The Last Playoff
So much of baseball’s appeal is its history and very often that history repeats itself. In October 1962, two of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises met in a three-game playoff for the first time since their infamous 1951 series. There would be a lot of familiar faces as well as some future stars. It featured twelve Hall of Famers: eight players, one manager, one coach and two umpires. Though not as famous as '51, it did not lack for excitement or controversy.
Both teams finished the season 101-61. The National League format for a tie-breaker was the three-game series. This would be only the fourth time in NL history that a tie breaker series was necessary, with the Dodgers appearing in all four. It would also be the last.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers moved from Brooklyn in 1957 and began playing in the Los Angeles Coliseum at the start of the ’58 season. It was a rough first year in southern California, finishing seventh, 12 games under .500. But they turned it around the following year, winning the World Series, after beating the Milwaukee Braves in a three-game playoff. The next two seasons saw continued success, with 82 and 89 wins respectively, but failed to make the World Series.
For the ’62 season, the team had a new home: Dodger Stadium. Considered state of the art, the facility was located at Chavez Ravine, just north of downtown. They would draw nearly 2.8 million fans, leading the league in attendance.
The new environs seemed to kickstart the Dodgers to new heights. They won 101 games. Don Drysdale was the ace of the staff, going 25-9 and winning the Cy Young Award. Sandy Koufax won 14 with a team leading .254 ERA and a no-hitter against the Mets. He would miss much of the second half of the season due to a blood clot in his throwing arm, which nearly cost him his index finger. Veteran lefty Johnny Podres had another solid season with 15 wins. The staff’s ERA dropped from 4.04 in ’61 to 3.62. The spaciousness of the stadium had a lot to do with that. All of them gave the credit to their battery mate, catcher Johnny Roseboro, considered one of the best in the National League.
Shortstop Maury Wills was League MVP, stealing a 104 bases and playing in all 165 games. Their lineup hit .268, tied for third in the league, and drove in 781 runs.
The team was a mix of veterans and young stars. Brooklyn holdovers like Jim Gilliam and Duke Snider were mainstays while outfielders like Tommy Davis and Willie Davis became regulars. Tommy hit .346 and won the batting title. It also featured brothers Norm and Larry Sherry. Larry was a former World Series MVP. Manager Walter Alston, in his eighth season, continued his steady hand as skipper.
As in 1951, they failed to hold their lead in September. Dodger bats fell silent, including getting shutout in game 162, leading to the tie-breaker.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants had also left New York after the ’57 season and began play at Seals Stadium, a minor league facility located in San Francisco’s Mission District. Their new fans welcomed them with open arms, showing up in record numbers for a welcoming parade. Led by superstar Willie Mays, they were no longer overshadowed by the Yankees and Dodgers, the city belonged to them.
However, success proved elusive. They won 80 games in ’58, earning a third-place finish; finished third again in ’59 but slipped to fifth place in 1960 with only 79 wins. Even moving into their new stadium, Candlestick Park, didn’t help them. Unpredictable weather and poor design led to widespread criticism of the facility along with a heap of lawsuits.
GM Chub Feeney decided a change was needed and hired former Giant player Alvin Dark in 1961. While they won 85 games that year, they could not catch the Reds and finished third again. The lineup remained loaded with talent besides Mays: first baseman Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda, shortstop Jose Pagan, along with outfielders Harvey Kuenn and Felipe Alou. Felipe’s brother Matty also platooned in the outfield. Backed by excellent starting pitching from Billy O’Dell, Jack Sanford and future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, expectations were high for 1962.
The teams began playing each other in the late 1800s. New York usually got the best of the clash, winning five World Series before the Dodgers got their first. After World War II, Brooklyn starting winning consistently and began to surpass their uptown rivals. Both teams were some of the first to integrate. Brooklyn led the way with Jackie Robinson, but between 1947 and ’51 the clubs signed seven African American players. In 1951, the Giants became the first MLB team to have an all-black outfield.
New York City was changing by the mid-50s. White flight and dwindling revenues began affecting the clubs’ bottom lines. After half-hearted attempts to stay, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and Giants owner Horace Stoneham lobbied MLB for the move, which was unanimously approved.
The move to the west coast did not quell the rivalry. Contempt for the opposing fan base was widespread. Gloomy, fog-shrouded San Francisco versus the sun, sand and glitz of southern California. Orlando Cepeda once said that every game he played against the Dodgers had a playoff atmosphere. Johnny Podres, who had become a legend by winning Game 7 of the ’55 series for Brooklyn, told reporters that the nastiness between the clubs had gotten worse on the west coast.
Though many players were still around from the New York days, just a few remained from the 1951 tie breaker, among them Duke Snider and Willie Mays. Alvin Dark had been the Giants' regular shortstop and started the rally that led to Bobby Thomson's homer. Dodger third base coach Leo Durocher was the Giants manager in ’51 and had also served as Dodger manager in the 40s. His presence was controversial for many, not only because of his flamboyant lifestyle, but because his opinions on baseball often conflicted with Alston’s.
Prior to ’62, the clubs had played 88 games against each other since arriving in California, with the Giants holding the edge at 48-40.
1962 was a season of change for the National League as expansion affected the schedule and player statistics. Two teams were added, the New York Mets and the Houston Astros. The American League had already expanded with two new teams in ’61. So instead of playing each other the usual 22 times during the 154-game schedule, the new 162-game schedule meant only 18 meetings. It also led to inflated batting averages and lower earned run averages for the better teams. The Giants won 100 games for the first time since 1913.
Both media and fans expected a tight pennant race in 1962. It did not disappoint. Prior to the tie-breaker, they had split the games at nine apiece. As late as September 22, the Giants were four games back, with seven to play. Then L.A. went into a prolonged slump, losing six of the last seven. Opposing managers mentioned to reporters how tight they were playing. On September 30, the last day of the season, Mays hit his 47th homer to beat Houston while the Dodgers got shut out by St. Louis. The National League Pennant would be decided in the first week of October once again. Earlier in September, a coin flip decided who would get home field, with the Dodgers winning.
Their American League opponent was already waiting for them. The vaunted Yankees had won the pennant again by five games.
October 1, 1962 - Game 1
Game 1 would feature a still recovering Sandy Koufax versus another lefty, Billy Pierce, at a warm and surprisingly windless Candlestick Park. Pierce was 15-6 and still only the fourth best pitcher on the Giants staff. He won his only game against the Dodgers back in August. Koufax had faced the Giants twice during the season and beat them both times. Those looking for a close, low-scoring game would be shocked as the Giants blew out L.A. 8-0, knocking Koufax out in the 2nd inning. He gave up three earned runs on four hits, two of them homers. A very dejected Sandy was replaced by Ed Roebuck.
The Giants got 10 hits, with homers by Mays (2), Jim Davenport and Orlando Cepeda. Fans and sportswriters alike were stunned by the outcome. L.A.’s lineup continued slumping. John Drebinger of the New York Times called the Dodgers, “becalmed.” Walter Alston agreed, calling his lineup “anemic.” He was visibly angry after the game. Lighting up a cigarette, he noted to reporters that they hadn’t scored in 30 innings. Alston remained coy on who would start Game 2. Most assumed Drysdale. The lineup was in disarray. Uncertainty reigned in the locker room.
The series now headed down to Dodger Stadium for Game 2.
As expected, Drysdale was given the start. Despite only having two days rest, not going with your Cy Young Award winner would have been managerial malpractice. He had gone 3-1 against the Giants already. Now it was win or go home. The Giants countered with 24 game winner Jack Sanford.
Drysdale had one of the best seasons of any pitcher in baseball history, though at times, it had been frustrating. He had already pitched over 300 innings and went eight on September 29 in a 2-0 loss to the Cardinals. None of the runs were earned as the Dodgers committed three errors. Defensive woes, like their slumping bats, became all too commonplace in September.
Game 2 ended up lasting 4 hours and 18 minutes, a major league record at the time. 42 players were used, another record. Thirteen pitchers saw the mound without giving up a homer. It all ended on a sacrifice fly in the 9th inning. The crowd was rather underwhelming, just over 25,000. The loss on Monday led many of the Dodger faithful to doubt a comeback.
In spite of control issues, it was a gutsy performance by Drysdale. He threw 16 pitches in the 1st. Then the Giants got a run on two hits in the 2nd. While getting hit hard, he got out of every jam until the 6th when San Francisco exploded for four more runs. Drysdale added to the woes by bobbling Jack Sanford's bunt, which allowed the second run of the game. After that, the flood gates opened up. He was taken out for Ed Roebuck, who gave up another run before getting out of the inning.
Facing what seemed like insurmountable odds, the Dodgers responded in the bottom of the inning with seven runs to take a 7-5 lead. After walking Jim Gilliam to lead off the inning, Alvin Dark panicked. He decided to take Sanford out for Stu Miller. Sanford had been pitching a two-hitter but battling a cold. Miller only lasted four batters giving up a double, sac fly, walk and a base hit. The Giants used four pitchers in the inning, including former Yankee Don Larsen. What was left of the 25,000 plus crowd roared to life.
The Giants came back again in the 8th, with two runs and aided by another Dodger error by rightfielder Frank Howard. L.A. used three pitchers in the inning.
In the bottom of the 9th, Maury Wills lead off with a walk. After a pitching change, Jim Gilliam walked. Dark then brought in rookie Gaylord Perry who got Daryl Spencer on a bunt groundout, but Wills and Gilliam were now in scoring position. Once again, a now furious Dark made another pitching change. Mike McCormick intentionally walked Tommy Davis to load the bases. Ron Fairly then lined an 0-2 fastball right to Willie Mays which would have held any normal baserunner; but not Maury Wills. Mays’ throw to catcher John Orsino was wide, up the third base line, and Wills beat the tag. Dodgers won 8-7. The series was now tied.
A relieved Dodger team celebrated in their locker team. One reporter said the place was “jumping like the Copacabana.” For Alston, the cheer was short-lived. The Giants were starting their ace Juan Marichal for Game 3 while the Dodgers choices were Podres or righthander Larry Sherry, who had not started a game in ’62. Tired arms made for tough decisions.
Nearly 46,000 fans were on hand for Game 3 at Dodger Stadium. It was another beautiful 70-degree day, though the smog hung around. Al Helfer, one of the radio play by play men, noted that the players looked “determined.” The tension the players felt was only surpassed by their exhaustion. The teams combined for 21 hits, but committed 7 errors and left 20 men on base. It was their 165th game and it showed.
Dominican righthander Juan Marichal had gone 18-10 during the season, with seven no-decisions, and earned a save as well. He was second on the team in innings pitched with 254. His wind up and exaggerated leg kick left no doubt who was on the mound. He had already faced the Dodgers three times, going 2-1. Confidence was not lacking with Marichal or the rest of the Giants team when he pitched. He had missed a couple of starts due to a foot injury. Unknown to both Marichal and the team, he had a broken bone in his foot which was causing him immense pain.
30-year-old Johnny Podres was already in his 10th season with the Dodgers. High pressure games were nothing new, having appeared in six World Series, going 4-1. He had pitched over 250 innings and struck out 178 batters, the highest of his entire career. Alston was close to Podres, having managed him since 1955. Though confident in his veteran, the lineup made him queasy. Other than Wills and leftfielder Tommy Davis, the only other bright spot was Snider.
The Giants got on the board first by getting two in the 3rd on three hits and three errors by veterans Podres, Gilliam and Roseboro. Jose Pagan led off with a base hit. Juan Marichal was up next and attempted a sacrifice bunt moving Pagan over to 2B. Podres fielded the ball, but decided to try for Pagan and threw the ball into centerfield. Two on, none out. Harvey Kuenn then singled to drive in Pagan.
The comedy of errors continued as Roseboro tried a quick pickoff of Marichal at second. But the ball once again went into centerfield and Marichal got to third base. Chuck Hiller then hit a flyball to left. Marichal tagged up, but faked going. Duke Snider tried to double off Kuenn, who was leaning towards second. Expecting a throw home, Kuenn got caught in a rundown, but Gilliam hit him in the back, allowing Marichal to score. With Kuenn still on first, Podres gave up another single and intentional walk before finally getting Orlando Cepeda to ground into a double play. Ed Roebuck relieved Podres in the 6th after he gave up three singles in a row.
The Dodgers got one back in the 4th as Snider doubled and Tommy Davis drove him home with a single. Then in the 6th inning, L.A. struck again. Snider lead of with a single and Tommy Davis homered to take a 3-2 lead. They manufactured another run in the 7th, thanks to Wills’ extraordinary base stealing. Wills singled, stole second, then stole third. Catcher Ed Bailey’s throw went into left field and Wills quickly ran home to make it 4-2.
Both teams had a scoreless 8th inning. Marichal was finally removed for Don Larsen after he walked the leadoff hitter. Larsen managed to hold L.A. scoreless despite a sacrifice bunt and two intentional walks. But it was Alston's obstinate loyalty in the bottom of the inning that led to calls for him to be fired after the season. .
After the intentional walks, L.A. had the bases loaded with two out. The pitcher's spot was due up next. Their best pinch hitter, Lee Walls, was waiting on the bench. Alston sent up Roebuck anyway, feeling the two run lead was enough. Koufax, Podres and Drysdale pleaded with their manager that Ed was too tired to continue. Drysdale was indignant, "Put me in," he shouted. Nothing could budge Alston. Roebuck grounded out.
As the Dodgers came out for the top of the 9th, the crowd was buzzing. Three outs away from the World Series. Duke Snider, who had been taken out in the 7th inning, was on the bench sitting near Leo Durocher. Tommy Davis was now in left. Jim Gilliam moved over to third base and young Larry Burright was brought in to play 2nd base. Ed Roebuck was starting his fourth inning and at his limit. Alston knew he was tired. Stan Williams and Ron Perranoski were in the bullpen. Drysdale again made it known he was ready. The Giants were expecting to see him if L.A. got into a jam.
Roebuck gave up a single to Matty Alou but was able to get a force out as Harvey Kuenn grounded to short. With one on and one out, he walked pinch hitter Willie McCovey. Then he walked Felipe Alou. Alston came out for a mound visit. He asked 31 year old if he felt okay. Roebuck, though exhausted, answered in the affirmative.
Mays came up and promptly lined a shot off Roebuck’s glove. Kuenn scored and the bases were loaded for Cepeda. Alston finally took Roebuck out and brought in Stan Williams.
Cepeda hit a sac fly to drive in pinch runner Ernie Bowman. Tie ballgame. Alou went to third on the sacrifice. Catcher Ed Bailey was up next and Williams threw a wild pitch; Mays advanced to 2b. Alston then signaled for an intentional walk to load the bases with one out.
The L.A. bench was simmering. Snider and Durocher now pleaded with Alston to bring in Drysdale in place of Stan Williams. Stan was known to have control issues and he was in his fortieth game. Williams finished off his disastrous appearance with another walk to Jim Davenport, bringing in the go ahead run.
Finally, Alston brought in lefty Ron Perranoski to stop the bleeding. He got Jose Pagan to hit a ground ball to Burright, who muffed it, allowing Mays to score. It was now 6-4. Bases still loaded. But Perranoski struck out Bob Nieman. Mercifully, the inning was over. It was an epic collapse. Up two runs with three outs remaining only to blow the lead on four walks and an error.
A visibly shaken Dodger team tried to gather itself as the top of the order came up. Wills ground out to third. Gilliam flied to Willie Mays. That left pinch hitter Lee Walls, batting for the cursed Burright. He lined out to Mays as well. The Giants poured out of the dugout to celebrate one of the biggest wins in franchise history. The celebration would be short-lived. The World Series was starting the next afternoon at Candlestick.
Stunned Dodger fans stood staring at the field. The inaugural season of Dodger Stadium had been spoiled by the upstart Giants and another blown lead. The locker room was closed for a while after the game. Anxious reporters could hear yelling, breaking glasses and taunts at Alston. Duke Snider came out first and asked for their patience. Finally, the team sent out first baseman Wally Moon to answer questions. Some players anonymously criticized Alston to reporters. Johnny Podres went on the record, saying that Alston "lost it." Other bemoaned the loss of the World Series check of $12,000. There would be changes for Alston and the Dodgers.
The Giants would go on to battle the Yankees in a World Series. It ended on a line drive by Willie McCovey with two on in the 9th inning of Game 7. Second baseman Bobby Richardson snared the liner and put an end to San Francisco’s dream. It would be the only time that Giants team made it to the Fall Classic. They would finish third in ’63 and fourth in ’64. Then they would finish in second place four years in a row between ’65 and ’68. The Dodgers and Cardinals would represent the National League in the next six World Series. Willie Mays would get to another Series, but not until his last year with the Mets in 1973, losing to the A’s. The City of San Francisco would not get their first World Series victory until 2010. They would also get two more in 2012 and 2014.
Changes in Blue
There was a lot of blame to go around for the Dodgers. The bullpen and defense had let them down, ending the season second only to the woeful Mets in total errors. The organization decided quickly who would take the fall.
Stan Williams was traded to the Yankees in November for Moose Skowron, Larry Burright was traded to the Mets, where he only lasted two seasons before being sent down to the minors. He never played in the Major Leagues again. Ed Roebuck never seemed to recover from that one bad outing. After a miserable first half of 1963, he was traded to the Washington Senators. Team Captain Duke Snider was sold to the Mets, where he would play one season and then ironically finish his career with the Giants in 1964. The team had been looking to part ways with the aging Snider, despite his strong showing against San Francisco. Popular backup catcher Norm Sherry was also purchased by the Mets. But Walter Alston kept his job. So did Leo Durocher, at the insistence of Alston.
The Dodgers came back with a vengeance in 1963, winning 99 games and sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. Sandy Koufax began to establish himself as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, winning the NL MVP, Cy Young and World Series MVP. He even no-hit the Giants in May. Along with Drysdale, they would lead L.A. to another Series win in ’65 and reach another in ’66.
Today, the long simmering cauldron that is the Dodgers-Giants rivalry continues unabated. Late inning heroics, bench clearing brawls and all of their associated controversies are still the norm. The 21st Century version might just be more exciting than the previous 120 years.
- “A Giant Shot That Forced A Playoff.” Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1962. www.vault.si.com.
- Alston, Angry With Dodger Letdown, Calls Club's Hitting 'Anemic: Snider and Moon named to Line-up. Alston to Start Left-Handed Sluggers--Williams Gets Mound Assignment.” New York Times, October 2, 1962. (Pg. 49). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library (kcls.org)
- Becker, Bill. “Alston Believes Slump Has Ended: Dodgers’ Manager Praises Walls, Williams, Wills, Drysdale, and Fairly.” New York Times, October 3, 1962. (Pg. 50). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org).
- Becker, Bill. “Wallop By Mays Downs Colts, 2-1.” New York Times, October 1, 1962 (Pg. 42). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org).
- “Dodgers See $12,000 A piece Walk Away on Bases on Balls.” New York Times, October 4, 1962 (pg. 65). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org).
- Drebinger, John. “Giants Beat Dodgers, 8-0, in First Playoff Game as Mays Hits Two Homers: Pierces 3-hitter Tops Los Angeles 6 Dodger Hurlers Yield 10 Hits--Cepeda, Davenport Also Connect for Giants.” New York Times, October 2, 1962. (Pg. 48). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org).
- Drebinger, John. “Dodgers Beat Giants, 8-7, in 9th; Tie Pennant Playoff at One-All.” New York Times, October 3, 1962. (Pg. 1). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System
- Friend, Harold. “The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers: 1951 Once More.” Bleacher Report, August 3, 2010. Bleacherreport.com.
- Friend, Harold. “Sandy Koufax: The Doctors Were Worried They Might Have To Amputate My Finger.” Bleacher Report, 2020.
- “Giants and Dodgers End Season in a Tie.” New York Times, October 1, 1962. (Pg.1). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org)
- “Giants’ Effort to Slow the Infield is Thwarted by an Angry Umpire.” New York Times, October 2, 1962. Special to the New York Times. (Pg. 48). ProQuest Historical Newspapers, King County Library System (kcls.org)
- Livacari, Gary. “A Bitter Stan Williams Recalls His Role In “The Worst Inning In Dodger History,” October 3, 1962! Baseballhistorycomesalive.com, August 27, 2018.
- Van Niekerken, Bill. “54 years ago, a Giants-Dodgers series for the ages.” San Francisco Chronicle, September 30, 2016. Sfchronicle.com.
- Walton, Ryan. “History has not been kind to the Dodgers in tiebreaker games.” SB Nation, October 1, 2018. Truebluela.com.
- Plaut, David. Chasing October: The Dodgers-Giants Pennant Race of 1962. ?? (Publisher and version needed)
- YouTube (Games 1 & 3 radio broadcasts)