As with music, politics, and American society in general, in baseball the 60s don’t really begin until halfway through through the decade.
What’s the most dramatic play in baseball? A walk-off home run. How do you make it even more so? It’s in the 7th game of World Series. That’s how Mazeroski’s blast that gave the Pirates the win over the Yankees became the most famous dinger is World Series history. This was the last straw for Yankee management, who hadn’t won a championship in two whole years, so Casey Stengel had to go.
The year Maris hit 61 and the Yankees won 109 and then broke open a close Series by outscoring the Reds 20-5 in the final two games for a not quite sweep (4-1). Replacing Stengel with Ralph Houk looked like a masterstroke.
Another close Series. In the bottom of the 9th of game 7, the Giants had the tying and winning runs in scoring position when, well, let Charlie Brown tell it:
But second baseman Bobby Richardson caught the ball, and the Yankees won again.
The first of the great Koufax-Drysdale teams swept the Yankees, combining for three complete games and giving up a total of three runs. That was all she wrote for Mr. Houk.
A season worth several books, starting with David Halberstam’s. The Phillies, in first place by 7 games on September 15th, proceeded to lose 13 of their last 17 games, and finished a game behind the Cards, who went on to beat the Yankees 4-3 in a back-and-forth series. That was it for freshmen manager Yogi Berra, who was replaced by the Cardinals’ Johnny Keane. Keane lasted only a bit over one year, as the Yankees collapsed, not to be heard from again for over ten years.
The Dodgers over the Twins 4-3, with Koufax and Claude Osteen accounting for three of the wins and both having an ERA under 1.00 . The Twins, only five years removed from Washington (first in war, first in peace, and last in the American League), had a fearsome offensive team led by Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and, incredibly, Zoilo Versalles. Versalles had a season so fluky (containing more than half the value of his 12-year career), that nowadays all of baseball would be screaming “steroids!”
The Dodgers get swept by yet another team that moving was very, very good to: the Baltimore Orioles, though it took them a decade to recover from having been the hapless St Louis Browns. This was the franchise’s very first championship and only their second pennant (the first having come in 1944, leading to the suspicion that their edge was being a team of 4Fs.) Already led by both Robinsons (Frank and Brooks), Paul Blair, Jim Palmer, and Dave McNally, they’ll be the best team of the next 15 years.
The Cardinals, led by Orlando Cepeda, Tim McCarver, Lou Brock, and Curt Flood, wake the Red Sox up from their impossible dream, winning 4-3. Gibson, who had had a merely good regular season, went 3-0 (all complete games) with a 1.00 ERA.
The Tigers beat another great Cardinals team 4-3. The most notable Tiger that year was the 24-year-old Denny McLain, the first 30-game winner since Dizzy Dean in 1934, and the last. If only he’d preferred baseball to shady ways of chasing a quick buck, he might have really been something.
The Miracle Mets, jumping from 73 wins the year before to 100 behind the spectacular play of Cleon Jones and Tom Seaver, sweep the Braves in the first-ever NLCS and then beat another loaded (and heavily favored) Orioles team 4-1 in the Series.