Baseball’s Golden Age: Part 3 – The Post War World 1945-1959

Yogi had the fastest bat I ever saw. He could hit a ball late, that was already past him, and take it out of the park. The pitchers were afraid of him because he’d hit anything, so they didn’t know what to throw. Yogi had them psyched out and he wasn’t even trying to psych them out.” – Hector Lopez

From the end of World War II until 1960, baseball saw a huge transformation in the game, how it was marketed, and the location of where it was played. To hear Bob Costas tell, it was the golden age of baseball for the baby boomers. The game itself was replete with stars, teams, and a new kind of player. The style of the game itself even changed. Things were going so well that the league expanded in the early 1960s.

The war was over. Teddy “Ballgame” would soon be seen patrolling Fenway. “Jolting” Joe DiMaggio would return to his rightful place in Yankee Stadium. Many others would return to the game after serving their country. Some would not. And others who had fought for their country would soon fight for their right to play in the Major Leagues. Some would get in. Some would not.

What changed most about baseball in this era was race. Jackie Robinson crossed the color line first. Then Larry Doby. Soon other followed including two of the greatest players the game has ever seen – Henry Aaron and Willie Mays. Ernie Banks followed, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, and Joe Black to name a few. Sadly, Josh Gibson never got the chance.

The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn when the era began and the Giants were still in New York. It is amazing today to sit back and think that Gotham once held three professional teams. And in this era, 12 World Series were played in the city that never sleeps. Either the Dodgers, Yankees, or Giants played in the Fall Classic from 1946-1959.

The game also had its share of stars and the new medium of television changed the game for a generation of young fans born in the post war world. Mickey Mantle arrived. Now you could sit with your milk and cookies and watch your favorite team play rather than listen to the radio and use your imagination as how they hit, fielded, pitched, and caught the ball.

The most shocking aspect of this era came in 1957 when the Dodgers and Giants announced they were packing their bags and moving west to California. If one sits and thinks about the map of baseball, it was a Northeastern game; too hot to play in the South, but mild enough to play through October from Massachusetts to Missouri. St. Louis had two teams when the era began and one when it ended. The Kansas City Athletics were the only American team west of the Mississippi and they would soon move to Oakland.

However, one need only look at the great teams of this era and see that there were few. To quote George Will:

Baseball’s supposed “golden age” of the 1940s and 1950s was not so golden outside New York. In 1947 the Yankees won the American League pennant and beat the Dodgers in the World Series. In 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1953 the Yankees were World Series winners over the Dodgers, Phillies, Giants, Dodgers and Dodgers, respectively. If the Phillies had not beaten the Dodgers in the 10th inning of the last game of the 1950 season, every World Series game for five years would have been played in New York. And if 103 wins, which usually are enough to win the pennant, had sufficed in 1954 (the Indians won 111, an American League record for a 154-game season), the Yankees would have won 10 pennants in a row, because they also won in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958.

There was no amateur draft yet. Teams went out and signed the players they could and the Yankees, Dodgers, and Giants had the most money. The Evil Empire even existed back then.

But as a historian, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the game changed drastically. By the end of the fifties, picthers began to take over. Whitey Ford had a 2.66 E.R.A. for the decade! That’s right, the decade! Warren Spahn had over 200 wins for the decade and Early Wynn and Robin Roberts struck out over 1500 batters. The game was changing. The game would soon see an influx of Latin players in the late 50s and early 60s. New names like Clemente. Tiant, and Aparicio would soon be common on every team. The mound would change because one man was a predominant primordial beast and teams would soon be all across the country.

What the post-war era saw was the spread of the great game setting up the massive changes to the game in the 1960s. The era can legitimately stake its claim to being the golden age of baseball.

For Further Reading
Golden Age of Baseball: The 1920s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1930s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Post War World

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1960s

Golden Age of Baseball: The 1970s

Golden Age of Baseball: The Steroids Era

The Golden Age of Chicago Baseball

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