Johnny Kucks- Public domain
October 10, 1956--The Yankees captured Game 7 of the World Series against the Brooklyn Dodger to officially end a terrific era for New York baseball. It was the 13th and final Subway Series for 44 years.
The very first Subway Series took place in 1921 between John McGraw's New York Giants and the upstart New York Yankees, in the World Series for the first time thanks to Babe Ruth's greatest season. Yankees/Giants became an instant classic, and the two teams met in the Fall Classic five times in the 17-year period between '21 and '37. Four years later, the Yankees met the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, which they took in five games. They met again after the war in '47, and they faced each other an incredible six times between that year and '56. Adding in one more World Series between the Yankees and Giants in '51, that made for 13 Subway Series between '21 and '56. Percentage-wise, more than one out of every three World Series in that 36-year period was a New York showdown. There was never a better time to be a New York baseball fan.
Sadly, "all good things must come to an end" as the saying goes, and as the years went in, it made less sense for New York City to have three baseball teams while the potentially profitable West Coast had none. Moreover, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds were slowly becoming more dilapidated and the City was hesitant to help the Dodgers and Giants owners build new ballparks. Offers from Los Angeles and San Francisco were far too tempting for Walter O'Malley and Horace Stoneham to ignore.
Amid rumors of relocation, the Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series for the second straight year in '56. Brooklyn finally broke through and won its first championship the year before in a seven-game classic, beating the Yankees for the first time in six opportunities. Casey Stengel's Bronx Bombers did their job to ensure a rematch by easily taking the American League pennant by nine games thanks to Mickey Mantle's Triple Crown season with 52 homers and a .353/.464/.705 triple slash. It was not as easy for the Dodgers, who only spent 23 days in first place due to a hotly-contested pennant race with the front-running Milwaukee Braves and surprising Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati was eliminated in a loss to the Braves on September 25th that put Milwaukee in first place over the Dodgers by half a game with three games to go against the the mediocre St. Louis Cardinals. The lead became a full game with a Dodgers loss on the 26th, but the lead disappeared when the Dodgers swept the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates to end the season and the Braves lost two out of three to St. Louis. Brooklyn won their last of 13 National League pennants.
Despite the Yankees' regular season success, Brooklyn gained the upper hand in the series by taking the first two games at Ebbets Field, 6-3 and 13-8. The series went crosstown, and Stengel took a gamble by pitching his ace Whitey Ford on two days' rest even though the Dodgers knocked him out of Game 1 after five runs in three innings. Ford responded with a complete game victory as light-hitting Billy Martin and veteran Enos Slaughter surprised Brooklyn with homers in a 5-3 Yankee win to bring them back into the series. The Yankees tied the series when Tom Sturdivant allowed just six hits and two runs to the Dodgers in a 6-2 win, then they rode Don Larsen's improbable perfecto to a 3-2 series lead. Bob Turley and Clem Labine engaged in a classic pitchers' duel for Game 6, scoreless after nine innings. Turley walked second baseman Jim Gilliam with one out in the tenth, and shortstop Pee Wee Reese bunted him into scoring position. An intentional walk to slugger Duke Snider challenged 37-year-old Jackie Robinson to win the game, and he would do just that, lining a base hit to left to give Brooklyn its final World Series victory, 1-0. It would stand as the final hit of Jackie's legendary career.
Stengel's Game 7 starter was a surprise--Johnny Kucks over a well-rested Ford. Unlike Stengel's decision to pitch Art Ditmar over Ford in 1960, this selection would work out perfectly. The Dodgers countered with NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Don Newcombe, but "Newk" simply didn't have it that day. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra slugged a pair of two-run homers to deep right field against him within the first three innings to give the Yankees a 4-0 lead and backup Elston Howard, playing left field, knocked him out of the game with a leadoff blast in the fourth to make it 5-0. Meanwhile, Kucks was pitching almost as well as Larsen two days before, having allowed just a hit and two walks through six shutout innings. The Yankees put the game out of question when they loaded the bases with no one out against reliever Roger Craig in the seventh. Bill "Moose" Skowron crushed a devastating grand slam to left field to officially make it a blowout, 9-0. Kucks closed out the seven-game series with a three-hit shutout, giving the Yankees their 17th World Series championship.
After the '57 season, both the Dodgers and Giants abandoned New York, going west and ending Subway Series baseball for the remainder of the century. The expansion New York Mets came into being in '62, but it would take until the year 2000 for the Yankees and Mets to finally meet in the World Series. Naturally, the American Leaguers came up victorious again, as they had in all but three Subway Series showdowns.
The 20th century bid farewell to the Subway Series 56 years ago today.