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Yankees History: The balk that helped the 1952 Bombers win a World Series

The Yankees were in a tough spot in the 1952 World Series, until a crucial balk helped them win a fourth straight title.

Celebration After Yankees Win

Through five games of the 1952 World Series, the Yankees were in a bit of trouble. While the two teams had gone back and forth in the first four games, the Dodgers had taken the fifth in what had to be frustrating fashion for the Yankees. The AL champs had lost a late lead and then lost in extra innings after not recording any sort of baserunner after the fifth inning.

Now, they were down 3-2 in the series with Game 6 and the potential Game 7 both set to be at Ebbets Field. On one hand, the ‘52 Yankees had already gotten out of a tough situation, winning the AL after spending all of September holding a slim lead with no for error. However, needing two road wins against another great team is not where you want to be.

The 1952 Yankees would manage to overcome the odds, but it took a bit of help.

With their backs against the wall, the Yankees handed the ball to pitcher Vic Raschi. Despite allowing a double to the first batter he faced, Raschi gave the Yankees all they could hope for. The Dodgers had put on at least one runner in four of the first five innings, but Raschi kept finding ways to escape. That was important, with the Yankees similarly unable to push a run across against Brooklyn’s Billy Loes.

In the sixth, the Dodgers finally broke the deadlock. Duke Snider led off the inning with a homer off Raschi. Now, they were just nine outs away from losing the World Series.

Armageddon for this particular team didn’t end up getting that close, as Yogi Berra followed that by leading off the top of the seventh with a homer off Loes, tying things up. However, it was a sequence of plays right after that had a massive impact on the series.

Immediately following Berra’s home run, Gene Woodling singled. In the next at-bat, Loes let the ball slip out of his hand during his windup. It fell to the ground for a balk, moving Woodling up into scoring position. Loes bounced back to strike out Irv Noren and get Billy Martin to pop up, leaving the inning up to the pitcher’s spot. The Yankees stuck with Raschi instead of a pinch-hitter, and he lined one up the middle that struck Loes before rolling in between a pair of fielders. Raschi reached safely, but more important, Woodling came around to score, giving the Yankees the lead.

After Raschi returned to the mound, he managed to work around Loes, giving him a taste of his own medicine, stranding him at second after a single and a stolen base. Mickey Mantle then led off the top of the eighth with a home run, giving the Yankees a two-run edge.

That ended up being mighty important as Snider hit his second homer of the day in the bottom of the eighth. After a George Shuba double put the tying run in scoring position, Casey Stengel brought in Allie Reynolds, who got out of that jam, and then threw a scoreless ninth to seal a 3-2 win and force Game 7.

The next day, Mantle drove home two runs as Raschi and Reynolds both came out of the bullpen to help the Yankees to a 4-2 win. That completed the comeback, and the Yankees were crowned champions for the fourth year in a row.

Let’s go back to the balk in Game 6 for a moment. The final margin in that game was one run, and the Yankees got one of their runs almost entirely because of that balk. Woodling got into scoring position because of it. Were he still on first, maybe he ends up going first to third on Raschi’s single, but that still leaves him 90 feet away. Loes eventually got the final out of the inning with a groundout, meaning that if the inning had played out the same, just minus the balk, that takes away a run, and takes away the Yankees’ edge in the final score. That extra run didn’t necessarily keep the Yankees from losing, but it might’ve. Who knows how that game plays out had it gone to extra innings tied at two? Nothing is guaranteed, and it’s entirely possible that the Yankees go on to lose the game and the series that day.

So, no, technically the Yankees did not win the 1952 World Series because of a balk, but they didn’t not not win the World Series because of one.


New York Times, October 7, 1952