November 12, 2007
You Could Look It Up
Sweepers, Part 3
Hurrying this series on World Series sweeps to its conclusion, rather than do all of the remaining sweeps at a minimal level of detail, what we'll do is stop well short of the present day, covering the sweeps that took place between 1950 and 1990 in depth, and leaving the sweeps by the mini-dynastic Yankees (1998 and 1999 over the Padres and Braves, respectively), the Epsteinian Red Sox (2004 and 2007, over the Cardinals and Rockies), and Ozzie Guillen's random-stroke-of-good-fortune White Sox (defeated the Astros, 2005) to your memories, and perhaps a later collection of articles.
7. 1950: Yankees over Phillies
Combined Score: Yankees 11, Phillies 5
Upset Factor: Small, since the Yankees were the defending champs, but if the Phillies' number two starter Curt Simmons hadn't been called up by his National Guard unit towards the end of the season, the Series could have been called a toss-up. With Simmons, it was a confrontation of two teams that had played just well enough to win their leagues. Because the Phillies had just two top starters (Robin Roberts was the other), manager Eddie Sawyer compensated by making his relief ace (and league MVP winner) Jim Konstanty his Game One starter. The move worked in a sense-Konstanty pitched eight innings and allowed one run. Unfortunately, the Yankees' Vic Raschi pitched a shutout.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Absolutely. The first three games were decided by one-run margins.
Best game: Game Two at Philadelphia, a duel between Roberts and veteran Allie Reynolds. Reynolds carried a streak of 22 scoreless postseason innings into the game. He'd blank the Phillies for four more before surrendering a run in the bottom of the fifth. The game was tied at one through the end of regulation, and both starters stayed in for the extra frames. Joe DiMaggio led off the top of the tenth with a home run, after which Roberts retired the side in order. The Yankees didn't have a closer that year (Joe Page had self-destructed by this point), so Reynolds stayed in for the bottom of the inning. Jackie Mayo pinch-hit for Roberts and drew a walk; first baseman Eddie Waitkus bunted him to second. Reynolds induced a foul popout from Richie Ashburn for the second out, then retired Dick Sisler on a called third strike to end the game.
Aftermath: The "Whiz Kids" Phillies turned out to be a one-shot deal. Simmons' military commitment kept him out for all of 1951, and Konstanty turned out to be a one-year wonder (though he did later do some good closing work for the Yankees in 1955). The Phillies were occasionally decent in the ensuing years, but with the exception of 1964 they didn't re-emerge as a postseason contender until 1976. The Yankees, as you doubtless know, won the next three World Series for a total of five straight championships, and also picked up the 1956 and 1958 titles.
8. 1954: Giants over Indians
Combined Score: Giants 21, Indians 9
Upset Factor: Huge. This was one of the biggest upsets ever. The Giants were just a team, while the Indians had won more games than any team in league history, and they had a pitching staff that was so good that guys like Bob Feller and Hal Newhouser had trouble getting work.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Not so much.
Best game: It has to be Game One at the Polo Grounds. First, you had The Catch. The Indians were batting in the top of the eighth with the game tied 2-2. Larry Doby led off against Giants' starter Sal Maglie and drew a walk. Al Rosen followed with a single, and Giants manager Leo Durocher went to the pen for southpaw Don Liddle to pitch to first baseman Vic Vertz, a lefty who was already 3-for-3 with a triple. Platoon splits are only available for the tail end of Wertz's career, but this appears to have been the right call: from 1957 to 1963, Wertz batted .295/.372/.495 against righties but only .207/.245/.298 against southpaws. You know the rest: Wertz launched the ball to deep, deep center field-the Polo Grounds, with its 483-foot middle pasture being the one park worthy of two "deeps"-and Willie Mays ran it down, catching the ball over his shoulder and then whirling to throw the ball in and hold the runners. The game stayed tied into the bottom of the tenth, when Dusty Rhodes, having one of the all-time great pinch-hitting seasons, pulled a Lemon pitch to right field for a walk-off three-run homer.
Aftermath: The Indians went back to being a very good team which could never quite beat the Yankees; the Giants haven't won a World Series since. In the near term they would fade rapidly, move to the West Coast, and emerge from a quick rebuilding as a very strong team that would compete throughout the 1960s.
9. 1963: Dodgers over Yankees
Combined Score: Dodgers 12, Yankees 4
Upset Factor: It depends on how you look at it. The Yankees won 104 games despite Mickey Mantle missing 97 games and Roger Maris missing 72. They were able to do this for several reasons. First, MVP winner Elston Howard ranked third in the league in VORP. Second-year player Tom Tresh improved on his Rookie of the Year-winning 1962 season, giving the Yankees a much needed OBP threat in the absence of Mantle; the Yankees' roster was dominated by hackers at this point, with the typical player taking about 30 walks in 150 games. Finally, the Yankees had a deep pitching staff, deeper than that of the Dodgers. However, the Dodgers had one huge factor in their favor-Sandy Koufax, at the peak of his powers.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Not really. Dodgers pitching completely shut down the Yankees. The last two games were decided by one run, but the Yankees never had a lead in either contest.
Best game: Game Four at Los Angeles. Game One, in which Koufax served notice on the Yankees by setting a Series record with 15 strikeouts, was more historic, but the final game was a better contest. Whitey Ford and Koufax reprised their Game One matchup, and both pitchers lived up to their reputations. Ford held the Dodgers scoreless on one hit into the bottom of the fifth, when Frank Howard connected for a monster home run into the upper deck in left field. That 1-0 score lasted until the top of the seventh, when Mantle answered Howard with a homer of his own. The tie didn't last long. Junior Gilliam bounced a ball down the third base line to lead off the bottom of the seventh. Clete Boyer fielded it and fired to Joe Pepitone at first, but Pep lost sight of the ball, and it hit him and ricocheted down the right field line. Gilliam ended up on third, and Willie Davis brought him home with a sac fly, making it 2-1 Dodgers. The Yankees went in order in the top of the eighth thanks to a Tony Kubek double-play grounder, and the Dodgers did likewise in the bottom of the inning. Koufax was still in to face the Yankees in the top of the ninth. Bobby Richardson led off with a single, but then Tresh took a called third strike, as did Mantle. With two outs, Howard hit a routine grounder to short. Maury Wills fielded it and flipped to second baseman Dick Tracewski for the force-except Tracewski dropped the ball. The Yankees had the tying and go-ahead runs on base, but Hector Lopez grounded to short, and this time the play was completed, 6-3.
Aftermath: After the Series, Mantle said, "I don't care if the Dodgers had beat us ten games in a row. I know we still have a better team." Given a regular season setting in which the Yankees didn't see Koufax twice in four games, he might have been right. Still, whether Mantle was right or wrong, the Yankees dynasty was coming to the end of its time. It would win one last pennant in 1964, and then sink out of contention for the next five years. The Dodgers would slide to sixth place in 1964 in the absence of a third starter to go with Koufax and Don Drysdale (Johnny Podres sat out most of the year with elbow problems). That winter, the Dodgers swapped Frank Howard to the Washington Senators for Claude Osteen. The young lefty, backed first by a recovered Podres and then by a 21-year-old Don Sutton, gave the Dodgers enough depth to win pennants in both 1965 and 1966. Speaking of which…
10. 1966: Orioles over Dodgers
Combined Score: Orioles 13, Dodgers 2
Upset Factor: Big. The Dodgers were the defending champions and the possessors of seemingly unbeatable pitching. Propelled by Frank Robinson's triple crown season, the Orioles had big chunks of the team that would make the franchise one of the great teams of all time, but no one knew that yet. This was the beginning, the first postseason appearance for the franchise since 1944 (as the Browns), and the first major league triumph of any kind for Baltimore since the fabled "old Orioles" won the National League in 1896.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Not really, though two of the games were decided by 1-0 scores. The Dodgers just didn't hit at all, batting .142 for the Series, and even played poorly in the field, as the six errors (three by center fielder Willie Davis) they made behind Koufax in Game Two attest.
Best game: Game Four at Baltimore, Don Drysdale against Dave McNally. The game was scoreless until the bottom of the fourth, when Frank Robinson, continuing his tremendous season, reached Drysdale for a solo shot. McNally allowed three singles the rest of the way for a 1-0 victory.
Aftermath: The Orioles struggled in 1967 and early 1968, and manager Hank Bauer was let go and replaced by coach Earl Weaver; they then rattled off three straight pennants and hundred-win seasons. The Dodgers lost Sandy Koufax to retirement after the Series, and it took a few years for them to get back on track. When they did, it was as a perennial second-place team. From 1970 to 1976 the Dodgers finished second every year but one, in 1974, when they squeezed in a pennant while the Big Red Machine was taking a break. Which segues nicely to...
11. 1976: Reds over Yankees
Combined Score: Reds 22, Yankees 8
Upset Factor: None. The Reds were the defending champions and a dominant veteran club. The Yankees were in their first postseason since 1964, and weren't quite as strong as they would be in 1977 and 1978.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Heck no.
Best game: Game Two at Cincinnati, Catfish Hunter versus Fred Norman. The Reds took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second, but the Yankees clawed their way back into the game, getting a single run in the fourth on singles by Thurman Munson, Chris Chambliss, and Graig Nettles, and two more in the top of the seventh in a rally started by Willie Randolph's leadoff single. Tying the game and chasing Norman, they nevertheless failed to take the lead. Meanwhile, Hunter threw zeroes, so that the score remained 3-3 going to the ninth. One of the key things about Hunter as a Yankee was what seemed like an unofficial rule: he's making lots of money, so he forfeited his right to any relief help. He pitched 30 complete games in 1975, 21 in 1976, and he was on his way to another one here after the Yankees went down in order in the top of the inning. Hunter retired Dave Concepcion and Pete Rose on fly balls, but Ken Griffey Sr. reached second when Chicken Stanley threw away his grounder. Yankees manager Billy Martin called for Joe Morgan to be intentionally walked. Moments later, Tony Perez's RBI single ended the game. Hunter had thrown 135 pitches.
Aftermath: The Yankees got a new shortstop in Bucky Dent, they signed Reggie Jackson as a free agent, and they returned to the postseason in 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981. The Reds finished second to the Dodgers in 1977 and 1978 despite adding Tom Seaver midway through '77. Fraying from free agency, the remains of the Big Red Machine won a final division title in 1979, then slowly scattered to the winds.
12. 1989: A's over Giants
Combined Score: A's 32, Giants 14
Upset Factor: None. The A's had been upset by a clearly inferior Dodgers team in 1988, and winning this World Series was widely seen as their due.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? No. The Loma Prieta earthquake also made such things something of an afterthought.
Best game: Game Three at San Francisco, just because it was played. The earthquake hit during Game Three on October 17; the game was immediately stopped, and the World Series did not resume until October 27. The game itself was a 13-7 win for the A's that wasn't as close as it looked.
Aftermath: The A's went back to the World Series a year later. The Giants slowly sank out of sight under Roger Craig from 1990 to 1992, but rebounded with a 103-win season under Dusty Baker in 1993 (with Barry Bonds), though they missed going to the playoffs in what some consider the last true pennant race (it was the last pre-Wild Card season).
13. 1990: Reds over A's
Combined Score: Reds 22, A's 8
Upset Factor: High. The A's were looking like a dynasty with their third Series appearance in a row. The Reds had won just 91 games in a weak division.
Was the Series competitive despite the sweep? Sort of. The A's were competitive in two games, and quickly out of the other two.
Best game: Game Two at Cincinnati. Bob Welch of the A's opposed Danny Jackson. The game was tied 4-4 through nine. The A's faced Rob Dibble in the tenth; when catcher Ron Hassey hit a two-out single, La Russa pinch-ran with Mike Bordick and called on Harold Baines to pinch-hit, but Dibble overpowered the veteran DH, striking him out. Dennis Eckersley came on to pitch the bottom of the inning. He retired Eric Davis, but allowed consecutive singles to Billy Bates and Chris Sabo. Joe Oliver hit the next ball through the third base hole for the game-winner.
Aftermath: After an 84-78 finish in 1991, the A's won their last division title of the Tony La Russa era in 1992. The following year their pitching and offense simultaneously died of old age, and the franchise would not recover until the millennium. The Reds would bounce up and down for the next several years, finishing fifth, then second, then fifth, before winning a division title under Davey Johnson in 1995. They briefly burped back to life under Jack McKeon in 1999-2000, but everything else has been academic.
Briefly Wrapping Up
All told, there have been 18 sweeps in World Series history. What's striking about them is how few of them seem to have been the result of a lucky roll of the dice by a team that wasn't actually very good. In fact, most of the teams who swept had or would establish themselves as being among the most dominant of all time. The exceptions are the 1914 Braves, the 1954 Giants, the 1990 Reds, and (very likely) the 2005 White Sox. What that leaves is various incarnations of great Yankees teams in the '20s, '30s, and '50s, the Dodgers of Koufax, the embryonic Weaver Orioles, the Big Red Machine, the Bash Brothers A's, and the Joe Torre Yankees. They were the teams one would expect to sweep from time to time, because they were that good. Now the Epstein/Francona Red Sox have joined this list a second time in four years. It is too soon to talk about them as being one of the great teams of all time, and their dynastic status is by no means assured. Whether or not they return to the postseason any time soon will not be determined by their World Series sweeps, but how aggressively their management attacks the aging and/or underperforming pieces of their roster. Nevertheless, the company they keep suggests that we may one day have to reevaluate them as being worthy of such august company.
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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