For months, baseball has felt frustratingly out of reach. But real action just weeks away, the season might soon deliver the game’s most glamorous rivalry on its biggest stage: the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But only the rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers offers a postseason-rich, bicoastal history, studded with many of the brightest stars in baseball’s all-time firmament.
The Yankees and Dodgers have squared off in 65 playoff games over 11 World Series match-ups. Outside these two teams, only six other franchises have played in 11 World Series total, let alone against a single opponent.
In recent seasons, both teams have been inching toward a return to the pinnacle of the sport. After four straight playoff appearances from 2013 to 2016, the Dodgers broke through to the Fall Classic in back-to-back years, only to lose to the Astros in 2017 and the Red Sox in 2018.
While the Yankees have been less successful than their L.A. counterparts of late — coming no closer than one game away from the World Series in 2017 — the offseason acquisition of Gerrit Cole has placed them in pole position to emerge from the AL this October.
In fact, the two clubs are the betting favorites to represent their respective leagues in the World Series. If they fulfill Vegas’ expectations, their 2020 meeting will write a new chapter into the storied history of the Yankees-Dodgers rivalry.
While both franchises occupied New York City for decades, they were strangers on the field, playing in separate circuits. Thus their rivalry really began in 1941, when the Bombers and the Brooklyn Dodgers met in the World Series for the first time.
Led by legends like Joe DiMaggio, Bill Dickey, and Red Ruffing, the Yankees prevailed in five over Brooklyn. This win in the inaugural Subway Series sowed seeds of contention between the two clubs that would bleed into the next decade.
From 1947 to 1956, the Yankees and Dodgers squared off six different times in the Fall Classic. Reinforced by stars like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle, the Yankees captured five of them.
To do it, they had to overcome a raft of Hall of Fame talents like Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. Their success over such greats made the Yankees the kings of New York.
It was a moniker for which the Dodgers would soon no longer be eligible. In 1957 they moved to Los Angeles, altering the shape and course of baseball history.
Though they left Brooklyn behind, they hadn’t given up their October fight against the Yankees. They returned to face New York in the 1963 World Series, and this time the Dodgers asserted their dominance. They won four straight against the Bombers, powered by the brilliance of Don Drysdale and series MVP Sandy Koufax.
And though the following season the Yankees would return to the World Series — a loss to the Cardinals — their sweep at the hands of the Dodgers signaled the beginning of the end for their decades-long dynasty.
While the Dodgers appeared in three more World Series the next dozen years, winning one, it would take the Yankees until 1977 to rearm and reclaim their place as AL champs. And of course, they found the Dodgers waiting for them.
Thurman Munson and company were ready. They prevailed in six, and the victory was a prime example of the Yankees’ megawatt star power, as Reggie Jackson sealed the series win and his own reputation as Mr. October with an iconic three-homer performance in Game Six.
The two teams met again the following October, and again the Yankees triumphed. Ron Guidry out-dueled Don Sutton twice to cap his Cy Young Award-winning season, helping restore the sense of superiority the club had built over the Dodgers in the rivalry’s early days.
But when the tug-of-war resumed in October of 1981 (a season, like 2020, that did not run the full 162 games) the glory proved fleeting.
After dropping the first two, the Dodgers roared back to claim four straight, capping their season of Fernandomania with a championship. The Yankees wouldn’t vie for another title that decade, while the Dodgers claimed a World Series in 1988.
That 1981 showdown was the last time the franchises met in the postseason. But now both teams appear to be at their peak.
The aforementioned Cole signing provides an elite ace to complement the Yankees homer-happy lineup led by Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez. And the Dodgers’ lineup has paired former AL MVP and Yankees rival Mookie Betts with reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, to back up a terrific rotation headlined by the stalwart Clayton Kershaw.
Both rosters are aglitter with marquee names, and their fan bases are ravenous for success. It’s the perfect recipe for another bitter October feud.
Hurdles still exist. Before either team reaches the postseason gauntlet, they have to navigate massive uncertainty due to coronavirus, potential injury, and uneven performances over a small sample of games. But after a summer that has left a bitter taste, a rejuvenation of a rivalry with roots in classic baseball lore might be just what the sport could use.
Gone are the days of the road to the World Series perennially running through a New York City borough, be it Brooklyn or the Bronx. And the height of New York-Los Angeles tension is decades old.
But with prime-age stars on either side who are worthy of this match-up’s illustrious tradition, 2020 would be the perfect time to rekindle the rivalry.