The 1958 Yankees are enjoying a bit of a revival thanks to their status as the franchise’s only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a seven game postseason series. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman took a look at how Casey Stengel guided his team back from the brink of elimination, while TYU examined the players who made up the 1958 squad. Perhaps the most interesting part about looking back at baseball’s past, however, is learning that the narrative hardly ever changes.
Just like the 2010 NLCS opener (and again tonight’s game five) featured a much anticipated showdown between the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the 1958 World Series opened with White Ford squaring off against Warren Spahn, an encore of the previous seasons’ World Series opener that Ford won 3-1. After Spahn’s victory in the rematch, noted sportswriter Jimmy Cannon crowed that the Braves’ perennial 20-game winner was still the best in the game, even if more scholarly observers preferred dynamic young arms like Don Drysdale, or veterans like Ford, who had much better peripheral statistics despited failing to win more than 19 games. Sound familiar? Needless to say, Cannon probably wouldn’t have been swayed much by the fact that Spahn only ranked tenth in ERA+ in 1958.
Baseball is not a complicated game, but those who know most about it appear to resent the simplicity of it. So they have a tendency to reject the standards by which all players must eventually be judged. Numbers count in baseball as much as they do in dice. You measure a man by the record he leaves behind him in the guides. There is no other way and, in time, the book wins all arguments. This makes Spahn the greatest pitcher now throwing for a big league club.” – Jimmy Cannon, North American Newspaper Alliance, October 2, 1958
Showing that he was fair to all parties, Cannon also wrote about the Yankees’ mystique after they came back to win the series. “It does no good to be influenced by the final conclusions of the accountants who compute the worth of ballplayers as if they were figuring a grocery bill. The Yanks are a special breed of ballplayer and they are loaded by some magic you can only comprehend vaguely,” Canon penned after game seven.
In addition to Cannon’s hyperbole, the storylines from each game would all sound familiar if written today. After going up 2-0, the main story was Braves’ manager Fred Haney’s cautious declaration that the “series is far from over,” but that quickly changed to the “worried Braves getting set to face the carefree Yankees” once the series reached a seventh game. Managerial second guessing was also rampant, particularly with regard to Haney’s decision to use Spahn on two days rest in game six. Of course, Spahn only gave up two runs in eight innings, and his mound opponent, Whitey Ford, who was also going on two days rest, didn’t make it out of the second inning, but just about every decision by the losing manager was fair game. When the Yankees polished off the comeback, they did so by beating Lew Burdette, the Yankee killer who bested the team three times in the 1957 World Series, and in the process stopped being the old, fading dynasty and resumed their rightful status as champions. Or, as Sarasota Herald-Tribune Sports Editor Nick Robertson wrote, “since this is the dairy state, it seems apropos to point out that cream always rises to the top”.
It remains to be read what the modern day scribes will write about the 2010 Yankees when all is said and done, but as Yogi Berra, the catcher on the 1958 team, once quipped, it could very well be “déjà vu all over again”.