Friday, October 9, 1959 – Los Angeles International Airport
24 hours after winning the World Series the magnitude of what the Dodgers had accomplished began to sink in. They had begun the 1959 season with little hope for success. The Boys of Summer were either gone or fading fast. Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson had already called it quits. Campy was in a wheel chair. Don Newcombe had been traded the year before. Duke Snider still hadn’t fully recovered from his 1957 knee surgery. Gil Hodges was 35, and it was obvious that Carl Furillo and Carl Erskine were playing on borrowed time. At the age of 23, Sandy Koufax was still an erratic young left-hander. None of the pre-season polls gave the Dodgers a chance to contend for the pennant. The consensus of the experts was that the Braves, with a veritable all-star team led by Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette, would win their third consecutive pennant and continue to build a dynasty in Milwaukee.
But the 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers shocked the baseball world by coming out of nowhere to unseat mighty Milwaukee before going on to win the World Series. In contrast to the powerhouse Brooklyn team that won the Dodgers’ first World Championship in 1955, the 1959 team─a rag-tag group of underdogs and has-beens─did in 2 years in Los Angeles what it had taken the Dodgers 75 years to do in Brooklyn.
That evening 3,500 baseball-crazed Southern Californians─including civic officials and Hollywood stars such as master of ceremonies Desi Arnaz─greeted the world champion Dodgers at Los Angeles International Airport. The crowd mobbed Larry Sherry for autographs and sang “Happy Birthday” to Walter O’Malley on his 56th birthday. Walter Alston received an official scroll signed by Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson certifying October 9, 1959 as “Baseball Champions of the World Day.” The rooters brought hundreds of signs, including “The Greatest World Champions of All,” and “Our Dodgers, Bless ‘Em.”
These were the days before all-day civic orgies for World Series victors. There would be no parade. The ceremonies broke up in twenty minutes, and since these were also the days before free agency transformed baseball economics, the Dodgers went home to enjoy a long weekend before starting their winter jobs.
For the complete story of this remarkable team, see my new book “Bums No More: The 1959 Los Angeles Dodgers, World Champions of Baseball,” to be published October 2009 by McFarland & Company, Inc.