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Champions Again: How the ’53 Yankees secured the only 5-peat in MLB history

When the 1953 MLB season began, the New York Yankees stood on the precipice of baseball history. The organization had just won its fourth-straight World Series the previous October, and was gearing up for a fifth consecutive championship run.

Since 1903, several teams had managed to repeat as World Series champions. The Cubs, Athletics, Red Sox, and Giants had all accomplished the feat before the Yankees won their first Fall Classic in 1923. New York won back-to-back titles for the first time in 1927 and 1928. After DiMaggio joined the club in 1936, the Bronx Bombers won four-straight rings to close out the 1930s. No team, however, had ever won five in a row. No team had ever successfully done what the 1953 Yankees were trying to do.

Coasting to the Fall Classic

Prior to 1953, the 1940 Yankees had been the only team to make a bid for a five-peat. The season had been a disappointment. Joe McCarthy’s squad finished third in the American League behind both the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. New York missed out on the Fall Classic and didn’t earn the opportunity to play for a fifth-straight title against the Cincinnati Reds.

Any fears that the 1953 Yankees would suffer the same fate as their 1940 forerunners were quickly dispelled. New York grabbed first place in the American League on April 22 and never looked back. They maintained their position atop the AL for the rest of the season, never once falling into a tie with another team. They finished the year with 99 wins, the organization’s most in a season since 1942.

Outfielders Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, and Mickey Mantle were all key cogs in the club’s offense. Woodling and Bauer both batted over .300 and added nearly 60 RBIs each, while Mickey clocked 21 home runs and posted 92 RBI in his third MLB season. The most potent bat in the lineup, however, belonged to Berra. Yogi, thanks to his patented ability to hit bad pitches all over the ballpark, crushed 27 dingers and drove in 108 runs for the Yankees. Berra’s stellar season earned him a second-place finish in AL MVP voting.

The Yankee lineup led the American League in almost every meaningful offensive category during the ’53 season. Offense, though, was only half of the equation. Thanks to a pitching staff that included Whitey Ford, Eddie Lopat, Vic Raschi, Allie Reynolds, and Johnny Sain, New York led the AL in ERA, ERA+, WHIP, and FIP. Lopat anchored the 1953 staff by posting the lowest ERA in the American League.

Another Battle for New York

The only team that had a better regular season than the Yankees was the one that they were set to face in the World Series—the Brooklyn Dodgers. Led by the likes of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, and Duke Snider, Brooklyn won an astounding 105 games during the 1953 season. The Dodgers led the Major Leagues in runs, homers, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. They were probably the most dominant offensive team since the vaunted 1927 Yankees.

The 1953 Fall Classic offered the Dodgers a chance to avenge the bitter ending of their previous season. In the 1952 World Series, Brooklyn had taken a 3-2 lead over the Yankees before dropping Games 6 and 7. The heartbreak of 1952 powered the Dodgers throughout the 1953 season, but all of their exploits would be for naught if they failed to unseat the boys from the Bronx in October.

The Bombers Start Strong

The Yankees came out swinging to begin the 1953 World Series. In the 1st inning of Game 1, Billy Martin ripped a 3-RBI triple that extended the Bombers’ lead to 4-0. The Yankees’ early offensive explosion was a statement, and it appeared that the team was on its way to a relaxing victory. Brooklyn, however, fought back. The Dodgers scored three runs off of Allie Reynolds in the sixth, cutting the deficit to 5-4. In the 7th, Carl Furillo singled in Roy Campanella to tie the game.

In danger of squandering Game 1, the Yanks responded with their second offensive outburst of the afternoon. First baseman Joe Collins hit a go-ahead dinger in the bottom of the 7th off Dodgers hurler Clem Labine. Then, in the 8th, Yankees’ pitcher Johnny Sain roped a double that gave the Bombers a pair of much-needed insurance runs. Sain shut the Dodgers down in the top of 9th and the Yankees took the game 9-5.

If Game 1 was an offensive showcase, then Game 2 was a defensive duel. Eddie Lopat and Preacher Roe both pitched complete games for their respective teams, but Lopat came out on top. Billy Martin provided more offense by crushing a home run in the 7th that knotted the score at 2-2. An inning later, Mantle gave the Yankees the lead by launching a pitch from Preacher into the left field seats. The Yankees, now just two wins away from their fifth-straight title, grabbed the game 4-2.

Brooklyn Bounces Back

Down 0-2, the Dodgers returned to the cozy confines of Ebbets Field for Games 3, 4, and 5. The Brooklyn faithful were treated to a pair of Dodger wins in the first two contests. Game 3 proved to be another pitchers’ duel, but this time Brooklyn came out on top. Carl Erskine silenced the Yankee bats and struck out 14 hitters, which was a World Series record at the time. Campanella provided a late-inning homer and the Dodgers won 3-2.

Game 4 was over nearly before it began. Whitey Ford lasted just one inning during which the Dodgers battered him around and scored three runs. A home run by Gil McDougald cut Brooklyn’s lead to 4-2 in the 5th, but the Dodgers responded with runs of their own in the 6th and 7th innings. The Yanks scored a meaningless run in the top of the 9th, but the final outcome was a comfortable 7-3 win for Brooklyn.

A Stroke of Mantle Magic

All square at two games apiece, the Yankees looked to rebound from a pair of tough losses in Game 5. Early on, it looked as though this matchup would be a pitching contest like Games 2 and 3. Then the Yankee offense roared to life. In the top of the 3rd, Mickey Mantle hit a towering grand slam into the upper deck of Ebbets Field. Billy Martin clubbed his second home run of the series in the 7th to extend the Yankees’ lead to 8-2. Then McDonald, Berra, and McDougald supplied a few more insurance runs for the Bombers. The Dodgers refused to go quietly, but an 8th-inning surge by Brooklyn proved to be too little too late. The Yankees won 11-7 to move within one game of history.

A Finish for the Ages

Game 6 proved to be the most dramatic contest of the 1953 World Series. Ford was back on the bump for the Yankees facing Erskine, who had played the hero for Brooklyn in Game 3. Yogi got the scoring underway in the bottom of the 1st with a ground-rule double. A few batters later, Billy Martin reached on a crucial Brooklyn error that allowed Hank Bauer to score. The Yankees extended their lead to 2-0.

The Bombers added another run in the 2nd. Meanwhile, Ford kept Brooklyn at bay as the game progressed into the middle innings. Finally, in the 6th, the Dodgers got to Whitey. Jackie Robinson, who stole third after doubling to left, crossed the plate on a Campanella single that cut the lead to 3-1. Both offenses struggled over the next two innings, and the Yankees took their two-run advantage into the 9th.

With Allie Reynolds on the mound, the Dodgers mounted a stunning comeback. Duke Snider worked a walk off of Reynolds, then Carl Furillo smacked a ball into the seats to tie the game. Furillo’s dinger was one of the greatest hits in the history of the World Series. He had given his team a chance, he had kept their title hopes alive. But there was still another half-inning to play.

Hank Bauer, leading off the bottom of the 9th for the Yankees, worked a walk off of Clem Labine to set the table. Yogi lined out to right, then Mantle singled on a dribbler to third base. With Bauer leading off of second and one man out, Billy Martin stepped into the box. Martin had hit a huge triple at the start of Game 1, a big home run in Game 2, and now he had a chance to win the Yankees a fifth-straight title.

Labine fired. Martin swung. The ball bounced through the infield, Bauer bounded around third, and the Yankees were champions once again. For the first and only time in MLB history, a team won five consecutive World Series championships. Fittingly, Billy Martin was named series MVP.

Aftermath

Neither the Yankees nor the Dodgers made it back to the Fall Classic in 1954. In both 1955 and 1956, the two teams would play for the championship against one another, with Brooklyn triumphing in ’55 and the Yankees in ’56. Two years later, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. It was the end of an exhilarating era in New York sports.

The Bomber’s magical run from 1949 to 1953 is something we will probably never see again. Only two teams (the 1972-1974 Oakland A’s  and the 1998-2000 Yankees) have won three-straight World Series titles since, and no team has managed to win four consecutive titles. The Yankees’ five-peat is a baseball record that should remain safe for a long, long time.