Historic Yankees-Dodgers rivalry elicits thoughts of both past, future

The first one, no surprise, was — as they may have described it in 1941 — a real humdinger, 68,540 people cramming into old Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the ’41 World Series. 

The Yankees had previously played five such fall classics that were already being dubbed “Subway Series,” and all five came against the other National League team in New York, the Giants.

By the time the Yankees won the 1923 Series, a sweeping tectonic shift had already begun.

The Giants’ imperial position as New York’s premier baseball club was gone. 

Even when the Giants won the 1933 Series, the Yankees responded soon after with four straight, from 1936-39 (the first two of them against the Giants), and the first choruses of “Break up the Yankees” began to be heard.

If even the mighty Giants could barely compete with the Yankees, who could? 

Thus, was there so much joy and anticipation attached to that 1941 Series, between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Larry MacPhail had hired Leo “The Lip” Durocher and had begun building a legitimate outfit in Brooklyn, which hadn’t won a pennant in 21 years.

The Dodgers won 100 games in ’41, just one fewer than the Yankees, and there was genuine hope in Brooklyn that the Bums could win their first world championship. 

Aaron Judge
Aaron Judge and the Yankees head to Los Angeles to face the Dodgers.

They didn’t, which is all part of the reason the Yankees’ visit to Chavez Ravine and Dodger Stadium will be so interesting this weekend.

It is one of the most unique rivalries in all of sports, one that tugs at heartstrings and memory banks, and whenever there is a game and those two teams are on the field, it seems like it should be televised in black and white, feels like Mel Allen and Red Barber should share the call. 

“Even now, when I see their uniforms, I get excited because it means it’s a big game,” Whitey Ford told me on the field at Yankee Stadium in 2013, before the first time the Dodgers played a regular-season game against the Yankees in The Bronx. “It makes me want to put on a uniform.” 

It’s a different kind of rivalry than, say, the one against the Red Sox, whom the Yankees have now faced 2,323 times (including the postseason), a lot of them when there was hard feeling on one or the other side, or both.

By now, the Yankees have even played the Mets 143 times, 61 times more than they’ve played the Dodgers — and the Yankees and Mets only started playing each other in 1997. 

Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts
Dodgers superstar Mookie Betts.

Still, Yankees-Dodgers is a worthy pairing, a worthy event, and the fact that both teams are playing well means we can daydream about another one of these gatherings in October, something that last happened in 1981. 

Strangely, however the quirks of the old scheduling worked, the Yankees have actually played the Dodgers fewer times in the regular season than any other team. Of course, it isn’t those 16 games (of which each team has won eight) that has built this rivalry. 

It’s those seven World Series from 1941 through 1956, of which the Yankees won six, including the first five, and the famous phrase “Wait Till Next Year” was coined, and repeated all over Park Slope and Flatbush and Bedford-Stuyvesant and Coney Island and Brooklyn Heights, all the places where the Dodgers were a genuine secular religion. 

Yogi Berra (l.) congratulates Don Larsen after his perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
Yogi Berra congratulates Don Larsen after his perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
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Then 1955 happened, and Brooklyn was ascendant. But in ’56, the Yankees took their revenge (and Don Larsen famously pitched a perfect game in Game 5), and by 1958 the Dodgers had set up shop 3,000 miles away.

The teams met as bicoastal rivals four more times in the Series, the Dodgers bookending wins in 1963 and 1981 around losses in 1977 and 1978. 

And all of it began Oct. 1, 1941, the first time the teams met in a game that counted. The front pages of the papers were filled with horror — “NAZIS TO SHOOT CZECH PREMIER” yelled one — but on the other side there was much joy and baseball merriment, a welcome buffer from the gathering storm. 

Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Durocher opted to try to play some mind games, not officially naming Curt Davis as his pitcher until 15 minutes before the start of the game. Joe Gordon hit an early home run.

The Dodgers celebrate after winning the 1955 World Series.
The Dodgers celebrate after winning the 1955 World Series.
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Red Ruffing went all the way on a six-hitter in a tight, taut 3-2 Yankees win.

And one of baseball’s forever rivalries was born. 

This weekend, in Los Angeles, it’ll be renewed, maybe as an October preview, maybe just as a fun June litmus test.

Those uniforms, on the same field, together. It’s a big series.

source: nypost.com