The Yankees were really a privileged franchise in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1920s and 1930s, they had Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and in the 1930s and 1940s, they had Joe DiMaggio patrolling center field. When the latter retired in 1951, another franchise icon was ready to take over and start another run of greatness for the organization.
Mickey Mantle made his MLB debut in 1951, and the Yankees won the World Series in his first two professional seasons. In 1953, the team captured its fifth consecutive Fall Classic, an unprecedented feat to this day, and it would be the third in a row for a young Mantle.
Regular season record: 99-52
Manager: Casey Stengel
Top hitter by rWAR: Mickey Mantle (5.8)
Top pitcher by rWAR: Eddie Lopat (3.1)
World Series result: Yankees defeat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4-2
The Yankees’ five-year winning streak would end with their 1953 triumph over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series, but the fact that they didn’t win it all in 1954 doesn’t mean the franchise took a nosedive at that point. They proceeded to lift the trophy once again in 1956, 1958, 1961, and 1962.
But back to 1953. Surprisingly, Mantle wasn’t the most dominant hitter in the lineup despite a very good .295/.398/.497 triple slash, 21 home runs, 105 runs, 92 RBI, and a 146 wRC+. At that point, he was a couple of years away from his true peak (a 200+ wRC+ monster who carried the Yankees for more than a decade).
That 1953 team had a collection of talented batters. Among 16 hitters with at least 50 plate appearances, 12 had an OPS+ over 100. Outfielder Gene Woodling had one of the finest seasons of his career, with a .306/.429/.468 line, 10 home runs, a 151 wRC+, and a 4.3 rWAR in only 125 games, while legendary catcher Yogi Berra (.296/.363/.523, 141 OPS+) performed on a stellar level as well. Hank Bauer and Gil McDougald were also on that lineup, not to mention the great Phil Rizzuto.
A young Whitey Ford would play his second professional season with the Yankees in 1953, after missing two years while serving in the Korean War. He finished with a 18-6 record and a 3.00 ERA in 207 innings, with 110 strikeouts. It wasn’t his finest year, with a 4.00 ERA, but it was good enough to headline a great rotation. Vic Raschi, Eddie Lopat, and Jim McDonald were also in the staff, while Allie Reynolds and Johnny Sain also logged a substantial amount of innings.
We now know that wins aren’t the best tool to measure a pitcher’s success, but that group was more than just Ford. Per data of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Raschi had three 20-win seasons, and went 92-40 during the five-year World Series-winning streak. “Steady” Eddie Lopat was 80-36 and Reynolds went 83-41.
Nine Yankees pitchers tossed at least 50 innings in 1953, yet none of them had an ERA over 4.00. McDonald finished with 3.82, but everyone else ended up a sub-3.50 mark. The reason? Well, they were good. But Berra made them better. “Why has our pitching been so great?’’ manager Casey Stengel asked rhetorically, per the Hall document. “Our catcher, that’s why. He looks cumbersome, but he’s quick as a cat.”
A scintillating start set the tone for the rest of the season, as the Yankees went 11-3 in April, good for a .786 winning percentage. They didn’t exactly have the best of finishes with a 13-9 September, but by that point, the AL pennant was pretty much in hand anyway. It was ultimately good enough to finish in first place with a 99-52 record and an 8.5-game advantage over Cleveland.
The World Series was actually closer than it looks. Those Dodgers finished the regular season with a sparkling 105-49 record and had a roster filled with talent: Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, and others, just to name a few. It was their second NL pennant in a row and fourth in seven years. Alas, they would once again have to face the dynastic Yankees.
New York took the first two games at Yankee Stadium, but the Dodgers bounced back to claim Games 3 and 4 at Ebbets Field. The Yanks’ hitters were too much for Brooklyn’s pitching staff to handle in Game 5, though, and led an 11-7 victory on the road on the strength of a crucial grand slam by Mantle.
Game 6 was hard-fought, as the Yankees took an early 3-0 lead, only to watch the Dodgers’ pitching staff settle down and keep them in the game. Two outs away from the title, a two-run homer by Carl Furillo off Reynolds instead tied it all up at three runs apiece.
Reynolds fanned the next two batter though, and in the home half of the ninth, New York made short work of Clem Labine despite the previous innings of silence. Bauer led off with a walk, Mantle reached on a one-out infield single, and the hero of heroes turned out to second baseman Billy Martin.
Martin had an underwhelming regular season, as he was actually the only starter with an OPS+ under 100 with 94. But after bailing the Yankees’ defense out with a pivotal catch in Game 7 of the ‘52 Fall Classic, he was the star of this World Series against the Dodgers. Martin set a then-record by belting 12 hits in the 6 games, and his grand finale was the series-winner:
Just like that, it was over. The Yankees had their fifth consecutive championship, an MLB record that will likely never be broken. No one has even won four in a row since these Yankees turned the trick.
Of the Yankees’ 1953 roster, Bauer, Berra, Mantle, Johnny Mize, Rizzuto, Sain, and Ray Scarborough played in All-Star Games. Berra, Ford, Mantle, Mize, and Rizzuto all made it to the Hall of Fame. What a roster, and what a team.