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The 1963 Embarrassment

Sandy Koufax
Exhibit card of pitching star Sandy Koufax, the winner of Games One and Four in the four-game sweep in the 1963 World Series. Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

The 1963 World Series was a shock to us New York Yankee fans. The LA Dodgers beat them four straight! How could such a catastrophe happen? Twelve years old then, I remember it quite well.

The 1963 Yankees crushed the AL competition by winning 104 games, 10.5 games up on the second-place Chicago White Sox, despite sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle--my hero--missing a combined season between them--167 games. While the other AL squads were up and down in their own stats, the Yankees pulled together collectively and finished second in the main areas: ERA, shutouts, complete games, fielding average, batting average, homers, slugging average, and runs scored.

Managed by Ralph Houk, New York boasted the league MVP in catcher Elston Howard. Excellent defensively with a strong throwing arm, Howard hit .287 with 28 homers and 85 RBIs. Outfielders Tom Tresh and Roger Maris added 25 and 23 homers, respectively, along with John Blanchard who hit 16 homers filling in the vacant outfield spots due to the Maris-Mantle injuries. The Yankees had a great infield: Clete Boyer at third, Tony Kubek at short, Bobby Richardson at second, and Joe Pepitone who hit .271, 27 homers and 89 RBIs in his first full season at first base after the Yankees had dealt Moose Skowron to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pitching: Lefty Whitey Ford led the league with 24 wins, .774 win percentage, and 269 innings-pitched. After losing some speed on his pitches, Ford’s career had been revived in 1961, thanks to pitching coach Johnny Sain teaching him the slider. The surprise of the year was right-hander Jim Bouton, second in the AL with 21 wins and .750 win percentage. Ralph Terry contributed with 17 wins, plus rookie southpaw Al Downing with 13 wins, 2.56 ERA, 10 complete games, and 171 strikeouts in 175 innings. In the bullpen: Hal Reniff sported 18 saves and 2.62 ERA. Six-foot-five Stan Williams had joined the Yankees in the Skowron trade and won nine games as a reliable spot-starter.

Moose Skowron
Bowman Gum card of Moose Skowron, who hit .385 against his ex-teammates in the 1963 World Series (US Public Domain)

By comparison, the Los Angeles Dodgers, won 99 games, taking the NL pennant by six games over the St. Louis Cardinals with an all-pitch, no-hit, small-ball team whose offense consisted mainly of 124 stolen bases (led by Maury Wills’ 40), Frank Howard’s 28 homers, and Tommy Davis’ NL-best .326 batting average.

In his first exceptional season since joining the Dodgers in 1955, left-hander Sandy Koufax unleashed his blazing fastball and wicked curve with expert control and blew the National League opposition away: 25 wins, 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts and 11 shutouts, all NL-best stats; and a MVP and Cy Young Award, when the latter was given to the best pitcher in both leagues combined. The other half of the Dynamic Duo, the temperamental right-hander Don Drysdale never held back from whipping his devastating fastball “inside” to batters using his distinct sidearm fashion. An intimidating hurler, he stood six-foot-five, appearing more like 15 feet tall on the mound. In 1963, “Big D” won 19 games with a 2.62 ERA, following his Cy Young Award year in 1962 posting a 25-9 mark with 2.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts in 314 innings.

The upcoming 1963 World Series would be the fifth Dodger-Yankee matchup in 12 years, the first with the Dodgers representing Los Angeles since moving there in 1958. New York was 8-5 favorites.

Game One was the battle of southpaws: Ford and Koufax on Wednesday, October 2, in the era when they played only day games in post-season. Koufax was determined: “I felt that I had to show myself and my team and the Yankees too that they were just a team of baseball players, not a pride of supermen.” Then, using the white shirts of the bleacher fans at a packed-house Yankee Stadium as a backdrop, he fanned the first three batters--Kubek, Richardson, and Tresh--on 12 pitches. Yankee batters said later that no matter what Koufax threw that afternoon--his fastball or curve---both pitches looked like a fastball coming towards them. The only difference: His curve would drop at the last microsecond.

In the second inning, Ford hung a curveball to Dodger catcher John Roseboro who promptly hit it in the right-field corner for a three-run homer. With the score already 4-0, Mickey Mantle led off the second by striking out. Before walking to the dugout, he turned to Roseboro and uttered, “How in f--- are you supposed to hit that s---.” The next batter, Roger Maris also struck out, making five in a row. On the day, Mantle and Richardson would fan three times each. While Ralph Houk went to the bullpen twice in the last four innings with Ralph Terry and Hal Reniff, Koufax threw all nine innings, striking out a World Series record 15 batters and winning 5-2.

Elston Howard
Exhibit card of 1963 American League MVP Elston Howard, the Yankees best hitter in the World Series that year at .333. Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

Game Two saw Dodgers’ manager Walt Alston choose lefty veteran Johnny Podres, the hero of the 1955 World Series, the third-best man in the starting rotation, a 14-12 pitcher who had thrown five shutouts. It was a brilliant move. After Koufax’s speed, the Podres fastball seemed to take forever to arrive at the plate. But he didn’t have to throw it that often. Using mostly a curve and changeup (the best in the business) combination, Podres threw strikes that kept the Yankees off balance.

The Dodger bats came alive with 10 hits, including a solo homer by ex-Yankee Moose Skowron. The fire-balling Al Downing was gone after five innings and seven hits. Again, Houk went to his bullpen, using Terry and Reniff. Ron Perranoski relieved Podres in the ninth to save a 4-1 victory. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Roger Maris injured his arm and wrist running into the fence chasing down a fly ball that went for a double. He was out for the rest of the Series, a terrible blow to the Yankees.

For Game Three Walt Alston went with Don Drysdale whose blistering fastball looked even faster after Johnny Podres’ slower-than-slow pitches. Back home in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, Drysdale cruised to a three-hit, 1-0 shutout walking one and fanning nine. The only run of the game occurred in the first inning when second baseman Jim Gilliam scored on a Tommy Davis single. Loser Jim Bouton threw seven decent innings before relieved by Hal Reniff.

I didn’t know what to expect for Game Four that October 6, which I remember vividly on my parents black-and-white TV in Regina, Saskatchewan. The Yankees couldn’t lose four straight, could they? It was a Sunday, a day off school, of course. It would be the battle of the southpaws again, as Koufax and Ford squared off on a sunny Southern California afternoon. Koufax didn’t have the white-shirt advantage behind him this time, so the Yankee batters got a better look at him. Even though he had taken something off his fastball, the Yanks still couldn’t hit him. He struck out eight, scattered six hits, and walked none, using more curve balls than the first game at Yankee Stadium.

The scoring started in the fifth, when, based on advice from new teammate Stan Williams, a Dodger from 1958-1962 who had said Frank Howard couldn’t hit breaking balls, Ford threw Howard a slow, arching curve. But the Dodger outfielder parked the pitch into the left-field upper deck. I cheered two innings later when Mickey Mantle hit a solo blast to make it 1-1. It was Mantle’s record-setting fifteenth World Series homer, tying Babe Ruth.

Mickey Mantle
Exhibit card of Mickey Mantle, who hit his 15th World Series homer in Game Four, said that the loss was the worst beating he had ever seen the Yankees take. Exhibit Supply Co of Chicago (US Public Domain)

Then in the bottom of the seventh, all hell broke loose. Dodger second baseman Jim Gilliam smashed a grounder to Clete Boyer at third, who back-handed it, but when he threw across the diamond, Joe Pepitone lost the ball against the white shirts along the third-base line. The ball grazed him, then sailed towards the stands in foul territory. By the time Pepitone caught up to the ball, the speedy Gilliam had raced all the way to third. When Willie Davis hit a long fly ball to center, Gilliam tagged up and scored ahead of Mantle’s throw home. Despite a rally in the ninth, the Yankees failed to score, and down they went in four straight games, dominated by Dodger pitching.

Moose Skowron, who had a disappointing regular season hitting only .203 playing part-time for the Dodgers, was the second-best hitter in the four-game series. Playing the entire four games on a Walter Alston hunch, Skowron hit .385, with a homer and three RBIs. But he felt terrible. He had been a Yankee for nine years. “I loved those guys. In my heart, I was always a Yankee,” he told people.

“It was short and sweet--for the Dodgers,” Mantle stated later in his autobiography. “The worst beating I had ever seen the Yankees take.”

Depressed for weeks afterwards, I was brought back to reality on November 22 when President Kennedy was assassinated. Even as a kid, I quickly realized there were more important things going on in the world. At least until the next spring training.

Note: the above is my previously posted online article (October 16, 2016) with The National Pastime Museum (TNPM), and is courtesy them, along with The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York, to whom all TNPM articles have since been donated to.


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