A SILVER ANNIVERSARY SERIES
The 1980 World Series is turning the spotlight on Philadelphia's long history of failure in post-season play, but exactly 25 years ago another team -- the old Brooklyn Dodgers -- entered the fall classic with an even worse litany of futility.Skip to next paragraph
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In some ways it all seems so long ago now -- October, 1955. Ike was still in his first term. Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer a couple of years out of the Navy. Ronald Reagan was actor. Ted Kennedy was an undergraduate at Harvard. And major league baseball was played strictly east of the Mississippi -- mostly in places that have since become parking lots or housing developments.
One thing was the same, though: The New York Yankees were kingpins of the game then, as they have been so often both before and since. The Bronx Bombers had won the World Series six times in the previous eight years, and there was little reason to believe they wouldn't add to their laurels in the current battle against the Dodgers.
Ah, yes, the Dodgers. The very name conjured up images of futility -- a team that had been nicknamed "The Bums," and whose biggest claim to fame was a baserunning boo-boo in which three men wound up on third at the same time.
These Dodgers, of course, were a far cry from those blunderers of the past. These were "The Boys of Summer," as later christened in Roger Kahn's book of that title -- the Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese powerhouse that had dominated the National League in almost the same fashion as the Yankees had the American. They won a lot of games, and they even won quite a few pennants, but when it came to postseason play they had a record of frustration which even the current Philadelphia team cannot match.
Much has been made this year of the Phillies' long succession of failures -- losses in both previous World Series appearances, 1915 and 1950, and in all three earlier playoff bids. But even this record pales beside that oldtime Dodger litany of disappointment. In the 1916 series they had bowed to Boston in five games, then after a long period of poor teams, they rose to a contending position once again in the early 1940s. In the next 15 years they were easily the best team in the National League -- if not in all baseball -- except that they just never seemed able to prove it when the chips were down.
In 1941 they won the pennant but lost a famous World Series to the Yankees, partly through a missed third strike by catcher Mickey Owen at a crucial juncture. In 1942 they won 104 games but were beaten out by St. Louis for the pennant. In 1946 they tied for first place with the same Cardinals only to lose a best-of-three playoff. In '47 and again in '49 they won the pennant, but lost both World Series to the Yankees. In '50 they were beaten on the last day of the season by Philadelphia's "Whiz Kid" Phillies.In '51 they blew a huge lead, then lost the playoff to the New York Giants on Bobby Thomson's famous home run. In '52 and '53 the team, at what was probably its very peak, rolled to successive pennants. But, as always seemed to be the case when they won, they found the Yankees waiting for them in the Series -- and lost. The whole thing got so monotonous that their very cause became identified by that perennial loser's motto: "Wait 'til next year!"
And so when these two teams squared off once again in 1955, it looked like the same old story -- especially when New York won the first two games behind its ace left- handers Whitey Ford and Tommy Byrne. At that point in baseball history, no team had ever come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven World Series, and certainly there was no reason to believe this Dodger crew would be the first.
The Dodgers still had faith in themselves, though, as noted by Don Zimmer, an infielder on that team who has gone on to a managerial career and is one of several players from both clubs still associated with the game.