This article was written by Steve West
The 1958 World Series featured a rematch from 1957, the defending champion Milwaukee Braves once again facing the New York Yankees.
The Yankees had taken charge of the American League early, gaining first place in the fourth game of the season and never losing it all year. A streak of 14-1 in May pushed them out to an 8½-game lead, which slowly inched up to 17 games in early August, and although they faltered the rest of the way, finishing 25-28, their big lead was only whittled down to 10 games at the end of the season. They were battling injuries though, with several of their players — including starters Whitey Ford and Don Larsen — playing with bumps and bruises or having struggled in September.
The Braves had faced an early-season struggle, trying to find themselves for the first couple of months, before establishing a grip on first place in June, then fighting to hold off the San Francisco Giants. It wasn’t until the beginning of August, when Milwaukee swept four games from the Giants and took three out of four from the other contender, the Pittsburgh Pirates, that they found themselves with some breathing room, having pushed the lead to 7½ games. From there they held the lead fairly comfortably, until they clinched on September 21. But the Braves were banged up, too; star left fielder Wes Covington struggled with knee and thigh injuries, and even had a checkup two days before the first game of the Series. Pitcher Joey Jay, number three in the rotation and with a team-leading 2.14 ERA, had had arm problems since July, and after missing a month, came back on September 23, was hit by a groundball that broke his finger, and missed the Series. The Braves were planning to give Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette three starts each during the Series, so they needed only one start from someone else.
With both teams dragging, the betting line had moved from the Yankees as slight favorites to even money by the time the Series began. The Yankees were appearing in their fourth straight World Series, and New York fans took comfort in the fact that their team had not lost two World Series in a row since their first two appearances, in 1921 and 1922.
The day before Game One, Milwaukee hosted a civic parade for the Braves. Players and officials rode in a fleet of convertibles while bands and marching groups entertained the crowds. The city had a concert and fireworks, and a pep rally led by the mayor. Fans in Milwaukee were excited for their team to be back, and were expecting to win once again.
Commissioner Ford Frick had an emergency appendectomy on September 23, and missed the two games in Milwaukee, the first commissioner to miss a World Series game since the office had been established. Charles Segar, a former sportswriter and now secretary-treasurer of baseball, took Frick’s place and handled all the commissioner’s responsibilities while in Milwaukee.1
Game day opened chilly, as you would expect in Wisconsin in October. The previous day there was morning rain, but Wednesday’s high would be in the mid-50s, with a mild breeze. Prior to the 1:00 P.M. start time, a Marine Corps color guard paraded the United States flag in center field and longtime Braves singer Marvin Moran sang the National Anthem. James Crusinberry, a charter member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary, threw out the first pitch.
A standing-room crowd of 46,367 came out to see the game, and many more watched live on NBC, which was televising the World Series in color for the first time.
There was much second-guessing when Braves manager Fred Haney chose Spahn to start Game One instead of Burdette, who had beaten the Yankees three times in the 1957 Series. Haney also surprised observers by choosing Andy Pafko to start in center field; he had started only two games there all year. In the other dugout, Casey Stengel tabbed Whitey Ford to start for the Yankees.
The Yankees threatened immediately but poor baserunning and great Milwaukee defense kept them off the scoreboard. Hank Bauer led off with a single, extending his record World Series hitting streak to 15 games (he hit safely in every game during both the 1956 and 1957 Series.) But Spahn immediately picked him off first. Gil McDougald singled and then with two out, Elston Howard hit a fly to deep left-center that Pafko caught crashing into the wall, proving the faith put in him by his manager.
In the second, the Yankees missed another opportunity. With no one out, Yogi Berra tried to go to third base on a single by Moose Skowron but Covington cut him down. The Braves wasted their own opportunity in the bottom of the frame, as Spahn struck out to end the inning with runners on first and third.
It took until the top of the fourth to break the deadlock as Skowron pulled a home run just over the 320-foot sign at the left-field foul pole to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. The Braves struck back immediately in the bottom of the inning with a walk and three singles; Del Crandall drove in Hank Aaron to tie the game. After Pafko’s base hit, Spahn singled to center to score Crandall and make it 2-1 Braves.
The action continued in the top of the fifth, with Spahn making the cardinal error of walking the opposing pitcher. Bauer immediately made him pay by homering 10 rows deep into the left-field bleachers and flipping the lead back to the Yankees, 3-2. But then both pitchers settled down, giving up little or nothing until the bottom of the eighth. In that inning Ford walked Eddie Mathews and gave up a deep drive to Aaron (“I thought it was gone,” Ford said2), which Bauer jumped for and just missed. The ball ricocheted off the fence as Aaron cruised into second with a double, Mathews stopping at third. Casey Stengel had seen enough from Ford, and brought in hard-throwing Ryne Duren to try to get out of the second-and-third, no-outs jam. Duren struck out Joe Adcock, but then Covington hit a fly to medium-depth left-center. Mickey Mantle made a running catch in front of left fielder Howard, but couldn’t throw out Mathews, who scored the tying run.
Duren got in another jam in the bottom of the ninth, with runners on first and second and one out, but survived once more. In the 10th Spahn, who had retired 14 straight batters, allowed a single and walk, but once again worked out of trouble. This led to the bottom of the 10th. With one out Adcock singled, and then Covington hit a long drive to left, which Howard caught on the warning track. The next batter, Crandall, hit a Baltimore chop that just eluded shortstop Tony Kubek, moving Adcock to second. Then Bill Bruton, who had pinch-hit for Pafko in the ninth, hit a sinker that didn’t sink from Duren into right-center, splitting the two outfielders perfectly. They watched helplessly as the ball bounced against the fence while Adcock came home to score the winning run.
The Yankees had their chances but missed each time. They ended up with four players with two hits each, but no hits for anyone else, which meant that even when they got people on base they weren’t able to move them. They had brought the big bats, with two home runs, but the Braves had got the hits when they needed them. Spahn had struggled early, but held on for a 10-inning win. He had helped himself with the bat, getting two hits and an RBI for his efforts. Ford and Duren had combined for 13 strikeouts, a record for most strikeouts by a losing team in the World Series, but even that wasn’t enough for the well-timed hits by the Braves.
Stengel was disappointed his team hadn’t beaten Spahn. “We had a chance to get to him early in the game but couldn’t make it,” he said.3
In a humorous aftermath, a Yankees fan had climbed a pole to be able to watch the game. He got stuck up on the pole, and after the game several hundred spectators remained behind to watch firemen rescue him. On the ground he was taken before a judge and fined $25 for disorderly conduct.
This article appears in “From the Braves to the Brewers: Great Games and Exciting History at Milwaukee’s County Stadium” (SABR, 2016), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To read more stories from this book at the SABR Games Project, click here.
1 “Frick Missed First Series,” The Sporting News, October 15, 1958, 18.
2 Robert Creamer, “The Test Of The Champs,” Sports Illustrated, October 13, 1958.
3 The Sporting News, October 15, 1958, 18.