where there were several races where the Yanks and Sox finished 1st and 2nd, but except for '49 they weren't really close races.

If you haven't read Summer of '49 by the late David Halberstam, who was then 15 and lived in New York but had relatives near Boston and thus understood both perspectives, I urge you to get it. I reread it in 2009, the 60th Anniversary of that season, and, although most of its participants alive in 1989 are dead now -- including Halberstam himself, and Joe DiMaggio, whose reputation has taken a nosedive since he's no longer around to shame writers into not saying what he was like off the field -- the book holds up very well.

1 comment:

  1. If the Dodgers decide that early in the 50's to stay and get a new stadium built, then I can see the Senators and Giants moving to LA and San Fran in 1958.

    Apparently, there were reps from LA at Ebbets Field talking to the reps of the Senators at the 55 World Series, and O'Malley told them not to do anything until they talked to him.

    So, in this alternate world, the Senators go with the Giants to the West Coast. The Senators change their name to the Stars.

    Then, after the Continental League rumblings, expansion continues in 1961. The NL gets teams in Houston (Colt 45's and Astros) and Denver (Bears). The AL gets teams in Washington (Senators or Capitals), and LA (Angels).