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The Pinnacle Era of New York Baseball

Every Friday I’ve been releasing ‘A Brief History’ podcast about the Yankees. It started as a way to stay sane during quarantine, but evolved into something that I look forward to researching each week.

The most recent episode — The Subway Series, Part I — is the first of two podcasts covering the great New York baseball rivalries between the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers and Mets.

At the turn of the 20th century, the Giants and Dodgers — although they weren’t called the Dodgers back then — were the only two teams in New York City. Then, in 1903, the Baltimore Orioles packed-up and moved north, transforming into the New York Highlanders (eventually the Yankees) because the American League — the upstart league — wanted a presence in the country’s largest city.

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Through the 1930s, the biggest cross-town rivalry was between the Giants and Yankees. Between 1921 and ’37 they met five times in the World Series, with the Yankees winning three of those matchups.

But in the ’40s the New York baseball landscape changed as the Brooklyn Dodgers started to rid the moniker “Dem Bums.” Their first pennant in 21 years ended with a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees in 1941, but then World War II unfortunately put more Subway Series on hold until the late ’40s.

The Pinnacle of New York Baseball

As good as the ’30s Yanks/Giants and ’40s Yanks/Dodgers matchups were, the 1950s were the golden era of New York baseball, and 1951 was perhaps the pinnacle.

The Yankees did their part in the American League as usual, winning the pennant by 5 games over Cleveland.

In the National League the Giants and Dodgers finished tied, so they played a 3-game playoff for the pennant, which ended on Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

As we were reminded this offseason thanks to the Astros cheating scandal, the Giants had a spy in centerfield stealing signs with a telescope which were relayed to hitters, possibly helping Thompson hit the 9th inning go-ahead homer.

It is still regarded as one of the biggest moments in baseball history and was the climax of a thrilling National League pennant race.

The World Series — won by the Yanks in six games — also did not disappoint. It had some notable firsts and lasts.

It was the last Subway Series the Giants appeared in and the last of an amazing nine championships for Joe DiMaggio, who retired after the World Series.

It was the first for rookies Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. Mantle unfortunately shredded his knee in Game 2 when DiMaggio called him off for a fly ball. 

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It was also the first World Series for Bob Sheppard, who ended up announcing five more Subway Series at Yankee Stadium in his lifetime.

Before They Left

Nobody could have imagined the Giants and Dodgers moving West considering the World Series was played in New York every year of the decade until 1959. Even when it wasn’t a Subway Series, one of the three teams reached the Fall Classic.

The decade featured five Subway Series in total.

In ’51 the Yankees beat the Giants. In ’52 and ’53, and again in ’56, the Yankees toppled the Dodgers. But in 1955 “Next Year” finally arrived for “Dem Bums”, as they won their only championship while playing in Brooklyn, defeating the Yankees.

After the Giants and Dodgers left, the Yankees were the only team in town until the Mets were established in 1962. It took 35 years for the Yankees and Mets to play a meaningful baseball game and 38 years before they met in a Subway Series. Their rivalry is renewed each season, but nothing will ever top 1950s New York baseball.

Podcast – A Brief History: The Subway Series, Part I