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Return of Yankees to the World Series Recalls Earlier Matchups with Braves

By Martin Duke
sports columnist

I'm far from a New York fan, but as someone who has spent the last three years of his life learning everything he can about the history of baseball, there is something special about the situation we have now.

The Yankees are in the World Series again. It used to be the birthright of every American to watch World Series games in Yankee Stadium, as they won 29 pennants in 44 years from 1921 to 1964.

Most of us were little children the last time the Yankees went to the World Series in 1981. And now we have the team of the 1990s against the team of the '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, and '60s.

World Series flashbacks

Not surprisingly, the Yankees have met the Braves before, although they were the Milwaukee Braves back then. The years were 1957 and 1958.

The 1957 Yankees, under skipper Casey Stengel, were in the World Series for the eighth time in nine years. Behind an MVP year from Mickey Mantle, New York had finished 98-56, eight games ahead of the second-place White Sox.

They faced a Braves team there for the first time in nine years, a Braves team that had won with the first and only MVP year by some guy named Henry Aaron. With 95 wins, they too had finished eight games ahead, with the Cardinals coming in second.

Game 1, at Yankee Stadium, faced off the winningest lefty of all time - Warren Spahn - against emerging Yankee great Whitey Ford. Spahn only lasted until the sixth and ended up losing to New York 31.

After the Braves evened the series at one apiece behind the arm of Lew Burdette, the series went to Milwaukee, where the Yankees exploded for 12 runs with two home runs from second baseman Tony Kubek and one from Mantle.

The Braves responded by winning Game 5, a thriller where the Yankees overcame a 41 deficit in the ninth but blew a one-run lead in the 10th inning and lost 75. In Game 5, Ford allowed only six hits and a run but lost to Burdette 10 to give the Braves a 32 lead as the series returned to the Bronx.

Game 6 went to New York when homers by Yogi Berra and Hank Bauer beat Braves homers from Aaron and first baseman Frank Torre - brother of the 1996 Yankee manager.

In the seventh game, Burdette, on two days' rest, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam to beat Don Larsen 50 and bring Milwaukee its first and only championship.

In 1958, the Dodgers and Giants began play in California. Ernie Banks of the Cubs and Jackie Jensen of the Red Sox were the MVPs, but the Yankees and Braves were in the Series once again.

Milwaukee jumped out to an early 20 lead with a 135 shellacking in Game 2. Larsen won Game 3 40, but the Braves responded the next day with a 30 shutout by Warren Spahn.

It was then when - down three games to one - Yankee catcher Yogi Berra coined his now cliched phrase, "It ain't over till it's over."They responded with a 70 shutout for Bob Turley, who had been shelled in Game 2, and won another 10 inning thriller 43.

Bill Skowron's three-run homer in the top of the eighth sealed a 62 victory in Game 7 - and the 18th series championship for the Yankees.

New York returned to the World Series in 1960; the Braves would not play a meaningful game against the American League again until 1991. And that, my friends, is the beauty of never having the two leagues meet in the regular season.

Pre-season pointlessness

Charles Barkley had it right last year when he remarked that the NBA pre-season was, to paraphrase, just "a way to gouge money out of the fans."

It's one thing to have spring training games, where talent is evaluated and hard-core fans can spend a few bucks to attend games. It's quite another to force season ticket buyers to pay full price for meaningless pre-season games.

I try not to pay too much attention to the pre-season (in the NHL, shouldn't it be called the pre-pre-season?), but I can't help but notice that in these NBA games they pretty much play their starters. So what talent-evaluation purpose does this serve? Or could it be that Barkley is right?

Of course, the NHL does the exact same thing, but perhaps the greatest shame is in the NFL, where the risk of injury is always high. Even though there is some attempt to evaluate new talent, who can forget Kijana Carter's pre-season injury last year that cost the Cincinnati Bengals' number one pick his entire rookie season?

If the leagues insist on playing games a month before their respective seasons are supposed to begin, why not make them count? What would be lost by giving NFL teams a 20-game schedule that begins in August?

At least have the decency not to hold season-ticket buyers hostage by forcing them to pay for these games.

NHL weirdness

What's wrong with the traditional hockey powers? A quick look at the standings through Friday shows the once-mighty Penguins with two, count 'em, two points in their first six games. Philadelphia and the Rangers are just beginning to climb out of an early-season hole.

The Red Wings, who broke the record for points in a season last year, are 240. That can't be explained merely by the Paul Coffey trade. It's not like Brendan Shanahan is a slouch.

And who's off to a quick start? Why, the Dallas Stars, of course, whose only particularly recognizable players are Arturs Irbe and Pat Verbeek.

I've said before that there's no need to get all excited about the regular season, especially early, but I can't recall the last time where everything was turned upside-down all at once.

Note: The World Series summaries drew heavily from both Total Baseball and Baseball: More Than 150 Years.