SI Vault
William Leggett
September 02, 1963
After a bitter month of brushback pitches, low-run games and catcalls from the overflowing stadium at Chavez Ravine, the embattled Los Angeles Dodgers are still confident that they will win out in the National League
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September 02, 1963

Dodgers In A Dogfight

After a bitter month of brushback pitches, low-run games and catcalls from the overflowing stadium at Chavez Ravine, the embattled Los Angeles Dodgers are still confident that they will win out in the National League

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Los Angeles is worrying again. Not the team, mind you; not the Dodgers. It is the city that is worrying. Worrying itself sick. The people claim that they can see disaster bearing down on the Dodgers once more. This week, as September comes to Chavez Ravine, so do the San Francisco Giants for a four-game series, and this prospect brings no joy to an Angeleno's heart.

Although, at the beginning of the week, the Dodgers were six and a half games in front of the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, who were tied for second, Los Angeles remembers far too well that its team was in front last year, too. And at precisely the same time of the season. Then the Giants came to town for a four-game series, won three and forced the Dodgers into a skid which ended up in one of the worst wrecks in baseball history. While San Francisco won the pennant, the Dodgers won the reputation of a team with a built-in collapsing mechanism.

There have been hundreds of explanations for the failure of last season, a great many of them having to do with Manager Walter Alston, who has been accused of being no manager at all. And, superficially at least, Alston is hardly the picture of the fiery field leader with a set team of professionals firmly in hand. The Dodgers have no set lineup and no fixed batting order. When Alston picks a starting lineup, he does it with the same determination that one uses when ordering a Chinese meal. He takes a player from group A and two from group B, until he has gathered nine. Then he bows his head and seems to wonder what is coming.

What came last September was bad, but it definitely did not all come from Alston. There are only two valid explanations for the collapse. First, in mid-July the Dodgers lost baseball's best pitcher, Sandy Koufax, who sat out all but three games of the final half of the season with a finger injury. Then, according to Duke Snider, currently with the New York Mets but a Dodger for the preceding 15 years, "Everyone on that team, from the manager to the bat boy, folded in the last month. Everyone was to blame."

First Baseman Ron Fairly (see cover) was typical of those players who folded—he hit .301 up to Sept. 1, and .179 for the final month. And in the past few weeks of the current season there have been ominous signs that the whole ball club was about to do it again. The team has been amazing in its inconsistency. In one 11-game span, during which Fairly hit all of .167 as his average slid from near .290 down to .279, the Dodgers could score only 50 runs. And their fielding was something for Little Leaguers to snicker at. Yet, because their pitching was something between good and brilliant and their base running daringly successful, they managed to win eight of the games. It was a tough, almost frantic stretch of baseball, with some wild gambles (below) and a few pitches that were too tight (see preceding pages). But the Dodgers came out of it still in first place, with the season 11 days older. Moreover, they came out of it dead sure—even if their fans at Chavez Ravine were not—that there would be no repetition of 1962.

"Sure I was terrible that last month in 1962," said Fairly. "It was like a bad dream. But this year it will be different. We matured from that. We are on guard. Remember that as bad as we were last season, the Giants were equally bad. Neither team played like it wanted to win. But being so close to having the pennant right in our hands and then losing it makes us want this pennant even more."

The Dodgers showed the Cardinals how badly they wanted the pennant when the St. Louis team came at them for a three-game series in the middle of the hitting slump. Before the series began, Stan Musial chatted about its meaning. "Over the years the Cards and the Dodgers have been in some real dogfights. There were seasons when they knocked us out of pennants and we knocked them out. It's getting late now, though, and we have six games left with them. We need these games here." Then Musial and the rest of the fine Cardinal hitters ran into the Dodger pitching staff, whose jewel all season has been a sound and healthy Koufax. In three desperate games the Cardinals could get only nine runs, and five of those came in the first four innings of the first game off Johnny Podres. In the 30 innings that followed, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Ron Perranoski, Bob Miller and Larry Sherry gave the Cardinals four runs.

In the first game, Fairly was the star of a rough, tense 7-5 Dodger win. The Cardinals jumped to a 4-2 lead, and then the Dodgers started clawing and scratching. They got one run when Willie Davis wheeled all the way from first to home on a butchered double-play ball, flying into the plate safe as the throw from center field nicked the pitcher's rubber, causing the bounce to be slow and high. A bunt and two singles produced a pair of Dodger runs. Then, with the bases loaded, Fairly slashed a single up the middle to wrap up the game. In the clubhouse afterward, Fairly sat down and closed his eyes for a few seconds. "I'm hot and tired. I feel grungy. Real grungy. Please, Lord, let us have an easy one tomorrow."

The next night was anything but easy. After 15 innings, each side had one run. In the bottom of the 16th, Third Baseman Ken McMullen hit a high drive to center field with two out. Curt Flood, the Cardinal center fielder, turned the wrong way on the ball and when he picked up its flight again it was too late. Flood was playing with a severe muscle pull in his left leg, and his normally good speed was dulled. He crashed into the wall and McMullen pulled into second base with a double. With two strikes on him, John Roseboro singled just inside third and McMullen scored. The Dodgers ran onto the field and jumped up and down. Stan Musial stared at the ground. "It hurts. Really hurts," he said.

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