While I was never exceptionally familiar with the history of the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers, I couldn’t help but start digging into the history books a little during the past few seasons, when the modern-day Boys in Blue were sometimes compared to the exalted squad from more than 65 years ago.
Specifically, when all the smoke cleared on the 2017 season, the team finished with a 104-58 record, just one win shy of the 1953 Dodgers’ all-time record. Last year, the Dodgers broke the long-standing record after tallying a 106-56 mark.
Nevertheless, what was most impressive about the 1953 club was that they registered their 105 wins in just 154 games, which was the standard MLB schedule at the time.
The Brooklyn players from the early fifties were routinely referred to as the “Boys of Summer” by some, or more commonly, “Dem Bums” by others. Players like Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were not yet part of the team, but the offensive firepower on the 1953 squad was unparalleled in terms of raw talent. A whopping five players from this esteemed squad would eventually be enshrined in the MLB Hall of Fame. Surprisingly, the legendary Gil Hodges was not among them.
Outfielder Carl Furillo led the team in batting average, but he was still overshadowed by offensive juggernauts like Hodges, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, and the eventual 1953 National League MVP, Roy Campanella.
Furillo slashed a phenomenal .344/.393/.580, while adding 21 long balls, 38 doubles and 92 RBI in what was arguably the most impressive season of his career. Campy hit .312/.395/.611, but most notably tallied 41 home runs, 142 RBI and 103 runs scored.
Incredibly, Snider outdid Campanella in the OPS department, posting an insane mark of 1.046. Finishing third in the NL MVP voting behind Campy and Eddie Matthews of the Milwaukee Braves, the Duke ended up hitting .336/.419/.627 with 42 bombs, 38 doubles, 126 RBI and 132 runs scored. Keep in mind, this is when many pundits considered runs scored and RBI at the top of the statistical hierarchy.
Not to be outdone were Hodges and Robinson, who registered slash lines of .302/.393/.550 and .329/.425/.502, respectively. Hodges added 31 jacks and drove in 122 baserunners, while scoring 101 runs of his own.
The infield was arguably the best defensive group in franchise history; yet for some reason, it still takes a backseat to that legendary quartet from the ’70s and ’80s. Pee Wee Reese and Jim Gilliam were very solid up the middle, while Hodges and Billy Cox primarily handled the corner infield spots. Gilliam would go on to win the 1953 NL Rookie of the Year Award—the Dodgers’ third in a five year span.
An often overlooked aspect of the ’53 crew was team speed. The club had four players in double digits when it came to stolen bases, led by Reese with 22 steals. Gilliam swiped 21, Robinson stole 17 and Snider notched 16.
As far as the pitching staff went, the primary starting five was Carl Erskine, Russ Meyer and Billy Loes, anchored by southpaws Preacher Roe and a 20-year-old named Johnny Podres, who later became one of the heroes of the 1955 World Championship squad. Erskine was the ace of the staff, leading the rotation with 20 wins and a 3.54 ERA.
The 1953 Dodgers were guided by skipper Chuck Dressen and GM Buzzie Bavasi.
Here’s what the Dodgers starting lineup looked like against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Opening Day—April 14, 1953—at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn:
- Jim Gilliam – 2B
- Pee Wee Reese – SS
- Duke Snider – CF
- Jackie Robinson – 3B
- Roy Campanella – C
- Don Thompson – LF
- Gil Hodges – 1B
- Carl Furillo – RF
- Carl Erskine – P
Campy went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBI, while Snider went 2-for-4 with a double, a homer and three RBI of his own to propel the Dodgers to an 8-5 victory. Erskine was yanked after just three frames, but Black notched the victory after throwing six full innings of two-hit ball.
Right-hander Murry Dickson took the loss for the Pirates. He went 4-1/3 frames after being clobbered with 10 hits and eight earned runs. Catcher Joe Garagiola and shortstop Dick Cole each had two RBI for Pittsburgh.
Although the 106 wins by the 2019 Dodgers is an organizational record which could conceivably stand for years, the team’s early exit from the playoffs is a bit reminiscent of the 1953 club, as they failed to go the distance in their quest for Brooklyn’s first World Championship.
Perhaps lost in the powerhouse statistics of the great 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers were the numbers of Robinson, yet his importance to the organization and baseball as a whole was paramount.
He will never be forgotten.