It was one of many "next years" for the Dodgers. After almost catching the Phillies the previous season, the city of Brooklyn renewed its hope in the fresh slate of the 1951 baseball season. It was the dawning of an era (Ford Frick succeeded Happy Chandler as commissioner), and the Dodgers came flying out of the gate behind Most Valuable Player Roy Campanella.
It became a slow season all around. With the Yankees coasting to another American League pennant by 5 games over Cleveland and with the Giants 13-1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the National, there wasn't a race in sight.
There were highlights that year, of course. In the National League, the Cardinals' Stan Musial won the batting title with a .355 average. Ralph Kiner of the Pirates clubbed a league-leading 42 homers. Brooklyn's Preacher Roe racked up a 22-3 season with a winning percentage that ranks sixth on the all-time single-season list. Monte Irvin totaled 121 RBI, the best in the league, for New York. Boston's Chet Nichols posted a league-low 2.88 ERA.
In the American League, Gus Zernial came to Philadelphia via Chicago early in the season to blast 33 home runs and 129 RBI, both league-bests; teammate Ferris Fain topped all batters with a .344 average. Cleveland's Bob Feller spearheaded the league with 22 victories and a .733 winning percentage. Saul Rogovin responded to an early-season trade to Chicago with a league-leading 2.78 ERA.
The brightest of highlights -- and one of the most dramatic comebacks ever-was the 16-game winning streak that Leo Durocher's Giants kicked off on August 12. Led by Willie Mays (the 20-year-old Rookie of the Year) and Sal Maglie (a 2.93 ERA and a league-leading 23 wins), New York wort 39 of its last 47 (including the final seven) to pull into a first-place tie with the Dodgers.
A split of the first two playoff contests set up a dramatic deciding game at the Polo Grounds on October 3. The Dodgers took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. With Don Newcombe cruising along, three outs did not seem to be a tall order. Al Dark and Don Mueller then opened the inning with singles. After the heavy-hitting Irvin popped out, Whitey Lockman ripped a double to left, scoring Dark and sending Mueller to third and Newcombe to the showers.
Owning a 4-2 lead with the tying run in scoring position, Dodger skipper Chuck Dressen called for the right-hander Ralph Branca. With Bobby Thomson at bat, Mays on deck, and first base open, Dressen chose to pitch to Thomson (who collected 32 round-trippers on the year).
On the second pitch, the outfielder lined a game-winning, three-run homer to left-the "shot heard 'round the world" -- giving the Giants the pennant and forever linking himself with Branca as baseball's classic hero-and-goat duo. Although the Yankees featured no .300 hitters, they did have clutch-hitting catcher Yogi Berra (who won the MVP) and pitching ace Eddie Lopat (21 wins and 2.91 ERA).
Allie Reynolds hurled a pair of no-hitters for New York along the way to the American League flag. The high-flying Giants won the first game of the 1951 World Series 5-1 and the third 6-2. But behind the fine pitching of Reynolds, Lopat (who allowed one earned run in 18 Series innings), and Vic Raschi, the Bronx Bombers took the next three matches and, in the process, their third consecutive championship.
Perhaps more noteworthy than the Yankees' victory was a changing of the guard in the Bronx: As Joe DiMaggio ended his Hall of Fame career in pinstripes, a fleet-footed, 19-year-old outfielder named Mickey Mantle made his debut.
The next page provides headlines and summaries for some of the top stories of the 1951 baseball season.
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