The grudge World Series, a postscript

The 1958 Yankess and the 1958 Braves were very evenly matched, and the World Series certainly could have gone either way. However, the reasons why the Yankees prevailed jump out of the statistical summary.

First, home runs. The Braves hit only three of them. Their two great sluggers, Mathews and Aaron, who had combined for four homers in the 1957 Series, didn’t contribute any in 1958. Meanwhile, Hank Bauer himself out-homered the Braves with four, and the Yankees total was a remarkable 10. Given that edge, it’s a bit surprising that New York outscored Milwaukee by only four runs.

Second, relief pitching. Milwaukee’s was virtually non-existent, and I mean that literally. Braves relievers pitched only six innings in seven games. Duren alone pitched nine plus innings of relief, while Ditmar and Turley chipped in a combined ten innings. In these 19 plus innings of non mop-up relief, the Yankees surrendered only three runs. In the roughly 14 innings of relief by Yankee pitchers in the crucial Games 6 and 7, they yielded only two runs.

Fred Haney’s unwillingness to use relievers with the game on the line was really an extension of his extreme reluctance to use any pitchers other than Spahn and Burdette. Remarkably, the two workhorses combined to pitch 51 of the 63 innings in the Series. Spahn pitched to a 2.20 ERA, but Burdette’s was 5.64. Yet almost half of the earned runs he yielded involved runners that a reliever, not Burdette, should have faced.

If Buhl had been available, Haney surely would have used him, as he did in 1957. If Buhl had been effective, it’s very likely that the Braves would have won the Series. But then, if Skowron hadn’t been injured in the 1957 Series, the Yanks might have prevailed.

Stengel distributed his innings far more evenly. His top two pitchers, Ford and Turley, handled only 27.2 of the 62.1. But actually, Stengel was less egalitarian than normal. In 1958, he used only three different starters. In each of the three previous Series (all of which also went seven games), he had used five. It seems that in 1958, Stengel found a happy medium between his normal self and Haney.

But Stengel’s real service consisted of pulling Ford and Larsen early in Games 6 and 7. Those decisions gave his team a chance to win that they might well have lacked had Stengel been slower with the hook.

1958 was the last Series appearance for the Milwaukee Braves, and the franchise would not return to the Fall Classic for 33 years. In 1959, they finished the season tied with an inferior Dodger team, which then beat them in a playoff. I believe that Bill James has called Haney’s management of the 1959 club one of the worst performances ever. Hank Aaron is justified in bemoaning the fact that the Braves of this era came away with only two pennants and one championship.

For the Yankees, as I mentioned yesterday, 1958 was their seventh championship in ten seasons. And after each of the years in which they missed out, the Yankees obtained revenge the very next season (against Cleveland in 1955, Brooklyn in 1956, and Milwaukee in 1958).

The Yankees would miss the Series in 1959, but then start another streak in which they reached the Series five straight times.

As for Stengel and Haney, these two 1920s era ball players would both finish their careers with expansion clubs, Stengel as the manager of the dreadful New York Mets; Haney as a reasonably successful (under the circumstances) general manager of the Los Angeles Angels.

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