The morning of Saturday, August 25, 1956 dawned bright and sunny in the Bronx. Across the airwaves the breakout performer from Memphis, Elvis Presley, was on with another success, his version of Hound Dog. Originally a blues hit from a few years earlier, Presley helped to usher in the rock and roll era with his take, which would stay atop the charts for a record 11 weeks (until it was replaced by a different Elvis song, Love Me Tender).
In the world of film, War and Peace, starring Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda, and Mel Ferrer (at the time married to Audrey Hepburn) was atop the box office. While the Paramount epic received several Academy nominations, a different epic by the same company would ultimately gross the most this year in the form of The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston.
Around baseball, a neat oddity had occurred the month prior: on July 25, Roberto Clemente walked off the Pirates to beat the Cubs, 9-8, in what has thus far been the only inside the park, walk-off grand slam in MLB history.
This game, though, also had its moment of historic relevance. Well, to be more specific, the game before the game. For you see: it was Old Timers’ Day at Yankee Stadium! A tradition which began in 1947, this marked the 10th annual. While the present-day Old Timers’ event have former Yankees facing off against one another, this iteration saw former White Sox against former Yankees in a two-inning affair that the Old Yankees won 4-1 over the Old White Sox.
Some White Sox notables mentioned in the article who either played in the game or were otherwise present: Ed Walsh, Red Faber, Ray Schalk, Zeke Bonura, Jimmy Dykes, Johnny Mostil and Willie Kamm. And for the Yankees: Casey Stengel, Lefty Gomez, Joe DiMaggio, Home Run Baker, and Leo Durocher.
Umpires for this game
- HP: Charlie Berry
The most famous umpire of this game, Berry was an umpire from 1942-1962, officiating in five World Series, five All-Star games, and four no-hitters. He was also a player in both MLB and the NFL, and was the head linesman for the famous 1958 NFL Championship game, dubbed the “Greatest game ever played”.
- 1B: Jim Honochick
Honochick has appeared in this series before, and was no slouch himself, working a lengthy career from 1949-1973, with six World Series and four All-Star games. I still find it amusing that he appeared in beer commercials:
- 2B: Larry Napp
Another prominent umpire, Napp was active from 1951-1974, working four World Series and four All-Star games. Notably, he was in eight no-hitters, two of which were perfect games, the first of which would come in just a couple of months; Don Larsen’s perfect game.
- 3B: Frank Umont
Last, but certainly not least, we have third base ump Frank Umont. Umont’s lengthy career spanned 1954-1973 with a 1971 All-Star game that featured this big ol’ dinger from Reggie Jackson:
|Chicago White Sox||New York Yankees|
Play by Play
After the 90 minute Old Timers’ ceremony, it was high time for some actual baseball. Look at the lineups above, and note: there are six future Hall of Famers to appear in this game, and a should-be seventh in Minoso!
On the mound for the Yankees was one of those future Hall of Famers in Whitey Ford. Ford, pitching on ten days’ rest, was having another fine season that would see him go 19-6 with a 2.47 ERA and finish third in Cy Young voting (behind Don Newcombe and Sal Maglie). To counter, the White Sox sent out Dick Donovan. Donovan, part of the 1-2 punch of the Sox rotation alongside Billy Pierce, also had a nice season in 1956. 1957, though, would be one of the best years of his career when he would finish second in Cy Young voting (behind Warren Spahn), on the strength of a 2.77 ERA, 16-6 campaign.
The pitchers lived up to their respective statures, as they combined to allow just three singles and a walk through the top of the fourth inning.The bottom of the fourth was when the scoring began.
Leading off the Yankees’ half of the inning was the 1951 Rookie of the Year (and part of the Herb Score incident), Gil McDougald. The Yankee shortstop smashed a double to the gap in right which set the table for Mickey Mantle. Mantle was in the midst of a fabulous season (he went on to win the MVP in what would be the first of back-to-back years), and on this date had 43 home runs, a four-game-pace ahead of Babe Ruth’s 60-homer season. Mantle was able to keep that pace up as he laced a pitch from Donovan into the left field stands for a 2-run line drive home run and a 2-0 Yankees lead. Donovan wasn’t shaken, though, as he went on to retire the next 8 batters before a single to Mantle in the sixth.
The White Sox offense continued to be stymied by Ford until the sixth. With one out, Nellie Fox and Larry Doby hit back-to-back singles to give the Sox men at first and third for Minnie Minoso. The Cuban Comet proved up to the task, lofting a flyball to center which scored Fox and cut the Yankees’ lead in half, 2-1. Lollar flew out to end the inning.
After Donovan worked around two out, back-to-back singles by Mantle and Berra in the bottom of the frame, the Sox got to work again in the seventh, this time with two out. Fred Hatfield drew a walk, and Dick Donovan helped his own cause, hustling for an infield single. Luis Aparicio –soon to be Rookie of the Year– was up next, and was able to get his second –and most important — single of the game back up the middle and out to center, scoring Hatfield and tying the game 2-2. The Sox were able to get the go-ahead run, though, as Mantle (according to the New York Times’ account) “unfurled a throw that somehow eluded everybody in the infield and wound up in the Chicago dugout”, allowing Donovan to score and make it 3-2 in favor of the visitors.
While Nellie Fox wasn’t able to add to the score, lining out for the third out of the inning, the Sox picked him up in the eighth. After Donovan set the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the seventh, Larry Doby singled to begin the next inning and advanced to second on a productive fielder’s choice by Minoso (the box score reads 4-3, but the Times’ account stated that Moose Skowron couldn’t get the ball back to second in time for the tag). Sherm Lollar did what Fox couldn’t in the eighth, and singled to short left field for the insurance run. A fielder’s choice from Walt Dropo and a Jim Rivera strikeout ended the scoring threat.
Donovan continued to hold the Yankees at 2, setting them down in order in the eighth, and then working around a leadoff single in the ninth (again by Mantle) to secure the victory and pick up the well-deserved complete game win, 4-2 White Sox.
This game seems a good encapsulation of the 1950s: the White Sox experienced occasional success against New York, but more frequently the Yankees came out on top. The Yankees, of course, would go on to win the World Series in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Don Larsen’s aforementioned perfect game the highlight of the games played. In total the Yankees won the World Series six times during the decade, and were the runner up twice more.
The White Sox, meanwhile, were in the midst of their most successful run as a franchise since the Black Sox days. Outside of a losing record in 1950, the Sox finished above .500 every year in the decade, culminating in the 1959 World Series appearance led by manager Al Lopez (1956 manager Marty Marion would be replaced by Lopez over the offseason). Unfortunately, the Yankees often played the villain role, as they are wont to do: seemingly always in front of the Sox, including the 1964 98-win season where the Yankees finished just one game better.
Still, what a time to watch the White Sox! For older fans who watched the franchise wander the baseball desert for virtually three decades after the Black Sox scandal, I’d imagine the teams of the ‘50s and early ‘60s were a veritable glass of ice water.
Random Box Score White Sox record: 7-4
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Historical New York Times
Pro Football Hall of Fame