Taking a Look Back at 1955 and “Dem Bums”
Moving along in the “Reliving History” series, the focus shifts to the Brooklyn Dodgers, specifically the 1955 Dodgers. In the 1950s, they faced a span of futility when it came to the postseason.
Leading up to 1955, Brooklyn had lost four consecutive World Series over the span of eight years. They lost all four of those series, as well as the 1941 World Series, to the New York Yankees. 1955 was the year when that curse was officially broken as the Dodgers beat the Yankees in seven games.
Additionally, the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers featured Jackie Robinson. Of course, Robinson was the player that broke the color barrier in baseball. He left a tremendous legacy that will live on forever. Given that Wednesday was Jackie Robinson Day, it’s a tremendous time to talk about the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Besides having Jackie Robinson and a stacked offense, the 1955 Dodgers had plenty of impactful pitching too. In fact, it was so impactful that the staff led the National League that year in ERA.
While these qualities all stand out when looking back at the 1955 Dodgers, there were specific players who all contributed greatly.
When the 1955 season rolled around, the aforementioned Jackie Robinson was entering his age-36 season. He would play for the entire 1955 season as well as the following year before playing in his last game on September 30th, 1956.
Over the span of the 1955 regular season, Robinson hit: .256/.378/.363 in 390 plate appearances across 105 games. In that span, he recorded eight home runs, 36 RBI, and had 12 stolen bases along with 61 walks. Although he was still impactful, it was really the first season where Robinson started to show his age.
After being named an All-Star six consecutive seasons, that streak ended for Robinson in 1955. 1955 was also the secpnd consecutive season that Robinson did not receive any MVP votes. Aside from 1954 and 1955, he received votes every other year of his career. Aside from that, Robinson was worth 2.6 wins in 1955 from a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) standpoint.
Regardless, Robinson was still one of the faces of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Roy Campanella and Duke Snider Led Offense
When looking back at the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, the lineup was quite potent. However, the two biggest contributors were catcher Roy Campanella and centerfielder Duke Snider. In many ways, both Campanella and Snider had career years in 1955 at the plate.
Starting with Roy Campanella, Campanella ended the regular season with a slash line of: .318/.395/.583 over the span of 522 plate appearances. Campanella finished with the second most home runs of his big league career (32) and 107 RBI. Beyond that, the 33-year old catcher finished the season with 56 walks.
In addition, Campanella earned his third career MVP award in 1955 along with an All-Star nod. Essentially, 1955 was one of the shining points of Campanella’s Hall of Fame career.
Another key cog of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers lineup was the aforementioned Duke Snider. Snider, who was 28 years old that year, had eight years of big league playing time under his belt. During the regular season, Snider led all of baseball in runs (126) and RBI (136).
For comparisons sake, the second highest runs leader in baseball in 1955 was Willie Mays of the New York Giants and Al Smith of the Cleveland Indians. Both Mays and Smith finished the season with 123 runs. Additionally, Mays ranked second in RBI behind Snider, with a total of 127.
Beyond all of that, Snider displayed tremendous plate discipline while walking 104 times. He finished second to Campanella in the MVP voting.
Other Offensive Contributors
Besides Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Duke Snider, the Dodgers had some other great position players as well. Another name that standouts from that year is shortstop Pee Wee Reese. The 36-year old shortstop finished ninth in NL MVP voting that season.
During the regular season, Reese put up a slash line of: .282/.371/.403. In that span, he recorded 156 hits, 29 doubles, ten home runs, 61 RBI, and 78 walks. As for WAR, Reese was worth 4.2 wins. While impactful at the plate, Reese had some shortcomings defensively as illustrated by the fact that he committed 23 errors that season.
In addition, first baseman Gil Hodges and right fielder Carl Furillo were two other big-time power hitters for the Dodgers that season. Hodges ended the regular season with 27 home runs, 102 RBI, and a .877 OPS. One interesting statistic on Hodges is that he led all of baseball in sacrifice flies in 1955 with ten.
In addition, Furillo finished the year with 26 home runs, 95 RBI, and a .891 OPS. His OPS+ sat at 130. He had a 5.1 WAR, but his contributions were felt much more at the plate than out in right field.
Don Newcombe Anchor of the Starting Rotation
When discussing the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, one can’t have a discussion without mentioning the contributions of right-handed starting pitcher Don Newcombe. During the season, the right-hander earned an All-Star nod and finished seventh overall in the NL MVP voting.
Over the span of the regular season, Newcombe posted a 3.20 ERA over 233.2 innings of work. Newcombe led all of baseball with a .800 winning percentage and led the NL with a 1.113 WHIP. When combined together, it gave Newcombe an ERA+ of 128 and a Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP) of 3.59.
Overall, Newcombe was much more effective on the road compared to at home inside Ebbets Field. Away from Ebbets Field, the right-hander posted a 2.86 ERA with a 12-3 record over 18 games. At home at Ebbets Field, Newcombe posted a 3.58 ERA with an 8-2 record over 16 games. In total, Newcombe had a Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) of .274 at Ebbets Field compared to .247 on the road.
From a durability standpoint, Newcombe was money. During 1955 alone, Newcombe completed 17 games from start to finish. That tied Newcombe with Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Billy Hoeft for the third most complete games in all of baseball that year.
Labine Key Cog in the Bullpen
In the bullpen, the most effective reliever on the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers squad was Clem Labine. The right-handed pitcher posted a 3.24 ERA over the span of 144.1 innings of work. Furthermore, Labine appeared in 60 games which led all of baseball.
During the 1955 season, Labine made eight starts, finished a total of 32 games, and locked down 11 saves. While Labine was effective the entire season, he really shined during the second half of the season. Over 36 games, he held opponents to a cumulative batting line of .188/.273/.272. That translated to a 2.25 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP.
In addition, Labine really showed how he could handle high-leverage situations in 1955. In the 11 saves that Labine recorded, his ERA was 0.93 with a 0.77 WHIP and a K/9 of 5.1. Although the save wasn’t viewed in the same regard as it is today back then, Labine’s contributions were still felt at a high level.
When the calendar turned to the postseason, Labine was really effective. Over four relief appearances, Labine posted a 2.89 ERA and he was a big reason why the Dodgers went onto win the World Series.
Sandy Koufax Comes Onto the Scene
Besides all of the aforementioned players and moments, one of the biggest might have been when Sandy Koufax made his big league debut. At the age of 19, Koufax took the mound for the first time, facing the Milwaukee Braves on June 24th.
From the time Koufax was called up until the conclusion of the regular season, the southpaw pitched in 12 games. Five of those were starts, four were relief appearances, and there were two complete games as well as two shutouts mixed in as well.
In total over those 12 games, Koufax posted a 3.02 ERA along with an ERA+ of 136, a 3.64 FIP, and a 1.464 WHIP. In addition, he had a Runs Allowed Per 9 IP rate of 3.24 which was well below the league average RA9 of 4.10.
The Drought Buster 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers
Due to all of the players mentioned above, the Brooklyn Dodgers came away from the 1955 regular season as World Series Champions. The Dodgers were able to capitalize off some stellar performances both from their offense and from their pitching staff. Given the rivalry with the New York Yankees at the time, it was a very big moment in baseball history when the Brooklyn Dodgers were crowned champions.
The biggest contribution came from the arm of Johnny Podres. Podres was named World Series MVP after he pitched two complete games, allowing one earned run in 18 innings. His biggest moment came in Game 7 when he threw a shutout to clinch the series for the Dodgers. He only allowed 19 baserunners in those 18 innings, and he his Win Probability Added (WPA) was 0.73.
Walter Alston, who managed the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, would go onto help the team capture the National League pennant the following year in 1956. Once 1959 rolled around, the team would once again be crowned World Series Champions. However, that time around it happened out in Los Angeles as the team relocated there prior to the 1958 regular season.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images