The 1959 World Series, Game Six — improbable champions

Sometimes you hear it said that baseball’s post-season reveals weaknesses in teams that went undetected during the regular season. I’ve never really subscribed to this view. The 162 game season (and its 154 game predecessor) should expose any true weaknesses. The much shorter post-season (only four to seven games in the old days) has more to do with chance than with revealing hidden truths about a squad.
On the other hand, I believe the post-season can reveal things about managers who, due to the pressure and the format of an elimination series, can find themselves managing quite differently than they did during the regular season. Sometimes, to put it bluntly, they panic. And, at the risk of contradicting my opening paragraph, when managers panic in the post-season, their decisions tend to reflect their innermost fears – justified or not – about weaknesses in their squad that were not apparent during the regular season.
We have seen how Milwaukee Braves manager Fred Haney tried to get through the 1958 World Series by having Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette pitch 51 of his team’s 63 innings. It didn’t work, nor should Haney have believed it would.
In 1959, Al Lopez went into the World Series with six pitchers in whom he had real confidence – Early Wynn, Bob Shaw, Dick Donovan, Billy Pierce, Jerry Staley, and Turk Lown. That’s a little thin, but probably not fatally so. By way of comparison, his opposite number, Walter Alston, had perhaps four pitchers he trusted greatly – Don Drysdale, Roger Craig, Johnny Podres, and Larry Sherry — and perhaps three more he trusted up to a point — Sandy Koufax, Stan Williams, and Clem Labine. This year, the Yankees and Phillies both seemed to have about eight pitchers they mostly trusted.
When relievers Staley and Lown struggled early in the Series, Lopez seemed to lose faith in them, even though during the regular season they had formed one of the best relief tandems in the history of baseball to that point. Facing elimination in Game 5, Lopez had used Donovan and Pierce to relieve Shaw, instead of Staley and Lown. This meant that in Game Six, Lopez felt constrained to hand the ball to Wynn, age 39, even though he had only two days rest.
The result was disastrous. In the third inning Wynn gave up a two-run homer to Snider (this was the 11th and final home run for this Dodgers legend, who had not started the previous three games). In the fourth, Demeter singled, Roseboro sacrificed him to second, Wills singled him in, and Podres, the pitcher, doubled in Wills.
Lopez then brought in Donovan (not Staley or Lown), even though he had started Game Three and relieved in Game Five. Donovan walked Gilliam and allowed a double to Neal. After Moon then homered, the Dodgers were up 8-0.
The White Sox rallied in the bottom of the inning. Kluszewski smashed a three-run homeer off of Podres and the White Sox then loaded the bases with two out. However, Larry Sherry, who had helped load them, retired Aparicio to end the inning. Sherry gave up only three hits over the final five innings, and the Dodgers cruised home to victory, 9-3.
For the Dodgers it was an improbable championship. They had finished seventh in 1958, and in 1959 had only the fifth best run differential in the majors. I haven’t checked, but I’d be surprised if, in the days of 16 teams and no post-season other than the World Series, any team ever won a championship with the fifth best run differential. The Dodgers could also count themselves lucky that the Yankees imploded in 1959. The 1958 and 1960 Yankees would have been favored against the ’59 Dodgers. But then, so were the White Sox, if I remember correctly.
The 1959 championship came at the exact mid-point between the Dodgers’ previous one in 1955 and their next one in 1963. The ’59 team was a mixture of holdovers from ’55, such as “Boys of Summer” Hodges, Furillo, and Snider; mainstays of the 1963 team like Drysdale, Koufax, Roseboro, and Wills; and solid but unspectacular players for whom this would be their only championship with the Dodgers, e.g., Demeter, Neal, and Larker. Larry Sherry, who won two games and saved the other two Dodgers wins in this Series would play only a bit part on the 1963 team. The only Dodgers who contributed meaningfully to all three championships were Podres, Gilliam, and of course Alston, the skipper.
For the White Sox, 1959 was a great success despite the World Series failure. They had won the pennant for the first time since 1919, the year of the Black Sox, and in doing so had broken the Yankees streak of four straight pennants.
The future didn’t look great, however. Of Lopez’s core pitchers, only Shaw was under age 30, and Wynn and Staley were 39 and 38, respectively. Among the eight non-pitchers who started most often in the Series, only Landis and Aparicio were under 30.
The White Sox would double down on aging veterans in 1960. Hoping to make one more run at a championship, they added Minnie Minoso (37) and Roy Sievers (33). The result was another very good team, probably better than the 1959 version, but not quite good enough to stave off the resurgent Yankees. New York finished 10 games ahead of Chicago, albeit with an almost identical run differential.
The White Sox would not make it back to the post-season until 1983 and their next World Series (which they won) was not until 2005 – a wait that exceeded by six years the seemingly interminable one that had ended in 1959.


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