Just before 7:00 in the morning on Tuesday, October 4, 1955, the sun rose over New York. The air was a pleasant fifty-nine degrees, and the forecast called for temperatures to rise to near seventy in the afternoon, along with gentle southeast winds and scattered clouds. There was rain on the Gulf Coast and in the Pacific Northwest, but the storms were staying far away from New York.
President Dwight Eisenhower, hospitalized a week and a half before with a minor blood clot, was recovering nicely, and had signed trade documents from his hospital bed the day before. In Paraguay, Juan Perón, in exile, had announced that he was hoping to return to Argentina. In Queens, 143 subway conductors were on strike, and wait times were two to three times longer than usual.
In the Bronx, there was going to be a baseball game.
At their house on Nostrand Avenue, in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, Roy Ketcham, twenty-six, and his wife Marguerite, twenty-nine, were preparing for the birth of their second son. Their first, Donald, was eighteen months old. The Ketcham’s hadn’t decided what they would name their newest boy yet: Roy liked “Dennis.” But he did know one thing. He wanted his son to be a baseball player — and to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Somewhere in New York, meanwhile, Richard Mack woke up on a friend’s floor. His friend, fellow Bard College student Alan Mankoff, was there too. Two days before, they’d driven from Bard, near Poughkeepsie in upstate New York, to the city. The day before, at Yankee Stadium, they’d watched the Dodgers lose to the Yankees 5-1 in game six of the World Series, tying the series at three games apiece. They’d also bought tickets to game seven. Mack even had a $100 bet on the series with another Bard student, George Waltuch.
The previous day, at game six, they’d sat right next to the Dodgers bullpen. Two RBI singles and a Moose Skowron three-run homer had led to five first-inning runs for the Yankees, effectively ending the game minutes after it began. But the pair stayed in their seats. Mankoff spent several innings chatting with a Dodger reliever in the bullpen next to them, and midway through the game, Mack turned to him.
“What are you talking to this guy for?” he asked. “He doesn’t even play!” Then the Dodger reliever introduced himself. He was a nineteen-year-old rookie named Sandy Koufax.
Mack and Mankoff already had their tickets to the final game of the series. But many fans weren’t so lucky. As they were waking up, at 8:30 in the morning, the ticket window at Yankee Stadium opened for business. At first, the line was small. Indeed, the 62,465 fans who would attend game seven were fewer than had attended the three previous games of the series at Yankee Stadium.
Early in the morning, the demand for standing room tickets was even lower. “We don’t get much of a rush until the bleachers are about gone,” one ticket seller told Bill Lauder of the New York Herald-Tribune. But by game time, the bleachers were almost full, and even standing-room-only tickets were selling quickly.
Actually, Mack had experience getting World Series tickets. In 1953, as the Dodgers played the Yankees, he’d sent cash through the mail to the Dodgers, along with a letter describing his die-hard fandom and begging for tickets. His brother’s birthday was September 30th, and he thought tickets to the World Series would make a perfect gift.
One day, Mack got a call from his brother.
“What’s this all about?” his brother said.
“What are you talking about?” Mack asked.
“I have World Series tickets!” his brother responded.
The brothers went to games three, four, and five at Ebbets Field. After losing the first two games of the series at Yankee Stadium, the Dodgers won the first two games that the Mack’s attended. But then they lost game five 11-7. The next day at Yankee Stadium, losing 3-1 in the ninth inning, Carl Furillo pulled the Dodgers even with a dramatic two-run homer off Allie Reynolds. But in the bottom of the ninth, Billy Martin drove in Hank Bauer with an RBI single. The Yankees were victorious, and the Dodgers, a spectacular 105-49 in the regular season, had been beaten. By now, for the Dodgers and their fans, getting beaten after spectacular regular seasons was a familiar story.
Dick Brinster knew how hard it was to hide in Seaside Heights.
Eighty miles from Brooklyn, Seaside Heights was a small town on the coast of New Jersey. It was actually closer to Philadelphia than to Ebbets Field, which was why the first time Brinster had seen the Dodgers play, they’d been the visiting team at Connie Mack Stadium. On August 11th, 1954, Brinster watched the Dodgers play the Phillies. Against Murry Dickson — a former twenty-game winner in 1951, but a twenty-game loser in 1952 — the Dodgers fell behind 2-0 in the first inning. But Duke Snider homered in the fourth and added an RBI double in the sixth, and the Dodgers won 3-2.
He’d seen that game, then earlier in 1955, he’d finally been to his first game at Ebbets Field. By now, at age nine, he was a Dodgers fanatic. And one way or another, he knew that he had to watch game seven. The problem was, it was a Tuesday. And his mother Madeleine would never let him play hooky.
If he’d been a little older, and known of a place with a television, he probably would have skipped school anyway. But everybody knew everybody in Seaside Heights. The previous year, Brinster had gone to a bar to watch the World Series between the Giants and the Indians. He took a seat at the bar, threw down a dime, and ordered a coke.
It worked. But the next day, when he came back, he’d worn out his welcome. “Son, you can’t come in here,” said the bartender. “You’ve got to go home.”
Brinster remembered 1951, when he’d first become a baseball fan. That year, one day in early fall, he’d come home to find his eleven-year-old sister crying. His grandfather Caspar Nicklaus, who lived with the family, was having a great time. Bobby Thompson had just homered off Ralph Branca to send the Giants to the World Series, and Nicklaus was a Giants fan.
Nicklaus hadn’t always known baseball. Born in Kiehl, Germany in 1880, he’d immigrated to the United States in 1899 to work as a traveling salesman. And almost instantly, he’d fallen in love with the game — especially the New York Giants. In every city he visited, he would make his sales in the morning, and finish long before 3:00, when the afternoon’s baseball games would start. He remembered seeing Christy Matthewson pitch against Grover Cleveland Alexander at the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, with John McGraw in the manager’s chair in the Giants’ dugout.
Brinster had heard all of Caspar’s stories. But he was still a Dodgers fan. And now the Dodgers were about to play game seven of the World Series. He just needed a place to watch, somewhere in Seaside Heights, New Jersey with a TV set where his mother and his teachers wouldn’t be able to track him down.
All over America, baseball fans had the same problem as Brinster: they needed a place to watch the game. For the fourth time in the decade, there were two New York teams in the World Series. But that didn’t mean the rest of the country wasn’t interested.
On an army base outside Yuma, Arizona, Arnold Knack was distracted. At age twenty, he was a radar technician in the Air Force. He’d been based at Goose Bay Labrador in Canada, but he was at Yuma for a temporary deployment. The Air Force was holding a competition: commands from all over the world sent teams to Arizona, where they competed to see who could fire their rockets from planes the most accurately. Knack’s team had done well. Now his commanding officers were preparing a party.
Knack had grown up in Brooklyn, a short subway ride from Ebbets Field. Sometimes he would spend an hour walking to the ballpark, to save a nickel in subway fare that he could later spend on a scorecard or a packet of peanuts. When he graduated from high school at age sixteen, he knew he wanted to be an accountant, and he spent a year at Pace University. But then he decided he needed a break from school. Also, his courses were getting expensive, so the GI Bill would help.
The recruiting sergeant promised Knack that he could get into accounting in the Air Force. He was lying. Knack shipped out to Goose Bay and became a radar technician. On the base, his nickname was “Brooklyn.”
Further out west, John Lewis had never even been to Brooklyn. He was seven years old, and his family called themselves “poor folk.” Lewis spent summers with his grandmother in Oregon and Washington, living and working on farms.
His grandmother hadn’t been to Brooklyn either. She was from Arkansas, and Lewis didn’t know why she was a Dodgers fan, but she was. Her name was Alpha Almandinger, and Lewis had picked up on her fandom. He saw her listening to games on the radio every day, watching on television when she could. She’d told him about losing to the evil Yankees every year. Being a Dodgers fan just made sense. Now Lewis was ready for game seven. Alpha had a television that couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen inches diagonal, and Lewis knew exactly what they would be watching.
Meanwhile, in Alabama, Ed Martin needed to find a TV. He was a twenty-four-year-old graduate student at the University of Alabama, studying Speech Pathology. His wife was a graduate student there too. Martin had to teach in the morning but knew he would be out by game time. He’d heard there was a television in the Student Union, so he decided he would take a look when he finished class.
Martin had become a fan on his eighth birthday. It was around Labor Day 1939, and his father took him to Coney Island. Martin had learned to ride a pony at day camp, and now he was riding the Steeplechase Horses, an elevated track around a building. But his father had other ideas.
“We’ve got a real treat,” he said. “We’re going to the Dodgers games.”
“Oh, let’s stay here!” Martin said. But his father won the day.
The Dodgers were playing a doubleheader, and for an eight-year-old, it was a bit of a drag. But Martin kept coming back. By 1946, he was working in his spare time as a caddy or a pinsetter. He was fifteen, old enough to take the railroad from Rockville Centre, Long Island, to Ebbets Field. He would buy ten-trip tickets with the money he’d saved, then take the train to Jamaica, where he would change for a train to Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn. From there, it was a short walk to the park.
At the stadium, Martin would stand in line behind right field. He was a member of a group that called themselves “The Section 8 club.” It had a double meaning. For one, when ticket sales opened, one member would rush forward and buy enough tickets for the entire group. Martin often had to do this, since he was the youngest. They would get their tickets and stake out claims in Section 8, in general admission on the first base side. But Section 8 was also a reference to soldiers discharged from the military after being judged mentally unfit. Essentially, the Section 8 club meant that members were insane Dodger fans.
The country was watching. But in Brooklyn, the feeling was different. The tension was palpable. Ken Uva was only six, but Yankee fans already teased him: “Never won a World Series, never won a World Series.” Uva lived in the Ocean Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn above his uncle’s store. Uncle Frank sold chrome: dinette sets were his best item. He also reupholstered vinyl furniture. Uncle Frank, Uva’s father Joseph, and most of the neighborhood were Dodger fans.
During the 1955 season, Uva had started following the Dodgers in the Daily News. Joseph had gotten tired of reciting the standings every morning, so he’d showed his son where to find them in the paper. Each day, Ken would come down from the family apartment to Uncle Frank’s store to read the newspaper and see how the Dodgers had done.
Bruce Bennett, meanwhile, was born to be a Dodgers fan. Bennett’s mother Genie wanted a girl. She was going to be named Joan Bennett, after the actress. But Bennett was born a boy.
Genie handed him to her older son Steven.
“Could you name him?” she asked.
This was 1948, and the Dodgers had a catcher, Bruce Edwards, who Steven liked. So, Steven gave Bruce Edward Bennett his name. Bennett’s father Sidney brought Bruce to his first game in 1949, at about one year of age. Sidney sold dresses and was a Dodgers season ticket holder. When husbands showed up to his store with their wives, and he didn’t want to go to the ballgame that night, he knew how to make a sale.
“Here,” he would say, holding out a pair of tickets. “Would you like free tickets to Ebbets Field?”
Now, in 1955, Bennett was in second grade, and followed the Dodgers religiously. He’d gone with his father and brother to game six. He wasn’t going to game seven, but he knew he had to follow it one way or another. He couldn’t stay home: you only stayed home when you were sick, and if you were sick, Dr. Cook came over with his black bag. So, as he left for school, he made sure he was carrying his transistor radio.
Meanwhile, Jim Devine III was closer to the Dodgers than most. His grandfather, who shared his name and lived with his family, was a retired sportswriter who worked for the Dodgers part time in PR. The Devine’s lived in Brooklyn, on 79th Street between 13th and 14th Avenue, and almost everyone on the block was a Dodgers fan.
In the summers, when the Dodgers played at night, Devine’s grandfather sometimes hitched rides back from the stadium. He would call Devine’s father to say that he didn’t need a ride. This was Devine’s father’s signal to alert the entire block.
It was Brooklyn in the 1950s, so the entire neighborhood would be outside already, enjoying the summer night. But when Devine’s father spread the word, the block would make sure to stay out until long after the Dodgers game ended.
It was a long block with a slight incline, so from Devine’s building, you couldn’t see all the way down to the end, where Terra Grossa funeral parlor sat on the corner across from a soda fountain. But everyone could tell the moment the car came around the corner, because they could hear the cheers from down the street.
The car would pull up in front of Devine’s brownstone and double park. Then Devine’s grandfather would open the door, and one of the Dodgers he was riding with would hop out to help him. He was seventy-seven, after all. Sometimes Pee Wee Reese would help him out; if Pee Wee was driving, it would be Duke Snider or Carl Erskine. The three all lived near each other in Bay Ridge, and there was no use driving three cars when one would do.
The kids would run into the street, not hounding the players but just hoping to mingle. The adults, depending on the outcome of the game, would compliment or heckle. “Hey Duke, great game,” or “Hey Duke, what ‘appened? 0 for 3, you gotta learn how to hit!” In the ‘50s, the Dodgers won most of the time, so spirits were high. The players would laugh and wave, then drive on.
Devine had just started going to Dodgers games in 1955. During the day, he went to St. Bernadette’s Grammar School, only a few blocks away from home. But as soon as he left school, baseball took over. He was seven years old, and he’d seen his first night game in April against the Phillies. He didn’t remember it well — but maybe there was a reason.
The Dodgers played two night games against the Phillies in April 1955, on the twentieth and twenty-first of the month. On April 23, the Saturday Evening Post, the magazine that employed Norman Rockwell for decades, ran an illustration on its cover entitled “Sleepy Inning.” It showed a man, perhaps thirty-five, standing in the Ebbets Field seats with his sleeping son draped over his shoulder. The scoreboard, visible in the background, showed the Dodgers playing the Phillies.
Devine didn’t remember it, of course, but his family insisted that it was a painting of him. One of his aunts, who lived across the street, kept the picture. “That was your father,” she said. “That was your father carrying you out of Ebbets Field after a night game.”
Devine wasn’t sure that was true. But he knew that the Dodgers were playing game seven of the World Series that afternoon, and he didn’t care about anything else. What he didn’t know was how he was going to watch it.
As he thought about where he would watch the game, Devine was optimistic. He was young, and he barely remembered the failures of past Dodger seasons. But older and more experienced fans, who could still feel the pain of crushing losses in seasons past, found it much more difficult to share his optimism. After all, the Dodgers had never justified optimism or confidence before.
Of course, the Dodgers had every chance to win game seven and the World Series. But judging by the history books, that didn’t seem likely. For more than a decade and a half, the Dodgers had been running into the Yankees in the World Series and falling short. In 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, the Dodgers played the Yankees in the World Series. Each time, the Dodgers lost.
It wasn’t just the World Series either. In 1950, on the final day of the season, the Dodgers were one game behind the Phillies for first place in the National League. They were also playing the Phillies, so a win would lead to a tie in the standings, and a playoff for the N.L. Pennant. In the ninth inning, with the game tied 1-1, the Dodgers put their first two men on. Then Duke Snider lashed a single up the middle.
The Phillies’ center fielder, future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn, was playing shallow. But Dodgers’ third base coach Milt Stock waved Cal Abrams around third anyway. Ashburn’s throw to the plate arrived in plenty of time, and Abrams was out. The Dodgers didn’t score that inning, and in the tenth, Dick Sisler put the Phillies ahead for good with a three-run homer.
In 1951, meanwhile, the Dodgers and the New York Giants had identical 98-56 records after 154 games, necessitating a three-game playoff. The Dodgers lost the first game 3-1, but demolished the Giants 10-0 in game two. When the Dodgers took a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning of game three, Brooklyn fans could smell a win.
Don Newcombe, a twenty-five-year-old star with a 20-9 record, was pitching for the Dodgers, and he cruised through eight innings. But in the ninth, he seemed to tire. He allowed two singles, then, after coaxing a pop-up from Monte Irvin, gave up an RBI double to Whitey Lockman. Now the Dodgers led 4-2, and the Giants had two men on base. Dodger manager Chuck Dressen came out to make a pitching change. Newcombe was done. Ralph Branca was coming in.
Branca needed to get two outs. Instead, he threw two pitches. Giants third baseman Bobby Thompson took a strike. He hit the second pitch he saw over the left field fence at the Polo Grounds, and the Giants won 5-4. Thompson’s home run instantly became known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World.”
In 1952 and 1953, the Dodgers lost back-to-back World Series to the Yankees. Then, in 1954, the Giants, the Dodgers’ National League New York rival, won the pennant. They faced the Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Led by young superstar center fielder Willie Mays, the Giants swept the Indians in four straight.
In the American League, the Yankees owned New York. The Dodgers were undoubtedly the National League team of the decade so far, but they didn’t have a World Series trophy to show for it; the Giants did. Now, in 1955, the Dodgers were in the World Series again.
This series was following a familiar pattern: the home team won. The Yankees had won the first two games in the Bronx. When the series shifted to Ebbets Field, the Dodgers won three in a row. Then the Yankees regained home field advantage, and won game six 5-1.
The Dodgers had never won a World Series. If that was going to change, they were going to have to beat the Yankees. More than that, they were going to have to beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Sure, it could happen. But after the decade they’d been through, Dodgers fans knew better than to expect it.
At Yankee Stadium, the police were taking precautions. For the first time stadium employees could remember, the New York Herald-Tribune reported, River Avenue, right next to the ballpark, was closed to traffic. The police had erected wooden barricades so that pedestrians could get to the stadium.
Inside the building, Duke Snider was wearing a bandage. Snider was the Dodgers’ star center fielder: in 1955, his age-twenty-eight season, he’d batted .309/.418/.628 with 42 home runs. He would go on to finish second in MVP voting. In fact, he’d already hit four home runs in the series.
Snider had been having trouble with his knee, and as he left the clubhouse, he was bandaged, but mobile. “I’m gonna play,” he told Lauder. “Sure, it feels okay. I got an elastic bandage around the knee, but it’s okay. I don’t want any alibis if I should have a bad day.”
Jackie Robinson, though, didn’t feel so good. Robinson was thirty-six and seemed to be nearing the end of his career. His numbers had declined precipitously: he’d gone from batting .311/.413/.505 in 1954 to .256/.378/.363 in ‘55. He’d played in every game of the World Series, but he’d been disastrous: in twenty-four plate appearances, he had only four hits and two walks.
He also had a tight Achilles tendon. He’d hurt it during game five, but then played in game six. “I thought it was just a bruise, but Doc Wendler said no, it was the tendon,” Robinson said. “It was tough yesterday, but doesn’t quite feel as bad as today.”
“I guess maybe I shouldn’t have kept Robinson in so long yesterday,” Dodgers manager Walter Alston said. “But we needed runs and I thought he could help us get them.”
Meanwhile, Roy Campanella was getting ready to catch. Even among the Dodgers stars, it was hard to find a player like Campy. He’d won MVPs in 1951 and 1953, and was on his way to beating out Snider for a third. Thirty-three years old in 1955, he’d hit thirty-two home runs and posted a .978 OPS.
Campanella was ready to catch. He’d caught Johnny Podres, Brooklyn’s starter, before. He knew about where his velocity stood. So, as he prepared his equipment, he decided he would catch the game without a layer of protective sponge in his mitt.
In the Dodgers clubhouse, Joseph Sheehan of the New York Times reported that the usual game of Bridge was going on; Ed Roebuck and Gil Hodges against coach Billy Herman and Pee Wee Reese. For Hodges, the World Series had carried extra weight since 1952. That year, as the Dodgers played the Yankees, Hodges had twenty-two at-bats and failed to record a single hit. Dick Brinster still remembered his older sister coming home crying after the 1952 series. Hodges was her favorite player.
Reese, meanwhile, had another shot at the World Series trophy. Reese had debuted for the Dodgers in 1940 as a twenty-year-old, and played in the 1941 World Series the next season. He’d missed ‘43 to ‘45 serving in World War II, but he’d returned and picked up right where he left off. Born in Kentucky, Reese’s nickname was “The Little Colonel,” but eventually the Dodgers gave him a new one: Captain. Reese was the leader of the Dodgers. Everybody knew that.
He was also getting older. At thirty-five, he knew he didn’t have forever. But he’d been a model of consistency for his entire career. Since he’d returned from the war in 1946, Reese’s On-Base Percentage had never slipped below .363. He was a defensive standout as well: in his career, Reese was worth more than twenty-five defensive wins.
As the Dodgers were killing time and calming their nerves, the man Brooklyn was counting on was barely old enough for champagne. Johnny Podres had just turned twenty-three. He’d debuted with the Dodgers two seasons before, at the age of twenty, and so far, he looked pretty good, but not great. Podres’ E.R.A. in 1955 was 3.95, and his ERA+ was 103. He was better than average, but only a bit.
Podres, from the upstate New York town of Witherbee, had always been a star athlete. Pat Salerno, a year Johnny’s junior, remembered playing high school baseball against Podres. Also from Witherbee, Salerno went to Port Henry High School, and Podres went to Mineville. When Podres pitched against Port Henry, he threw a three-hitter. Salerno had two of the hits.
Salerno was no baseball slouch: he would go on to play four seasons in the minor leagues for the Dodgers. But the rest of his teammates could barely get their bats off their shoulders. Podres’ fastball moved in, the batter took a swing — and the ball was already in the catcher’s mitt.
Podres also played basketball and dominated the court. During the 1949-50 season, Podres’ senior season, when Salerno played for Port Henry and Podres played for Mineville, Port Henry only lost two games all season. Johnny beat them both times. The next year, when Podres had graduated, Port Henry went undefeated.
Salerno, in fact, once ran into Podres at Spring Training. “Come have a beer with us,” Podres said, gesturing to Sandy Koufax and Duke Snider. But living on a minor leaguer’s budget, Salerno turned him down.
Podres could certainly pitch. In 1951, pitching in the minor leagues in Hazard, Kentucky, he won twenty-one games and put up a 1.67 E.R.A. The next season, with the Dodgers triple-A Montreal team at age nineteen, his E.R.A. was 3.27. In 1953, he joined the big-league team.
But Podres was also still young, and hardly mature. During the season, he lived with his aunt Mary on Staten Island. In 1951, after the Dodgers had signed him following a tryout, he’d spent the last five dollars in his pocket taking every ride on Coney Island to celebrate. He was so young that Brooklyn fans barely recognized him. On his way to the stadium, Sheehan reported, he’d had to convince a group of fans looking for autographs that he wasn’t utility outfielder George Shuba. Yankees starter Tommy Byrne had also ridden the subway to the stadium unrecognized.
But Podres was also incredibly confident. He might easily have been called cocky. The day before, after the Dodgers had lost to send the series to game seven, he’d told Pee Wee Reese not to worry. He was going to shut them out.
Now, Podres was looking at the Yankee lineup card. He stared. Mickey Mantle, the Yankees superstar center fielder, wasn’t in the starting lineup. Evidently, his pulled hamstring hadn’t healed enough for him to play.
Podres thought Mantle was the Yankees best hitter. He actually thought Duke Snider was a tougher out than both Mantle and Willie Mays, but Mantle was still plenty tough. And now he wasn’t playing.
Podres raised his eyebrows. Suddenly, he knew he had a chance.
It was 12:30, half an hour before first pitch. The Dodgers’ locker room was empty besides four people: Roy Campanella, Johnny Podres, and two clubhouse attendants.
“Just get that changeup over like the other day,” Campanella said. Their conversations throughout the game were later chronicled by Milton Grosse in his “Speaking Out” column in the New York Post. “Get it over, you got nothing to worry about. That’ll set ‘em up for the other pitches.”
Campanella was talking about game three. Podres had taken the mound with the Dodgers down two games to none, and delivered. He hadn’t been masterful: over nine innings, he’d allowed seven hits and three walks. But he’d managed to scatter Yankee baserunners and allow only two earned runs, and the Dodgers had won 8-3.
“Don’t worry,” Podres responded. “I’ll get it over. Get me some runs and I’ll win.”
Meanwhile, in the Yankee dugout, manager Casey Stengel was strategizing. Stengel knew that besides game three, Podres hadn’t thrown a complete game since June. So, he was sure that this time, Podres wouldn’t last. He had given his hitters clear instructions: be patient. Wait for your pitch. Make Podres exhaust his arm and get him out of the game as soon as possible.
The Dodgers were also getting instructions. In their dugout, bat boy Charlie DiGiovanna was announcing that an anonymous donor had pledged $500 for every hit, and $1000 to every batter to hit a home run, as well as to the winning pitcher. That was nothing to sneeze at. The winner’s share of the World Series would be less than $10,000, and the loser’s share less than $6,000. A $10,000 World Series winner’s share was higher than some players’ entire salaries.
Game time was approaching, and the stands were full. Dr. Ralph Bunche, groundbreaking Nobel-prize winner, was sitting next to Edna Stengel, Casey’s wife, and James J. Lyons, borough president of the Bronx. In a front-row box by the Dodgers’ bench, meanwhile, Walter O’Malley, Dodgers owner, was sitting with his wife and daughter, as well as Jean MacArthur, wife of General Douglas MacArthur, and John Cashmore, borough president of Brooklyn. Dan Topping, president and part-owner of the Yankees, had even invited championship boxer Rocky Marciano to sit in his box. Fresco Thompson, Dodger vice-president, was on his way to his seat near the Dodger dugout with a hot dog and a cup of coffee. “If we don’t win this one,” he said, “we’d better stop winning pennants.”
A Marine Corps color guard raised the American Flag. The Seventh Regiment band played the National Anthem, and Lucy Monroe sang it. Monroe sang the Anthem at every Yankee Opening Day, and in every Yankee World Series, although she’d missed the 1954 and ‘55 openers due to an overseas commitment one year, and a flight cancellation the next. Then the Yankees took the field. Byrne, a veteran lefthander, was on the mound. He was thirty-five, but 1955 had been the best season of his career. He’d posted a 16-5 record, and a 3.15 E.R.A.
At Yankee Stadium, Yankee and Dodger fans alike could hardly contain themselves. But people were paying attention outside the stadium too. At a courthouse in Brooklyn, fifteen police officers were on trial for corruption. The state alleged that the officers had perverted the traffic ticket system: when officers pulled certain traffic offenders over, the prosecution said, if a driver could show a “courtesy card,” the officer would take a small bribe, between five and ten dollars, instead of writing a ticket.
It was the second day of the trial. The only witnesses called so far had been two police clerks who had identified the accused officers. But only minutes before first pitch, a defense attorney stopped the proceedings. He announced that he had urgent, unfinished business to take care of, which would occupy him through the afternoon.
Presiding Justice Bernard Kozicke granted a recess until 10:30 the following day. Justices Alfred Cawse Jr. and John Cannella agreed, smiling broadly as they did.
On Wall Street, Bethlehem Steel, which had dropped more than six points the day before, had already gained five points back. Chrysler and General Motors were rising too, although Goodrich and Union Pacific were falling. In the noon hour, prices remained steady. But as game time approached, trading slowed to a crawl. Once the game began, activity on the market was almost nonexistent.
At 1:00, the sun was shining brightly. Tommy Byrne, standing on the mound, tugged at his cap, surveyed his infielders, and turned to face Jim Gilliam, leading off for the Dodgers. Then he delivered the first pitch of the game, a fastball that Gilliam took for a strike. At the same time, Marguerite Ketcham was checking into New Caledonian Hospital in Brooklyn. She was going into labor. Marguerite and Roy still hadn’t decided what they would name their baby.
In his second grade classroom, Bruce Bennett knew the moment had come. So he raised his hand. Miss Levine, who taught all of second grade, called on him. Bennett knew exactly what he had to do. He didn’t want his classmates noticing what he was doing, and he especially didn’t want Ms. Levine to catch on. So, he made a request. He felt sick, he told Ms. Levine: would it be okay if he rested his head on his desk?
Miss. Levine didn’t have a problem with it. So, Bennett put his head down, and stealthily turned on his transistor radio. With his ear to his desk, he could hear it perfectly. His classmates couldn’t hear a thing. No one wanted to get too close to the sick kid.
In Alabama, Ed Martin walked into the student union for the first time. He found a cavernous room with a small television in the corner. There were about ten other people sitting in chairs watching the game. Martin didn’t know it yet, but they were all Yankee fans.
Moments after the first pitch, Dick Brinster was sitting in class at Seaside Heights Elementary. Several members of his class had already asked Miss Wilkinson, their teacher, if there was any way at all for them to find a TV set and watch the game. Someone had even heard a rumor that there was a television in the basement. Then Mr. Boyd, the principal, came in.
“Okay,” he said. “Everybody, go down to the basement.”
“Oh, here we go,” Brinster thought to himself. “Here’s another fire drill.”
Sure enough, though, Mr. Boyd had borrowed a television. In the basement, Brinster found almost 100 students watching the first inning of the game. There were only about twenty chairs, so almost everyone was sitting on the floor. Brinster found a seat, careful to stay away from the Yankee fans. They were just bad people, the way he looked at it. He’d gotten lucky: Mr. Boyd had only invited grades four through eight to watch. One year younger and he wouldn’t have made it.
At the stadium, Richard Mack and Alan Mankoff were packed into standing room, at the back of the first level behind third base. All they could see was a thin horizontal slice of the field. If a ball was popped up, or hit into the left field corner, they wouldn’t know what had happened until after the dust settled, unless the noise of the crowd told the story.
Byrne retired the Dodgers in order in the top of the first. Podres did the same in the bottom of the inning. Game seven was underway.
The first two innings were scoreless on both sides. In the bottom of the third, with two outs, Podres walked Phil Rizzuto. Then Billy Martin singled to right, and Rizzuto went to second.
Walter Alston walked to the mound.
“Keep it down,” he said.
“On his fists,” Podres responded. He wanted to keep Alston comfortable, because he definitely didn’t want to come out of the game. “I got my control.”
Alston looked at Campanella for confirmation. He already had Don Bessent, one of his best relievers that season, warming up in the bullpen.
“He’s all right,” Campanella said.
Alston walked back to his dugout. Podres looked in for his sign against Gil MacDougald. He started MacDougald off with two slow curves. Both missed the strike zone. Then MacDougald took a fastball for a strike, and another slow curve inside for ball three. He swung 3-1, and hit a ground ball in foul territory down the third base line.
With two outs and a full count, both Yankees runners ran on the pitch. MacDougald swung and bounced a ball towards third. Dodgers third baseman Don Hoak tried to find a lane to field the ball as Rizzuto charged towards him — and as Rizzuto slid towards the base, MacDougald’s grounder hit him. It was the third out of the inning.
The Dodgers left the field. On the bench, Podres found Hoak.
“That was a break, Hoakie,” he said.
“I think I could have thrown him out anyway,” Hoak responded.
Now it was the top of the fourth, and the heart of the Dodgers lineup was coming up. Leading off, Snider struck out. But Campanella lined Byrne’s 1-0 pitch down the left field line. As he turned first, Elston Howard was getting to the ball against Yankee Stadium’s short left field fence, and it looked like there might be a play at second. But then Howard bobbled the ball, and Campanella cruised into second easily.
Dodgers right fielder Carl Furillo hit a dribbler to short, which moved Campanella to third but was also the second out of the inning. Up came Gil Hodges. He was still looking for his World Series breakout, the ultimate curse breaker to rid himself of memories of the ‘52 series. Hodges had walked in the second, but the Dodgers hadn’t been able to bring him home.
Casey Stengel came to the mound and gave Byrne instructions. Then Hodges squared up in the box with a chance to give the Dodgers the lead. Byrne quickly poured in two curves, and Hodges took both for strikes.
Maybe in 1952, down 0-2 in the count with two outs, Hodges would have given in. But this was a new season, and Gil could smell redemption. He took a fastball above the strike zone, then fouled a pitch into the stands. Then, still down 1-2 in the count, Hodges lashed a single to left, and Campanella came home to score.
The Dodgers led 1-0. It wasn’t 1952 anymore.
The Dodgers had the lead, but in the bottom of the fourth, they seemed eager to give it away. Yogi Berra led off with a high pop-up into center. It was Snider’s ball, but Gilliam, the left fielder, chased it too. Snider, charging, heard Gilliam yell “take it!” But suddenly, Snider saw a flash of movement that looked like Gilliam’s glove.
Snider backed off. Gilliam withdrew as well. The ball fell between them, and Yogi was standing on second.
Campanella went to the mound. “Throw hard now,” he said.
Podres went quickly back to work. If he was agitated, no one could see it. Hank Bauer flied to right on the first pitch he saw, and Moose Skowron grounded to Don Zimmer at second. Berra went to third. Bob Cerv was up next, and with a 2-1 count, he hit a high pop-fly to shallow left. Pee Wee Reese went back on it. There would be no mistakes this time. Reese put it away, and Podres jogged to the bench, out of trouble again.
St. Bernadette’s Grammar School, where Jim Devine was in second grade, had an interesting background. Devine was always hearing rumors that the church connected to the school, St. Bernadette’s, was the favored place of worship for the Bonanno crime family, which might have explained why the parish always had so much money for improvements. The pastor, Father Berella, had built up the parish so much that the local Little League wasn’t called Bay Ridge Little League; it was called St. Bernadette’s Little League.
That day, Father Berella and the nuns who ran the school must have been feeling charitable. When the fifth inning ended, the Dodgers still leading 1-0, school was out.
Devine, and several of his classmates, knew exactly where they were going to go. Across from the funeral parlor on 79th Street and 13th Avenue, there was a soda fountain where they liked stopping after school. The place had a long counter, and booths along the wall. And above the soda fountain itself, someone had installed a small black-and-white TV.
Devine and the group of second graders squeezed into the shop, using their size to their advantage. The room was already crowded. They crammed themselves into a booth. Devine could barely see: to peer over the heads of the people standing around them, he needed to climb up on top of the divider between the booths.
On the TV above the soda fountain, the sixth inning was just starting. Pee Wee Reese was leading off for the Dodgers. And as Devine and his friends were settling into their seats, Reese lined Byrne’s pitch into left field for a leadoff single.
Now, Walter Alston had a choice to make. He had three good hitters, Snider, Furillo, and Campanella, due up. He could ask Snider to bunt, hopefully moving Reese into scoring position for the next two. But bunting would also be a waste of an out, especially when Duke Snider could give the Dodgers two runs with one swing.
On the bench, Alston considered the factors at play, then made his decision. He gave the bunt sign. Alston didn’t know it, but he’d probably just saved the game for the Dodgers — although not in the way he hoped he might.
Snider dropped down a bunt. It was a beauty, down the third base line. Byrne pounced. His throw to first was on time — but so was Snider. And Moose Skowron’s positioning could have been better. As Snider lunged toward first, he collided with Skowron’s arm. The ball fell loose, and everyone was safe.
One sacrifice had paid off, so Alston opted for another. Campanella’s bunt was successful: Reese went to third, and Snider to second. Casey Stengel came to the mound and ordered Furillo, up next, intentionally walked. He would bypass Furillo and pitch to Gil Hodges. After the walk, Stengel came out again. Byrne was done. Bob Grim was coming in from the bullpen.
Grim had been American League Rookie of the Year in 1954, when he’d gone 20-6 with a 3.26 E.R.A. But in 1955 he hadn’t been so impressive. His E.R.A. had risen to 4.19; he’d made eleven starts, and fifteen appearances out of the bullpen.
Hodges stood in against Grim, bases loaded and only one out. The Dodgers only had a one-run lead, which could dissipate in an instant. If he could give the Dodgers some more — maybe ‘52 would truly be gone.
He took a fastball for a strike, then a curve outside. The 1-1 pitch was another curve, and Hodges read it perfectly. He drove it to deep right-center. Bob Cerv made the catch, but Reese came home without a throw. The Dodgers led 2-0.
Up next, Don Hoak walked. With the bases loaded again, Alston decided to make a change. Don Zimmer, his second baseman, was up. Zimmer had only batted .239 that season. George Shuba, still available on the bench, was better. He’d batted .275. What was more, with the bases loaded, a walk meant a run, and Shuba knew how to walk. In 1955 he’d put up a .422 On-Base Percentage, albeit in only sixty-four plate appearances.
Alston pinch-hit Shuba for Zimmer. Shuba grounded out to first, and the inning was over.
If Snider hadn’t bunted, and had made an out instead, the inning might never have gotten to Zimmer’s spot in the batting order. If Zimmer hadn’t come up, he wouldn’t have needed a pinch hitter. And if Shuba hadn’t pinch-hit for Zimmer, Jim Gilliam would have stayed where he was in left field.
But Alston was fortunate: Gilliam was versatile. Now that Zimmer was out of the game, he could move Gilliam to second base. He just needed to replace Gilliam in left field, and he had the perfect player on his bench: a speedy twenty-five-year-old outfielder, born in Matanzas, Cuba, named Sandy Amoros.
There was really only one important difference between Gilliam and Amoros. Gilliam was right handed, and Amoros was a lefty. So Amoros wore his glove on his right hand in left field, pointing towards the foul line.
In the meantime, though, the Dodgers were out, and Podres was going back to the mound. Alston stopped him in the dugout. “They got to catch us,” he said. “We don’t have to catch them.”
But quickly, it looked like Podres was in trouble again.
Billy Martin led off the bottom of the sixth for the Yankees and walked. Up next, Gil MacDougald dropped a bunt down the third base line. It was perfect. Podres fielded it and threw to first: too late.
Now Walter Alston was getting nervous. He already had Clem Labine and Don Bessent getting loose. Labine would be his first reliever, and at this point, he was just about ready to make the change.
Pee Wee Reese jogged to the mound.
“You all right, Johnny?” he asked.
Podres nodded. Alston and Campanella joined them.
“Has he still got it?” Alston asked the catcher.
Campanella turned to Podres. “Take it easy, now,” he said. Then he addressed Alston. “He’ll be all right.”
“Don’t let him pull,” Alston said. “Nothing good now.”
Alston walked back to his dugout, but Podres knew he was on thin ice. If Yogi Berra got on, he would probably be done for the day.
The first pitch to Berra was a ball. On the next pitch, Berra swung. Berra was a lefty, and a classic pull hitter. But this time he’d gone the other way: Podres hadn’t let him pull. It was a fly ball down the left field line, towards the corner.
From where he was standing, Richard Mack couldn’t see the ball. He could just hear the crowd roaring. Amoros was sprinting towards the corner, and the ball was flying towards the foul line and the fence.
In the basement of Seaside Heights Elementary, the assembled students erupted into chaos. Everyone was shouting. Yankees fans were screaming at the ball to clear the fence, or at the very least, land in fair territory. Dodger fans were willing Amoros to catch it.
On the mound, Podres stood watching the flight of the ball. “Get it, Sandy!” he was thinking to himself. “Get it!”
Amoros raced for the corner. Berra was a pull hitter, and Amoros had been playing him towards right, so he had even more ground to cover. The ball was falling fast, but Amoros was faster. As he reached the corner, he extended his right arm. He reached just far enough.
Gil MacDougald, on first, thought the ball had dropped: he’d taken off from first. Amoros caught the ball, and fired to Reese behind third. Reese turned and threw to first. MacDougald was doubled off.
It was amazing — Richard Mack could feel the stadium deflate. Yankee fans’ hopes had been crushed. Suddenly, the Dodger fans were louder. Yankee fans were sunk.
In the dugout, Alston momentarily relaxed. Up next, Hank Bauer grounded to short. Reese threw to first. Podres had escaped another jam.
In the dugout, Podres pounded Amoros on the back.
“I don’t know how I get it,” Amoros said in broken English. “I just run like hell and stick out my glove.”
“What a break,” Podres responded. “We’re home free now.”
Barry Zamoff and his twin brother Richard went to William Howard Taft High School, blocks from Yankee Stadium. The brothers would turn fifteen at the end of October.
The Zamoff family leaned far to the left — pretty much, they were socialists. Barry and Richard’s grandparents, Freida and Benjamin, had immigrated from Poland, Freida when she was fourteen and Benjamin when he was sixteen. He was eighteen and she was sixteen when they got married. They tried to make a go of living in New York City, but they couldn’t make it work. So, they became Jewish farmers in upstate New York.
Barry and Richard always tried to get Benjamin to memorize the Dodgers’ starting lineup. But only a few names stuck with him: Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson. Benjamin respected Robinson immensely.
“Jackie Robinson,” he often told his grandsons, “is more than just a baseball player.”
Barry and Richard were Dodger fans — big ones. Whenever they could, they took the subway from the Bronx to Brooklyn to watch games at Ebbets Field. Whenever the Dodgers played the Giants at the Polo Grounds, just across the Harlem River, they were in attendance.
That day, Barry and Richard got home from school in the top of the seventh inning, just after Amoros had saved the day. They put the game on TV and sat down to watch. And sooner than he had expected, Barry found himself thinking about Jackie Robinson again.
Robinson, of course, was injured, and was sitting on the Dodgers’ bench. Don Hoak was playing third in his place. The seventh inning was scoreless; the only highlight was a fan who ran out onto the field hoping for Duke Snider’s autograph. But in the eighth, trouble was brewing, and Don Hoak was at the center of it.
The Dodgers were still leading 2-0 when Phil Rizzuto singled leading off the bottom of the eighth. Billy Martin flied to right. Gil MacDougald, up next, hit a bouncer down to third. Robinson, the Zamoff brothers were sure, would have fielded it easily. But it took a hop that was too much for Hoak to handle. The ball bounced into left field, and the Yankees had the tying runs on base.
The two brothers commiserated with themselves. “Damnit,” Barry was thinking. “If Robinson had been in there…now surely, things are going to go south.” Berra and Bauer, two dangerous hitters, were coming up.
On the field, Alston came out to talk to Podres again. Reese came in too.
“If the ball’s hit to you, be sure to come to me with it,” Reese said.
“He’s going to try to hit it out of here,” Alston said.
Campanella agreed. “Nothing inside,” he said. “If we get in a jam with him, come in with your fastball. Don’t hold back.”
Berra stood in the box. Podres got his sign, reared back, and fired a fastball. Berra popped it up into short left. Carl Furillo came in to make the catch.
On third, Phil Rizzuto dashed towards the plate, then changed his mind. Furillo’s arm was legendary. His nickname was “The Reading Rifle,” or sometimes, simply “The Arm.” Sure enough, Furillo’s throw hummed through the air to Campanella. Rizzuto stayed at third.
Bauer came up. He’d posted an .821 OPS with twenty home runs during the season: he wasn’t Yogi, but he was still a dangerous hitter. Podres threw a ball, then two strikes, then a fastball outside.
Facing a 2-2 count, Podres composed himself on the mound. Then he stretched and fired. It was a fastball, a high hard one. The kind of pitch that hitters have been seeing for 100 years, and may never figure out.
Bauer swung and missed.
At the apartment in the Bronx, Barry and Richard Zamoff could exhale. Suddenly, for the first time all afternoon, they felt something during a World Series elimination game that Dodgers fans hadn’t felt in ages. Out of nowhere, suddenly it seemed that they might actually win.
It was confidence. For Dodgers fans, it was new.
In the top of the ninth, the Dodgers put two men on, but didn’t score. Moose Skowron, Bob Cerv, and Elston Howard stood between Johnny Podres, the Dodgers, and a World Series title.
At the soda fountain across the street from the funeral parlor, there was complete gridlock. It was impossible to move. The crowd was three or four people deep the entire length of the counter.
Jim Devine and his friends were young. They were only second graders, and they barely remembered 1953, let alone the various Dodger heartbreaks going back to 1941. So, they were optimistic. But the older Dodger fans in the room weren’t having any of it. They didn’t want to jinx anything, and they weren’t going to take any chances. Unless the group of optimistic second graders quieted down, someone said, they would kick them out on the street.
At Yankee Stadium, Podres was leaving the dugout for the field. The entire Dodgers bench shouted encouragement.
Adjusting his chest protector, Campanella didn’t like what he was hearing. “Dammit, let him alone,” he said. “Don’t everybody tell him how to pitch.”
Moose Skowron, up first, took two balls and a strike. But with a 2-1 count, Podres fired a strike over the inside corner. It was exactly the pitch Campanella had wanted. He knew Podres was in control. Sure enough, Skowron hit the next pitch back to Podres, who tossed to Hodges at first. One out. Bob Cerv, up next, flied to Amoros in left. Two out.
All over Brooklyn, and all over the world, Dodger fans were ready to explode. One more out would mean a Dodgers victory, the vanquishing of the lordly Yankees for the first time ever. It would instantly become the greatest Brooklyn moment of the century, and maybe of all time.
Anything besides an out, on the other hand, would be agonizing. And of course, a loss now, after coming this close, would be simply too much to bear.
Dodgers fans knew it. But maybe no one knew it better than Pee Wee Reese, pacing the dirt at shortstop. Reese had lost five World Series to the Yankees. He was the Dodgers’ captain and leader, and yet, in his career, they had known nothing but heartbreak.
George Grella was a sixteen-year-old Dodgers fanatic in 1955. Years later, however, he would become an English professor at the University of Rochester. One year, the University invited Roger Kahn, author of “The Boys of Summer,” probably the most well-known book about the Brooklyn Dodgers, to teach at its annual Writer’s Workshop. Kahn agreed. When he learned that Grella had been a Dodgers fan, and had read his book, Kahn told Grella about Reese’s emotional state as he’d waited for the final out. He’d heard it from Reese himself.
On the outside, Reese was calm and collected. But he was thinking about a simple truth: he didn’t want the ball. He was hoping for a strikeout; that way, only Campanella would have to make a play. But if Elston Howard, the Yankee batter, was going to make contact, Reese didn’t want to have to field it. He was worried he would muff it — and after everything the Dodgers had been through under his watch, he wasn’t willing to let that happen.
With a 1-1 count, Howard swung and missed. The crowd roared, and it looked like Podres might get Pee Wee the strikeout he was looking for. Howard took ball two above the strike zone. He fouled one pitch out of play, then another.
The count was two and two. Howard swung. His grounder was to Reese’s right.
Reese slid over and fielded the ball at his waist.
“Pee Wee’s gonna muff it,” Dick Brinster thought to himself in the basement of Seaside Heights Elementary. “Pee Wee’s gonna muff it, and we’re gonna get beat here.”
Reese took a slide step and fired toward first. His throw was on target, but it was near the dirt.
“The ball’s going to go in the dirt!” Brinster thought to himself. “Oh Gil pick it, oh, can Gil pick it please?”
Hodges stretched to his left. His knee nearly dragged in the dirt as he reached out. Reese’s throw came to him barely a foot off the ground. It was low — but not too low for Hodges.
He caught it, and the Dodgers were World Champions.
On the field, Podres disappeared in a mob of players and fans. He had just thrown a complete-game shutout to win the Dodgers their first World Series. There had been lots of Dodger superstars. Podres was now more important than any of them.
In Brooklyn, school buses screeched to sudden stops, and school children poured out of them. The air was filled with honking horns and screams. Books and torn paper flew this way and that, even out of windows.
In Ms. Levine’s class, Bruce Bennett couldn’t contain himself. “The Dodgers won the World Series!” he shouted.
“I thought you were ill, Mr. Bennett?” Ms. Levine said. She promptly marched him to the principal’s office to spend detention until school let out. Bennett barely noticed.
In Alabama, Ed Martin was sitting alone in the student union. When the game ended, the Yankee fans had slammed their chairs down and left. Martin hadn’t expected it. But now, sitting alone and letting the triumph, and the end of more than a decade of heartbreak, wash over him, Martin couldn’t do anything but cry long-delayed tears of joy.
In the stands at Yankee Stadium, Richard Mack was watching a mob scene. He’d never been happier. A fourteen-year weight had just been lifted off his shoulders. And he’d just won $100 from George Waltuch.
At the Concord Inn on Fulton Street, owner Gus Caminiti yelled to Bill Smith, his bartender, “Drinks for every bum in the house! Next year we win it in four!”
At 3:44, one minute after the game ended, calls into Brooklyn and Long Island overloaded relays in Murray Hill, Oregon, Lexington, Plaza, Templeton, and Eldorado. For nearly twenty minutes, no one could make a call into Brooklyn. According to the phone company, it was the highest volume of calls into Brooklyn since VJ Day.
One minute later, at 3:45, Brooklyn police headquarters sent out an alert to its on-duty officers, warning them to be on the lookout for Dodgers fans celebrating too boisterously, or perhaps staggering into the road or towards the wrong side of the law. The fire department would be busy that night. But the police would be on break until almost 11:00. Evidently, Brooklyn had declared a holiday from crime.
At 3:48, Marguerite Ketcham gave birth to her second son. She and Roy knew just what to name him. Walter Alston Ketcham was born five minutes after the Dodgers won the World Series, named for the manager who finally got it done.
At 4:00, in Mineola Supreme Court, Judge D. Ormonde Ritchie got a whispered signal from the gathered crowd. He silenced his courtroom, and announced, “The new world champions – the Brooklyn Dodgers – have just been crowned!”
The Dodgers’ locker room was crowded with bodies. The floor was littered with used flash bulbs, cables, beer cans, and soda bottles. It was pandemonium. Walter O’Malley was hugging his manager. Roy Campanella was answering questions.
“All game, he didn’t shake me off on one pitch until the last one,” Campanella said. “I wanted a fastball. He wanted a changeup. That boy had the last word. He sure did.”
Campanella had only one regret.
“I caught him without a sponge in my glove,” he told Harold Rosenthal of the New York Herald-Tribune, “and boy, am I sorry. My hand’s as sore as it’s ever been.”
Nearby, Tommy Holmes, another Herald-Tribune reporter, watched as Don Newcombe grabbed a derby hat from clubhouse attendant Johnny Griffin. He filled it with beer and jammed it down over Snider’s head.
“Use your own hat!” Snider yelled. Newcombe went to his locker and came back with a green velour hat. He and Snider filled them and drenched themselves.
Sandy Amoros paraded around the locker room triumphantly, holding a can of beer and smoking an enormous cigar. He was speaking a mix of English and Spanish — and when he addressed Furillo, a little bit of Italian.
Pitcher Billy Loes, impervious to the celebration, was standing alone by his locker lathering up his face to shave. Meanwhile, Clem Labine was crying. “Imagine,” he said. “A grown man crying.”
Meanwhile, Podres, the hero of the day, was talking to a crowd of reporters. A muscular man grabbed him by the arm.
“Go ahead, John, cry,” he said. “It’s all right. Cry. I did.”
“Is that your father?” a reporter asked.
“No, that’s my uncle,” Podres responded. “He tells me my father is outside in the car. He won’t come in. He’s crying.” He giggled. “My father is crying.”
Podres couldn’t contain his excitement.
“Hey, Duke, are you going to stay out all night, like me?” he shouted to Snider. “Let’s have ourselves a time!”
Then someone asked him about the game he’d just pitched. Podres flopped back into his locker, holding a beer can and resting his head on a towel, and launched into an explanation.
“My fastball really had it,” he said. Mantle, the Yankees toughest hitter, had pinch-hit in the bottom of the seventh; he’d popped up to short. “Mantle? I wasn’t worried about him. I keep my fastball up on him and he can’t hit it. I was never worried about anybody. I can beat those guys seven days a week!” He paused and smiled weakly. Then he said, “don’t write that. It sounds too much like I’m popping off.”
Podres looked over at Reese, who was sitting by his locker, quietly savoring the moment.
“Hey, Captain!” he shouted. “What did I tell you? Go ahead, tell them what I told you yesterday.”
Reese smiled. “That’s right, John,” he said. “You told me not to worry. You said you were going to shut them out.”
Podres turned back to the reporters. “My dad was here today,” he said. “He was nervous this morning. I told him not to worry and I waved to him in the stands a couple of times to let him know we had them.”
Later on, when Podres had escaped the media throng and was finally taking a shower, Joseph Podres entered the locker room. He’d waited almost half an hour in his car, getting himself under control.
“Mr. Podres, you must be the proudest man in America,” said Russ Meyer, a Dodgers utility pitcher. “That kid of yours has more guts than the law allows.”
“Dad!” shouted Podres, returning from his shower. “How did you like it?”
Joseph was still stunned. He addressed the room at large.
“I’ve always dreamed something like this would happen” he said. “I’ve always wanted Johnny to be a champ. And he is.”
Podres laughed. “You were a little nervous out there, though, weren’t you Pop?” he said.
In the Yankee locker room, Casey Stengel was taking questions too.
“How about having Berra hit away in the sixth with two on and none out?” asked a reporter.
“I played for the big inning,” Casey said. “I didn’t want a tie. I wanted to win.”
Someone from the back of the crowd asked, “Hey, Case, did the better team win?”
“You’ll have to excuse me,” Stengel said. “I gotta congratulate their manager.”
In Brooklyn, the celebrations were ramping up.
In front of the Paramount Theater, Inous Azis, a twenty-eight-year-old truck driver, leapt out of his car and slashed Louis Miller, an off-duty police officer, with a knife. Miller had chided him for honking his horn excessively. Azis fled the scene. He later surrendered at the station and was charged with felonious assault. Miller survived relatively unscathed.
Ray Lynch, age sixteen, had caught a foul ball at game four. Now, dressed as a bum with paint smeared on his face, he led a crowd of neighborhood kids in setting a bonfire at the corner of Hicks Street and 3rd. The fire department extinguished the small blaze. Between 3:30 and midnight, the fire department said, it extinguished twenty fires.
On Flatbush Avenue, a gray-haired man was speeding down the street ringing a noisemaker. “The bums is champs!” he was shouting. “The Yanks is chumps!”
At Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, someone had erected a marble tombstone shaped like a cross. “In memory of the Yankees,” it said. “R.I.P.” Nearby was a coffin-shaped box with an effigy inside. Effigies shaped like Yankees hung from almost every telephone pole and light post in Brooklyn.
A crowd had gathered outside Brooklyn Borough Hall. Horns were honking; ticker-tape was flying; strangers were hugging strangers. Nearby, George’s Restaurant put up a sign in its window: “Yankee Bean Soup.” From a window high up in a building on Court Street came a large banner: “We Dood It!”
“My God,” said a woman walking through the crowd, looking for shelter in a doorway. “This is terrible. But I’m sure it’s worse out in Flatbush.”
Meanwhile, a reporter from the New York World-Telegram fought his way through the crowd to reach a telephone. “I can only say that all hell is breaking loose,” he shouted.
Outside the chrome store, Ken Uva’s uncle Frank set up a small table. He opened several bottles of liquor, and poured drinks for passersby.
An old fruit and vegetable truck filled with people drove through Flatbush honking its horn. Watching the truck go by, a man on the corner of DeKalb and Flatbush Avenue said, “they’re the spirit of all the Series games the Dodgers lost.”
Nearby, also on Flatbush Avenue, Dick Prendergast, a tavern owner, had only experienced something like this once in his life. “I can only compare tonight here to the time we had on VJ Day,” he said. “One Yankee fan said we were too loud, so I suggested he go to the Bronx. I guess he did because he couldn’t stand it anymore and left.” Meanwhile, at the Dugout bar on DeKalb, Sy Ginsberg, an off-duty, musclebound police officer, broke down and cried.
In Brownsville, Max’s Bargain Store hung a sign. “We’ve gone nuts with joy over the victory of them Bums,” it read. “Just to prove it today only. Ladies’ lace-trimmed panties. Usually eighty-nine cents, now nineteen cents. To Dodger fans only.”
In Crown Heights, almost 1000 people mobbed Joe Saden’s delicatessen after he offered free hot dogs to every customer. Eight police officers controlled the joyous mob.
At Wyckoff Avenue and Jefferson Street, nineteen-year-old Chuck Vandewater blasted his horn. A police officer pulled up behind him and gave him a ticket for excessive honking.
“He must have bet on the Yankees,” Vandewater said.
In the street outside the soda fountain, Jim Devine found mayhem. There were firecrackers and horns going off; the air was full of paper, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Strangers were dancing in the streets.
At home later that night, Devine’s uncle brought over a bottle and drank a toast with his brother, Devine’s father. And in the midst of it all, Carl, one of the two Yankee fans on the block, knocked at Devine’s cousin’s door.
“Is George home?” he asked. George, Devine’s cousin, was the other Yankee fan. He and Carl weren’t friends, but right now, Yankee fans needed solidarity.
In Witherbee, New York, Johnny Podres’ hometown, the Chamber of Commerce was arranging a celebration the following Saturday at Mineville High School, where Podres had once pitched. Podres’ mother had watched the game at her brother and sister-in-law’s house.
“It’s the happiest day of my life,” she said. “It’s just wonderful to have a son like him.”
Later, Podres called. He asked if she’d been nervous; she said that she had. “I was a little nervous too,” he said.
In Havana, Sandy Amoros was a hero. Mayor Justo Luiz Del Pozo announced that he was preparing an official welcome. Fans had watched the game all over Cuba on broadcasts from a plane hovering over the Gulf of Mexico, which picked up signals from Miami and broadcast them to Matanzas. With Amoros, combined with the fact that the Dodgers had held their Spring Training in Cuba in 1947, the Dodgers were probably Cuba’s favorite team. Amoros would be on the Island soon: he had signed a contract to play for the Havana Reds in the Cuban Winter League.
Meanwhile, on 16th Avenue in Borough Park, Henry Sarro had been waiting for this moment for years. He was a butcher, the World-Telegram reported, and in 1947, he’d stored a keg of beer in the back of his fridge, with the promise that he would open it only when the Dodgers won the World Series. Now, almost 200 people gathered to drink from the victory barrel; they also ate thirty pounds of Sarro’s sandwich meat, and 300 rolls. When Sarro and his friend Vincent Maure opened the keg, though, the gathered crowd quickly decided the beer had gone bad in its eight years on the shelf.
The nearby Casa Allegra tavern saved the day with two more kegs, and the party resumed. An impromptu band broke out on the street: banjo, guitar, and snare drum. Just as the last keg was tapped, a hearse driver named Henry Cali drove up and unloaded a coffin. It carried an epitaph: “We finally buried Casey with his Yanks.” The crowd carried the coffin through the neighborhood and set it down in Casa Allegra Tavern, and drank a toast.
Richard Mack and Alan Mankoff wanted to go to Brooklyn to celebrate, but they knew that with the series over, they had to get back to school. On the West Side Highway, they drove past Milton DeLugg, the musical director on “Broadway Open House,” a precursor to The Tonight Show.
“They won!” DeLugg was shouting out his window. “They won!”
In the Bronx, Leo Bernieri, of 1738 Van Buren Street, was relieved that the series had ended. He was a Yankee fan, but his wife was a Dodgers fan, and had been just as immersed in the series as he was. “Maybe I’ll get better meals now,” he said.
When the game ended, meanwhile, Barry and Richard Zamoff spent twenty minutes at home soaking in the triumph. Then they took to the streets, looking for Yankee fans. Usually, at 4:00 in the afternoon on a sunny October day in the heart of Yankee country, the streets were full of them. Between the end of school and sunset, there wasn’t anywhere else for neighborhood kids to be. But today, the streets were eerily quiet.
Barry and Richard roamed the streets for an hour. It had gotten a little colder, and the wind had picked up, but even so, the streets shouldn’t have been so calm. They saw almost nobody.
“The Dodgers win!” the boys yelled occasionally, unable to contain themselves, finally superior to the Yankees. “The Dodgers win!”
The Hotel Bossert, at 98 Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, was known as “The Waldorf-Astoria of Brooklyn.” It had been famous even in the 1920s for its “Marine Roof,” a two-level restaurant on the rooftop with panoramic views of Manhattan across the lower end of the East River. And that night, the Dodgers gathered there for a victory party. And perhaps the happiest man in Brooklyn was Maitre d’ Jack Kreger. After the Dodgers’ game three victory, he’d ordered thousands of dollars’ worth of food. If the Yankees had taken game seven, he would have had some very expensive food to get rid of.
The party started with cocktails at 7:00. Already, a crowd of thousands of fans had assembled outside. Twenty-five police officers had been assigned to maintain order. When Tom Tracey, a seventy-four-year-old playwright and actor, stepped out of the front door, one fan, mistaking him for an enemy, shouted, “Hey Casey — whatya doin’ here?” On the street, a man ran back and forth shouting, “you’re standing on hallowed ground! This is the greatest day in Brooklyn since George Washington evacuated his armies from this very spot!”
When Podres, still the hero of the day, stepped out for air, the police could barely contain the crowd. Through brute force, they managed to shepherd Podres back to safety inside.
“Gee,” Podres said dazedly. “They’re really fans.”
“You’re a hero now,” shouted a teammate to Podres. “You’re the talk of the country. They’ll be after you for television appearances and speeches.”
“Okay, for a few thousand bucks a throw,” Podres responded.
“You get a new sports car from that magazine too,” said another teammate. Sure enough, Sport Magazine had chosen Podres as MVP of the series, a prize which came with a Corvette. “It goes to the series hero, and you’re it.”
“That’s fine,” Podres said. “Dad can drive my car home.”
Podres wiped lipstick off his face. Female fans had been part of the mob from which he’d barely escaped.
“I hope my girl back home doesn’t mind,” he said. “After all, what man would refuse a kiss?”
In Witherbee, Podres’ girlfriend, Naomi Baker, seemed unconcerned.
“Johnny’s wonderful, just wonderful,” she said. They’d been together about two years, but still weren’t exactly sure where they stood.
One reporter asked Baker whether they planned to get married. “We have no definite plans, really,” she said. “Johnny has sort of talked about it. I sure would like to. I can’t wait till he gets back here Saturday.”
There were almost 400 people at the victory party, and every Dodger was there besides Amoros and Newcombe. Amoros had flown to Cuba, but even Campanella wasn’t sure where Newcombe was. There was supposed to be a dance floor and a band at the center of the party. But the party was so crowded that the musicians and dancers had moved into a different room. There was a special bar set up for the party in the hotel’s downstairs lounge, but still, it was packed.
There had been problems with the guest list. At the door, anyone who had claimed even the slightest connection to the Dodgers had been admitted. The hall got so full that when Pee Wee Reese and Russ Meyer showed up late with their wives, they couldn’t find seats. So, they left.
O’Malley, Kreger, and Fresco Thompson intercepted the players on the way out and assured them that they would bring more tables in, but both politely declined the offer. Meyer was thirty-one and Reese was thirty-five, after all. After two players, including their captain, were forced to leave, however, the Dodgers sent instructions to screen attendees more carefully at the doors.
Ralph Branca, who in 1951 had allowed “The Shot Heard Round The World,” was in attendance. So was Warren Giles, National League President, and John Cashmore, Borough President of Brooklyn. After the win, Cashmore had issued a victory statement in which he’d also pledged to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn.
“I am distressed at the recurring stories of our Dodgers leaving Brooklyn and seeking greener pastures,” he said. “They belong in Brooklyn. I intend to keep them here.”
Happy Felton, who hosted pregame and postgame TV programs on Dodgers broadcasts, walked around the party as one player after another autographed his shirt, Bill Voorhees reported in Newsday. Podres similarly walked from table to table taking congratulations. Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel sat quietly in a corner.
When he’d tired of taking congratulations, Podres took to the dance floor. He danced with almost every woman there. He even danced with Jack Kreger’s wife. But he seemed particularly interested in Ann Thompson, Fresco Thompson’s daughter. They danced for hours.
“I’m about ready to collapse,” Ann said late that night. “I don’t know how Johnny keeps going.”
The Yankees had planned their own victory celebration at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. They cancelled it.
In Seaside Heights, Dick Brinster’s older sister arrived home elated. Her favorite player Gil Hodges, once a World Series failure, had driven in both runs in the Dodgers’ game seven victory. On his way home from school, meanwhile, Brinster ran into his friend Steve Vandegrist, a Yankee fan. Steve liked reminding him about all the times the Yankees had beaten the Dodgers.
Brinster jumped on Steve’s back. “Ah, you stink,” he said. “We got you!”
In Alabama, there was a restaurant down the road from Ed Martin and his wife’s apartment. For $1.25 each, you could get some vegetables, a piece of meat, and a slice of pie. Martin made about $600 a year, and his wife Peggy made fifty cents an hour working at the library, so a restaurant meal for the occasional celebration fit into their budget. Martin didn’t remember exactly how they celebrated that night, but they liked that restaurant on special occasions.
Outside Yuma, Arnold Knack and the rest of his team were in the middle of their party. The commanding officers had acquired meat and beers for their soldiers, and they’d also hired locals with cow ponies to offer the men rides. By the time Knack found out that the Dodgers had won, it was already dark.
“We won!” he whooped. But nobody knew what he was talking about. Certainly, nobody celebrated with him.
When a group of soldiers decided to go for a cow pony ride, Knack joined them. They rode off into the warm Arizona October night, and Knack, removing his fatigue shirt and leaning sideways on his pony, separated from the group. He was distraught. He was in Yuma, and in Brooklyn, the Dodgers were celebrating. For twelve years he’d followed the Dodgers, and now that he was in the middle of nowhere, they had finally won. So, Arnold Knack left navigation to the cow pony, and rode off into the desert crying, alone beneath the Arizona stars, a World Series champion without anyone to share his joy.
In Brooklyn, at midnight, the celebration still hadn’t ended completely. The cowbells and horns were still sounding, and on Livingston Street, cars decked in banners and streamers were still carrying screaming fans back and forth. The Board of Education was working on a notice affirming that school was still open the day after the Dodgers won the World Series. But many children would miss attendance the next morning, and the board would be lenient.
Late at night, Anthony Amato, a sanitation worker, was sweeping the streets near Borough Hall, cleaning up the masses of confetti that had been spilled.
“I’m a Dodger fan,” he said. “I’m happy to do my little part to help celebrate.”
James Schapiro is a sports reporter and a long-time baseball enthusiast.