The nineteen-fifties have long been eulogized as a period of tranquillity, stability and general happiness with life. So it was in the world of baseball. Major league baseball, with a few exceptions, revolved around the northeast and its successes centered around the City of New York. A World Series took place in Gotham in every year of the 1950-1960 period except 1959 and that season's champions, the Dodgers, had been residents of Brooklyn as recently as 1957.

I have enjoyed baseball since my first encounter at Braves Field in Boston in 1950 at the age of seven. In those days, the majority of the games were played during the day and the teams did not draw fans like they do today. Attendance of a million fans annually was considered a bonanza and a very successful season. On sleepy August afternoons, the Braves and the Red Sox both opened their grandstands to little leaguers figuring that the seats would go unused anyway, so they might as well sell some ice cream, peanuts and souvenirs while providing thrills to the youngsters.

I remember buying a major league yearbook at that game that was crammed with facts and statistics pertaining to the 1949 season. I loved the statistics so much that I begged a second grade teacher to instruct me in long division even before I could properly subtract in order that I might compute batting averages. I also remember taking a ride with my father in late September of that year and we listened to a re-broadcast of the Philadelphia Phillies-Brooklyn Dodgers game in which Dick Sisler, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts brought the Phillies’ fans their first flag in thirty-five years. I recall my dad, a real Braves fan, becoming very excited as Dodgers were ousted from a return trip to the World Series.

My first significant media experience was listening to the 1951 Giants-Dodgers three game playoff. I arrived home from school just in time to catch the last few innings of each game and, believe me, I was not disappointed. I had followed the miracle of Coogan's Bluff through September in the now-defunct evening Boston Traveler and I searched for the area in a map of New York City that I had found around our home. It did not take me long to realize that Yankee Stadium was a mere stone's throw across the Harlem River from the historic Polo Grounds and that the Bronx was actually a place where people lived. My knowledge of things pertaining to baseball grew exponentially.  My mother remarked more than once that if I knew my lessons in history and geography like I knew the subjects relative to baseball she would have an "A" student on her hands of whom she could be proud instead of a sports-statistics-spouting preadolescent.

The 1952 season saw Ted Williams depart Boston for the regions unknown in the western Pacific and 1953 brought him back amid renewed hopes for a Red Sox resurgence after the Braves' shift to Milwaukee. The Yankees won their fifth consecutive World Series and we ten-year olds from anywhere other than New York looked forward to our favorites finishing second to Casey’s Stenglemen.

The 1954 season brought a new type of slugger to Fenway Park in the person of Jackie Jensen, a strong man who could perform in the field and base paths as well as hit with power. However, I watched in awe as the Cleveland Indians won twenty-one of twenty-two games from the Red Sox and then were swept away in the World Series by the New York Giants with their clutch hitting, great fielding and good pitching. The Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers were back in 1955 and 1956 and the Yanks looked good in 1957 until the Milwaukee Braves express derailed them in game two of the World Series.

          Wait a minute! At this point in our brief lives, when was the last time a team from other than New York City won a World Series game? It had last happened in 1948 when no team from the Big Apple appeared in the series. The facts showed that forty-six consecutive World Series games were played from 1949 to 1957 and no team wearing a uniform other than one representing the city won a game until the upstarts from Wisconsin in October 1957. The two instances in which teams from outside the city made it into the fall classic during the period (the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies and the 1954 Cleveland Indians), they were swept away by the New York entry.

I had always been enamored of the 1954 Giants and their distinctive flash-in-the-pan status. A truly average team whose players jelled at the same time to collectively produce their finest performances and, sparked by the great Willie Mays, brought the Borough of Manhattan its final world baseball triumph. This team, with its upset of the Indians in the fall classic, was named by Sports Illustrated in a special edition (1999) as one of the top twenty teams of the century.

I had always wanted to be an author of something other than a term paper so I began to ponder players who, like the occasional team, rose above all for one shining moment as a sort of Phoenix. The Giants roster contained a number of players who truly experienced that one glorious season . . . Johnny Antonelli, Don Mueller and Ruben Gomez to name just three. I settled on Dusty Rhodes as he truly shone then as never before and never would again. I tried to limit my work to the pre-expansion period of 1950 to 1960, which I knew best. There would be no Hall of Famers or any Rookies of the Year. In order to gather perspective of the respective feats, I put together a brief history of each team leading up to that one glorious season.

The process then got easier: Jim Konstanty and the 1950 Phillies Whiz Kids, twenty-game winner Ned Garver of the last place 1951 Browns, MVPs Shantz and Sauer of the 1952 Athletics and Cubs, respectively, and Al Rosen with his huge year for the Indians in 1953 were easy choices. Rhodes took the honors for 1954, but 1955 proved to be difficult.

 I decided to use Vic Power’s 1955 season. Power never played a game with the New York Yankees but had been the first man of color signed by the Bronx Bombers. He was peddled to the Athletics prior to the 1954 season amid much controversy among the Yankee faithful. He finished second to Al Kaline in batting in 1955, hitting .319 for the newly transplanted team in Kansas City. I could use him for the short Yankees’ history and easily follow him to KC. The Dodgers' Don Newcombe was a foregone choice in 1956 with his 27-7 record and his MVP, which went along with the first-ever Cy Young Award. Lew Burdette of the 1957 world champion Braves, MVP winner Jackie Jensen of the 1958 Red Sox, Bob Shaw of the 1959 White Sox’ flag winners and the 1960 Pirates' MVP Dick Groat rounded out the decade.

I had players from twelve teams with the finest displays of their lives. Why not go for all sixteen? I was missing representatives from the Senators, Tigers, Cardinals and Reds. Bob Porterfield went 22-10 in 1953 for Washington and was a key cog in their last .500 season before their departure for Minneapolis, while teammate Mickey Vernon beat out Al Rosen to collect his second bat crown. Harvey Kuenn won the American League batting championship crown for Detroit in 1959 prior to his departure for the Indians in exchange for home run king Rocky Colovito. Two to go . . . That left the Cardinals and Reds.

     The St. Louis Cardinals of the 1950's had Musial, Slaughter and Schoendinst, all residents of Cooperstown. Ken Boyer? His greatest year in 1964, so no go.  Harvey Haddix went 20-9 in 1953 but appeared in seven games in 1952. Was he a rookie? The powers of baseball said no and Jim Gilliam of Brooklyn took those honors in 1953. Thinking about it, Harvey Haddix, as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1959, pitched the finest game ever thrown in the history of baseball and lost it. He has always sparked a lot of interest among fans and writers alike.

What about the Reds? They had come from nowhere to make a three-way race against the Dodgers and the Braves in 1956, powered by Ted Kluszewski and company. They also won the last 154-game pennant in history in 1961 and were paced on the mound by Joey Jay with his twenty-one wins. Why not??

I then decided to add a few players as they enjoyed their finest performances and complemented the primary subject. Del Ennis, John Antonelli, Vern Law and Jim O’Toole were added to the flag winners in 1950, 1954, 1960 and 1961. Mickey Vernon joined Porterfield in the Senators’ last decent season, in 1953. 

The big difference in baseball then and baseball now besides the high salaries and pampered egos was that the majority of games were played during the day, pitchers aimed to complete their starts, and the doubleheader was a Sunday staple. The length of the games today is directly tied to the media and its necessity to pay its bills. Ned Garver pitched a 10-9 complete game in 1951 in two and one-half hours. The players seemed to have fun and time between innings was not dictated by network whims. The owners and management were shown the way by such diverse personalities as Branch Rickey and Bill Veeck. The absence of specialists and the expansion of the pitching staff plus the experiment called the designated hitter have changed the game and not necessarily for the better. How many Hall of Famers have made it aided by longevity and batting statistics gathered while not having duty in the field?

So much for editorials. I have enjoyed the work that was required in doing the research for the book. I have tried to send each player a copy of his essay in order to catch any omissions and/or errors. Mrs. Jim Konstanty sent back a copy full of red marks. Dusty Rhodes sat with me for a few hours and he was very gracious. He encouraged me to get on with the project “because we ain’t gettin’ any younger”. Bob Shaw welcomed me into his office and was very helpful in my getting his piece right. I had the pleasure of spending time on the phone with Ned Garver, Hank and Jeanne Sauer, Katherine Jensen and Mary Konstanty, all of whom were very helpful.

Please enjoy reading it as much as I loved putting it together.