1951 Deluxe Past Season with transaction and lineups available now!
1951: The Bums and the Jints Collide, but the Bombers Rule
by Steve Ehresman
Baseball in the 1950s is celebrated as The ERA: a time when three major league teams took the field in New York; when Willie, Mickey, and Duke were just embarking on their journeys to Cooperstown; when a western road trip meant games in Chicago and St. Louis; and when radio announcers brought baseball to life in America’s living rooms. Broadcasters like Vin Scully, Ernie Harwell, Mel Allen, Red Barber, Jack Buck, Harry Cary, Bob Prince, Jack Quinlan, and Russ Hodges, thanks to their distinctive voices and styles, created a generation of fans who cherished the time they spent listening to the play-by-play incantations of their favorite radio uncles during those long-ago summers.
Never was this magic more evident than on October 3, 1951, when Russ Hodges was at the mike to make the most famous home run call of them all: There’s a long drive . . . it’s gonna be . . . I believe. The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!
Hodges’ home run call summarized a season, galvanized a rivalry, and defined a decade.
Not bad for an autumn afternoon.
The Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff is a well-known baseball drama--part fact and part legend--replete with triumph, tragedy, and even a hint of scandal. Did the Giants steal signs? Did a stolen sign alert Bobby Thomson that Ralph Branca was about to deliver a second straight fast ball, this one high and inside?
Did it matter?
As both of the principal actors are deceased, we are left with a fact (The Giants won the 1951 pennant.) and a legend (The Shot Heard ‘Round the World). As a character in the western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance advises, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Bobby Thomson (27 2B, 32 HR, 101 RBI, .293) was not the only legend playing for the New York Giants in 1951. Five-time Negro League All-Star Monte Irvin was the big bat in New York’s line-up, as he scored 94 runs, collected 174 hits, swatted 24 home runs, drove in a league-leading 121 runs, swiped 12 bases, and led the Giants with a .312 batting average. Twenty-year-old Willie Mays, a star for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Minneapolis Millers, established himself as a major league regular, compiling 22 doubles, 20 home runs, and 68 RBI in 464 ABs, while playing a stellar centerfield. On the mound, the Giants relied, not on stolen signs, but on a trio of superb pitchers. Sal Maglie “The Barber” Maglie (42 G, 37 GS, 22 CG, 298 IP, 23-6, 2.93), Larry Jansen (39 G, 34 GS, 18 CG, 279 IP, 23-11, 3.03), and Jim Hearn (34 G, 34 GS, 11 CG, 211 IP, 17-9, 3.63) provided stability throughout the season, allowing the Giants to overcome a horrendous 1-11 start and to overtake the Dodgers, despite their trailing Brooklyn by 13 ½ games on August 12.
The star-crossed Dodgers led the National League in runs (855), hits (1511), doubles 249, home runs (184), runs batted in (794), batting average (.275), slugging average (.434), and even stolen bases (89). Their play-off loss is the stuff of Greek tragedy: larger-than-life heroes struggling against inexorable Fate (or Leo Durocher’s elaborate system for stealing signs). In any case, Dem Bums crashed and burned again, one year after they lost the pennant to Philadelphia’s Whiz Kids in the tenth inning on the final day of the season.
Nevertheless, the team identified as The Boys of Summer, thanks to Roger Kahn’s co-opting a line from Dylan Thomas (“I see the boys of summer in their ruin”), was largely intact in 1951. Young stars Duke Snider (29 HR, 101 RBI) and Gil Hodges (40 HR, 103 RBI) led the high -powered Dodger offense, as they would for most of the coming decade. Veterans Pee Wee Reese (94 R, 20 SB) and Jackie Robinson (106 R, 33 2B, 19 HR, 25 SB, .338) anchored the keystone with aplomb. Most of all, National League Most Valuable Player Roy Campanella (99 R, 33 2B, 33 HR, 108 RBI, .325) enjoyed one of the greatest seasons a backstop has ever put in the books. Led by two twenty-game winners, Preacher Roe (34 G, 33 GS, 19 CG, 258 IP, 22-3, 3.03) and Don Newcombe (40 G, 36 GS, 18 CG, 272 IP, a league-leading 164 K, 20-9, 3.28), the Dodgers looked like a team destined for greatness. Unfortunately, the Borough of Brooklyn would have to wait a few more seasons for that greatness to be realized.
The American League, almost eclipsed by the post-season play-off drama taking place in Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, had much to offer baseball fans in 1951. As usual, the New York Yankees, defending World Series Champions, put a great team on the field. Anchored by The Big Three of Ed Lopat (31 G, 31 GS, 20 CG, 235 IP, 21-9, 2.91), Vic Raschi (35 G, 34 GS, 15 CG, 258 IP, a league-leading 164 K, 21-10, 3.28), and Allie Reynolds (40 G, 26 GS, 16 CG, 221 IP, 17-8, 2 no-hitters, 3.05), The Bronx Bombers withstood a stiff challenge from the Cleveland Indians to capture their fourth pennant in five years. Standing tall at 5’ 7”, Yogi Berra, in his third season as a regular behind the plate, captured the American League Most Valuable Player (92 R, 27 HR, 88 RBI, .294), while handling the Yankees’ veteran pitchers. Breaking into the Yankee line-up was nineteen-year-old Mickey Mantle (11 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 65 RBI in 341 AB), heir-apparent to Joe DiMaggio (22 2B, 12 HR, 71 RBI). With Mays, Mantle, and Snider finally ensconced as regulars in 1954, The ERA had its signature trio of Hall of Fame centerfielders: “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.”
If New York was the epicenter of baseball in 1951, it did not have a monopoly on excellence. From New England to the Midwest, major league stars put up numbers that deserve recognition in any era.
In baseball’s outpost on the Mississippi River, Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals won the batting title, while tearing up the National League (a league-leading 124 R, 205 H, 30 2B, 12 3B, 32 HR, 108 RBI, .355). In Beantown, Warren Spahn (39 G, 36 GS, a league-leading 26 CG, 311 IP, a league-leading 164 K, 22-14, 2.98), Chet Nichols (33 G, 19 GS, 12 CG, a league-leading 2.88), and former Cleveland Buckeye Sam Jethro (29 2B, 10 3B, 18 HR, 35 SB) starred for the Boston Braves. Robin Roberts (44 G, 39 GS, 22 CG, 315 IP, 21-15, 3.03) and Richie Ashburn (a league-leading 221 H, 29 SB, .344) set the pace in Philadelphia, The City of Brotherly Love. Where the Ohio, the Monongahela, and the Allegheny rivers meet, Ralph Kiner crushed a major league-leading 42 home runs, while scoring 124 runs, swatting 31 doubles, driving in 109 runs, drawing a league-leading 137 walks, and batting .309.
On the shores of Lake Erie, where the Cuyahoga River flows, the Cleveland Indians pursued the New York Yankees (98-56) all summer, falling short of the American League pennant by 5 games (93-61). Featuring one of the best starting staffs in the 1950s, The Tribe put a star on the hill almost every night: Bob Feller (33 C, 32 GS, 16 CG, 250 IP, 22-8, 3.49), Mike Garcia (47 G, 30 GS, 15 CG, 254 IP, 20-13, 3.15), Early Wynn (37 G, 34 GS, 21 CG, 274 IP, 20-13, 3.02), and Bob Lemon (42 G, 34 GS, 17 CG, 263 IP, 17-14, 3.52). In addition to Cleveland’s tough pitchers, former Homestead Gray Luke Easter (27 HR, 103 RBI), former Newark Eagle and American League trailblazer Larry Doby (27 2B, 20 HR, .295), and slugging third baseman Al Rosen (30 2B, 24 HR, 102 RBI) provided sock for the Indians in their heavy-weight fight with the Yankees. In Boston, World War II veteran and soon-to-be Korean War fighter pilot, Ted Williams (109 R, 28 2B, 30 HR, 126 RBI, a league-leading 144 BB, .318) continued to make his case as “the greatest hitter who ever lived.” On Chicago’s South Side, former New York Cuban Minnie Minoso electrified the Windy City with 32 doubles, 14 triples, 31 stolen bases, and a .326 batting average. Sharing Shibe Park with the National League Phillies, the Athletics featured slugger Gus Zernial, who blasted 33 home runs to lead the American League and drove in 129 runs to lead all of baseball. The Athletics also celebrated batting champion Ferris Fain (.344), although he was limited to 425 Abs because of a broken bone in his foot. Pitching in obscurity, Ned Garver put together a fine year on the mound (33 G, 30 GS, a league-leading 24 complete games, 20-12, 3.73) for the St. Louis Browns, a team that finished with the worst record in baseball (52-102, 46 games behind the Yankees).
The 1951 Fall Classic proved to be somewhat anti-climactic, as the Yankees captured their third consecutive championship, even though the scrappy Giants extended the Series to six games. For the Yanks, Phil Rizzuto (.320) and Gil McDougald (7 RBI) stood out at the plate, and Ed Lopat was stellar on the mound (18 IP, 10 H, 3 BB, 4 K, 2-0, 0.50). For the Giants, Monte Irvin (.458) and Al Dark (.417) starred in a losing cause. Shut out of the World Series again, the residents of Brooklyn consoled themselves with a familiar refrain: Wait till next year.
In 1951, a new home cost $9,000. A new car was priced at $1,500. Gas was 19 cents a gallon. The average household made $3,700 a year. Unemployment dropped to 3.3%. In theaters, The Day the Earth Stood Still, directed by Robert Wise, debuted in September. I Love Lucy premiered on America’s fastest growing home entertainment medium, television.
In 1951, war loomed on the Korean peninsula. The United States began testing nuclear bombs in Nevada. The first commercial computer, UNIVAC, was dedicated for use at the United States Census Bureau. The American experiment moved forward: a half-step into the glow of Tomorrowland and a half-step into the chill of The Cold War.
Baseball was entering one of its most celebrated decades. New stars gathered backstage, awaiting their turn in the spot light. Old stars took their bows, savoring their final moments on stage. The 1951 season confirmed that baseball is a uniquely American drama that can change lives with one swing of the bat. Just as it did for two proud men on an October afternoon long ago in the Polo Grounds.
In “The Echoing Green” of our collective memory, we can still hear Russ Hodges, struck with incredulity by the probable impossibilities inherent in Our National Pastime:
“I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it. I DO NOT believe it.”
The next time a play on the diamond makes your jaw drop, the next time a play on the diamond takes your breath away, the next time a play on the diamond leaves you shaking your head, remember October 3, 1951, and BELIEVE IT.
The 1951 Deluxe Past Season database contains everything you need to play games using teams and players from the 1951 season -- a full set of ratings and statistics for every player who appeared in the big leagues that year, plus team rosters, manager profiles, ballpark ratings and league schedules. Statistics include official batting, pitching and fielding totals with left/right splits for all batters and pitchers.
Also included is a complete set of real-life player transactions -- trades, disabled list moves, promotions, demotions, suspensions, and more -- plus the actual starting lineups for every regular season game played.
If you are a registered owner of the 1951 Classic Past Season, you are eligible for upgrade pricing for this item. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to request your discount promotion code.
Note: This season database is a companion product for the Diamond Mind Baseball version 11 game. To use this database, you must also have Diamond Mind Baseball version 11. The game software provides you with all of the tools you need to play simulated games, make roster moves, produce dozens of statistical reports, generate league schedules, and more.
- David Pyke