"The Dodgers vs. Giants, 1951"
Peter Golenbock

excerpt from
Bums: An Oral History of
the Brooklyn  Dodgers (1984)

Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers

is available at
The Dodgers defeated the Giants five straight times in early April 1951. Charley Dressen, who was determined to prove to the world that he had been the brains behind Leo Durocher's success, began singing loud enough for the Giants to hear him through the wall that separated the locker rooms, "Roll out the barrel, the Giants are dead."
Jackie Robinson continued his personal feud with Durocher by lashing out nine hits. He was almost unstoppable, striking vicious liners, dropping deftly placed bunts, and stealing bases; in short, playing the game with all the ferocity and skill of Ty Cobb at his peak.
....Sometimes it  got vicious. Robinson and Giant pitcher Sal Maglie had a vendetta, and in one game Maglie dusted Jackie off. Robinson picked himself out of the dirt and on the next pitch bunted the ball near enough the first-base foul line that Maglie would have to come running over to field it. The ball was rolling foul, and Maglie went to touch the ball dead, and as he bent over, Robinson ran right over Maglie, leaving the fierce Giant pitcher sprawling on the ground. Durocher called it a bush stunt. Robinson replied, "If it's a bush stunt, he's a bush manager, because he taught me to do it."
In addition to Robinson, the Dodger lineup, which included [Ray] Campanella, [Gil] Hodges, [Carl] Furillo, [Duke] Snider, [Pee Wee] Reese, and [Billy] Cox, indicated that this would be the most powerful Dodger team yet, hitting forty homers in their first thirty-one games. They got some unexpected help from Cal Abrams, who one week in late May went 14 for 23 to lead the National League with a .470 batting average. Robinson was second at .415, Reese third at .384. The Dodger defense was sound, and the pitching looked to be strong, with [Don] Newcombe, [Preacher] Roe, [Ralph] Branca, and [Carl] Erskine.
....The Giants, meanwhile, after winning the season opener, lost eleven in a row. Dodger fans gloated.
The Giants needed help, and on May 24 they brought up a young Negro outfielder from the Minneapolis Millers named Willie Mays. But the Dodgers also strengthened themselves on June 14, when they obtained veteran outfield star Andy Pafko from the Cubs in a deal for Joe Hatten, Bruce Edwards, Eddie Miksis, and Gene Hermanski. Left field had been a problem position for the Dodgers for years. Abrams and Hermanski had not done the job. With Pafko the Dodgers had a star at every position.
Reporter Arch Murray called the trade "the most barefaced baseball swindle of recent years."
....The Dodgers celebrated the July 4th holiday by beating the New York Giants, twice. Preacher Roe and Ralph Branca beat two mediocre Giant pitchers, Sheldon "Available" Jones and Dave Koslo, to lead the Giants by seven and a half games. Charley Dressen again gloated. "They're through," he boasted ....
On August 8 and 9, after a three-game sweep over the Giants, the Dodgers were fifteen games up in the loss column. On August 11, the Dodger lead over the Giants was thirteen and a half games. The Dodger pitching staff was holding up beautifully. Roe was 15-2, Newk 15-5, Branca 9-3, and Clyde King, back from the minors, was 12-5 in relief. With only forty four games left in the season, the Dodgers seemed to have the pennant sewn up.
The turning point came in mid-August. The Dodgers were feeling elated, the Giants depressed. After the final game of the Dodgers' three-game sweep, both teams returned to their respective clubhouses. As the Giants showered, the Dodgers, shouting so the Giant players could hear them, began yelling about what a bad team the Giants and what a bad manager Durocher was and how good the Dodgers were.
DON HONIG: "....[T]he Giants heard what the Dodgers were saying, and they simmered with hatred for what they felt was a very unprofessional attitude. Personal invective was coming through the wall, and the Giants' fury rose, and this added to their superhuman effort as the Giants won sixteen in a row and thirty-seven of forty-four games coming down the stretch."
Through the first half of the season, the Giants had been inconsistent because they could count on but two pitchers, Maglie and Larry Jansen. Jim Hearn had been wild high all the time ... [b]ut in July Hearn changed from pitching overhand to below three-quarters, and he started throwing strikes. And when he started throwing strikes, he began winning. Now they had trhee good pitchers. When the Giants brought up rookie Al Corwin, who won five games during the Giants' sixteen-game winning streak, they were close to unbeatable.
There was another factor too. Leo Durocher cheated. The Dodgers are convinced of that. They say that coming down the stretch in 1951, Leo illegally stationed someone out behind the center-field scoreboard to steal the opposing catcher's signals and then radio them to the dugout, where Durocher could relay them to the Giant batter.
About this time, too, the Dodger pitching staff was decimated .... [Clyde] King was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to their huge midsummer lead in 1951. He finished the year with a 14-7 record, but because of his sore arm during the last months of the season he was virtually useless.
....The other problem that plagued the Dodgers in the second half of the season was that the hitters had stopped hitting.
....From August 12 through August 27, the Giants won sixteen straight games, and at the end of the streak, the Dodger lead was cut to five ....
To bolster their pitching, the Dodgers brought up another young rookie pitcher from one of Branch Rickey's farm teams. On August 28 ... Clem Labine beat the Reds, pitching a complete game. In his first four starts he had two shutouts and two one-run games.
Labine ... was one elegant pitcher. He had an overhand curveball, a hard sinker, and he was a wonderfully gutty pitcher. His four straight wins in a major league debut attested to that.
On September 21 ... he started his fifth game. He was pitching against the Phillies, and in the second inning, with Puddin' Head Jones up, he had the bases loaded and a three and two count. Dressen called time. He went out to advise Labine. Next pitch: Lower deck left field, four runs. Goodbye Labine. Dressen wouldn't start him again for six weeks -- in the second game of the playoffs. It cost the Dodgers the pennant.
....With three games left in the season, the Dodgers lost a heartbreaker to defending National League champion Philadelphia, 4-3 ... The Dodgers were now tied. Two games remained.
The next day the Dodgers shut out the Phils 5-0 behind a gallant Don Newcombe. It was Newcombe's twentieth victory. The Giants' Maglie won his twenty-second game when he shut out the Boston Braves 3-0. For the third year in a row, the pennant would be decided by a game between the Dodgers and the Phils on the final day of the season. But because the Dodgers had led by thirteen and a half games in August, the tie was a severe disappointment. All Brooklyn talked about was the Dodger collapse.
On September 30, 1951, a Sunday night in Philadelphia, the Dodgers played for the pennant, and Jackie Robinson singlehandedly saved the team from losing .... Robinson gave what some experts consider the most clutch performance ever seen. Don Newcombe had also been heroic, holding the Phils in relief from the eighth through the thirteenth inning after having pitched a complete game just two days before.
LARRY KING: "The Dodgers were in the third inning when it was announced that the Giants had won ... Maglie beat the Braves 5-1. The Dodgers knew they had to win or the season would be over ...."
The emotions generated by the Dodger-Giant rivalry were very much like those surrounding a Holy War. If you loved the Dodgers, you despised the Giants. You couldn't be neutral.
The rivalry began early in the century. Wilbert Robinson and John McGraw had been illustrious teammates in the 1890s on thye old Baltimore Orioles, and when McGraw became manager of the New York Giants in 1902, he hired Robinson as his pitching coach .... [A] personal feud developed between the two. They fought all through the 1913 season ....
The following season Dodger owner Charley Ebbets hired Robinson to be his manager, and it proved to be an intelligent move as Robinson led the Dodgers to pennants in 1916 and 1920, much to the consternation of a jealous and headline-hungry McGraw.
....By 1934 both Robinson and McGraw had gone, but Giant manager Bill Terry did his utmost to keep the feud alive .... [W]hen the Giants were battling the Cardinals for a penna,t they had to beat the Dodgers twice to win. Brooklyn ended up taking both games .... The Dodgers may have finished sixth, but the small victory of denying the Giants the pennant was sweet.
As the thirties progressed and ... the Giants won several pennants, Dodger fans' hatred for the Giants grew ....
The one incident above all that symbolized the Dodger-Giant rivalry occurred in a Brooklyn saloon on a warm July afternoon in the late 1930s.
The site was Pat Diamond's bar and grill at Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue. After the Dodgers had lost a game to the Giants, bartender William Diamond, the son of the proprietor, was teasing a customer, Robert Joyce, a post office worker. Like Joyce, Diamond was a Dodger fan, but he enjoyed teasing Joyce .... "The Dodgers," Diamond said. "Whoever first called them bums was right. Don't you think so, Frank?"
Frank Krug, a Giant fan, chimed in. "Certainly. It takes the Giants to show them up as bums, too .... Why don't you root for a real team?"
Diamond was grinning, enjoying the banter, when Joyce started screaming. "Shut up, shut up, you bastards. You lay off the Dodgers, you bastards."
....Krug sneered at Joyce. "Don't be a jerk."
"A jerk," Joyce shouted. "I'll show you who's a jerk." He ran out of the saloon, the other bar patrons laughing at him as he fled.
Joyce had been working at the post office for ten years, and he had the key to the revolver bin .... Minutes later, Joyce returned and shot Diamond in the stomach. When Krug jumped on him to take the gun away, Joyce ... shot Krug through the head. When the police caught him on Seventh Avenue not fifteen minutes after the [shooting], he was sobbing hysterically that he hadn't meant to hurt anyone, but that he had been taunted for too long about his Dodgers.
During the 1940s the rivalry had cooled some .... Then in 1948 Leo Durocher went from Dodger to Giant manager, and in 1951 his former second fiddle, Charley Dressen, took over the Dodgers. The rivalry heated up to an intensity never approached before ....
....In 1951 the Dodgers were in another playoff -- against the Giants.
RALPH BRANCA: "....I pitched the first playoff game in '51, and I gave up only four hits, and I gave 'em the old line, 'I scattered four hits, two inside the park and two outside.' We were playing at Ebbets Field, and Bobby Thomson hit a home run on a high fastball .... [A]ll we got was one run, and I lost 3 to 1 ...."
In Game Two, rookie Clem Labine shut out the Giants 10-0 to get the Dodgers even ....
Game Three of the 1951 playoffs was perhaps the most famous single game in baseball history .... Most of the Dodger fans who remember October 3, 1951 can recite the detail of the game as though it happened yesterday. And they discuss it with the same passion they felt over twenty years ago. No single game has ever been analyzed as minutely as this one. [Bobby] Thompson hit the shot heard round the world, and that shot found its mark in every Dodger fan's heart.
RUSS HODGES: "Bobby Thompson up there swinging ... Brooklyn leads it 4-2 ... Branca throws ... There's a long drive ... It's gonna be ... I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! ... Bobby Thompson hits into the lower deck of the left field stands and they're going crazy!"