- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

On a memorable day in the nation's largest city, the Boys of Summer became the Boys of Autumn.

Oct. 4, 1955, Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Brooklyn Dodgers are an imperfect 0-for-7 in World Series, including five losses in 15 years to the hated Yankees. Their defiant battle cry, "Wait till next year," has become a national synonym for frustration.

On this day, however, a 23-year-old Brooklyn left-hander named Johnny Podres is beating the Yankees 2-0 on an eight-hitter with two out in the ninth inning of Game 7. The Borough of Churches stands poised to erupt for its beloved Bums.

Elston Howard, the first black man to play for the Yankees, stands at the plate. He fouls off one, two, three, four, five pitches as the throng of 62,465 and much of America waits in agony or ecstasy. In the mid-'50s, World Series games seemed more important to more people than now.

On the mound, Podres shakes off catcher Roy Campanella for the first time all day. Weary of seeing Howard get a piece of his fastballs, he wants to throw a changeup. Fooled by the pitch, Howard slaps a grounder to Dodgers shortstop and captain Pee Wee Reese, who has endured all five World Series losses to the Yankees. Reese's throw is wide, but first baseman Gil Hodges leans far to his left to make the catch and the final out. Later Hodges says he would have leaned all the way across the Bronx if necessary to do it.

It is 3:43 p.m., and now Brooklyn goes bonkers. People dance in the streets, honk their horns, taunt Yankees fans they know and get drunk. It seems appropriate to many that the final ball was hit to Reese, a Dodgers mainstay since 1940. In the joyous clubhouse, he is asked what he was thinking with Howard at bat in the final moments.

"I was hoping he wouldn't hit it to me."

Oddly, the great victory has been fashioned by two of the lesser Dodgers. Podres, who entered the Series with only 29 victories lifetime and a 9-10 regular-season record for a team that finished 98-55, had defeated the Yankees 8-3 in Game 3 at Ebbets Field four days earlier. In an ultimate 15-year career, mostly with the Dodgers, he will win 119 more games. Put together, they will not equal this one.

"I don't remember much of what happened after the game," Podres will tell author Roger Kahn years later. "There was a hell of a party at the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn… . All you had to do was hold out your glass and somebody would fill it up [with champagne]… . One old guy told me over and over that he had been waiting for this since 1916 [when the Dodgers lost to the Boston Red Sox in their first Series]. I can't imagine waiting 39 years for anything."

The other obscure Dodgers hero is Sandy Amoros, a 25-year-old Cuban outfielder who had gotten into only 20 regular-season games. In the middle of the sixth inning with Brooklyn leading 2-0 on Hodges' third-inning single off starter Tommy Byrne and sixth-inning run-scoring fly off reliever Bob Grim, manager Walter Alston sends the speedy Amoros into left field to replace Jim Gilliam, a converted infielder. If he hadn't done so, the Dodgers well might have lost this Series, too.

With runners on first and second and none out, the outfield shifts to the right for Yogi Berra, the Yankees' slugging catcher. On Podres' second pitch, Berra slices an outside fastball toward the left-field corner, and both runners take off. But in a film clip that has been replayed hundreds of times since. Amoros gallops about 150 feet from left-center and makes a one-hand catch with his left arm extended on the warning track just in front of the low fence in fair territory.

It is a great play that immediately becomes greater. Amoros wheels and pegs the ball to shortstop Reese, whose relay to Hodges at first base is in time to double up Gil McDougald returning to the bag. When Hank Bauer grounds out to short moments later, the Yankees' best chance against Podres is over.

An hour or so later, the impossible is reality the Dodgers are world champs and their disciples don't mind rubbing it in. "Next year," one fan crows, "next year we win it in four."

Fugedaboutit. When the two teams meet again in 1956, Don Larsen's perfect game and two knockouts of Don Newcombe, the Dodgers' 27-game winner, produce a seven-game victory for the Yankees, their 17th Series title and sixth under Casey Stengel. This enables newly frustrated Dodgers fans to adopt a new slogan: "Wait till last year."

In 1957, grown old together, the Boys of Summer finish seventh. Then comes an announcement that stuns fans everywhere: Burdened by decaying ballparks and a fan base shifting increasingly to the safer suburbs of Long Island, the Dodgers and Giants are moving to the West Coast. The Los Angeles Dodgers, for heaven's sakes? Fiercely independent, fiercely proud Brooklyn will never be the same.

The culprit is Walter O'Malley, the Dodgers' Machiavellian owner, who correctly saw untold riches and a brand-new ballpark within five years in La La Land. Larry King tells a wonderful story about how he and a fellow Brooklynite decided one day to name the three most evil men in history and compare notes. They found their lists identical: Hitler, Stalin, O'Malley.

Now it has been 43 summers and autumns since the Dodgers last played in Brooklyn, where Reese and pioneer Jackie Robinson led a team whose racial makeup foretold the monumental changes to come in America. But from deep inside, old-timers can summon up precious memories of Johnny Podres pitching, Sandy Amoros sprinting and horns blaring through the dusk of a marvelous Flatbush twilight.

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