The Last Segregated World Series: The Whiz Kids

Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

Recently I did an extended look at the 1947 World Series, the first to include a black player (actually two: Jackie Robinson and Dan Bankhead). It seemed like a decent follow-up would be to look up the last Series that included no black players and go over it. Turns out that’s 1950.

The 1950 World Series was played between the New York Yankees, defending World Champions, and the Philadelphia Phillies, winners for the first time since 1915. The Series is generally considered a walkover. It’s true it was a sweep, but if you look at the scores, three of the games were decided by one run. So it’s actually worth taking a look at.

The Phils had just completed a rebuilding period. A cynic might point out that 16 consecutive losing seasons constituted an elongated rebuilding period, but however long it lasted, it finally came time for Philadelphia to win in 1949. The next year they fought down to the wire and defeated the National League defending champions, the Brooklyn Dodgers, to win the pennant on the last day of the season.

Manager Eddie Sawyer was a career minor leaguer who’d spent a decade managing. He took over the Phillies from Ben Chapman in 1948 (there was actually an interim who was around for 12 games). The team rose some, finally had a winning season in 1949, then broke through in 1950. Sawyer was considered an excellent handler of young talent.

And he needed to be. The team was nicknamed “The Whiz Kids” and the emphasis could be on the “Kids.” The eight everyday starters averaged 26 years old. The six men who started more than 10 games averaged 25.5. Of the nine men who spent time on the bench, only three were 30 or more (the youngest 22, the oldest 35).

The infield had Eddie Waitkis at first. At 30 he was the oldest infielder (and the oldest starting everyday player). He had no power, no speed, but was a decent fielder and led the team by scoring 102 runs. He was primarily famous for having been shot in a hotel room by a woman back in 1949. The incident served as a device in Malamud’s The Natural. Mike Goliat was at second. He hit .234, but had 13 home runs, a large number of 1950s second basemen. At 23, shortstop Granville “Granny” Hamner was the youngest infielder. In 1950 he hit .270, had 11 home runs, and finished sixth in the MVP race. He had good range, but made a lot of errors. Willie Jones held down third. He was second on the team with 25 home runs, hit .288, and his 88 RBIs were second on the team. His BBREF WAR was 3.6, tied for fourth on the team.

The outfield consisted of Dick Sisler, Del Ennis, and Richie Ashburn. Sisler hit .296, had 83 RBIs, and 13 home runs, one of which was the pennant clinching homer against the Dodgers. Ennis led the team in home runs (31), doubles (34), RBIs (126), hits (185), and slugging (.551). Hall of Famer Ashburn was a third year player and spectacular fielder (with Ennis and Sisler both being really slow, he had to be). He hit .303, had 14 triples, which led the NL. He’d led the league in stolen bases in 1948, but was down to only 14 (still good enough for fifth in the league) in 1950. His 3.8 BBREF WAR was third on the team, while Ennis’ 5.0 led Philadelphia.

The bench was shallow with only five men playing 25 or more games. Jimmy Bloodworth, an in season acquisition, and Putsy Cabellero were the backup infielders. Bloodworth hit .229 while Cabellero was below the Mendoza line. Neither had a home run. Former MVP runner-up (1944) Bill “Swish” Nicholson and Dick Whitman were the other men in the outfield. Nicholson had three home runs and Whitman hit .250. Nicholson’s three homers were three-quarters of the bench home run total.

The other bench home run went to catching backup Stan Lopata. He hit .209, caught 51 games, and managed a woeful slugging percentage of .279. The main catcher was Andy Seminick. His 24 home runs were third on the team, his OPS of .925 led the team, as did his 143 OPS+. At 4.3, his BBREF WAR was second to Ennis.

They caught an emerging pitching staff. The undoubted ace was 23-year-old future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. He was 20-11 with an ERA just above three with 146 strikeouts and a WHIP of 1.180 (his WAR was a team leading 7.3). Right behind him was lefty Curt Simmons. Simmons went 17-8, matched Roberts with 146 strikeouts, and had a 1.236 WHIP. Other pitchers who started more than ten games included rookie Bubba Church, Bob Miller, Russ Meyer, and left hander Ken Heintzelman, who at 34, was eight years older than any of the other starters. Jim Konstanty led the bullpen. He appeared in 74 games, won 16, lost seven, and ended up winning the National League MVP (the first reliever to do so). His 22 saves led the league (and are roughly 30% of his career save total).

The Phils were a surprise in 1950, but were also a good team. By the time the Series started they were having pitching problems. With the team needing a win on the final day of the season, Roberts had pitched and was unavailable for game one. Church was struck in the face by a batted ball earlier in the summer and was out for the Series. Just prior to the Series Simmons was called for military duty (the Korean War was going on) and was also unavailable for the Series. It would lead to a serious shuffling of the staff. The loss of Simmons and Church and the inability to use Roberts in game one would haunt Philadelphia for the entire World Series.

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