By Tom Knight
Brooklyn Baseball Historian
The Giants Win The Series! — Headlines and Highlights of 1954 by Mike Getz is one of the most enjoyable baseball books I’ve read in many moons! Published by Author House, it is 267 pages of solid baseball writing, with great photos of the three local teams and other stars of that era, and it is available in hardcover ($15) and soft-cover ($12).
I remember that 1954 season as if it were last week. I had been living in Los Angeles for the first half of that season and, one afternoon in downtown L.A., I stopped for a shoe shine. They had a Giants-Dodgers game on the radio, coming from the Polo Grounds in New York. As usual, it was exciting, and I said to myself, “What am I doing here?” In a few days, I was on my way back east!
There was nothing like a good old-fashioned pennant race. And when the Giants and Dodgers were going at it, it was something special! That was when each league had eight teams and they had a 154-game schedule. Each team played each other 22 times. They played 11 games on the road and 11 at home. So, the Giants and Dodgers played each other 11 times at the Polo Grounds.
Giants fans would come over to Brooklyn and Dodgers fans would come to the Harlem Horseshoe. It was baseball’s greatest rivalry. After all, both teams were from the same city! And the teams with the best won-lost records played in the World Series. They even had a few days of rest before the fall classic got underway. There were no playoffs or wild card gimmicks in those days.
So, 1954 was a very interesting year. The Dodgers, who had won the National League pennant in 1952 and 1953, hoped to repeat, and the Yankees were trying for their sixth consecutive world championship. The N.L. race was tight from start to finish. The Giants led all season long, but Leo Durocher, their manager, kept the team on its toes. Walter Alston, in his first year as the Dodgers’ skipper, did a great job, staying close and almost catching the Giants a few times.
I was at Ebbets Field that night in late September when the Giants clinched the pennant. Dodger-killer Sal “The Barber” Maglie did his usual excellent work. So, the Giants finished five games ahead of Brooklyn with 97 wins.
In addition to a great pennant race, the local fans were treated to a contest for the batting title between three great hitting outfielders. Duke Snider led for most of the season, but the Giants’ Willie Mays and Don Mueller came on stronger in the closing days. Mays won with a .345 average, Mueller was second with .342 and the Duke hit .341.
Casey Stengel’s Yankees won 103 games, but that was only good for second place as manager Al Lopez of a great Cleveland Indians team won 111 games!
The Indians were heavy favorites to take the World Series. The Giants pulled off one of the greatest upsets in World Series history by sweeping Cleveland in four straight games! It’s all brought to life again in Mike Getz’s great book The Giants Win the Series!