• U.S.

Sport: Giants v. Yankees

5 minute read

The World Series, U.S. sport’s most celebrated annual ritual, was on. From Bangor to San Francisco, men gathered around television sets, elbowed along bars, huddled beside radios. Business was suspended, politics deferred, and idle conversation shushed. A weather bureau official studied the forecasts and solemnly announced that expected conditions—grey sky, a stiff northeast wind—were good for fastball pitchers, bad for curve-ballers.

But the crowds that flowed out of Manhattan’s subways and clotted the intricate ramps into Yankee Stadium last week for the series opener were curiously subdued. The Yankee fan is always confident, never vociferous. His team was a far cry from the great Yankee teams of the past. Only one man—Rookie Infielder Gil McDougald—was hitting over .300. But the Yankees had one supreme asset: they always expected to win, and acted that way. Giant fans seemed too emotionally exhausted by the blazing pennant finish to care much about what happened next.

The Pantheon. Under the sullen October sky, the grass of the infield gleamed, a green patch on the city’s blotched and gritty drabness. In the deep rows of private boxes, maintained by Manhattan firms for the pleasure of their customers, and in the special seats reserved for the favored, were the notables, the affluent and the politicians—the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover, ex-President Herbert Hoover, Douglas MacArthur, Margaret Truman and Heavyweight Champion Joe Walcott. Among them sat the aging stars of past series—Rogers Hornsby, Carl Hubbell, Mel Ott, Frankie Frisch—a shadowy, wistful, watching pantheon.

Stiffly, the two teams lined up on either side of home plate—the Yankees in gleaming white, the Giants in grey road uniforms. The announcer asked everyone to stand for a moment’s silence “in the cause of peace.” Accompanied by Guy Lombardo’s band, Lucy Monroe sang the Star-Spangled Banner. Basebell’s new Commissioner Ford Frick threw out the first ball, and the series began.

The Steal. The Giants struck hard in the first inning. With two Giants out, Yankee Pitcher Allie Reynolds carelessly walked the next batter. Up stepped 30-year-old Monte Irvin, a lanky Negro with the easy, relaxed grace of a dancer. He bounced on his feet, then hit sharply into right field. The Giants’ First Baseman Whitey Lockman doubled. A run scored and Irvin was on third.

The Yankees were elaborately unruffled. Reynolds deliberately went through the ritual of the pitcher—glaring at the man on second, tucking his chin down as if in thought. Suddenly, there was a swelling roar from the crowd. There on the base path Irvin was digging for the plate. In that paralyzed instant, the startled Reynolds looked up. Irvin was ten steps from home. Reynolds drew back his arm (eight steps) and threw hastily to Yogi Berra (six steps) and Irvin hurtled into his slide. Berra stretched for the high throw, and Irvin was across. With a roar of delight, the crowd leaped to its feet. The brash Giants had stolen home on the proud Yankees. They were ahead 2-0. In discomfiture, Berra glared wildly around the bases looking for a pickoff, and Reynolds scuffed unhappily.

The First Win. That was the ball game. From then on, the Giant fans chattered contentedly to each other. A neat, stocky southpaw named Dave Koslo disposed of the Yankees one by one: rawboned, shavenecked Gil McDougald, who stands at the plate like an old man about to jump into a cold tub and holds his bat as if he had a broken wrist; burly Hank Bauer, who clouted two balls far back to the fences but not far enough; tiny Phil Rizzuto, tidy as a watch charm under his big cap; and in his tenth World Series, aging Joe DiMaggio, the last and lonely survivor of the mighty Yankee sluggers of a decade ago, swinging his big bat with his chin back as if his eyes were closed, taking called strikes without rancor, not even aggrieved or impatient, just looking wise and a bit bored.

All through the afternoon, the Yankees dexterously scooped up grounders, drifted back leisurely to haul down flies, looking cool and competent even in defeat. The Giants clutched and stabbed, scampered and tumbled after long hits. But they got base hits when they needed them, sewed up the game with Alvin Dark’s three-run homer in the sixth inning and took the first game, 5 to 1.

All Even. Still smarting from their first loss of a World Series opener since 1936, the Yankees bounced back next day, 3 to 1, to even the series. But in the third game the irrepressible Giants ran the mighty Yankees ragged. With one Giant out in the fifth, Eddie Stanky walked, lit out for second on the next pitch. Yankee Catcher Yogi Berra had Stanky by a country mile. But as he slid into Phil Rizzuto’s waiting glove, Stanky booted the ball free, scooted on to third. Before the inning was over, Dark had come safely home as Berra dropped the ball, and Whitey Lockman’s three-run homer gave the Giants the third game, 6 to 2.

With the Giants leading in the series, two games to one, and the Yankees running out of starting pitchers, the Giants for the first time were conceded the edge. Then the Yankees got a lucky break. The fourth game was rained out. This week, as the skies cleared, the Yankees took full advantage of it. With a well-rested Allie Reynolds back on the mound, and with Joe DiMaggio finally snapping his hitless streak with a single and a homer, the Yankees mowed the Giants down, 6 to 2, and evened the series at two all.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com