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The Yankees Champions Series: 1952

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Billy Martin saved the day in a tightly-fought World Series against the crosstown rivals, their fourth title in a row.

A Catch That Counted

After the Yankees defeated the crosstown rival New York Giants in the 1951 World Series, superstar center fielder Joe DiMaggio retired. The 1951 season, however, was also notable for the Major League debut of a certain 19-year-old outfielder named Mickey Mantle. 1952 would be the breakout party for the “Commerce Comet,” as he would go on to lead the Yankees to their fourth straight World Series title, tying the organization’s own record, previously set from 1936 to 1939.

Regular Season Record: 95-59

Manager: Casey Stengel

Top Hitter by WAR: Mickey Mantle (6.4)

Top Pitcher by WAR: Allie Reynolds (4.7)

World Series: Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-3

In what had become a recurring theme, the Yankees boasted one of the American League’s best lineups in 1952. Led by future Hall of Famers Mantle (.311/.394/.530, 162 OPS+) and Yogi Berra (.273/.358/.478, 137 OPS+), the Bronx Bombers posted a 112 team OPS+ and scored 4.72 runs per game; both ranked second in the AL behind only Cleveland. Moreover, of the nine starters listed on Baseball-Reference, only three — second baseman Billy Martin, shortstop Phil Rizzuto, and third baseman Gil McDougald — had an OPS+ below 132. Considering the fact that McDougald had won the Rookie of the Year Award with a 142 OPS+ the year prior, and it’s clear that the Yankees lineup, top to bottom, had scarcely any room for opposing pitchers to get comfortable.

With their offensive performance trailing Cleveland’s, it was the pitching staff that brought home the pennant for the 1952 Yankees. The team finished with a 3.14 ERA and allowed just 3.62 runs per game, both tops in the AL, and they ranked in the top three in WHIP (1.319, 3rd) despite a 3.8 BB/9 that was better only than the Boston Red Sox’s 4.1 BB/9.

A trio of familiar veteran starters — 35-year-old Allie Reynolds (20-8, 2.06 ERA), 33-year-old Vic Raschi (16-6, 2.78 ERA), and 34-year-old Eddie Lopat (10-5, 2.53 ERA) — anchored the staff, with Raschi earning a few down-ballot MVP votes and Reynolds finishing as the runner-up to Philadelphia Athletics ace Bobby Shantz. The Yankees, in fact, ended up with the top three runners-up for the AL MVP Award, with Reynolds, Mantle, and Berra finishing in that order.

Despite entering the season as the defending champs, the Yankees struggled out of the gate, entering the month of June in fifth place with an 18-17 record. During June, the team simply forgot how to lose, going 21-9 on the month and catapulting them to first place in the league. There they would remain for the rest of the season, despite the fact that a plethora of teams, primarily Cleveland, were at their heels the entire time; in fact, if it were not for an incredibly hot finish to the season — from August 26th on, the Yankees went 22-6 — they would have ceded the pennant, for Cleveland went 22-8 in that span.

Hold on to the AL pennant they did, and for the fourth time in their histories, the Yankees came face-to-face with their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers. After a two-year absence from the World Series, Brooklyn won the NL pennant by a full 4.5 games over the Giants. Led by a Hall of Fame middle infield of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers scored more runs than anyone in Major League Baseball (5.00 runs/game), while Carl Erskine, Billy Loes, and Rookie of the Year winner Joe Black fronted a pitching staff whose 3.53 ERA and 3.89 runs/game were second only to the Philadelphia Phillies in the Senior Circuit.

Needless to say, this matchup had all the makings of a classic, and boy, did it deliver. The Dodgers jumped out to an early lead, with Black throwing a complete game to beat Reynolds and the Yankees by the score of a 4-2, in the process becoming the first African-American player to earn a win in a World Series game. In what became a pattern in this series, the Yankees would tie it up the following day on the back of Raschi and a five-run sixth inning. Brooklyn took Game 3, the Yankees tied it up in Game 4, Brooklyn took a 3-2 series lead in Game 5, and the Yankees answered by winning Game 6 to take the series the distance.

Game 7 pitted Lopat, who had surrendered five runs in 8.1 innings in Game 3, against Black, who had thrown a two-run complete game in Game 1 and seven innings in Game 4. It would be his third start in seven days (because there was no need for travel, there were no days off in the series). After both starters traded zeroes for three innings, the Yankees got on the board in the fourth, plating one run on a Johnny Mize single to left field.

In the bottom of the inning, however, Lopat found himself in hot water quickly. After Duke Snider led off with a single to right field, both Robinson and Roy Campanella attempted to bunt him over; both runners, however, reached base on the bunts, loading the bases. Casey Stengel took the ball from Lopat and brought in his ace Reynolds for his second relief appearance in as many days. Reynolds limited the damage, allowing just one run (off a Gil Hodges lineout to left field) in the fourth.

The Yankees quickly retook the lead in the top of the fifth, courtesy of a leadoff home run by Gene Woodling, but a Billy Cox double and a Reese single once again tied the score in the bottom half. A bomb from Mantle once again gave them a lead in the sixth, and this time, Reynolds worked around a leadoff single to throw a zero up on the board and keep the Yankees ahead. Mantle extended the lead to 4-2 in the seventh, driving in Gil McDougald on a two-out single into left-center field.

It almost came crashing down in the bottom of the inning, however. New pitcher Raschi — the Game 6 starter — walked the first batter he faced, Carl Furillo. After retiring Rocky Nelson on a pop fly to Rizzuto, he allowed a single to Cox and walked Reese to load the bases. Stengel had seen enough, and with the series on the line, he brought Bob Kuzava on in relief. Kuzava immediately got Snider to pop out to third, setting the stage for Billy Martin to make arguably the most underrated game-saving catch of all time.

With the runners going on the pitch, Robinson hit a high pop fly into the middle of No Man’s Land in the infield. Recognizing that nary a soul was in a position to get the ball — possibly because nobody quite knew where the ball was — Martin charged in from essentially short right field to make a running catch. Had he not caught that ball, at least two runs would have scored, tying the game.

Instead, the Yankees held on to that 4-2 lead, and Kuzava proceeded to shut the door over the final two innings. For the fourth year in a row, the Yankees were champions again:

The 1952 season may have been the middle of a dynasty, but it was also a liminal moment for the organization. Looking back, it was the team’s 50th season in New York, dating back to their time as the Highlanders. Going forward, it was the first time the team’s games were broadcast exclusively on WPIX, which would be their exclusive home until 1978 and part-time home until 1998.