Baseball offers us few things as thrilling as a walk-off win. While all victories may count the same, walk-off wins come with a certain drama that makes them sweeter and more satisfying than the rest. When the climactic, game-winning hit comes courtesy of the long ball, it only adds to the excitement.
Interestingly, there were no walk-off home runs during the first 45 World Series (1903-1948). During that stretch there were several walk-off base hits in the Fall Classic. In 1939, Yankee catcher Bill Dickey ended Game 1 of the World Series by smacking an RBI single to centerfield. Earl McNeely of the Senators (1924), Bing Miller of the Athletics (1929), and Goose Goslin of the Tigers (1935) also ended World Series games by delivering walk-off base hits.
Nevertheless, the first walk-off home run in World Series history proved to be elusive. Elusive, that is, until Tommy Henrich accomplished the feat in Game 1 of the 1949 Fall Classic.
An Underrated Yankee
Tommy Henrich is one of the many underrated players in Yankee history. Nicknamed “Old Reliable,” Henrich spent all of his eleven MLB seasons in pinstripes. As a member of the Yankees, Tommy won four championships and was selected for the AL All-Star team five times. He never garnered as much attention as his superstar teammates, but he was a key contributor on several great Yankee teams.
Besides putting up consistent numbers, Henrich also developed a reputation for performing under pressure. He had several critical hits in the unforgettable 1947 World Series, which the Yankees won over the Brooklyn Dodgers in seven games. In fact, Henrich’s penchant for coming through when it mattered most earned him another apt nickname, “The Clutch.”
Battling Brooklyn Again
The 1949 World Series was the third championship matchup between the Yankees and Dodgers. While the Bombers had emerged victorious in 1941 and 1947, things looked promising for Brooklyn in 1949. Since 1947, the Dodgers had added legendary catcher Roy Campanella and star pitchers Preacher Roe and Don Newcombe to their roster. Brooklyn’s ’49 squad also featured emerging centerfielder Duke Snider. Snider had been a rookie in 1947, and he didn’t see the field during the Dodgers’ World Series loss.
The 1949 Dodgers were retooled and reloaded. They were hungry, ready to win their first championship and eager to knock off their crosstown rivals.
Henrich’s Historic Blast
Characteristically, Game 1 was billed as a tone-setter for the rest of the series. Would the Yankees continue their historical dominance, or would the Dodgers prove that 1949 was finally going to be their year?
In a battle between All-Star aces, the Yankees started Allie Reynolds while the Dodgers countered with Don Newcombe. Both pitchers turned in electric performances. Reynolds hurled a complete game, struck out nine, and allowed just two hits. Newcombe, in his first World Series appearance, managed to match Reynolds every step of the way. Through eight inning he allowed just four men to reach base.
In the bottom of the 9th, the score still square at 0-0, the stage was set for a dramatic finale. With nobody on and nobody out, Tommy Henrich stepped into the batter’s box. Newcombe, who had been nearly perfect all game, hung a curveball at the worst possible moment. Henrich didn’t miss it.
“Old Reliable” whipped his bat through the strike zone and hammered Newcombe’s pitch into the Old Stadium’s short porch. It was a historic moment—the first walk-off home run in World Series history. The Yankees won the critical opening contest and took the series in five games.
There have been 15 additional walk-off blasts in the World Series since Henrich hit his in 1949. Yankee players (Mantle in 1964, Curtis in 1999, and Jeter in 2001) have hit three of them. With four World Series walk-off dingers to their credit, the Yankees have more than any other team in professional baseball.