Eleven times the Yankees have met the Dodgers in the World Series. Back when the Bums played in Brooklyn, two decades were dominated by what amounted to an annual Big Apple Brawl. Five times in 12 years between ’41 and ’53 the Yankees knocked off the Dodgers to claim the championship. Finally in ’55, the Boys of Summer dethroned the ruling class of baseball, and it would forever be the seminal moment in Brooklyn’s sports history.
Since the Dodgers moved out west, there have been four more meetings for the title. The Yankees and Dodgers battled thrice in the funky Disco Era, in ’77, ’78 and ’81. It was the days of the larger-than-life Reggie Jackson, square-jaw Steve Garvey, the manic managers Billy Martin and Tommy Lasorda. It’s been 36 years since the two flagship franchises spanning both coasts and the two biggest cities in the country have faced off for a ring. After the Dodgers clinched Thursday night and the Yankees took a 3-2 lead in the ALCS, we are inches away from getting that theater again.
This is all perfect because October has had a throwback feel. Of the final four teams, the only controlled conditions were at Minute Maid Park in Houston. But the Astros have mitigated their modern quirkiness by rocking the retro uniforms. Out is Tal’s Hill in centerfield, in is the classic orange star with the block “H” on the caps. Houston also got a throwback performance from one its aces, Justin Verlander, in Game 2 of the ALCS. The former Cy Young winner threw a complete game gem, giving up just 1 run and 5 hits in a big game performance we rarely see in an era of “bullpening.”
Verlander set the stage then Clayton Kershaw followed his lead. A future Hall of Famer who has been bedeviled by postseason baseball finally had his magical October moment. With a chance to clinch the pennant in enemy territory, Kershaw went 6 strong innings, giving up just three hits and one run to push the Dodgers to their first World Series in 29 years. A few decades ago, aces of the staff were asked to do the heavy lifting in big moments. Jack Morris, Orel Hershiser, Jose Rijo carried their teams to titles. This year we’ve had a little pinch of the good ol’ stuff.
Which brings us to the Bronx, where all season it felt like the starting pitching would eventually let the Yankees down. Instead, the rotation has been sensational in October. Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia have found the way-back machine. The potent Astros lineup is hitting a measly .147 in the series. And Yankee Stadium has finally felt like a great October madhouse again. When the Yankee brass tore down the old ballpark, they bulldozed so much of the magic that was baked into the chipped cement and faded blue seats. The Steinbrenners built an antiseptic strip mall, a steakhouse and cocktail lounge that had baseball being played behind it, a stadium with as much character as an Applebee’s. The crowd was too corporate. The intimacy was gone. The sweat equity of the old stadium was washed away.
But this month it’s felt alive again in the Bronx. It started with a nine-inning mosh pit in the Wild Card game against the Twins. It has continued through the ALDS win over the Indians and the three wins over Houston. Sure, the pretty celebs and bandwagon jumpers suddenly popped up at the Bronx, unable to tell the difference between Todd Frazier and Frasier Crane. But that unmistakable New York playoff intensity was back. During the summer, I survived a night in the Bronx wearing my Mets gear for an episode of my web series, “NOMAD.” It’s not something I advise for the faint of heart, but it proved to me some of the old salt was back.
It’s a good time for baseball. The sport so often struggles to garner national traction even during its postseason. But with the Dodgers and Yankees surging, stars rising to the occasion like Kershaw, Verlander and Aaron Judge, walk-off magic from Justin Turner and Jose Altuve, October is back. Feels like the old days, which is the catnip of America’s Pastime.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.