[On October 1, 1950, the Philadelphia Phillies played the greatest game in their long history—their historic victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I realize that there have been other important, and significant games, playoff wins, World Series wins, clutch games, etc. But, in my humble opinion, no other game had the stakes, displayed the guts, and had the drama as the one played in Brooklyn seventy years ago, the one-game playoff against the Dodgers.
We focus so much on the super-stars of recent Phillies teams that we forget some of the greats of our parents’ generation. Maybe two of the players of the 1950 Whiz Kids have become icons, Richie Ashburn and Robin Roberts. Hardly anyone talks anymore about other truly great ballplayers and Phillies. Jim Konstanty was a relief pitcher and the only relief pitcher ever to be named the NL Most Valuable Player. He did this in 1950. Curt Simmons was another great Phillies pitcher, who won 17 games in 1950 before being called up to the US Army in September 1950, forcing him to miss the end of the season and the World Series. Don’t forget the great shortstop, Granny Hamner, outfielder Puddin’ Head Jones, outfielder, Del Ennis (a great power hitter who, in 1950, batted .311, had 31 home runs, and led the NL with 126 RBIs), and Andy Seminick, one of Philadelphia’s greatest catchers. In 1950, at 29, he was known as “Grandpa” and was the unofficial team leader and played with a broken ankle, including in the decisive game against the Dodgers. Who does that?
On April 8, 2020, Matt Snyder, writing for CBS Sports wrote an article listing his picks for the all-time starting team for the Phillies. He selected Roberts and Ashburn, but didn’t even mention any of the others from the 1950 Phillies. How can you list great Phillies relief pitchers and not even list Konstanty, the NL MVP? Not discuss Ennis or Seminick? This story, based on facts, is my homage to the 1950 Phillies and the greatest Phillies game ever played.]
It was late September 1950 and Philadelphia was abuzz with excitement. The Phillies had squandered a long lead in the last month of the regular season, losing eight of the last ten games.
On September 30, 1950, despite losing the last regular-season game, they were tied in the standings with the Brooklyn Dodgers. A one-game playoff on October 1, would determine which team would become the National League Champion and face the reigning champion, the New York Yankees, in the World Series. If the Phillies won, it would be their first series since 1915, thirty-five years earlier. Over two million Philadelphians anxiously awaited the game. The city was electrified.
The game was played in Brooklyn, and fans took special trains to New York. Many went without a game ticket in the vain hope that they might find one; others were happy just to stand by the sacred ground of Ebbets Field while the game was played inside.
When they arrived, a Brooklyn mob greeted the Philadelphians. A standing-room-only crowd of over 35,000 fans filled the stands and almost as many stood outside. It was a flawless fall day, warm and sunny, perfect for baseball.
After significant festivities, the game finally began a little after 1 p.m. Don Newcombe, the Dodgers’ ace and Robin Roberts’ nemesis, took the mound in the first inning. Both pitchers enjoyed nineteen wins that season and both were working for their twentieth. That year, Roberts had beaten Newcombe twice and lost once. Newcombe was eager to even the score. Newcombe was in great form and easily handled the first three Phillies batters, Eddie Waitkus, Ritchie Ashburn, and Dick Sisler.
When Roberts took the mound in the bottom of the first inning he was lustily booed by the Brooklyn fans. The Dodgers were the only team in baseball with fans more venomous than Phillies’ fans, and they fully vented against their foes to help their team. Roberts, feeling the anxiety of the game and perhaps not fully recovered from pitching three games in a little over a week, walked Cal Abrams, who was leading off for the Dodgers. The next batter, Pee Wee Reese, hit a long fly ball to Ashburn who easily fielded it as he jogged toward the infield. Roberts was able to force the next two batters, Duke Snider and Jackie Robinson, to hit weak outs.
The second and third innings held promise for the Phillies. They were able to get runners on base four times, with singles and a walk, but they couldn’t score a run. When the Phillies re-took the field, Roberts settled in and capably handled the Dodgers, allowing no hits. In the fourth inning, however, Reese, who was among the best players in baseball, got a double off Roberts. The Phillies ace then retired the side, ending that threat. By the end of five innings the score was even, 0 – 0. Both Roberts and Newcombe were pitching flawless baseball.
In the sixth inning the Phillies finally had some luck. With two outs, Sisler singled. Del Ennis, the National League’s RBI leader, followed up with a long single and Sisler slid into third base. Puddin’ Head Jones, the Phillies’ third baseman, followed up with a single, scoring Sisler and leaving men on first and second. Granny Hamner thrilled Phillies fans with a long liner deep to right that looked like it would go into the seats, but it was fielded and resulted in the third out. Philadelphians moaned, while the Dodgers fans breathed a sigh of relief. The Phillies, however, were on the scoreboard now with one run.
The Dodgers’ half of the sixth inning resulted in one of the oddest plays in baseball. After Roberts forced two outs, Reese came to bat. Not known as a power hitter, the Dodgers’ shortstop was a constant threat to hit and get on base. Reese lifted a Roberts’ fastball with a hit to right field that was barely in fair territory. It appeared to clear the right-field wall, but it didn’t. Instead, the ball hit the screen. Rather than bounce back to the field for a ground-rule double, it dropped straight down and landed on the top of the outfield wall where it spun around for several long seconds before coming to rest for a ground-rule home run. Reese couldn’t believe his luck. He laughed and bowed to the crowd as he circled the bases. The Dodgers fans went wild. The ball stayed on the wall, as if taunting the Phillies, until the seventh inning when an adventurous fan climbed out and retrieved it. The score was now 1-1.
Neither the Phillies nor the Dodgers could score again in the seventh and eighth innings. Both teams enjoyed fine defensive playing and both pitchers were able to avoid giving up any additional runs.
As the ninth inning opened, the Phillies were desperate for a run to give them the lead and prevent disaster in the event of a Brooklyn run in the bottom of the ninth. Philadelphians in the stands, watching on television, and listening on the radio, held their breath. Hamner lined a pitch from Newcombe that looked as if it would go over Abrams head in left field. Instead, he turned and, keeping his eye on the ball, ran backwards at full speed, making an extraordinary leaping catch for the out.
Andy Seminick, who had already hit twenty-four home runs that year, played with a broken ankle. He hit a sharp ground ball to Billy Cox at third base and hobbled to first on a single after the ball bounced off Cox’s glove. Seminick was replaced with a pinch runner, Putsy Caballero. Next up was Mike Goliat. Caballero danced away from first base, trying to distract Newcombe, and then made a break for second. Roy Campanella, the strong Brooklyn catcher who grew up blocks from Shibe Park in Philadelphia and vainly hoped to be the first Black player to play for the Phillies, made a strong and accurate throw to Robinson, throwing Caballero out. Goliat then lined out, ending the threat.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the score 1-1, any run would result in the Dodgers winning the game. Roberts returned to the pitcher’s mound and proceeded to walk the leadoff batter, Cal Abrams. Next up was Reese, still grinning and bowing to the crowd from his freak home run. He attempted to bunt the first pitch and missed. He attempted to bunt the second and missed again. With two strikes, Reese swung away, hitting the ball to left field. Abrams moved to second base.
Duke Snider, Brooklyn’s powerful center fielder, was up next. He squarely hit a Roberts fastball and sent it into center field. Abrams ran for all he was worth. and Milt Stock, the Dodgers’ third base coach, waved him around third. In center field, Ashburn had unexpectedly played very shallow when Snider came to bat. Not known for having a strong arm, Ashburn fielded the ball on one hop and sent a shot past the cut-off man toward the catcher, Stan Lopata, who had replaced Seminick. The roar at Ebbets Field was deafening as Brooklyn fans howled in anticipation of a run and the win. Phillies fans held their breath as Abrams rounded third base. The throw from Ashburn landed squarely in Lopata’s glove. He easily tagged out Abrams several feet before he reached the plate.
The Phillies’ manager, Eddie Sawyer, signaled to Jim Konstanty, the National League’s leading relief pitcher, to get into the bullpen and warm up.
With only one out, Reese, known for his speed, was now on third and Snider was standing on second. Robinson, the league’s second-best hitter with a .328 average, was coming up to bat. Sawyer signaled a time out and walked to the mound to talk with Roberts. Lopata joined them and listened intently.
“Robbie, how are you holding up?” Sawyer asked.
“I’m good Eddie.”
“What do you think? I mean Robinson is hot. Why don’t you walk him and then pitch to Furillo?”
As instructed, Lopata signaled for an intentional walk, and Roberts pitched four pitches way outside the strike zone to Robinson who jogged to first base with an intentional walk. The bases now were loaded with only one out. A bloop single or even a long fly out would win the game for Brooklyn.
Konstanty was fully warmed up and itching to get into the game. A word about Konstanty: In 1950, he was a full-time relief pitcher and perhaps the most under-appreciated Phillie of all time. In 1950, he pitched in seventy-four games and won sixteen with twenty-two saves. He was selected for the National League All-Star Team and won the Associated Press Athlete of the Year award. The Cy Young Award did not yet exist. Nevertheless, he was selected as NL Most Valuable Player in 1950 (the only relief pitcher to receive this honor). Despite this, Sawyer left him in the bullpen in favor of his starter, Roberts. It was the bottom of the ninth inning. Any hit, even a long fly out, would result in the game, and the season, going to the Dodgers. Sawyer was either insane or knew something about Roberts, the man and the pitcher, that no one else could have known.
Since the bases were loaded, Roberts felt he could now ignore all of the runners and focus entirely on the next batter, hard-hitting right-fielder Carl Furillo. Roberts saw only Lopata’s glove and the torso of the batter. He ignored the howling crowd. It was like he was pitching in a tunnel. His first pitch was a fastball to Furillo who hit a shot almost directly at Goliat who stood near first base in foul territory. Goliat easily fielded the ball for the second out of the inning. The runners could not advance.
Next up was Gil Hodges, the Dodgers’ first baseman. After taking several pitches, he finally sent a long fly ball to Ennis in right field for the third out.
After the Phillies jogged back to the dugout, Sawyer looked at his pitcher. Not only had Roberts pitched nine innings, giving up just five hits and one home run, but he had pitched in three previous games in a little over a week. His record since September 16th wasn’t great either, with three losses and two no decisions. Roberts had picked up his bat as he was due to lead off in the bottom of the tenth inning. Any sane manager would have pulled his starter. He had credible pinch hitters sitting on the bench, and the league’s leading relief pitcher, Konstanty, was fully warmed up and ready to stand in.
“Robbie, how’s your arm?”
“Can you get me a hit?”
Sawyer paused and, in a moment of insanity or intense clarity, looked at his pitcher and said, “Okay then, go and get us a hit.”
Newcombe, who also had pitched nine tough innings, was still in the game facing his rival, Roberts. Pause and consider the moment. It was the tenth inning. The tenth inning. Newcombe, who had pitched well over nine innings, was facing his rival and nemesis. Neither one should have still been in the game. Dodgers Manager Burt Shotton had other pitchers warmed and waiting to be called up in the bullpen. Konstanty was ready to go for the Phillies. No two heavyweight fighters had ever faced each other in the fifteenth round of a title fight as equally matched, equally tired, and evenly scored.
Roberts strode to the plate and stared down Newcombe. He looked at the first pitch. On the next pitch, Roberts bounced the ball into the outfield for a single.
Next up was Waitkus who drove the ball to center field for another single. Roberts easily jogged to second base. Ashburn, generally one of the Phillies most reliable batters, was next up and was hitless for the day. He laid down a bunt that dribbled toward third base.
Roberts had no choice but to run and when he reached third base he did something that surprised even himself: the pitcher slid, head-first, pitching arm extended toward third base. What. Was. He. Doing?
Newcombe charged the ball, grabbed the soft grounder with a bare hand, wheeled toward third base, and threw a hard strike directly into the glove of Billy Cox, the Dodgers’ third baseman who tagged out Roberts in a cloud of dust. Roberts jumped up with tears in his eyes.
“You okay?” Cox asked.
“Yeah, just got some of the lime from the foul line in my eye.”
“Damn,” Cox replied.
Next up was Sisler, the powerful left fielder, who already had three hits that day. With third base open, Newcombe could intentionally walk him to get to Ennis. The pitcher looked toward his manager for the sign for an intentional walk. Shotten decided that Sisler was the lesser of two evils and did not order a walk. Newcombe quickly got two strikes on the left fielder and the count was 1-2. On the fourth pitch, Sisler smoked the ball toward left field. Abrams faded back, hoping he might have a chance at yet another extraordinary catch. Instead, the ball continued to rise. It cleared the wall for a home run and the Phillies took the lead, 4-1.
The crowd erupted in cheers and groans as the Phillies players cleared the dugout, ran to home plate, and mobbed Sisler after he crossed the plate.
Undoubtedly, that was the first time a Phillies announcer shouted Unbelievable. All across Philadelphia, fathers hugged their sons, husbands hugged their wives, rounds of drinks were ordered, and Philly prepared to go insane.
Newcombe finished the inning, striking out Waitkus and Ashburn and forcing Jones to strike out. The damage, however, had been done.
In the bottom of the tenth, Roberts, who was still pitching, took the mound facing Campanella. The hard-hitting catcher from Philadelphia sent the ball all the way to the left-field fence where Jack Mayo, who had been brought in for Sisler for his defensive abilities, fielded the ball. Next up was Jim Russell, batting for Cox, who struck out. Finally, Tommy Brown was brought in to pinch hit for Newcombe. He hit a pop-up foul ball to Waitkus, ending the inning, the game, and the season.
As Waitkus squeezed his glove on Brown’s foul ball the Phillies exploded onto the field and all of Philadelphia went crazy. For the first time in thirty-five years, they were the National League champions.
We all know that the Phillies lost to the Yankees in the 1950 World Series. It was a lot closer than our friends in New York endlessly remind us. The Phillies’ excellent starter, Curt Simmons, had won seventeen games for the Phillies in 1950 and could have won twenty games for the season. In September just weeks before the end of the season, however, he was called up for military duty and was unable to pitch.
On October 4, 1950, Konstanty, the relief pitcher, started the game for the Phils since the starters were spent. He lost that game 1-0, giving up only four hits. Yankees pitcher Vic Raschi pitched a brilliant two-hit shutout.
The Phillies lost game two by one run, 2-1, behind Roberts’ excellent pitching. Game three was won by the Yankees by one run, 3-2. Finally, the series was over when the Yankees won game four, 5-2.
Other Phillies games before and since have had high stakes, they’ve shown the guts of the players and managers and have been filled with drama. Only once, however, did we see all the stakes, all the guts, and all the drama in one game, one that was played—and won—by the Phillies seventy years ago, on October 1, 1950.