By PJ Shelley, Tour and Programming Director
The Dodgers – Yankees rivalry runs deep. They’ve faced each other a record 11 times in the World Series, and that stage has always provided fans with plenty of drama: Jackie stealing home, Larsen’s perfect game, Koufax fanning 15 in a game, Reggie going deep thrice in a game, etc.
But sometimes, all it takes is a subtle, heads-up play to shift momentum in your team’s favor. In 1941, it was Tommy Henrich’s strike-out that gave his team the edge.
Even with World War II looming, 1941’s regular season was already exciting. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, and you can see the Louisville Slugger he used to set that record in our museum.
Also in 1941, Ted Williams, using a 35”, 34oz O1 model, hit his way into baseball immortality, finishing the season with a .406 batting average. This is one of our favorite pictures of The Splendid Splinter, taken after he achieved that milestone.
After these feats by DiMaggio and Williams, such a thrilling season deserved a legendary World Series. Below are shots of the 1941 Yankees and Dodgers from our archives. The background was removed years ago so the pictures could be used for promotional purposes back in the days before Photoshop.
The Brooklyn Dodgers, after a 21-year hiatus from the World Series, took the NL pennant with a team full of young stars like Pete Reiser and Louisville’s Pee Wee Reese. “Dem Bums” from Flatbush would face their crosstown rival, the New York Yankees. The Yankees were back in the Fall Classic after winning it in 1939. They were also inspired, having lost their captain, Lou Gehrig, that June when he succumbed to ALS. This would be the rivalry’s inaugural matchup and the first of seven Subway Series between these two powerhouses from 1941 – 1956.
The Yankees took the first game at home, winning 3 – 2. The Dodgers took the second game, beating the Yankees 3 – 2. In the fifth inning, Dodger catcher Mickey Owen slid hard into rookie Phil Rizzuto trying to break up a double play and toppling the shortstop. Manager Joe McCarthy and the rest of the Yankees were furious with Owen’s dirty baserunning.
But the baseball Gods love karma, don’t they?
With the series tied, it moved across the East River to Brooklyn. The Yankees took Game 3, scoring two runs in the eighth inning to win 2 -1. The first three games had all been decided by one run. Game four would be pivotal. A Dodger win could tie the series at two but a Yankee win would put the Bombers up 3 – 1 in the series.
Going into the ninth inning of game four, the Dodgers were clinging to a 4 – 3 lead. Dodger reliever Hugh Casey was on the mound. Yankee infielders Johnny Sturm and Red Rolfe both grounded out. With the bases empty and two outs, outfielder Tommy Henrich (highlighted below on our signature wall) was the Yankees’ last hope.
Henrich worked the count full. The Dodgers were one strike away from tying the series. The raucous Ebbets Field crowd was on its feet. Casey’s full count pitch was a nasty curve ball. Henrich tried to check his swing but he went too far. Umpire Larry Goetz raised his hand signaling strike three. Policemen quickly rushed out of the dugouts to hold back any crowds from storming the field. The series was seemingly tied.
But the game wasn’t over yet.
Just as the curve eluded Tommy Henrich’s 36”, 35oz, Y4 Louisville Slugger (pictured below), it also fooled Dodger catcher Mickey Owen. The ball glanced off Owen’s glove and scooted toward the Brooklyn dugout. With first base coach Earl Combs, screaming and waving, Henrich quickly took off for first. By the time Owens tracked the ball down, Henrich had safely sped to first.
The Dodgers could not recover from Owen’s error.
Joe DiMaggio followed it up with a clean single. Then Charlie “King Kong” Keller knocked one off the high outfield wall for a double, scoring Henrich and DiMaggio to take the lead. Bill Dickey walked and Joe Gordon doubled to score two more. By the time the police returned to the field for the actual ending of the game, it was the Yankees on top 7 – 4. The Bombers followed that performance up the next day with a 3 - 1 win to take the Series.
It was the start of a long-lasting rivalry between the Dodgers and Yankees. To date, they’ve faced each other in 65 World Series games. But the momentum of the first Subway Series between these two rivals was turned by Tommy Henrich striking out for the win.