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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Wiz Kids, Part XIV: The 1950 World Series 

The 1950 World Series was an anticlimax to a thrilling season. The Yankees entered the series as heavy favorites. The Phillies, in contrast, were mostly spent.

Remarkably, when Robin Roberts was in eighth grade in Springfield, Illinois, Grover Cleveland Alexander, the great Phillies pitcher, spoke to Roberts class and remarked that one day one of them might pitch in the World Series. He was right. Roberts and the Phillies would face off with Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra and the mighty Yankees.

The 1950 New York Yankees were a period of transition from the Joe DiMaggio era to that of Mickey Mantle. It had been a hard season for the Yankees. The Detroit Tigers had actually led nearly the entire season only to fade down the stretch and give the Bronx Bombers their opening. The Yankees won the A.L. pennant by three games, but the team wasn’t the juggernaut people remembered. DiMaggio had “only” hit .301 that season. Yogi Berra had actually led the Yankees in RBIs (124 to 122) and hit nearly as many home runs (28 to 32), and had a higher batting average (.322). At one point in the season Manager Casey Stengel even took the unthinkable step of benching DiMaggio because he was hitting so poorly. It had been an awkward season and it helped DiMaggio decide that 1951 would be his last.

But the Yankees entered the series supremely confident, having won the World Series over the Dodgers the previous season. The Phillies were tired and still coming off their dramatic victory over the Dodgers on October 1st. The Yankees had the edge. They had more rest and virtually every player on their roster was a veteran of previous World Series. The young, battered Phillies had backed into the World Series. The Wiz Kids would need a miracle.

Game One of the series was on October 4, 1950, just three days after the end of the season. Eddie Sawyer made the bold decision to not start ace pitcher Robin Roberts, who had pitched so many of the Phillies games down the stretch, and instead go with Jim Konstanty as the Phillies starter. Konstanty hadn’t started a single game for the Phillies in 1950. The last time Jim Konstanty started a major league game was in 1946 when he was a member of the Boston Braves. Now he was starting Game One of the World Series. “The Yankees” Manager Eddie Sawyer noted, “are a free-swinging team. Konstanty throws the kind of stuff that will stop a free-swinging team.”

Sawyer was right and made a savvy, unorthodox move that nearly paid off. The Yankees ended up winning Game One 1-0, despite a masterful pitching performance from Konstanty, who went eight innings and surrendered just four hits and four walks. The Yankees managed just one extra-base hit, a lead-off double by Yankees third baseman Bobby Brown, who was also a graduate of medical school from Tulane, at the top of the fourth inning. Hank Bauer and Jerry Coleman flied out to advance Brown from second to third, and then from third to home. Yankees led 1-0.

Unfortunately for the Phillies Vic Raschi was even more dominant, allowing just two hits and a walk in nine innings of work. Raschi also struck-out five Phillies. The best the Phillies could muster were a pair of singles in the fifth by Willie Jones and Andy Seminick. The Yankees took game one by a score of 1-0.

Game Two. The next day the Yankees and Phillies went again at Shibe Park. Robin Roberts against the Yankee great Allie Reynolds. It was another classic pitchers duel, as both Roberts and Reynolds went ten innings. The Yankees drew first blood in the top of the second inning, scoring a single run after Jerry Coleman drew a two-out walk, then advanced to third on an Reynolds single. When Gene Woodling hit a hard ball to Willie Jones at third, the Phillies couldn’t prevent Coleman from scoring. 1-0 Yankees.

The Phillies lost a golden opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the second when Granny Hamner hit a triple with one out. Unfortunately, Andy Seminick and Mike Goliat both made outs and couldn’t advance Hamner.

The game was locked at 1-0 until the bottom of the fifth inning when Mike Goliat, the Phillies second baseman, singled and advanced to third on a single by Eddie Waitkus. With one out, Richie Ashburn scored Goliat with a sacrifice fly to left field. The game was tied at 1-1.

The Phillies squandered opportunities in the eighth and ninth innings when Del Ennis and Goliat grounded into double plays to squelch scoring threats. Then, at the top of the tenth inning, Joe DiMaggio wowed the crowd by bashing a Robin Roberts fastball for a 2-1 lead. In the bottom of the tenth Jackie Mayo walked and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Eddie Waitkus, but Ashburn flied out and Dick Sisler struck out to end the game. The Yankees led the series 2-0. The series shifted to New York.

Game Three was played the next day, on October 6, 1950, at Yankee Stadium. Ken Heintzelman pitched for the Phillies, despite hurling just 125 innings in 1950. The Yankees sent Eddie Lopat to the mound.

The Yankees once again got off to a 1-0 lead, but the Phillies tied to the game at 1-1 in the sixth after Dick Sisler singled Del Ennis in from second, and then surged ahead 2-1 in the seventh when Mike Goliat singled Granny Hamner in from second. Unfortunately, the Yankees tied the game in the eighth when Heintzelman walked the bases loaded with Jerry Coleman, Yogi Berra and Joe DiMaggio. With two outs, Sawyer brought in Konstanty, who got Bobby Brown to ground to Granny Hamner, who botched the easy out and allowed Coleman to score. The game was tied at 2-2.

In the top of the ninth Granny Hamner was gunned down trying to score the go-ahead run from third base by Yankees first baseman Joe Collins. The Phillies scoring opportunity dried up and the Yankees took the field for the ninth inning. Jim Bloodworth entered the game at second-base to replace pinch-runner Putsy Caballero, who had run for Mike Goliat in the previous inning when the Phillies were trying to score. After the first two Yankees made outs, Gene Woodling, the Yankees left fielder, hit a shot at Bloodworth, who botched the play, struggling to control the ball and then making a bad throw to first. Instead of an inning-ending 4-3 groundout, the winning run was on first. Phil Rizzuto hit the ball to Bloodworth, who couldn’t make a throw to first. Woodling advanced to third. With the winning run ninety feet away, the Phillies played in to try and cut Woodling down at home. Jerry Coleman, who was quickly turning into a Phillies killer, lofted a fly ball into the outfield to score Woodling. Yankees win 3-2.

The Game Three loss was the tipping point for the Phillies in the series. They had lost the game despite a good pitching effort yet again, betrayed by an offense that squandered opportunities to score runs and a defense that broke down in key situations to allow the Yankees to score. Team defense, a major strong point during the regular season, broke down and cost the Phillies two key runs in Game Three and a run in Game Two. Down 3-0, the Phillies chances in Game Four were virtually nil.

Game Four was played the next day, on October 7, 1950, at Yankees Stadium again. It wasn’t much of a game. The Phillies sent Bob Miller to the mound and he lasted a third of an inning. Gene Woodling got on due to Mike Goliat booting a ground ball to second base, another defensive miscue. After Rizzuto advanced Woodling, Berra scored him. Then Berra advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a DiMaggio double. Eddie Sawyer pulled Miller for Jim Konstanty who got Johnny Mize and Bobby Brown to ground out and end the disasterous inning.

The Phillies couldn’t get much of anything going against the Yankees pitcher, a 21-year old rookie named Whitey Ford. After a shaky first inning when the Phillies had Eddie Waitkus and Willie Jones on third and second with an out, Ford settled in and stopped the Phillies cold. Aside from Jones first-inning double, they didn’t muster a single extra-base hit for the entire game. As the game wore on, it became clear that the Phillies weren’t going to muster much of anything against Ford.

Meanwhile, Konstanty pitched several sterling innings and kept the game locked at 2-0 until the sixth inning, when Yogi Berra led-off with a home run. Yankees 3, Phillies 0. DiMaggio was put on after being hit by a pitch and scored when Bobby Brown tripled. Yankees 4, Phillies 0. Hank Bauer scored Bobby Brown with a sacrifice fly. Yankees 5, Phillies 0. It was over. The Phillies mounted a brief comeback in the top of the ninth, scoring two unearned runs thanks to an error by Gene Woodling that would have ended the game, but Casey Stengel brought in Allie Reynolds in relief and he got Stan Lopata, pinch-hitting for Robin Roberts (who had pitched the eighth inning), to strike out. Final score: Phillies 2, Yankees 5. The Yankees had won the series in four games. A sweep.

Why did the Phillies lose? Their pitching was actually very good: Roberts, Konstanty, et al., held the mighty Yankees machine to a .222 batting average and a .304 slugging percentage. The Yankees team GPA in the series was a fairly pathetic .209. Jerry Coleman killed the Phillies with key hits, but he was only four-for-fourteen in the series. The Phillies hammered hitters like Phil Rizzuto, a .324 hitter in the regular season who hit just .143 in the series. The Phillies team ERA was just 2.27. While they were on the negative side of the walk / strikeout ratio (13:12), they did surrendered slightly fewer walks in the series (3.28) than they did in the regular season (3.39).

The Phillies fielding deserted them at critical moments. Two of the eleven runs the team surrendered were unearned. Crucially, the Phillies failed to get big outs in the third game, which led to the Yankees victory and put the Phillies into a virtually insurmountable hole.

The Phillies problem was that their offense was pretty much completely absent from the series. They mustered just five runs in the series and many of their key performers looked terrible. Del Ennis went two-for-fourteen and failed to get an RBI. Richie Ashburn was three-for-seventeen without a walk. Dick Sisler, the hero of the Dodgers game, was one-for-seventeen (.059 BA).

As a team, the Phillies hit .179 GPA. Their isolated power number was just .063. This from a team that hit .248 GPA and a .131 ISO during the regular season. Aside from Granny Hamner (six for fourteen, two doubles, a triple – three of the Phillies seven extra-base hits in the series – and a run scored), none of the Phillies hit well. They were hammered by the Yankees pitching, striking out 24 times against seven walks. The Yankees team ERA was just 0.73. They dominated the Phillies offense completely.

The disappearance of the Phillies offense cost them in the biggest games of the year. They wouldn’t get another chance to win a World Series for thirty years.

Previous Installments of the Wiz Kids:
Part XIII: How the National League was won.
Part XII: October 1, 1950.
Part XI: Richie Ashburn.
Part X: The Phillies Farm System.
Part IX: The second half of the 1950 season.
Part VIII: The Braves, Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs & Reds.
Part VII: The Giants and Dodgers.
Part VI: Curt Simmons.
Part V: Robin Roberts.
Part IV: The first half of the 1950 season.
Part III: Jim Konstanty.
Part II: Eddie Sawyer.
Part I: The Path to 1950.

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