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The Storied and Sensational Subway Series: Battle of New York City Baseball

By Harvey Frommer

There are many in New York City and elsewhere just drooling at the thought of another World Series matchup: the New York Yankees versus the New York Mets. It would be the ultimate battle for Big Apple bragging rights.

Only this time around it would not be Brooklyn versus the Bronx - it would be Queens versus the Bronx - travel distance eight miles.

The only question is will how many players and fans will travel by subway as they once did which was how the term "Subway Series" came to be.

Back in 1889 the New York Times observed: "The competition between Brooklyn and New York as regards baseball is unparalleled in the history of the national game."

The competition may have been unparalleled but it was also unequal. Throughout most of their history the Dodgers of Brooklyn were a sad sack team. The Yankees were the royalty of baseball.

It was not until 1941 that the rivalry between the two franchises reached fever pitch in the first Subway Series. The results were predictable. The Yankees won. There was another Brooklyn-New York Subway Series in 1947 - same result. In 1949 - same result. In 1952, in 1953 - same results.

"Dem Bums" of Brooklyn won the National League pennant in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953. But the team had never won the World Series. Going into the 1955 Fall Classic, their last five defeats were at the hands of the Yankees.

Whitey Ford bested Don Newcombe as the Yankee won Game One of the series. That was the game with the controversial "steal" of home by Jackie Robinson. Brilliant pitching by 35-year-old Tommy Byrne gave the Yanks a victory in Game Two. Brooklyn fans took heart in the fact their team dropped the first two contests by a combined three runs. But the history was that no team had ever won a seven-game World Series after losing the first two games.

In Game Three, Johnny Podres came up big, holding the Yankees to seven hits. The Brooks won 8-3. They won Game Four, 8-5, to tie the series.

The largest crowd to ever see a World Series game at Ebbets Field showed up on October 2nd. Sophomore manager Walt Alston started slim rookie Roger Craig in Game Five. Stengel tabbed 1954 Rookie of the Year Bob Grim.'' Incredibly, the Dodgers won again, 5-3. One more win and the mighty Yanks would be World Series losers.

It was southpaw Karl Spooner against southpaw Whitey Ford at Yankee Stadium. Spooner lasted only through the first inning. He walked two, yielded singles to Berra and Bauer and a two run dinger by Hank Bauer. Five runs. Spooner would never pitch in the major leagues again.

Ford, at the top of his game, in the fourth year of his 16 year Hall of Fame career, was having fun. He gave up just four hits as the Yankees stayed alive with a 5-1 win.

After giving up one of the four hits, Yogi Berra told him: "Your slider ain't workin' good, Whitey. Don't throw no more."

"Aw, Yog'," Ford said, "Don't be a spoil sport. I need the practice. Let me throw it to this guy."

"No more," Berra insisted. "...The World Series ain't the right time to horse around."

On October 4, 1955, 23-year-old Johnny Podres took the mound for the most important game of his life. He was opposed by Tommy Byrne, a dozen years his senior. Each pitcher had won a game in the series. There were 62,465 in attendance at Yankee Stadium.

Hits by Gil Hodges in the fourth and sixth innings gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead. In the bottom of the sixth, Junior Gilliam came in from left field to play second base and Sandy Amoros took his place.

Mantle walked to start the Yankee sixth. McDougald bunted for a single. Berra was next. Mel Allen's call brings back the time:

"Johnny Podres on the mound. Dodgers leading 2-0 . . . The outfield swung away toward right. Sandy Amoros is playing way into left-center. Berra is basically a pull hitter.

Here's the pitch. Berra swings and he does hit one to the opposite field, down the left field line . . . Sandy Amoros races over toward the foul line . . . and he makes a sensational, running, one-handed catch! He turns, whirls, fires to Pee Wee Reese. Reese fires to Gil Hodges at first base in time to double up McDougald. And the Yankees' rally is stymied!"

"I run and run and run" was how Amoros characterized one of the most dramatic moments in baseball history. After all these years Jerry Coleman is not as impressed with what happened as others: "It wasn't so much that Amoros made a great catch. It was the way he went after it in the sun. A better fielder would have made it easier. . . the circumstance was that we may have had a tie ball it turned out, that was out last chance."

With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mel Allen, loyal to a fault, turned the microphone over to Vin Scully. "Howard hits a ground ball to Reese. He throws to Hodges... the Brooklyn Dodgers are World Champions."

The precise moment was 3:43 P.M. on October 4, 1955. Brooklyn streets were clogged with celebrating fans. Honking car horns, clanging pots and pans, and shredded newspaper all punctuated that one singular moment.

In the borough-wide party that night, there were 50 complaints of noise and 10 false fire alarms. Some one billion flakes of tickertape, shredded newspapers and torn telephone books were swept off Court Street the following morning.

"It was the first and only world championship the Brooklyn Dodgers ever had," their storied centerfielder Duke Snider said. "You had to pinch yourself. We finally had done it."

However, all the celebrating was short-lived and bittersweet. In 1956, it was Yanks over Dodgers in seven games. And in 1957 the Dodgers of Brooklyn moved to Los Angeles.

Pretenders to the throne of "Subway Series" have sprung up since then - - Yankees versus Los Angeles Dodgers in transcoastal World Series. Even the "Shuttle Series" - - the World Series of 1986 between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. The name derived from the two cities that were linked by commuter air-shuttle routes and shameless commercialism by shuttle operators Eastern and Pan American.

There are also all the past "Subway Series" footnotes and sub-plots: Casey Stengel whose glory days were with the Yankees becoming the first manager of the New York Metropolitans. Joe Torre, who grew up in Brooklyn, managing the Mets from 1977-1981 then going on to his wondrous run as Yankee skipper. Yogi Berra piloting the Yankees in 1964, the Mets from 1972-1975, and the Yankees from 1984-1985. He now is a kind of symbol of the Bronx Bombers after making up with George Steinbrenner after years of estrangement.

And Daryl Strawberry, one time great star for the Mets, now a Yankee, is another sub-plot. "I'm on this side now, a Yankee, but I know lots of Mets fans back from the old days. Another meeting in October, the Subway Series in New York City - now that would be something else."

It sure would.

About the Author

Dr. Harvey Frommer received his Ph.D. from New York University. Professor Emeritus, Distinguished Professor nominee, Recipient of the "Salute to Scholars Award" at CUNY where he taught writing for many years, the prolific author was cited by the Congressional Record and the New York State Legislature as a sports historian and journalist.

His sports books include autobiographies of sports legends Nolan Ryan, Red Holzman and Tony Dorsett, the classics "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," "New York City Baseball: 1947-1957." The 1927 Yankees." His "Remembering Yankee Stadium" was published to acclaim in 2008. His latest book, a Boston Globe Best Seller, is "Remembering Fenway Park." Autographed and discounted copies of all Harvey Frommer books are available direct from the author. Please consult his home page:


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