Manhattan’s Last Champions

(Editor’s Note: This story, written by the amazing Greg Prince (Faith And Fear in Flushing) was originally published in the third issue of the print run of Gotham Baseball, which is now part of the national archive at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Research Center at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum . Mr. Prince graciously allowed us to re-publish the story for the digital re-launch of Gotham Baseball back in April of 2011.– MH)

Think of the 1954 Giants as The Boys of The Summer Before.

Perhaps the date is the first clue. The World Series could hardly have started any sooner, and given the course of events that quickly unfolded, there was no way it was going to end any later. In its time, that was a good thing.

But a half-century and change down the road, you have to wonder: What was the rush?

Leo Durocher’s New York Giants swept Al Lopez’s Cleveland Indians four straight to capture the 1954 World Series, a quartet of contests that commenced the afternoon of September 29 and wound up well ahead of supper October 2. In terms of the calendar, no Fall Classic has ended so soon since. October, which nowadays hosts three tiers and typically three weeks of playoffs, wasn’t even 40 hours old when the Giants became champions of the world.

Maybe if it could have been imagined that they’d never win another one — that in fact the New York Giants would cease to exist within three years of the final Indian out — the Jints would have strung the Tribe along a little longer. Maybe, but not likely. When you are an underdog of historic proportions taking out the legs of an overwhelming favorite, you don’t stop and think about posterity’s ramifications.

Still, maybe there was a harbinger hidden in the four-game sweep. In 1954, the Giants took care of business in short order as if they couldn’t wait to leave the stage. One year later, the Brooklyn Dodgers, having waited their fair share of Next Years, jumped into the spotlight, prevailing in their perennial struggle for a championship across seven games. Yes, the Bums left Brooklyn, but the ’55 Dodgers have never exited the popular consciousness.

One year, one borough apart, but the respective legacies left behind by what transpired in Manhattan in 1954 and Brooklyn in 1955 seem leagues apart. The Dodgers are perpetually romanticized. The Giants are mostly gone. Despite receiving a New York City ticker-tape parade (something the Yankees during their run of five straight championships between 1949 and 1953 never got), it feels as if history’s parade has passed the 1954 Giants by.

How come?

Well, for one, the Dodgers of the 1950s instantly became the Good Old Days to a lot of people who made like O’Malley and left Brooklyn themselves. By then, the Giants’ prime was already past; really, they represented the Good Old Days long before 1950 rolled around. Also, Brooklyn would be mourned post-1957 as no longer big-league. Take away a team, take away an identity. New York, on the other hand, was and is New York. The Giants, in a sense, got replaced. But, the thinking went, there could never be substitute for Dem Bums.

If that’s indeed what’s happened, it doesn’t make it right. Manhattan’s last champions need to be held in higher regard.

Team ’54, where are you?