Off-Topic IV: Baseball in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s - Part 1

In 1956, Johnny Unitas was a rookie in the National Football League, and two years away from leading the Baltimore Colts to victory over the New York Giants in professional football's "Greatest Game Ever Played" -- usually cited as the moment that initiated the NFL's encroachment on Major League Baseball's popularity monopoly of the American sports world. Vince Lombardi's Packers would not dominate for another five years, ultimately making the tiny hamlet of Green Bay, Wisconsin a household name and further assimilating the NFL into mainstream American culture. Bill Russell, Red Auerbach, and the Boston Celtics had yet to establish their long-term reign over the NBA, and Wilt Chamberlain was three years away from entering the league and changing the face of that game. It would be two years before golfer Arnold Palmer won his first Masters Tournament, and the hearts and minds of TV viewers from coast to coast. Professional boxing's popular and undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano had retired from the ring, and teenage Cassius Clay, a novice Golden Gloves winner from Louisville, Kentucky, would not become champion Muhammad Ali for eight years. 
As it had been since the 19th century, baseball was the professional sport of choice for Americans in the 1950s, and the ad pictured above does a pretty good job of illustrating just how much the game embodied the hopes and dreams of the youth of the nation. Babe Ruth, only recently deceased, still cast his prodigious shadow over the grand old game, as fathers who remembered his playing days described his exploits to their sons and daughters with awed reverence. And if then-current heroes had feet of clay, it would be years before the public would know. 
For baseball fans, all seemed right with the world. 

Wheaties ad, 1956

Three-time N.L. MVP, seven-time N.L. Batting Champion, and Hall of Famer 
Stan "The Man" Musial. 

Above: Sport Magazine, July 1950
Below: Signed photo
Street and Smith's 1952 Baseball Yearbook

After breaking baseball's color barrier in 1947, Jackie Robinson remained one of the game's premier players well into the 1950s.

Above: 1955 Topps baseball card
Below: Sport magazine, October 1951

The 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, nicknamed "The Whiz Kids," clinched the N.L. Pennant on the final day of the season in an extra inning game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, thus avoiding a best-of-three game playoff with that team. They were led by power hitting Del Ennis, pitching ace Robin Roberts, sixteen-game winner (all in relief) and unlikely MVP Jim Konstanty, and a sure-handed center fielder named Richie Ashburn. Ashburn would go on to win two batting titles, lead N.L. center fielders in assists four times and fewest errors three times, and end up in the Hall of Fame. The Phillies, who hadn't won a Pennant in thirty-five years, and would not win another for thirty more, were swept by the New York Yankees in the 1950 World Series. 

Above: Baseball Life Stories magazine, 1952
Below: Signed photo of Robin Roberts

Richie Ashburn's 1953 Bowman baseball card.

Joe DiMaggio, "The Yankee Clipper," already celebrated in song and soon to be further immortalized in a Hemingway novel, called it quits after the 1951 season. He would remain in the public eye throughout the 1950s and the rest of his life as a living legend, a husband of Marilyn Monroe, a coach for Charlie Finley, the subject of yet another popular song, and an almost constant presence in advertisements -- particularly for Mr. Coffee in the 1970s. Here he lends his name and likeness to Avon in a 1950 magazine ad.

Hall of Famer George Kell, a ten-time American League All-Star, hit over .300 ten times, leading the league with a .343 average in 1949.

Signed photo

Redland Field, renamed Crosley Field in 1934, was home to the Cincinnati Reds from 1912-70. In 1935 it became the first Major League park to install lights.


Ralph Kiner broke Babe Ruth's record of six consecutive seasons leading a league in home runs when he chalked up his seventh in a row in 1952. He achieved the feat over the first seven years of his career. 

Above: Gillette razor ad, 1952
Below: 1952 Bowman baseball card

Entertainers Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, part owners of the Cleveland Indians and Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively, wearing their teams' colors on the Paramount movie lot in Hollywood. Hope's Tribe won the World Series, their last, in 1948. Bing's Bucs would have to persevere several abysmal years during the 1950s before claiming championship rings in 1960 and '71.

Promotional still, 1947

"Bullet" Bob Feller was on the down side of a magnificent Hall of Fame career by the 1950s, one that saw him record three no-hitters and twelve one-hitters (both records at the time of his retirement in 1956), and 266 career wins, despite missing nearly four years due to service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. 
From 1951 through 1959, Al Lopez's teams never finished lower than second place in the American League standings, and in seven of those nine seasons they won 90 or more games. Despite having the misfortune of managing in the A.L. during what was arguably the New York Yankees' most dominant era, Lopez was able to pilot two different teams to the World Series: the Cleveland Indians in 1954 and the Chicago White Sox in 1959.

Wire photo, 1951

Professional baseball celebrated three milestone anniversaries in 1951, and the Coca-Cola Company managed to tie in its own, spinning an All-American ad out of all four.

"The Shot Heard 'Round the World," aka "The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff." 
Bobby Thomson crosses the plate with the winning run (a bottom of the 9th, three-run HR), defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers and sending the New York Giants to the 1951 World Series. A dejected Ralph Branca, who delivered the fateful pitch, walks toward camera with head down on the far right of the photo, while Jackie Robinson, glove on hip, watches from just beyond the infield as the Giants celebrate. The Dodgers had been in 1st place for most of the season, at one point leading their arch rivals by 13 1/2 games in the National League standings (there were no divisions back then), but the Giants surged in the second half, tying "Dem Bums" on the final day and forcing a best-of-three playoff.

"Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again."
- from sportswriter Red Smith's recap of the game in the New York Herald Tribune

The above photo is signed by Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson.

Because of Thomson's legendary blast off of Branca, the two men's names would be forever linked. They later became good friends, and would frequently attend signings and sports memorabilia shows together until Thomson's death in 2010. 

1952 Bowman baseball cards 

Above and below: New York Giants program/scorecard, 1952

Baseball's Best magazine, 1952

With his best years behind him (two home run titles, an RBI title, and a batting title with the Cardinals; two home run titles and two RBI titles with the Giants), the New York Yankees purchased 36-year-old Johnny Mize from the Giants late in the 1949 season. "The Big Cat" turned out to be a valuable asset to the Bronx Bombers during their record five consecutive World Championship run (1949-53), and led all hitters in the '52 Fall Classic with a .400 batting average. 

1952 Topps baseball card

Hall of Fame shortstop and 1950 A.L. MVP Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto played in eight World Series for the Yankees, missing their 1943 appearance due to military service. He later garnered nearly as much fame as the Yanks' beloved radio and TV play by play announcer as he had as a player.

1953 Bowman baseball card

In the years immediately following the Second World War, Charles Dillon "Casey" Stengel was known to baseball fans as nothing more than a former journeyman outfielder and mediocre manager. Within a few years of taking over the reins of the Yankees in 1949 he was known by all as a managerial genius. "The Old Perfessor" led the Pinstripes to ten Pennants and seven World Championships -- the first five came consecutively -- in his twelve years as their skipper . . . all while speaking in a rambling, indecipherable tongue that sports writers dubbed "Stengelese."

Above: Sport magazine, March 1954
Below: Gillette razor ad, 1951

Mainstays of the Yankee pitching staff during their record run in the late '40s-early '50s: Allie "Super Chief" Reynolds, Eddie "The Junk Man" Lopat, and Vic "The Springfield Rifle" Raschi. Each was a 20-game-winner at least once from 1949 through 1952. 

1953 Bowman baseball cards, 1954 Topps baseball card

Ed Lopat, who compiled a .657 winning percentage while a Yankee (1948-55), tries on one of the many ties he was gifted on "Ed Lopat Night" at Yankee Stadium, 9-18-51. Holding a rack of ties for "The Junk Man" is longtime Yanks broadcaster Mel Allen.

Press photo, 1951

Above and below: 1953 Yankees yearbook.

Inside Baseball magazine, July 1952

In 1953, the Boston Braves became the first Major League Baseball franchise in fifty years to relocate to another city (Milwaukee), opening the doors for several other franchise shifts over the next few years. The St. Louis Browns would become the Baltimore Orioles in 1954. The Philadelphia Athletics would move to Kansas City (1955), and later to Oakland (1968). The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants would move west to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, in 1958. The Washington Senators would become the Minnesota Twins when the A.L. expanded in 1961, making way for a new Senators franchise, which in turn would become the Texas Rangers in 1972. 
The Braves, though they enjoyed immense popularity in their adopted city of Milwaukee -- they never had a losing season there -- would ultimately pull up stakes again, moving to Atlanta in 1966. One of the players to make the first transition with the Braves was Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, who, despite losing three years to military service, won twenty or more games thirteen times en route to 363 career wins. 

Above: 1953 Bowman baseball card
Below: 1955 Topps baseball card

After 50 years at the helm, Connie Mack, The Grand Old Man of Baseball, stepped down as manager of his beloved Philadelphia Athletics following the 1950 season, at the age of 87. As the franchise's longtime owner and manager, he had built a dynasty in the 1900s-1910s and a mini-dynasty in the late 1920s-early 1930s, winning nine AL Pennants and five of eight World Series. Since dismantling his second aggregation of champions, though, the A's had fallen into a prolonged period of sub-.500 futility, with the 1947-49 seasons providing a fleeting taste of winning baseball at Shibe Park. But it was only after the team skidded back into its losing ways in 1950, logging an abysmal .338 winning percentage, that Mack faced reality and reluctantly retired, turning over the reins to his top assistant and coach, Jimmy Dykes.
During Dykes' tenure, three players stepped up with a handful of excellent seasons: first baseman Ferris Fain won back-to-back batting titles in 1951 (.344) and 1952 (.327); pitcher Bobby Shantz won an AL-best 24 games and the MVP Award in 1952; and left fielder Gus Zernial had three productive power years at the plate, hitting 33, 29, and 42 home runs in 1951, '52, and '53, respectively, with his 1951 total topping the league. Sadly for the Philadelphia faithful, though, despite helping generate a winning season in 1952, these three shooting stars weren't enough to sufficiently boost the team's bottom line, and the Athletics were sold off and shipped out to Kansas City following the 1954 season, becoming the third MLB franchise to relocate since 1952, and breaking the Old Man's heart.
Mack passed away at the age of 93 in February of 1956.

Above: 1950 press photo
Below: 1952 and 1951 Topps baseball cards, 1953 Bowman baseball card

Connie Mack Stadium, originally named Shibe Park, housed the A.L. Athletics from 1909 through 1954, and the N.L. Phillies from mid-1938 through 1970. 


Stan Musial and some young fans, as painted by illustrator John Falter, on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, 1954.
Though he isn't necessarily thought of as a power hitter, Musial's career slugging percentage of .559 is in fact higher than his contemporaries Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Duke Snider, Ralph Kiner, Ernie Banks, and Ted Kluszewski, all of whom are associated with the long ball. More recent sluggers who rank beneath him in this category include the likes of Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt, Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, David Ortiz, Alex Rodriguez, and Albert Pujols.

Hall of Famer Monte Irvin at the Polo Grounds, home of the New York Giants.

Signed photo

"The Say Hey Kid," Hall of Famer Willie Mays. One of the finest all-around players of any era, Mays ranks 5th in career WAR (Wins Above Replacement).

Above: Time magazine, July 26, 1954
Below: Sport magazine, June 1956 
Following: 1955 Topps baseball card

The 1954 World Series is remembered today for "The Catch," made by Willie Mays on the dead run with his back to the plate, off of the bat of Vic Wertz in Game 1. But James Lamar "Dusty" Rhodes was the real hero of the Giants' four game sweep of the 111-win Cleveland Indians. Primarily in a pinch-hitting role, Rhodes went four for six with seven RBI against the vaunted Cleveland pitching staff, including two home runs -- one of them of the walk-off variety -- off of future Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn. 

Above: 1955 Topps baseball card
Below: Press photo of Rhodes rounding first after hitting his second home run of the Series.

Above and below: World Champion New York Giants yearbook, 1955.

After starting out as a position player with the Cleveland Indians in the early 1940s, Bob Lemon served in the U.S. Navy for three years (1943-45) during WWII. Upon his return to the team in 1946 he began to see action as a pitcher and would end up logging seven 20-win seasons in his Hall of Fame career, which lasted through 1958. 

Signed photo

A seven-time All-Star and eight-time .300 hitter, Minnie Minoso was one of the first Latin players to star in the Major Leagues. Though he spent the bulk of his career with the Chicago White Sox, he was playing for Cleveland in 1959 when the South Siders won their lone A.L. Pennant between 1919 and 2005. He led the league in being hit by pitches a staggering ten times, an MLB record. Minoso was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2022.

Sport magazine, August 1954

Built for both baseball and football, vast Cleveland Municipal Stadium was the Indians' home park from 1932-1993. The smaller League Park also hosted many of the Tribe's home games between 1938 and '46. 

Above and below: Postcards of Cleveland Municipal Stadium

In July of 1947, Larry Doby became the second African American player in the Majors and the first in the A.L., where he would be selected to seven consecutive All-Star teams. 

1954 Topps baseball card

The Brooklyn Dodgers dominated the National League from 1947-56, winning six Pennants in that ten year span.

"The Boys of Summer" at Ebbets Field, circa 1955: Pee Wee Reese, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella. These eight formed the core of the Brooklyn Dodgers teams that won five N.L. Pennants and one World Championship beginning in 1949, before the franchise moved west following the 1957 season.

Page from Sport magazine, September 1971 (photo was originally featured in the October 1956 issue)

Brooklyn's Hall of Fame keystone combination of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Robinson outhit all of his fellow long-term Dodger position players (see above) during his ten year career, with a .311 batting average. Reese played in every game of every Dodger World Series between 1941 and 1956: seven Series, forty-four games.

Sport magazine, October 1952

Brooklyn had been woefully unsuccessful in World Series appearances, losing all six of theirs prior to 1955, when they finally defeated their most frequent nemesis, the Yankees. It would be the Dodgers' sole World Championship as representatives of the borough of Brooklyn. Johnny Podres, who went 9-10 with a 3.95 ERA during the regular season, was the unlikely Series hero, clinching it with a 2-0 complete game shutout in Game 7 and winning the first-ever World Series MVP award. 

Above and below: 1956 Topps baseball cards

Not only could New York City baseball fans in the 1950s boast of having three perennially contending teams, the premier center fielders of the era also played for those teams: "Willie, Mickey, and The Duke." Brooklyn's Duke Snider -- "The Duke of Flatbush" -- though not as celebrated as Manhattan's Mays or the Bronx's Mantle, was the only one of the three to put together five consecutive 40-home run seasons (1953-57). 

Above: 1954 Topps baseball card 
Below: Sport magazine, September 1957
Following: signed photo

Don Newcombe, the 1956 N.L. MVP and the Major Leagues' Cy Young Award winner (there was only one for both leagues back then) pitching at Ebbets Field. 

Signed photo

Satchel Paige, for years the top pitcher in the Negro Leagues, finally got his chance in the Majors at the age of 42 when Cleveland Indians owner Bill Veeck signed him to a contract in 1948. Paige went 6-1 with a 2.48 ERA and pitched in the World Series for the Tribe that year. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 by the Special Committee on the Negro Leagues. 

1953 Topps baseball card

How to Keep Young
by Satchel Paige
1. Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood.
2. If your stomach disputes you, lie down and pacify it with cool thoughts.
3. Keep the juices flowing by jangling around gently as you move.
4. Go very light on the vices, such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain't restful.
5. Avoid running at all times.
6. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.

Above and following: the 1954 St. Louis Cardinals yearbook.
On the strength of trailblazing general manager Branch Rickey's vast farm system, the Cardinals dominated the National League from the late 1920s through the late 1940s, not only winning nine Pennants, but also finishing second nine times -- four of those second place finishes were by margins of three games or less. They won six World Series as well, surpassed only by the A.L. Yankees. But Rickey departed to Brooklyn after the 1942 season, followed by longtime owner Sam Breadon's sale of the franchise to Fred Saigh in 1947, and the Cardinals abruptly stumbled into a decade-long state of mediocrity beginning in 1950.
There were, however, some bright spots. Stan Musial, one of the few holdovers from the glory days of the 1940s, continued to be a dominant force at the plate until late in the decade. A future Hall-of-Famer, popular Red Schoendienst (pictured on the cover above), one of baseball's premiere second basemen, hit at a robust .342 clip in 1953. 1954 N.L. Rookie of the Year Wally Moon was a dependable hitter and a strong-armed outfielder for the Redbirds (though he was traded to the Dodgers just in time to help propel that team to the 1959 World Championship). In April of 1955, a promising rookie third baseman named Ken Boyer made his debut. A nineteen-year-old outfielder, Curt Flood, was acquired in a trade with Cincinnati at the end of 1957, and in April of 1959 a young pitcher named Bob Gibson made his first appearance for the Cards. Decades-old Sportsman's Park underwent a major renovation in 1953, thanks to new owner August A. Busch, Jr., who, with GM Bing Devine (promoted to that position after the '57 season), would eventually restore the franchise to its more familiar winning ways.

Above and below: color slides of Sportsman's Park, a.k.a. Busch Stadium, St. Louis, 1956.
Courtesy of Mark Bruker.

While delivering the eulogy at Stan Musial’s funeral in January of 2013, Bob Costas reflected on the general perception that Musial, while unequivocally one of baseball’s all time greats -- he's ranked #3 in career Runs Created, #11 in WAR, for starters -- seemed to have been remembered less in recent years than several other of the game’s elite. Costas suggested that Musial lacked only a “signature moment,” or “hook,” to encapsulate his greatness in a way that was “easy for casual fans, or those too young to have seen him play, to grasp.” Babe Ruth had the Called Shot, Joe DiMaggio the 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams was the last man to bat .400, Willie Mays had The Catch, Hank Aaron was the all time home run king. Costas continued, “But what was the ‘hook’ with Stan Musial? Other than the distinctive stance and one of baseball’s best nicknames, it seems that all Stan had going for him was more than two decades of sustained excellence as a ball player, and more than nine decades as a thoroughly decent human being.” 

Above: 1953 Bowman baseball card
Below: Whos Who in the Big Leagues magazine, 1953

Above and below: postcards of Sportsman's Park.

When Hall of Famer Ted Williams wasn't winning American League batting titles (he won six of them) or fishing (he was a world class fly fisherman) he was serving his country, losing nearly five years of his stellar baseball career to military service during WWII and the Korean War (as a U.S. Naval Aviator in the former, a Marine fighter pilot during the latter -- in which he was, incidentally, future astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn's wingman). If he'd had the good fortune to play a full career, barring serious injuries, he would have easily cleared the 600 home run and 3,000 hit plateaus. If his home park had been lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium rather than Fenway Park, it's anybody's guess how many roundtrippers he might have hit.

Above: 1954 Topps baseball card
Below: 1954 Havoline motor oil print ad

Kansas City Municipal Stadium in the late 1950s or early '60s, home of the Athletics. 


Mickey Mantle won the A.L. triple crown in 1956 with a line of 52/130/.353. He also led the league in runs scored (132), total bases (376), and slugging percentage (.705), winning the MVP award unanimously. 

Above: 1955 Bowman baseball card
Below: Sport magazine, October 1956

On October 8, 1956 Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in World Series history. It was the first Major League perfect game in 34 years. 

1956 Topps baseball card

In recent years, a growing number of sportswriters and on air pundits have played fast and loose with the term "dynasty," slapping that label onto any franchise that wins three championships over the course of a few -- or more than a few -- years. The San Francisco Giants win three World Series in five seasons? It's a dynasty, despite the fact that they did not make it to the postseason in those two non-championship years (one of them a sub-.500 campaign). The Chicago Blackhawks win three Stanley Cup Championships in six seasons? Dynasty. In 2015 the New England Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in fourteen years? Hey, it's another dynasty, never mind that a full decade passed between their winning the two most recent of those rings at the time.
Standing in stark contrast to all of this pseudo-royalty are the New York Yankees of 1949 through 1964. In that sixteen-year epoch, which spanned four U.S. presidential administrations, two wars, and the passing of the cultural torch from Sinatra to Elvis to the Beatles, the Yankees were not the American League Champions only twice. Within that span, they won the World Series nine times, including stretches of five in a row and two in a row. That is a dynasty.

Robin Roberts won 20 or more games for the Phillies in six straight seasons (1950-55), peaking at 28 in 1952. The Phils managed winning records in only three of those seasons. 
Roy Campanella won three N.L. MVP Awards (1951, '53, '55) with the Dodgers before his career ended prematurely due to an automobile accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. 
So massive were the shoulders and biceps of Ted "Big Klu" Kluszewski -- who hit 40 or more home runs from 1953 through '55 -- that he took to cutting the sleeves off of his Reds jerseys because they negatively affected his swing. Starting in 1956 their uniforms featured a sleeveless jersey design, alleviating the problem. 
Warren Spahn led the N.L. in complete games a total of nine times, seven of them coming after he reached the age of thirty-six. In an odd coincidence, which is a reflection of is long-term consistency, Spahn, whose uniform number was 21, won 21 games eight times.

Sport magazine, May 1957  

Herb Score was a promising young left-hander for the Cleveland Indians in the late 1950s, leading the A.L. in strikeouts in each of his first two seasons and winning 20 games in his second. Early in the 1957 season, his third in the Majors, he was struck in the face by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougald, breaking his nose and damaging his right eye so badly that he lost vision in it. He missed the remainder of the season, eventually recovering his eyesight. After coming back late in the 1958 season, he tore a tendon in his pitching arm, and after returning from that injury, made alterations to his pitching motion that reduced his velocity. He never regained his initial effectiveness, laboring for five more years in the Majors and winning only seventeen games before retiring after the 1962 season. Bob Feller would later say that, had he not been injured, Score probably would have been one of the greatest left-handed pitchers who ever lived. 

1960 Topps baseball card

Above and below: the last Brooklyn Dodgers yearbook, 1957.

On May 13, 1958, Stan Musial became the first player to reach the 3,000 hit plateau since Paul Waner in 1942, and the second since Tris Speaker and Eddie Collins in 1925. He was only the eighth member of the then very exclusive club, so it was a big deal. When the Cardinals next played in Pittsburgh -- which was near Musial's hometown of Donora, PA -- he was joined by his mother, Mary, and f├¬ted by the home team.

Press photo, 1958

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the transplanted Dodgers played from 1958-61.


Despite Roy Sievers' big bat, the 1957 Senators once again lived up to the ignominious slogan the franchise had been branded with by baseball writer Charles Dryden back in 1904:
"Washington -- first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

Above and below: Senators yearbook, 1958.

On May 26, 1959, Harvey Haddix of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitched twelve perfect innings against the Milwaukee Braves, only to see it all unravel in the 13th via an odd series of incidents, the likes of which the baseball gods sometimes seem to whimsically revel in when least expected. The Braves' Lew Burdette* scattered twelve Pirates hits over thirteen scoreless innings for the win.

Above: 1960 Topps baseball card
Below: 1959 Topps baseball card

* Burdette was a righty; he somewhat famously posed with a left-hander's glove for this card, on which his first name is misspelled. 

When 1960 began, the Cleveland Indians were only five years removed from winning an A.L. record 111 games en route to the 1954 World Series and had finished the '59 season in second place for the sixth time in the previous nine years. Their young, power hitting, rifle-armed right fielder, Rocky Colavito, had just won the A.L. home run crown. Then, in April of 1960, he was dealt to Detroit by infamous general manager Frank "Trader" Lane for 1959 A.L. batting champ Harvey Kuenn. The trade was an unpopular one in Cleveland. 
As things panned out, the Indians would not finish as high as second place again until 1994 and would finish over .500 only six times in that 35-year span. By then, fans of franchises with decades-long dry spells seemed to need a curse on which to hang the blame for their teams' prolonged lack of success (e.g., the Red Sox's "Curse of the Bambino" and the Cubs' "Curse of the Billy Goat"), and Cleveland sports writer Terry Pluto (un)happily obliged the Indians faithful with a 1994 book entitled The Curse of Rocky Colavito: a Loving Look at a 33-Year Slump.
As for Rocky, he thrived for four years in Detroit, continuing to put up big power numbers and helping to boost the Tigers to their first 100-win season in twenty-seven years in 1961. After a year with the Kansas City Athletics he was back with Cleveland in 1965 and was still a force to be reckoned with, leading the league in RBI and walks that year. But in 1966 his batting average dove nearly fifty points to .238 and the next year his stats fell off precipitously across the board. He retired from baseball after the 1968 season at the age of 34.

Sport magazine, April 1959

 Chicago's Comiskey Park, opened in 1910, would host World Series in 1917, '19 and '59. After their loss to the Dodgers in 1959, the ChiSox would make one more trip to the postseason, 1983's ALCS, before the park's demolition following the 1990 season.

Above and below: postcards, circa 1950s.

"Want to steal second? Go ahead . . . make my day."
Hall of Famer Nellie Fox, MVP second baseman for the 1959 A.L. Champion Chicago White Sox, endorses a pellet gun in a 1960 ad.

Despite dropping to third place in 1960, then fourth in the A.L. standings since winning the Pennant in 1959, the White Sox of 1961 at the very least maintained bragging rights as Chicago's marquee team, outdrawing their North Side N.L. rivals in home attendance by nearly 2-to-1 in that span. They also could boast of a future Hall of Fame keystone combination.

Above and below: White Sox yearbook, 1961.

Hall of Fame shortstop Ernie Banks won back-to-back N.L. MVP awards in 1958-59, despite playing for the lowly Cubs. 

Above: 1959 Topps baseball card
Below: 1961 Topps baseball card

Milwaukee County Stadium, home of the Braves, circa 1954. 


Above and below: 1960 Milwaukee Braves yearbook.
The Braves won back-to-back N.L. pennants in 1957-58, taking the World Championship in '57. In 1959 they finished the regular season tied for 1st, but lost a best-of-three Pennant playoff to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Key to their success were Hall of Famers Henry Aaron (1957 MVP, all-time home run leader when he retired in 1976), Warren Spahn (1957 Cy Young Award winner, all-time leader in wins among left-handers with 363), and Eddie Mathews (the sixth player to reach the 500 home run plateau).

Above: Hank Aaron's 1960 Topps baseball card
Below: Eddie Mathews' 1965 Topps baseball card

The Pittsburgh Pirates called picturesque Forbes Field home from 1909 to 1970.

Above: Postcard, circa 1960

Above and following: the 1961 Pirates yearbook.
In the 1960 World Series, the Pirates (who had finished no higher than 7th place in the 8-team National League from 1950 through '57 and hadn't won a Fall Classic since 1925) defeated the mighty New York Yankees (who outhit the Bucs .338 to .265, outpitched them 3.54 to 7.11, and outscored them 55-27) on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7 by Bill Mazeroski (whose reputation lay with his stellar defense, not with hitting the long ball). For Mazeroski, the Pirates, and their fans it was the stuff dreams are made of. For the Yankees it was the bitterest of defeats; Mickey Mantle, still feeling its sting twenty-five years later when writing his autobiography, referred to it as the only Series he'd participated in in which he felt the better team had lost. The home run, which incidentally capped an exciting, back-and-forth battle royal that alternately seemed hopeless for both teams at various points, has grown in stature over the years and is still the only Game 7 walk-off homer in Postseason history. 
For decades, no live footage of the legendary game was thought to have survived, until, fifty years later, a kinescope of the entire game was found in the basement of the home of Bing Crosby, who in 1960 was a part owner of the Pirates. It has since been made available on DVD.

Bobby Richardson, with 12 RBI, a grand slam, and a .367 average vs. Pittsburgh, became the only player from a losing team ever to be named World Series MVP. 

1963 Topps baseball card

Pirates co-owner Bing Crosby's 1960 season pass to all N.L. ballparks.

The great Mickey Mantle, who played through countless injuries, ranks 6th in career OPS+ (On Base plus Slugging Pct., adjusted to the player's ballpark(s)).

Above: Sport magazine, August 1960
Below: Paperback book, 1964

"The M&M Boys," Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, captured the imagination of the American public in 1961 when each made a run at Babe Ruth's hallowed single season home run record of 60. The boys were captured on the cover of Life magazine in August of that year. Maris would ultimately prevail in surpassing The Babe--to the disgruntlement of many biased fans and writers--after injuries benched Mantle late in the season.

Above and below: 1962 Cincinnati Reds yearbook.
The Reds won their first Pennant in 21 years in 1961, only to be summarily trounced in the World Series by the mighty Yankees in five games. Better things lay ahead for the Queen City's baseball franchise.

Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in the early 1960s -- the new home of the Giants, who had moved west, along with the Dodgers, in 1958. 


Above and below: the Giants' 1963 yearbook. 
They were the N.L. Champs in '62, but fell to the New York Yankees in seven games in the World Series. Down by one with the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th inning of game 7, Willie McCovey hit a screaming line drive toward right field, but Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson reached up and snagged it to dramatically end the Series. The Giants, though they boasted several quality teams over the next few decades, would not win a World Series while representing of the city of San Francisco until 2010.

After years of playing in the shadows of his teammates Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey came into his own in the late '60s, leading the N.L. in both HR's and RBI in consecutive seasons. In 1969 he was voted the MVP. 

1963 Topps baseball card

Above and following: the Yankees' 1962 yearbook.

Above and following: the New York Yankees' 1963 yearbook. 
The most storied and successful franchise in all of professional sports, the Yankees fielded some of their most formidable teams in the early 1960s. Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was a three-time A.L. MVP (1956, '57, and '62), and after 1964 would own the World Series record of 18 home runs. Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's single season home run record with 61 in 1961 and won back-to-back MVP awards ('60 and '61). Hall of Famer and 1961 Cy Young Award recipient Whitey Ford recorded one of the highest lifetime winning percentages of any pitcher (.690). Yogi Berra, another three-time MVP ('51, '54-'55) and Hall of Famer, is considered one of the greatest catchers ever to don the "tools of ignorance." Berra's replacement behind the plate, Elston Howard, was yet another Yankee to take home the MVP award, in 1963. Managed by Ralph Houk from 1961-63, this incarnation of the Bronx Bombers capped off a dynasty in which the franchise won an astounding 14 A.L. Pennants and 9 World Championships from 1949 through 1964.

Roger Maris' 1962 Topps baseball card. 

Whitey Ford, Sports Illustrated magazine, September 30, 1963

The Yanks' Big 3 model Big Yank men's clothing. 

Magazine ad, 1962

Yankee Stadium, "The House That Ruth Built."


Frank Robinson is the only player to have won the Most Valuable Player Award in both leagues, with the N.L. Reds in 1961 and the A.L. Orioles in 1966. In 1975 he became the first African American manager in Major League history, as player-manager for the Cleveland Indians.

1964 Kahn's Wieners card

Cardinal legend Stan "The Man" Musial, who was tearing up the National League at a .330 clip at age 41, shared the September 1962 cover of Sport magazine with teammate Ken Boyer, who had hit over .300 in five of his previous six seasons.

Above and following: 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers yearbook. 
After moving to L.A. in 1958, the Dodgers built upon their previous success in Brooklyn with a World Championship in 1959, while playing their home games in the spacious Los Angeles Coliseum. In 1963 they won another championship and occupied a brand new, state of the art ballpark. Stars included 1962 stolen base champion (104, then the MLB record) and MVP Maury Wills (pictured on the cover above), 1962 and '63 batting champ Tommy Davis, and '62 Cy Young winner, Hall of Famer Don Drysdale.

Tommy Davis' 1962 Topps baseball card.

Don Drysdale's 1963 Fleer baseball card.

After a rocky start to his big league career, Sandy Koufax became perhaps the finest pitcher of his generation. He would lead the National League in wins and shutouts three times each, in strikeouts four times, and in ERA five consecutive times, from 1962-66.
1963 was arguably his best season, as he led both leagues in Wins (25), ERA (1.88), Shutouts (11), Strikeouts (306), FIP (1.85), and WHIP (0.875), along with a career high in Wins Above Replacement (10.7). He also won the N.L. MVP Award, the MLB Cy Young Award, and was the World Series MVP.

Above: 1963 Fleer baseball card
Below: Life magazine, August 2, 1963
Sport magazine, September 1963

True's Baseball Yearbook, 1964

1963 Dodgers team photo.
Behind the brilliant pitching of Sandy Koufax (2-0, 23 SO in 18 IP, 0.833 WHIP), the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 Series.

Brand new Dodger Stadium. 


Brand new Shea Stadium, circa 1964, home of New York's brand new N.L. franchise, the expansion Mets. 


 As Houston was the home of NASA's Mission Control Center, and the U.S.-Soviet space race was in full swing, the city's two-year-old expansion team went from an Old West theme to a Space Age one by changing its name from the Colt .45s to the Astros in 1964. The Houston Astrodome became the latest "Eighth Wonder of the World" upon its completion that year, ushering in the era of the domed stadium.

Postcard, 1970s

Above and below: 1964 Topps baseball cards

The 1964 Cardinals yearbook, featuring the All-Star St. Louis infield of 1963 on its cover: 3B Ken Boyer, SS Dick Groat, 2B Julian Javier, 1B Bill White.

Above and below: 1965 Cardinals yearbook. 
Behind the tireless pitching of Bob Gibson, the power at the plate and hot corner fielding of MVP Ken Boyer, plus the hitting and speed of midseason acquisition Lou Brock, the Cardinals mounted a stunning come-from-behind late season surge to win the Pennant on the final day of the regular season before effectively ending the Yankee dynasty in the 1964 World Series.

The Cardinals' five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove first baseman Bill White would become the first African American to serve as a MLB league president, occupying that position for the National League from 1989-1994.

Dick Groat, the N.L.'s MVP when with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1960, was a key factor in the Cardinals' 1964 championship season. 

Above: 1964 Topps baseball card
Below: Signed photo  

1964 National League Most Valuable Player Ken Boyer. 

Street and Smith's Baseball Yearbook, 1965 

Cardinals center fielder Curt Flood, who won seven consecutive Gold Gloves. 

Signed photo

1964 Cardinals team photo.

1964 World Series ticket.

1964 World Series program, St. Louis version.

Above and following: Baseball signed by the 1965 St. Louis Cardinals players and coaches -- most of whom were on the 1964 World Championship team.

All items are from the collection of Jon Oye, except the press photo of Dusty Rhodes (United Press photo, from the Sport magazine archives), the 1956 color slides of Busch Stadium, which belong to my friend Mark Bruker, the large format photo of Forbes Field, which is from, and the chotchkes in the Dodger and Yankee montages.   
This page is not affiliated with Major League Baseball. All original photos or copyrighted material remain the property of their respective copyright owners.
This page is not meant to represent a comprehensive history of Major League Baseball during the 1950s into the 1960s by any stretch. It's basically just a showcase for a portion of my baseball memorabilia collection, which I have taken the liberty of augmenting with a few facts, figures, and comments that fans and lay people alike will hopefully find somewhat informative and/or interesting as they browse through the pictures.

No comments: