1951 Baseball Season

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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1951 Baseball Season Headlines

In 1951, Willie Mays was the National League's Rookie of the Year, and Roy Campanella was the MVP. Here are some of the headlines from the 1951 baseball season:

Bill Veeck Buys the 1951 St. Louis Browns

In 1951, Bill Veeck bought the St. Louis Browns after selling the Indians.

Ralph Kiner Bests Majors in HRs

Lacking a first baseman in 1951, the Pirates tried Ralph Kiner at the gateway post as first base was the only position he could even remotely play. The fourth slot in the batting order, though, was all his. He led the majors in home runs (42).

Willie Mays is Selected National League ROTY

Willie Mays slides home ahead of Cardinals catcher Bill Sarni's tag.
Willie Mays slides home
ahead of Cardinals catcher
Bill Sarni's tag.
Willie Mays was the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1951. Mays scored just 59 runs in 1951, but it was the last time until 1966 that he played a full season without scoring at least 101.

Monte Irvin Tops the 1951 National League in RBI

Monte Irvin was age 30 before he played his first game in organized baseball. Early in the 1950 baseball season, the Giants recalled him from Jersey City, where he was hitting .510, and installed him in left field. In 1951, he led the National League in RBI (121).

Roy Campanella Named 1951 MVP

Roy Campanella copped the 1951 National League MVP Award. The Brooklyn catcher topped Stan Musial in the voting and was the first National League backstopper since 1938 to be honored. Along with being the top defensive receiver in the senior loop in '51, Campanella was fourth in batting (.325) and third in homers (33).

Stan Musial is Still Unbeatable

In 1951, Stan Musial was nearly as much of a one-man gang in St. Louis as Ralph Kiner was in Pittsburgh. The third-place Cards scored even fewer runs than the seventh-place Pirates. Musial, though, couldn't be stopped. He led the National League in batting (.355), runs (124), triples (12), and total bases (355).

Eddie Lopat Is on the Money

Eddie Lopat's salary negotiations with Yankees general manager George Weiss are reported as being along the lines of the following: "Don't forget you'll make six or eight grand in Series money," said Weiss. "If we don't win, will you make up the difference?" asked Lopat. "We'll win," said Weiss. That was the end of it. The Yankees did indeed win the 1951 Series, with Lopat allowing just one run in two starts. As for the rest of the season, Lopat went 21-9 with a 2.91 ERA.

Check out more headlines from the 1951 baseball season on the next page.

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More 1951 Baseball Season Headlines

Below are more headlines from the 1951 baseball season, including a face-off between Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and Joe Dimaggio's retirement.

Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays Fall Short

Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays collected just one RBI and no home runs between them in the 1951 World Series. When they next opposed each other in earnest -- in the 1962 World Series -- they again had just one RBI and no home runs between them.

Yogi Berra is Named 1951 American League MVP

The 1951 baseball season was the first time that the MVP in each league was a catcher. Yogi Berra not only outdistanced all other American League catchers at the plate (.294 average, 27 home runs), but he also led them in assists and double plays. Apart from Berra and National League MVP Roy Campanella, no catcher in either league received a single MVP vote.

Bob Feller Posts .733 Win Pct.

Gone by 1951 was Bob Feller's legendary fastball. But what he had lost in speed he compensated with guile, finishing the season at 22-8. Feller gave up a lot of hits and a lot of runs in the latter part of his career, but remained a winner until nearly the end. His .733 win percentage in 1951 was his career-high.

A Teary Joe DiMaggio Departs

In a rare display of emotion, Joe DiMaggio announces his retirement after the 1951 season. Former Yankees teammate Red Ruffing, skeptical of DiMaggio at first, subsequently said, "You saw him standing there and you knew you had a pretty damn good chance to win the baseball game."

The 1951 New York Giants Take the Opening Game

Giants batter Bobby Thomson hurls himself out of the way, as Monte Irvin stuns the Yankees by stealing home in the first inning of the opening game of the 1951 World Series. Irvin's run, the Giants' second of the contest, was all the team needed, as Dave Koslo cruised to a 5-1 win

Eddie Gaedel Pinch Hits -- Once

Eddie Gaedel is the only player who had just one plate appearance in the major leagues. He pinch-hit for St. Louis Browns leadoff man Frank Saucier in the second game of a doubleheader against the Tigers on August 19, 1951. His name was Eddie Gaedel, and he stood about 2-1/2 feet shorter than his discoverer, Bill Veeck.

The next page highlights key events and details from the 1951 baseball season.

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1951 Baseball Season Highlights

The 1951 baseball season included dozens of highs and lows and numerous bittersweet moments. Stan Musial earned a batting title, Yogi Berra was named 1951 American League MVP, and an emotional Joe DiMaggio announced his retirement. Below, you will find more highlights like these from the 1951 baseball season:

  • The Giants edge the Dodgers by 1 game in the National League, beating them in a pennant playoff.
  • The Giants win the National League playoff 5-4 on Bobby Thomson's ninth-inning three-run homer -- the "shot heard 'round the world."
  • For the third time in six years, the Dodgers lose the pennant on the last day of the season.
  • The Yanks win the 1951 World Series in six games.
  • Yankee Ed Lopat is the pitching star of the Series with two CG wins.
  • Giant Monte Irvin leads all hitters in the Series with 11 hits and a .458 average.
  • Joe DiMaggio retires after the World Series.

    Jackie Robinson was the first African-American player in the Majors.
    Jackie Robinson was the
    first African-American
    player in the majors.

  • Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is named 1951 American League MVP.
  • The Dodgers force a playoff on the final day of the regular season, as Jackie Robinson's 14th-inning homer beats the Phils.
  • On August 12, the Giants begin a 16-game win streak and take 39 of last 47 games to overhaul the Dodgers at the wire.
  • Giant teammates Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen tie for the major league lead in wins with 23.
  • Stan Musial tops the National League in batting (.355).
  • Ferris Fain of the A's leads the American League in batting (.344).
  • Ralph Kiner wins his sixth consecutive National League homer crown (42).
  • Ralph Kiner leads the National League in walks (137), SA (.627), and OBP (.452).
  • Bill Veeck buys the Browns after having sold the Indians.
  • Bill Veeck signs midget Eddie Gaedel; Gaedel appears in the game as pinch hitter on August 19 and draws a walk.
  • Yankee Allie Reynolds no-hits Cleveland on July 12.
  • Reynolds no-hits Boston on Sept. 28.
  • On July 1, Bob Feller becomes the first in the 20th century to throw three career no-hitters, as he blanks Detroit.
  • Cliff Chambers of Pittsburgh no-hits the Braves on May 6.
  • Preacher Roe's .880 win pct. is the highest ever by a National League 20-game winner.
  • Ralph Kiner leads National League in walks (137), SA (.627), and OBP (.452).
  • Warren Spahn leads the National League in CGs (26), Ks (164), and shutouts (seven).
  • On September 14, Bob Nieman of the Browns becomes the only player in major league history to homer in his first two major league at-bats.
  • Paul Lehner ties the American League record when he plays for four teams in the same year.

Take a look at the next section for more highlights from the 1951 baseball season.

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More 1951 Baseball Season Highlights

Check out more 1951 baseball season highlights including Gil McDougald and Willie Mays being named Rookies of the Year and the first player showing up on the field with eyeglasses on:

  • On September 13, due to rainouts, the Cards play the Giants at home in the afternoon and the Braves at home at night.
  • Stan Musial tops the National League in runs (124), triples (12), total bases (355), and runs produced (200).
  • Yankee Gil McDougald is named the American League Rookie of the Year.
  • Willie Mays is the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year after beginning year in minors.
  • The National League wins the All-Star Game 8-3 at Detroit.
  • Ned Garver wins 20 games for the last-place Browns, who win just 52 times.
  • Chicago's Go-Go Sox lead the majors with 99 steals a year after setting the American League record for fewest steals.
  • Yankee Clint Courtney is the first major league catcher to wear eyeglasses.
  • Roy Smalley of the Cubs is the last player to make 50 errors in a season.
  • A rule is put in that says a pitcher must work at least one inning per every scheduled game to qualify for the ERA title.
  • Gus Zernial is traded by the White Sox to the A's in a three-team deal involving the Indians, who give up Minnie Minoso and get Lou Brissie.
  • Zernial, in A's garb, tops the American League in homers with 33 and RBI with 129.
  • Minnie Minoso, in Sox garb, leads the American League in triples (14) and steals (31).
  • The Cubs send Smoky Burgess and Bob Borkowski to the Reds for Johnny Pramesa and Bob Usher.
  • Smoky Burgess and two other players are shipped to the Phils for Andy Seminick, Dick Sisler, and two others.
  • The Browns trade Sherm Lollar, Al Widmar, and Tom Upton to the White Sox for Jim Rivera and four others.
  • The Cubs trade Andy Pafko, Johnny Schmitz, Rube Walker, and Wayne Terwilliger to the Dodgers for four players.
  • The Yankees send minor leaguer Lew Burdette and $50,000 to the Braves for Johnny Sain.
  • On August 22, Yankee Tommy Byrne yields 16 walks in a 13-inning game.
  • Brave rookie Chet Nichols tops the National League in ERA (2.88).
  • Detroit's George Kell tops the American League in hits (191) and ties in doubles (36).
  • Ted Williams paces the American League in total bases (295), SA (.556), OBP (.464), walks (144), and runs produced (205).
  • Boston's Dom DiMaggio again leads the American League in runs (113).
  • White Sox Saul Rogovin leads the American League in ERA (2.78).
  • Yankee rookie Mickey Mantle hits .267, and suffers knee injury when he steps on a sprinkler unit in the outfield during the World Series.

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