Last Subway Series was a classic

Posted: Friday, October 20, 2000

NEW YORK -- The last time there was a Subway Series, tokens cost fifteen cents instead of $1.50 and the underground ride between ballparks took a little longer than it will starting Saturday.

Ebbets Field in Brooklyn is gone and so are the Dodgers. But 44 years ago, they played one last memorable Subway Series against the New York Yankees, a series punctuated by a perfect game, the only no-hitter in World Series history, a series that ended one of the most memorable eras in baseball history.

Seven times in 10 years from 1947-56, the World Series was played entirely in New York, the Yankees against either the Giants or Dodgers. The city was wired for those confrontations but not nearly as hyper as it seems for the one coming up between the Yankees and Mets.

''When I was a kid, it was always a New York World Series, mainly the Dodgers and the Yankees but, on occasion, the Giants and the Yankees,'' said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who grew up in Brooklyn.

''I was at the last World Series that the Dodgers and Yankees played here in 1956 and it was crazy, but it's much more crazy now. This is much different than it was 40 years ago because the media is so much greater and the game has taken on a much larger meaning.

''But I have a feeling this city is not going to be the same for the next 10 days and maybe for some time after that.''

New York was more casual about the Subway Series in the '50s because there seemed to be one every year.

Don Zimmer, now Torre's bench coach, was a member of those Dodger teams.

''I felt when we teed it up in spring training, we'd win the National League and they'd win the American League and we'd get at it in the World Series,'' he said. ''It worked out so much that when I got here in '96 I was not aware of the fact that the Yankees had not won a World Series in 18 years. They were in it every year.''

That was how Torre remembered it, too.

''The Yankees won every year,'' the manager said, ''and everyone was trying to knock them off their pedestal.''

The Dodgers finally succeeded in 1955, winning the seventh game on a 2-0 shutout by Johnny Podres. Now they were back a year later for another shot. Zimmer was an observer, on the Dodgers bench recovering from a beaning. Brooklyn got permission from the commissioner's office to allow him to be in uniform.

''I called myself a professional cheerleader, like I am today,'' he said. ''It was a tremendous time. It was something very special.''

Brooklyn began the 1956 Series the way it ended 1955, by beating the Yankees. President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles took time out from a Suez Canal crisis to attend the opener, where the Dodgers beat Whitey Ford 6-3.

In one of manager Casey Stengel's hunches, the Yankees started journeyman Don Larsen in Game 2 and jumped to a six-run lead as Yogi Berra hit a grand slam. But Brooklyn battered seven Yankees pitchers for 12 hits and 11 walks to win 13-8. Larsen, who once lost 21 games in a season, was gone by the second inning.

''I was lousy in my first start,'' Larsen said. ''I was ahead 6-0 when I started walking people. Casey didn't like that. He took me out in the second and I didn't think I'd start another game.''

When the Series moved to Yankee Stadium, Stengel went right back to Ford for Game 3. Brooklyn had a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning when Enos Slaughter turned the game around with a three-run home run against Roger Craig. New York won 5-3.

''I hit .350 in that Series,'' Slaughter said. ''That homer, that was the first homer ever hit by a 40-year-old in the World Series.''

Slaughter had been a midseason pickup, a typical roster move by the Yankees in those days. When he was added to the roster, the team cut longtime shortstop Phil Rizzuto on Oldtimers Day.

In Game 4, the Yankees used home runs by Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer to beat Carl Erskine 6-2. Now the Series was tied and the stage was set for one of the most memorable games in baseball history.

Stengel chose to start Larsen, the gangly right-hander the Yankees called ''Gooney Bird,'' in the fifth game against first-game winner Sal Maglie. Larsen remembered thinking, '''I hope I don't screw it up like Game 2.' I went out and warmed up, wondering 'Why me?'''

Larsen sailed through the Dodgers lineup, 27 batters up, 27 batters down. Pinch hitter Dale Mitchell was the last batter.

''My legs were shaking,'' Larsen said. ''I thought, 'Just get me through one more.' To get that close and mess it up, they'd run me out of the ballpark.''

On his 97th pitch, Larsen struck out Mitchell, and Berra bounced out from behind the plate and leaped into his arms to celebrate perfection.

''That was a tremendous feeling, jumping into his arms,'' Berra said.

The game left everybody involved flabbergasted. One flustered writer asked Stengel if that was the best game he'd ever seen Larsen pitch. ''So far,'' the manager cracked.

Now the teams returned to Brooklyn with the Yankees leading 3-2. It was as if the perfect game had left hitters on both sides exhausted, and New York's Bob Turley and Brooklyn's Clem Labine were locked in a scoreless duel through nine innings.

Slaughter, in left field for the Yankees, was struggling. He lost two hits in the sun and shadows. Then in the 10th inning, with Junior Gilliam on second base, Jackie Robinson hit another ball Slaughter's way.

''I was playing where I thought if Jackie hit the ball through the left side, I'd have a chance to throw Gilliam out at the plate,'' he said. ''He hit the left field wall. I didn't misjudge it. I had no chance. I was not too deep. If he hit a high fly I could get back to the wall.''

The Yankees were convinced Slaughter had cost them the game. Second baseman Billy Martin was the most critical.

''Billy went to Casey and said, 'Get that donkey out of there,''' Slaughter said. For Game 7, the man whose homer had rescued them in Game 3 was on the Yankees' bench.

The Yankees pitched Johnny Kucks, an 18-game winner who had worked in relief in each of the first two games but was making his first Series start. Brooklyn went with ace Don Newcombe, who had been knocked out in the second inning of Game 2.

Kucks learned about the assignment when he got to the ballpark and found that coach Frank Crosetti had placed a baseball in his shoe. ''My first inclination,'' the pitcher said, ''was to put it in somebody else's shoe.''

Berra hit a two-run homer in the first inning to give the Yankees a quick cushion. But the Dodgers tried to come right back.

''They had runners at first and second,'' Kucks said. ''I turned to get the resin bag and I see Ford and Tom Sturdivant warming up in the bullpen. I thought, 'They really have a lot of faith in the big guy.'''

Robinson hit into a double play, ending the threat. Berra hit another two-run homer and Bill Skowron added a grand slam as Kucks mowed down the Dodgers, finishing with a three-hit shutout.

Kucks struck out only one batter, the last man he faced, the last major league swing for Robinson. The Game 7 victory was a masterpiece but overshadowed by Larsen's perfect game.

''Nobody had ever done that before,'' Kucks said. ''That was the No. 1 item in that World Series.''

It was reflected in the prizes the two pitchers got for their games.

''Larsen got a car,'' Kucks said. ''I got a fishing rod.''



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