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by Harold Friend
Paula Volpoff loves the Cleveland Indians. She suffered through the early 1950s, when great Cleveland teams were edged out by the slightly better, or as she says, luckier, Yankees. Paula vividly recalls what happened to the Yankees in 1954.
An Indians' Fan in New York
I was still living in New York on Sept. 12, 1954. It was a little unusual for a member of the stronger sex to be so involved with a baseball team during the nineteen fifties, and even more unusual for that team to be the Cleveland Indians. All the other kids rooted for one of the three New York teams, which might have contributed even more to my dedication to the Indians.
My Grandfather Came From Brooklyn, But Not From New York
The fact that my great grandfather came from Brooklyn, Ohio, didn't hurt. I really loved telling my friends that my family came from Brooklyn, waiting for them to ask me why I didn't root for the Dodgers, and then watching their faces when I told them that it was a long subway trip from his house to Ebbets Field.
The Yankees Needed A Sweep
The Indians were six and one-half games ahead of the Yankees at the end of play on Sept. 11. The Yankees were in Cleveland to play a doubleheader that they had to sweep. The Indians won both games.
The Fans Couldn't Believe What Happened
New York was in mourning. After all, the Yankees had "only won" the last five World Series and it was now almost certain that they would not win their sixth straight. The fans couldn't believe it. All summer, they expected the Indians to fold, to be intimidated by the Yankees' mystic, and to return to reality, but a new reality was being created. The Yankees almost expected that their five consecutive World Championships would somehow create a sixth, but it never happened.
The Powerful Indians
Led by Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia, Bob Feller, Ray Narleski, and Don Mossi, the Indians' pitching was too strong. Bobby Avila won the batting title, and Larry Doby led the league in home runs. The Indians were too good.
The Indians-Yankees Sept. 12 doubleheader was not televised in New York. Channel 11 carried the Yankees' 77 home games as well as the Giants' 77 home games, but never any away games. The teams never played at home on the same day, which avoided any conflicts. I listened to the doubleheader on WINS radio, and realized that I would get to see my Indians play in the World Series.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
The Yankees and their fans had all kinds of excuses for not winning. They complained that they had lost Billy Martin to the army, but Billy Martin was a .260 hitter without much power. The fact that he went wild in the 1953 World Series was probably a fluke, but it was easy to create a cause and effect relationship. "Billy Martin, who led us to the 1953 World Championship wasn't on the team the next season, and we couldn't win the pennant without him."
Excuse me, but you had MVP Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, a young Bill Skowron, Hank Bauer, Gene Woodling, and Whitey Ford. The Indians didn't win because the Yankees didn't have Billy Martin.
Jerry Coleman, who returned from a stint in Korea and replaced Martin at second, had tried too hard to get into shape, rushed, and never really got started. Young third baseman Andy Carey pulled a leg muscle during spring training and lost a lot of playing time, while infielder Gil McDougald, the 1951 Rookie of the Year, hurt his hand, further depleting the infield corps. Shortstop Phil Rizzuto started to show his age.
In the spring, the Yankees had arrogantly sent three-time 21 game winner Vic Raschi to the Cardinals for $85,000. If it weren't for rookie Bob Grim, the pitching would have been a major problem in 1954, but the Yankees realized that they had an old pitching staff that needed rebuilding. The scouts indicated that the Yankees' farm system lacked good, young players, while the Indians had a youngster who would be ready for 1955 named Herb Score. Those who saw him said Score threw harder than Bob Feller.
The Most Wins But No World Championship
I must point out that the Yankees finished the 1954 season with 103 wins, which was the most of any team Casey Stengel ever managed, but my Indians set an American League record by winning 111 games. One reason both teams won so many games (154 game schedule) was because the Philadelphia Athletics lost 103 games, and the Baltimore Orioles lost 100 games.
Beating out a Yankees' team that won 103 games was satisfying. In 1952 we had finished only 2 games behind the Yankees, and in 1951 we were only 5 games out, but close doesn't count. What does count is that the Indians ended the Yankees' domination, at least for one season. Please don't talk about the World Series.
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1954, September 14). Sports of The Times :End of a Dynasty. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 33. Retrieved January 6, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 84138551).