New York’s failure to repeat as American League champions in 1948 cost manager Bucky Harris his job at the end of the year. Despite leading the team to the world championship in 1947, and to a record of 94-60 the following year, Harris was relieved of his duties by Yankee owners Dan Topping and Del Webb, who elected to replace him with Casey Stengel. The 59-year-old Stengel spent parts of 14 seasons as a player in the big leagues, serving as an outfielder on the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Phillies, New York Giants, and Boston Braves. He later began his managerial career with the Dodgers, piloting the team from 1934 to 1936, before eventually taking over the reins of the Braves from 1938 to 1943.
The New York media initially viewed Stengel’s hiring with a considerable amount of skepticism since he never led either the Dodgers or the Braves to anything higher than a fifth-place finish. Both teams were inherently flawed, though, possessing little in the way of talent. Stengel better demonstrated his managerial skills when he assumed control of the minor league Milwaukee Brewers in 1944, leading them to the American Association pennant in his first year at the helm. Four years later, he piloted the Oakland Oaks to the Pacific Coast League championship, catching the attention of the Yankees in the process. After being hired by the Yankees, Stengel observed, “There is less wrong with this team than any team I have ever managed.”
The cynicism expressed earlier by the members of the press corps seemed well-founded when the Yankees got off to a slow start in 1949. At one point, they trailed the first-place Boston Red Sox by as many as 12 games. It didn’t seem to matter to Stengel’s critics that the Yankees spent the first two months of the year playing without their best player, Joe DiMaggio. After signing a record contract worth $100,000 during the off-season, DiMaggio found himself unable to take the field until early June due to a painful bone spur in his heel. However, his return to the team was a triumphant one, as he hit four home runs in his first three games back against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, leading the Yankees to a three-game sweep of their arch-rivals. DiMaggio’s play sparked the team the rest of the way, enabling the Yankees to edge out Boston for the pennant by just one game. Still, it took a pair of victories over the Red Sox on the season’s final two days to clinch first place for the Yankees, who finished the regular season with a record of 97-57. Boston had to settle for a close second-place finish for the second year in a row.
The Yankees’ ability to edge out the Red Sox for the pennant could be attributed largely to their pitching staff, which posted a team ERA of 3.69 – the second-lowest in the American League. Vic Raschi led the starters with 21 victories, 21 complete games, and 275 innings pitched, while also compiling an ERA of 3.34. Ed Lopat finished 15-10, with a 3.26 ERA and 14 complete games. Allie Reynolds finished second on the staff with 17 wins, while Tommy Byrne established himself as a regular member of the starting rotation for the first time by posting 15 victories. Meanwhile, Joe Page excelled out of the bullpen, winning 13 games and leading the league with 27 saves, en route to earning a third-place finish in the A.L. MVP voting.
The tandem of Yogi Berra and Tommy Henrich led the Yankee offense. Berra hit 20 home runs, knocked in 91 runs, and batted .277. Henrich led the team with 24 homers, drove in 85 runs, scored 90 others, and batted .287. He finished sixth in the league MVP balloting for the second consecutive year. Placing second in the voting was shortstop Phil Rizzuto, who batted .275 and finished among the league leaders with 110 runs scored and 18 stolen bases.
Although he played in only 76 games, Joe DiMaggio bolstered the Yankee offense by batting .346, posting a .459 on-base percentage, hitting 14 homers, and knocking in 67 runs. The late-season acquisition of Johnny Mize further enhanced the Yankee attack. The power-hitting first baseman proved to be a huge contributor to five consecutive world championship ball clubs in New York.
The Yankees subsequently faced the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series for the second time in three years. After trading 1-0 victories in the first two contests, the Yankees went on to win the final three games to capture their 12th world championship. Allie Reynolds was the star of the Fall Classic, throwing 12 1/3 scoreless innings and allowing the Dodgers only two hits.By Bob_Cohen
- 1949 World Series, Allie Reynolds, Brooklyn Dodgers, Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel, Dan Topping, Del Webb, Ed Lopat, Joe DiMaggio, Joe Page, Johnny Mize, New York Yankees, Phil Rizzuto, Tommy Byrne, Tommy Henrich, Vic Raschi, Yogi Berra