Originally published in The Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
October 2, 1978
By RB Scott
To a 1950s boy in Salt Lake City, the arrival of autumn was practically all there was to life. For with it came The World Series and baseball on the radio virtually every day of the week, just in time to totally disrupt the opening weeks of school.
Roger Kahn, one of the finer baseball writers in the nation, had his Boys of Summer — Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Junior Gilliam and Roy Campanella— that formed the heart and soul of The Brooklyn Dodgers. And, they were ours too except that we got to know them best just as the green leaves of summer turned golden, hot orange and burnt red.
Our less erudite friends — the kinds who always insisted on winning — preferred the likes of Mickey Mantle Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra and Clete Boyer of The New York Yankees.
Baseball was everything then. Football was something you played when the baseball season ended, basketball way to pass the time until snow melted, the grass grew and baseball returned. For most , Big League baseball meant the Game of The Week, which, more often than not featured a game between the dominant tams of the National and American leagues — The New York Yankees and, and several subway stops away, The Brooklyn Dodgers culminating in the World Series, the renewal of the storied subway series rivalry between the moneyed Yankees and comparatively working class and socially progressive Dodgers.
Some of the historical charm and sharp edged texture to this historic rivalry were permanently lost when the Dodgers went Hollywood in 1958, deserting the shabby but cozy Ebbets Field, and roaring 747s replaced the screeching BMT subway as the main mode of World Series transportation. Yet, despite modernizations and inconveniences, the Yankee-Dodger World Series rivalry is very real. As it enters its 10th edition, no doubt every father who grew up in the ‘50s will take the opportunity to teach his children well about those historic games from his youth.
As my sons know well, their father’s infatuation with the Dodgers, the erstwhile Bums of Flatbush Avenue, was in full bloom in the Summer of 1952. By then, they had already played in five World Series—against Boston Red Sox in 1916 and the Cleveland Indians in 1920, three times against the Yankees(1941, 1947 and 1949) and lost each time. Hence, their well-deserved pejorative nickname: “The Bums”
In the autumn of 1952 it seemed this tragedy was about to end. Not only had the Dodgers sayed level with the Yankees throughout The Series, but the seventh and deciding game would be played at Ebbets Field.. There was joy all the way from Coney Island to East Ninth South in Salt Lake City.
The euphoria soon faded. The Yanks were up 4-2 by he bottom of the seventh inning. It looked like all was lost. I prayed for a miracle, figuring that God just had to be a Dodger fan too. Sure enough, within minutes the Dodgers had loaded the basses and, with two outs, Jackie Robinson stood at the plate.
Robinson not only was a spectacular hitter who kid hit rockets downtown all day long, but he had made social history as well being the first black man to play major league baseball. Just as he was capable of doing, he lifted one toward right field. However, as the ball reached its apogee, it fell like a stone toward the infield dirt. For a second, it seemed like even the Yankee second baseman Billy Martin (later the team’s fiery manager) was stunned, could not believe his eyes, and might not react in time to make the diving, shoe-string catch he did, dashing all my dreams of victory and vindication.
I have often wondered if my disdain for Billy Martin to this day has anything to do with the heartbreak he brought me way back then? For the first time, I too was intoning the Dodger Dirge: “We wuz robbed.”
In 1953 the Yanks were not to be denied their 15th World Championship. And, again Martin, usually a mediocre hitter during the regular season, hit safely over six games for an impressive .500 batting average. The only bright spot for a Dodger devotee was the third game when Carl Erskine fanned 14 batters — a World Series record.
Mickey Mantle, who was just getting his start then, showed the breadth of his abilities, striking out eight times and hammering two crucial homers with the bases loaded. There were many brilliant performances in this rivalry, certainly none more impressive, if painful, to a Dodger than Don Larsen’s perfect game in the '56 Series. Of course, there were the routine acts of heroism by the likes of Enos Slaughter, Big Bill Skowran for The Bombers; or Preacher Roe, Wally Moon, Sandy Koufax and Gil Hodges for The Bums.
These are the heroes of my childhood. Their names roll of my tongue as easily as Figueroa, Munson, Hunter, Jackson, Dent and White will roll of my sons 20 years hence. For, you see, my sons, having spent most of their young lives more or less in shadow of the “House That Ruth Built” in The Bronx, have were seduced by the dark side and became Yankee acolytes years ago.
Nevertheless, they have heard me tell of the real hero of my youth—Dodger catcher Roy Campanella. I am certain that my sons winced, as I did Tuesday night when that grand old catcher, now in a wheelchair, struggled to toss out the first ball of the 1978 Series.
They have not been deprived of one particularly outstanding moment in Dodger history –the 1955 World Series. As usual, the beloved Bums of Flatbush Avenue were deadlocked with hated Yankees, three wins each, and the seventh and deciding game was scheduled of Yankee Stadium. I was in mourning.
Johnny Padres bitched brilliantly until the bottom of the sixth when he walked Billy Martin, then allowed Gil McDougald to bunt safely, moving Martin to second. Up walked Yogi Berra and rifled a shotdown the left field line. Sprinting Sandy Amoros made a lunging, one-handed catch, whirled threw to Pee Wee Reese at short, who fired to first for the pickoff play of McDougald, who was well on his way to second. Double play!
From there it was all downhill. So, on October 4, 1955 – my tenth birthday – joy finally reigned from East Ninth South in Salt Lake City to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn where a self-deprecating Dodger fan unfurled a banner that pithily captured the ecstasy of this historic moment: “We dood it!”