As you will undoubtedly hear over the next few weeks, the 2009 World Series has a lot of similarities to the 1950 World Series, most notably that it was the last time that the Yankees and Phillies met for the title. Over the next few days we will be sharing with you some of the great stories and history of that 1950 match up. To tell the story we've turned to Phillies collector, historian and friend of Mitchell & Ness, Joe Hetrick. If you don't know Joe, you will get to know him through his upcoming blog posts. Joe is one of the most knowledgeable and avid Phillies fans and collectors that we've ever met. He is someone that we turn to when we have questions or need to verify anything related to the Phils. We're happy to share Joe's insight with you . And on behalf of our readers, thanks Joe!
"Phillies Top Dodgers to Win NL Pennant and Earn a World Series Berth"
Sound familiar? Did you read it last week in The Philadelphia Inquirer or Daily News? Well, believe it or not, the quote was the headline on the sports page of the now defunct Philadelphia Evening Bulletin on October 2, 1950! As someone once said: "Everything old gets new again" The similarities between the 1950 Phillies and the current team, however, go much deeper than a mere headline. In fact, some of the parallels are quite remarkable.
The 1950 team was an optimistic and even brash group as the season began. The optimism was based in part on the fact that they had shocked the baseball world by finishing third in the NL in 1949. Third place might not seem a great accomplishment, but this was, in fact, the first time The Phillies had finished above fourth place since 1932! The '49 team had been given the new nickname "The Fightin' Phils", and the '50 team was given new uniforms - striking red and white pinstripes (called "candy stripes" at the time) which have been worn ever since. More importantly, the team was comprised of talented young home-grown players who were acquired and groomed over the past 3-4 years. Rich Ashburn, pitchers Robin Roberts and Curt Simmons, and position players such as Willie Jones, "Granny" Hamner, Del Ennis, Dick Sisler and a strong supporting cast, even had a few optimistic (and heretical) sportswriters predicting that the team might actually compete for the NL Pennant. They also acquired a new, very down-to-earth manager in Eddie Sawyer. (Young home grown talent, earthy manager - any of this sounding familiar?) The mighty Brooklyn Dodgers simply laughed.
The Phillies took and held first place for much of the season. They were in first place for 101 days of the 167 day season. Toward the end, however, they stumbled, and the Dodgers got hot. As fate would have it, the last two games of the season were against The Dodgers in the hallowed confines of Ebbets Field. The Phillies lead had dwindled to 2 games as the series began, and they promptly lost the first game of the series, played on Saturday, by the rather decisive score of 7-3. Thus, the season came down to the very last game. If the Phillies won, they had the pennant. If they lost, they faced a 3 game playoff against the Dodgers with two games in Ebbets Field. The last game was one for the ages. The Phillies sent their best pitcher, Robin Roberts to the mound, and the Dodgers countered with their ace, Don Newcombe. Both pitched well, and the game was tied 1-1 at the end of 8 innings. In the top of the 9th, the Dodgers led off with a walk by Cal Abrams, and followed with a single by Pee Wee Reese. Up stepped the power hitting Duke Snyder, and things looked very bad for the Fightin' Phils. Snyder lashed a single to center field, and the Dodger third base coach Milt Stock sent Abrams home (even though there were no outs!). Rich Ashburn, who was playing shallow, fielded the ball cleanly and made a perfect throw to Andy Seminick at home plate to get Abrams by 5 feet. After an intentional walk to Jackie Robinson (always a good idea, but particularly good with 2 men on base), Roberts retired the next two batters on weak pop ups. Having now seen Jayson Werth's spectacular double play throw to third in this year's playoffs, I think Ashburn's throw still remains the most important in a key Phillies game. As an interesting aside, Coach Stock was fired following the loss for sending Abrams home with no outs!
In the top of the 10th inning, Roberts let off with a single (Yes, he could hit too!). In those days, starting pitchers finished games, even extra inning games, and there was no thought of a pinch hitter. First baseman Eddie Waitkus (the player whose career The Natural was based) followed with a single. Rich Ashburn tried to sacrifice the two runners over, but bunted into a force play. To the plate came Dick Sisler. The son of Hall of Fame player George Sisler, and with movie star good looks, Sisler was about to make history. He launced a three run home run into the left field seats, giving the Phillies a 4-1 lead. Ebbets Field was quiet as a tomb. Roberts took care of the Dodgers in the bottom of the frame, and the Phillies were going to the World Series. I believe that Sisler's home run was the most important home run in Phillies history. I also believe that Jimmy Rollins' game winning double in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 4 of the NLDS was the most exciting and most important non home run in Phillies history. Jimmy not only won the game, but he turned the entire series around with one swing, demoralized the Dodgers, and got the Phillies to the World Series again. As I said, everything old gets new again.