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October 8, 2004

Past Pinstriped Playoff Performances: The 1950 World Series -- It Just Whizzed By
by Mad Mike

It really wasn’t all that surprising that the Yankees made the World Series in 1950. All of their question marks coming into the 1949 season including a manager whose reputation was that of a clown--and a National League one at that--in Casey Stengel were answered. Shortstop Phil Rizzuto had come back from a miserable 1948 campaign where he had hit just .252/.340/.328 to post better numbers in 1949 and was all-world in 1950 where he copped the American League Most Valuable Player Award. Rizzuto batted .324/.418/.439 with 200 hits, 125 runs and along with second baseman Jerry Coleman (another question mark) provided superlative defense up the middle aided and abetted by Joe DiMaggio in centerfield and Yogi Berra--who had undergone intensive tutoring under predecessor Bill Dickey--whose glove had finally caught up his considerable bat. Young outfielders Gene Woodling and Hank Bauer had finally proven that they were worthy to don the fabled Yankee pinstripes. So nobody was overly surprised that the Bronx Bombers had earned their seventeenth invitation to the Fall Classic since 1921.

However, the Phillies were another matter.

The Philadelphia Phillies had been synonymous with National League ineptitude for longer than anyone could really remember. They’d made it to the World Series once, over 30 years ago and had lost to the Boston Red Sox who ironically had a hotshot sophomore pitcher who had won 18 games that year but wasn’t needed to upend the Phillies as Rube Foster, Dutch Leonard and Ernie Shore had dispatched them in five games. In the ensuing years, that unused lefty went on to shatter all hitting standards and was considered the greatest Yankee of them all--Babe Ruth.

The Phillies had their moments, they enjoyed the exploits of a player who had used their tiny Baker Bowl home to carve a Hall of Fame career: Chuck Klein. That little stadium once had a “Lifebuoy” soap ad on the outfield wall that said proudly: “The Phillies use Lifebuoy” to which a wag graffiti artist added: “and they still stink.” Such was the lot of Phillies fans. Oh sure, they’d seen a number of Fall Classics but they were generally held at Shibe Park under the watchful eye of Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics. Shibe Park -- later renamed after the Athletics’ skipper to the moniker: “Connie Mack Stadium” -- would see one last World Series, surprisingly enough as the Phillies played there beginning in 1938.

1950 was a season of offense. The Red Sox had hit over .300 as a team and had scored over 1000 runs. The American League as a whole posted a collective OPS of .757. In the midst of all this the Yankees had pitching galore. Right handed ace Vic Raschi was fresh off his second straight season of 21 wins finishing 21-8. Southpaw ace, junkballing Eddie Lopat had thrived as well going 18-8. The second righty in the rotation was fireballing Allie “Superchief” Reynolds who was a solid 16-12 while the second lefty -- erratic, but hard throwing -- Tommy Byrne was enjoying his second consecutive 15-win campaign. Added to this embarrassment of riches was a baby faced 22 year old southpaw named Eddie Ford; who not only went 9-1 but posted an ERA of 2.81 when the American League average in that department was a stratospherically high 4.58. Although the Red Sox bats got most of the press insofar as run production went, the Yankees finished just behind them in both batting average (.282) and runs scored (914).

On top of everything else, they were sound defensively everywhere but at third base.

Philadelphia was remarkable in its own right. Almost unthinkably, the National League Most Valuable Player award would go to a relief pitcher, in this case, 33 year old veteran named Jim Konstanty who logged almost unheard of numbers for a reliever out of the Phillies’ bullpen. Konstanty appeared in 74 games, threw 152 innings, saved 22 games, won 16 more, lost only seven and posted an ERA of 2.66 (152 ERA+). Other notables on the Phillies roster included two future Hall of Famers: Robin Roberts who won 20 games--beginning a streak of six consecutive 20 win seasons--for the first time, throwing over 300 innings, finishing 20-11 with a solid ERA of 3.02 (135 ERA+), impressive numbers for somebody who had just turned 24 at the end of September. The other was Richie Ashburn, centerfielder par excellence. Although often lost in the shadows of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider in later years, Ashburn was a fresh faced 23 year old with a knack for getting on base and nabbing any flyball in the area code. Another youngster, southpaw Curt Simmons who was all of 21, finished the 1950 season at 17-8. Del Ennis was a slugging outfielder, who despite being all of 25 years old was a five year veteran of big league play and had averaged 29 home runs and 110 RBI over his last three seasons. Of interest on this young squad was veteran slick fielding first baseman Eddie Waitkus (in the AL, the Yankees were known for “beaver shooting.” In the NL, it was the other way around) who was semi-immortalized in the movie: “The Natural” by being shot by a deranged female fan.

Both squads, although different, had to struggle to make it this far. The Yankees--who had acquired future Hall of Famer Johnny Mize from the New York Giants for the stretch run--had both the Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox to contend with. In late September the Yankees had a two game set against the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium. In the first game, wily southpaw Eddie Lopat twirled a shutout and in the following contest a gritty Vic Raschi, aided by his defense and the hitting heroics of catcher Yogi Berra and shortstop Phil Rizzuto shut down the Beantowners 9-5. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians took three straight off the Detroit Tigers which all but sealed the 1950 American League pennant for the Bronx Bombers. The young Phillies had it in tough against the defending National League champion Brooklyn Dodgers but finally prevailed copping the National League flag by two games.

The 1950 World Series opened at Shibe Park and in a bit of an oddity, the soon to be crowned National League Most Valuable Player Jim Konstanty (who had pitched exclusively out the bullpen in 1950) was given the nod to start the series for the Phillies. The Yankees would counter with the “Springfield Rifle” -- Vic Raschi. For making his first start of the season Konstanty did quite well considering that he hadn’t started a game since 1946 when he was with the Boston Braves. Konstanty logged eight sparkling innings surrendering a single run on Jerry Coleman’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning. Raschi however gave a powerful testimonial to his reputation of being a “big game pitcher.” Raschi mowed down the Phillies lineup allowing just three baserunners, and no runs in a complete game whitewash.

Game Two was another thriller as Allie Reynolds faced Robin Roberts. Much like the first game; it was a pitching clinic. For nine innings both hurlers were masterful. Roberts surrendered a run in the second and Allie Reynolds--who was shooting for Babe Ruth’s record of consecutive shutout innings in World Series play--gave up one in the fifth halting his streak at 27 [innings] three shy of Ruth’s mark. There the score remained as both pitchers put up goose eggs on the scoreboard in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth frames. In the top of the tenth Reynolds snuck back into the visitors’ clubhouse to smoke a cigarette to help him relax and focus. Roberts was pitching every bit as well as he was and there was no telling how long the game might go.

Reynolds didn’t have to wait long.

A loud groan brought Reynolds back from his reverie and he headed up the hallway to the Yankees dugout to see what the commotion was about.

DiMaggio had homered.

Roberts, who was known for giving up a great number of gopher balls throughout his career, albeit generally with no one on, had done just that. Roberts--whose fastball had lost an inch or two since the first few innings--tried to get one past the “Yankee Clipper” in the tenth and paid dearly. Apprised of this, Reynolds went back to the clubhouse, finished his cigarette and readied himself to pitch the tenth. However things quickly became tense as Reynolds committed the cardinal sin of pitching: he walked the leadoff hitter--his fourth free pass of the game. Reynolds took a moment on the hill and composed himself and quickly got the final three outs. The Yankees would be heading back to “The House That Ruth Built” with two games in their back pocket.

Over 64,000 patrons turned up at Yankee Stadium to see if the Yankees could put a stranglehold on the series. Stengel, aware that he just force fed the Phillies lineup two right handed fireballers decided to throw a changeup of his own. Now the National Leaguers from the “City of Brotherly Love” would be facing the crafty, junkballing Eddie Lopat -- a lefty. The Phillies manager, Ed Sawyer, countered with a surprise. Hoping to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s generous dimensions, Sawyer trotted out a 35 year old southpaw, Ken Heintzelman, who had pitched the year out of both the bullpen and the rotation, enjoying little success in either role as he finished the 1950 season at 3-9, an abysmal total on a pennant winning club. However Sawyer’s hunch appeared to work. Despite Heintzelman’s usual control problems (over his career he walked more than he struck out) he managed to pitch well into the eighth surrendering a single run despite issuing six walks. With two outs in the eighth inning leading 2-1, Sawyer brought in Game One starter Jim Konstanty. Then disaster struck, two Phillies’ errors lead to an unearned run knotting the score at two apiece. Sawyer brought in Russ “The Mad Monk” Meyer to pitch the ninth. It was his second ninth inning appearance of the series as he relieved Konstanty in Game One. Despite allowing two infield hits, Meyer appeared to have gotten himself out of danger as he got two outs in the inning. With the runners going on contact, Yankee second baseman Jerry Coleman blooped a single over the infield and the Yankees had the Phillies in dire straits down 0-3.

Now it was time for Casey Stengel to pull a surprise of his own.

Stengel bypassed his number four starter and fireballing southpaw Tommy Byrne. Although Byrne had won 15 games and started the season on an 8-1 hot streak, he was decidedly mediocre in the second half finishing the campaign 7-8. Like Sawyer, Stengel wanted to maximize his “homefield advantage” by starting a southpaw. So he gave the ball to rookie Eddie Ford later known as “Whitey.”

It wasn’t close. Through eight innings the Phillies couldn’t touch him as he allowed five hits and striking out seven. The Yankees had provided a nice five run cushion for Ford to work with which included a moonshot off the bat of batterymate Yogi Berra. In the ninth, Ford allowed a hit and a hit batsman while registering two outs. Ford got the final hitter to loft a high lazy fly ball to left, the proverbial “can of corn” signed sealed and delivered for outfielder Gene Woodling. Ford turned to left pounding his glove in satisfaction, watching the ball’s descent knowing he had just pitched a shutout in the deciding game of his first World Series.

Woodling lost the ball as it drifted from the late afternoon shadows of Yankee Stadium to the bright fall sunshine. It bounced off his leg and a run scored making it 5-1. Rattled, Ford allowed a second hit, another run came in, 5-2 with two men on. Stengel quickly brought in Game Two winner Allie Reynolds into the game. Taking advantage of throwing from the bright sunlight into the shadows Reynolds threw three fastballs, all for called strikes.

Youth was served that day, for the Yankees anyway.

Nothing to whiz on….

  • The win against the Phillies was the second of five consecutive World Championships (1949-1953).
  • Pitching wins championships. New York’s top three starters over that span (1949-1953) were Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds and Eddie Lopat. Over that championship stretch: Raschi was 92-40, 3.36 ERA, Reynolds was 83-41, 3.18 ERA and Lopat was 80-36, 2.97 ERA
  • Raschi, Reynolds and Lopat were all top notch Fall Classic performers. From 1949-1953 in World Series play, Raschi was 5-3, 2.14 ERA, Reynolds went 6-2, 2.45 ERA and Lopat’s record was 4-1, 2.58 ERA.
  • Jim Konstanty found World Series glory elusive. Acquired by the Yankees in 1954 to bolster the bullpen, they still fell short, being beaten for the American League flag by the Cleveland Indians. He pitched all of 1955 for the Bronx Bombers and they lost the Fall Classic to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yankees won the World Series in 1956 but Konstanty was released mid season.
  • Although Allie Reynolds bid to beat Babe Ruth’s consecutive shutout innings in World Series play record in 1950, Game Four winner that same year -- Whitey Ford -- would break it in 1961.
  • Whitey Ford’s Game Four victory in the 1950 World Series was his last win until 1953 due to military service.
  • Eight Hall of Famers appeared in the 1950 World Series: Casey Stengel, Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Johnny Mize, Robin Roberts and Richie Ashburn.
  • The first at bat of the 1950 World Series involved both Most Valuable Player award winners as Jim Konstanty pitched to Phil Rizzuto at Shibe Park.
  • Prior to 1950 the Philadelphia Phillies hadn’t made a World Series appearance in 35 years. It took them another 30 to reach it again (1980).
  • Over that same stretch (1950-1980) the Yankees appeared in 15 World Series (1951-53, 55-58, 1960-64, 1976-78) winning nine (1951-53, 56, 58, 1960, 61, 1977, 78)