In the National League, the Brooklyn Dodgers seemed like they were running away with the NL Pennant. They ended up winning 97 games that season, but in the process, managed to blow a 13 1/2 game lead to the New York Giants. The Giants were building a very good team with a 20 year old making his MLB debut that season. Willie Mays joined an OF that already included Hall of Fame OF Monte Irvin (guest on the Passed Ball Show). Mays injected some youth into a team full of proven veterans which included Hank Thompson, Al Dark, Bobby Thomson, Irvin and Eddie Stanky, who came over from Boston to join his former manager with the Dodgers- Leo Durocher. Of course, history reminds us that the Giants forced a best of three playoff against the Dodgers which was won in the bottom of the 9th inning of the deciding game on the dramatic home run hit by Thomson off Ralph Branca.
The Giants made it to their first World Series since 1937 when they played the Yankees. Durocher was finally able to beat the team that let him go in 1948. The Dodgers, who had won the NL Pennant in both 1947 and 1949, had succumbed the Pennant to a team that seemed to have a chance to carry the torch. After the Yankees won the 1951 World Series in 6 games against the Giants, they would tie a major league record (in the World Series era) by winning their forth straight title the next season, beating the Dodgers who they would defeat once again in the 1953 Fall Classic.
Joe D had decided that 1951 was going to be his last before it had started. He did not announce his retirement, however, until December of that year. (Something contemporary players can learn from.) He declared that he had a bad season, but even if he didn't, his body had to battle with a number of different ailments and the sport to him had become a chore. Later on, it became evident he did not care so much to playing for Casey Stengel. Mantle, of course, had to deal with his own expectations which had already touted him to be the next great Yankee. His original number, 6, had been given to him with the expectation that he was going to take the torch from the last three immortal Yankees- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and DiMaggio. After an imperfect start, Mantle became the foundation of the next Yankee dynasty and the rest became history.
Another interesting occurrence of the 1951 season was a predecessor to the Spy controversy that involved the New England Patriots football team of several years ago. There was a scouting report that was leaked to the media that had been given to the New York Giants. Apparently, this was a confidential scouting report which belonged to the Brooklyn Dodgers for the Brooklyn Dodgers and it was never proven whether it was taken by somebody of the Giants brass, possibly Durocher or Stanky, or somebody involved in the Yankees organization. Like most things leaked to the media, there really is no story here based on concrete facts. It was however, mentioned as one of the things that weighed on the mind of DiMaggio in regards to his decision to retire.
The season got off to an interesting start as on May the 1st, umpire Frank Dascoli got tired of taunts he was getting from the Chicago Cubs bench during a game against the Giants. Several Cubs players were calling Dascoli "rabbit ears" and the umpire had enough. He would proceed to eject the entire Cubs bench, which included 11 Cubs players. This unprecedented event led the Cubs and their manager, Frankie Frisch, without a single player to use as a substitute if needed. Dascoli later agreed to allow two ejected Cubs players, Bill Serena and Smokey Burgess, to return to game to pinch hit later in the game.
1951 was also the season which saw the first player in the history of the game to hit home runs in his first two MLB at bats. This player was Bob Nieman of the St Louis Browns, who homered in his first two at bats against the Boston Red Sox on September 14th. And who can forget what happened on August 19th of that year, when Browns owner Bill Veeck sent up 3' 7 midget Eddie Gaedel to the plate in a game against the Detroit Tigers.
The St Louis Cardinals became the first MLB team to play two games on the same day... against two different teams! This was on September 13th, as teams were running out of days to make up rained out games. The Cardinals had a night game scheduled against the Boston Braves but earlier in the day played a previously rained out game against the Giants.
MLB Network has done a series of "Baseball Seasons." I can not fathom why the 1951 season has not had a documentary done about it. Everything from the exit of the Yankee Clipper to the introduction of Mantle and Mays to Eddie Gaedel capped off by the "Shot Heard Round the World" makes for a piece that may take a couple hours for the Network to air.