After the wilderness years of the 1920s and 1930s, the Dodgers were rebuilt into a contending club first by general manager Larry MacPhail and then the legendary Branch Rickey. Led by Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, and Gil Hodges in the infield, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo in the outfield, Roy Campanella behind the plate, and Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, and Preacher Roe on the pitcher’s mound, the Dodgers won pennants in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, only to fall to the New York Yankees in all five of the subsequent World Series. The annual ritual of building excitement, followed in the end by disappointment, became a common pattern to the long suffering fans, and ”Wait ’til next year!” became an unofficial Dodger slogan.
While the Dodgers generally enjoyed success during this period, in 1951 they fell victim to one of the largest collapses in the history of baseball. On August 11, 1951, Brooklyn led the National League by an enormous 13+1⁄2 games over their archrivals, the Giants. While the Dodgers went 26–22 from that time until the end of the season, the Giants went on an absolute tear, winning an amazing 37 of their last 44 games, including their last seven in a row. At the end of the season the Dodgers and the Giants were tied for first place, forcing a three-game playoff for the pennant. The Giants took Game 1 by a score of 3–1 before being shut out by the Dodgers’ Clem Labine in Game 2, 10–0. It all came down to the final game, and Brooklyn seemed to have the pennant locked up, holding a 4–2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning. Giants outfielder Bobby Thomson, however, hit a stunning three-run walk-off home run off the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca to secure the NL Championship for New York. To this day Thomson’s home run is known as the Shot Heard ’Round The World.
In 1955, by which time the core of the Dodger team was beginning to age, ”next year” finally came. The fabled ”Boys of Summer” shot down the ”Bronx Bombers” in seven games, led by the first-class pitching of young left-hander Johnny Podres, whose key pitch was a changeup known as ”pulling down the lampshade” because of the arm motion used right when the ball was released. Podres won two Series games, including the deciding seventh. The turning point of Game 7 was a spectacular double play that began with left fielder Sandy Amorós running down Yogi Berra’s long fly ball, then throwing to shortstop Pee Wee Reese, who relayed to first baseman Gil Hodges to double up a surprised Gil McDougald to preserve the Dodger lead. Hank Bauer grounded out and the Dodgers won 2–0.
Although the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in 1956 during which the Yankees pitcher Don Larsen pitched the only World Series perfect game in baseball history and the only post-season no-hitter for the next 54 years, it hardly seemed to matter. Brooklyn fans had their memory of triumph, and soon that was all they were left with – a victory that was remembered decades later in the Billy Joel single ”We Didn’t Start the Fire”, which included the line, ”Brooklyn’s got a winning team.”
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