1948 was an oddly rough year for the New York Yankees. After winning the World Series in 1947, the Yankees finished third in the American League with a 94-60 record and were manhandled by the Boston Red Sox throughout the season. Off the field, though, a tragic moment overshadowed the on-field disappointment: Babe Ruth, the most iconic baseball player of all-time, passed away in August 1948 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
1949 marked the beginning of a new era of Yankees baseball. In a move that surprised many, the Yankees did not renew manager Bucky Harris’ contract at the end of the 1948 season after just two seasons with the club, choosing instead to hire successful minor league manager Casey Stengel despite posting just one winning record as a manager at the major league level. Little did they know at the time, but the Yankees were about to begin one of the most dominant stretches in baseball’s storied history, resulting in 14 pennants and 9 World Series championships — including a remarkable five titles in a row — between 1949 and 1964.
Regular Season Record: 97-57-1
Manager: Casey Stengel
Top Hitter by WAR: Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich (4.3)
Top Pitcher by WAR: Joe Page (4.4)
World Series: Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-1
The new-look Yankees hit the ground running in April, going 10-2 to kick off the season. They finished May and began June with a six-game win streak that saw their 30-12 record vault them into a six-game lead in the American League. They faltered a little bit over their next 23 games, but buoyed by DiMaggio’s long-awaited season debut after a heel injury and in keeping with the trend of beginning and ending months strong, the Yankees finished June and began July with a five-game win streak. They ultimately went on a 9-3 run before the All-Star break and concluded the first half with a 50-27 record.
The second half, however, was not quite as successful. The Yankees finished the latter portion with a 47-30 record and ended up winning the pennant, but a late-July and August slide set the stage for what was truly one of the most remarkable regular season finishes in team history.
Entering October, the Yankees were one game behind the AL-leading Boston Red Sox, managed by former Yankees manager Joe McCarthy and led by Ted Williams, Mel Parnell, and DiMaggio’s younger brother Dom. That’s when the Sox came to New York for a two-game series against their rivals to end the season. The Red Sox needed just one win to clinch the pennant, while the Yankees needed the sweep.
In the first game, the Yankees had a comeback for the ages. By the third inning, the Red Sox were already up 4-0 on three hits. In the fourth and fifth innings, the Yankees struck for two runs each, tying the game at four. In the bottom of the eighth, Yankee outfielder Johnny Lindell took Red Sox reliever Joe Dobson deep to left field to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead. Ace reliever Joe Page closed out the game by throwing a clean ninth. The Yankees and Red Sox were officially tied in the standings going into the last game of the season. I want to give a special shoutout here to a herculean effort from Page, who came in in relief and threw 6.1 innings of one-hit ball to keep the game within reach for the Yankees.
The second game of the series was just as dramatic. The Yankees got out to a fast 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first and, thanks to a four-run eighth inning, entered the ninth inning up 5-0. After a walk, a wild pitch, and a single, however, the Red Sox had something going. Bobby Doerr tripled with one out to score two and, after inducing a flyball out, Vic Raschi gave up a RBI single to Billy Goodman. With the tying runner at the plate and two outs, Raschi induced a second flyball out to end the game. Despite the scare, the Yankees won the pennant.
The Yankees would go on to once again meet the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series. The Dodgers, led by superstars Jackie Robinson, Don Newcombe, and Pee Wee Reese, had an identical 97-57 record en route to also winning the pennant by a mere one game.
The Yankees opened the series at home with a 1-0 victory over the Dodgers. Newcombe took the mound for Brooklyn, allowing just one run and five hits over nine innings. Unfortunately for Newcombe, Allie Reynolds was just as good, allowing just two hits over nine scoreless innings. Surprisingly, these gems aren’t the most interesting part, though. Entering the bottom of the ninth deadlocked in a 0-0 tie, Henrich stepped up to the plate and hit the game-winning home run for the Yankees.
It was the first walk-off home run in World Series history, and it was off the bat of a man nicknamed “Ol’ Reliable.” Here’s the most exciting call you will ever hear:
Game 2 was another pitching clinic. The Dodgers rode a six-hit shutout from Preacher Roe and an RBI double from Jackie Robinson to a 1-0 victory. Interestingly, this victory marked the first time in World Series history that multiple games finished with a 1-0 score line.
Game 3 saw a third dramatic, late-inning finish in just eight days. Entering the ninth inning leading 4-1, two solo shots made the game 4-3 and gave the Dodgers some newfound life. Fortunately for New York, Page was once again able to shut the door and the Yankees escaped with a 2-1 series lead.
In Game 4, the Yankees took a 6-0 lead into the sixth inning, when the Dodgers scored four runs on the back of multiple RBI singles. That was it for the scoring, though, and the Yankees took a 3-1 series lead into Game 5.
The Yankees exploded right out of the gate in Game 5, scoring two runs in the first inning off of Dodgers starter Rex Barney. By the time the Dodgers scored their first run, the Yankees had already put five on the board. By the end of the sixth, the Yankees had a 10-2 lead. A four-run seventh inning from the Dodgers made New York sweat a little, but it was too little, too late for Brooklyn as the Yankees eventually went on to win the game 10-6 and the World Series four games to one.
Stop me if you’ve hard this one before, but Joe Page once again shut the door on the Dodgers in the ninth to seal the deal on the Yankees’ 12th championship in team history.
How about that for a debut managerial season, eh? The 1949 season marked the second World Series victory for the Yankees over the Brooklyn Dodgers in three years, and ushered in one of the greatest runs in professional sports history.