Years that end in a "6" tend to feature epic Fall Classic showdowns
By Mark Newman
It's a six year, so you know what that means.
Oh, you don't? Well, something for the ages is bound to happen this Fall Classic. Maybe it will be another perfect game or walk-off error. Maybe it will be the start of another dynasty or a team's last title for decades to come. Maybe there will be a "mad dash" to clinch it, and maybe a catcher will come up big, like Johnny Bench and Jim Leyritz did years ago.
Maybe someone will hit a home run for a sick child, like Babe Ruth did for little Johnny Sylvester in the 1926 World Series. Maybe someone will burst onto the scene, like Joe DiMaggio at his first World Series in 1936, or bow out, like Sandy Koufax 50 years ago.
Take a look at six of the biggest "Six Series" -- aka the epic World Series that have taken place in years ending in a six -- to date.
1996: Another NYY Dynasty Begins
The 1996 World Series was supposed to be about an ending, not a beginning. It showcased the last baseball to be played at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, aka "The Launching Pad." But when Leyritz, a Yankees backup catcher, crushed a three-run homer off Braves closer Mark Wohlers in the eighth inning in Game 4, it was not only the final longball at that ballpark, but also the launching point for a new Yankees dynasty.
The Braves dominated the first two games of the Series at Yankee Stadium. After a Game 3 win, the Yanks had faced an early 6-0 deficit in Game 4. When Leyritz homered that night in Atlanta, it tied the contest at 6-6, setting the stage for a 10th-inning victory that evened things up at two games apiece.
Pettitte would win a signature start opposite John Smoltz in Game 5, and the 23rd world championship in Yankees history would come with a Game 6 victory back in the Bronx. Among the key moments along the way were the hiring of Joe Torre as the Yankees' new manager for '96, and the gradual emergence of prospects like Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, which conspired to forge a strong core that Jorge Posada would soon bolster.
Entering October 1996, the Yankees had not won a World Series title in their last 17 seasons (although there was no Fall Classic in 1994), and that marked their longest such drought since Babe Ruth arrived from Boston. After the Marlins' surprising triumph in '97, Torre's club lit it up -- winning in '98 over the Padres,'99 over the Braves again and 2000 over the Mets.
"You never forget your first," Jeter said. "That was the beginning. The Yankees hadn't won in a long time. You remember the excitement in the Stadium; you remember the excitement in the city. 'The Boss' [principal owner George M. Steinbrenner] said if we won, he'd keep us together, and we continued to win."
Fittingly, Torre and Braves Manager Bobby Cox each wore No. 6 in this Six Series, and they would be inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 2014.
1986: A Dribbler gets by Buckner
"Little roller up along first … behind the bag … it gets through Buckner … here comes Knight and the Mets win it!" called broadcaster Vin Scully during the 1986 World Series. That year, a Boston team led by young Cy Young winner and AL MVP Roger Clemens seemed destined to end its drought. The Sox shocked the Angels in the ALCS, then held a 3-games-to-2 lead over the Mets going into Game 6 of the World Series.
Boston came within one out of victory in the bottom of the 10th, when Mets All-Star Gary Carter started a rally. Kevin Mitchell singled, too, and Ray Knight lined an RBI single to make it a one-run game. Bob Stanley came on in relief to face Mookie Wilson, the Mets' starting left fielder. A wild pitch plated Mitchell, and, with the count full, Wilson hit a grounder to first baseman Bill Buckner. Somehow, the ball rolled through his legs, allowing Knight to score from third. It was not the last play of the '86 season, but it might as well have been. The brash Mets clinched two nights later.
"Anything is possible," said Wilson, who later became friends with Buckner. "You play the game until the last out."
1976: The Big Red Machine Clicks
It was the year of America's Bicentennial celebrations, Jimmy Carter, Viking on Mars, "Bohemian Rhapsody," and the inception of both the Blue Jays and Apple Computer Company. And it represented the pinnacle of greatness for the Big Red Machine.
Cincinnati's franchise had won 108 games in 1975 and survived a thrilling seven-game World Series against Boston. Sparky Anderson's '76 club, the most recent NL team to repeat as champs, won 102 games behind Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez, then steamrolled through the postseason, sweeping the Phillies in the NLCS and the Yankees in the Fall Classic. It was a New York team in transition from uncharacteristic lean years to Owner George Steinbrenner's free-spending commitment to excellence, which would include the signing of Catfish Hunter for the '75 season and Reggie Jackson after this sweep.
The Reds scored first in three straight games and sealed the deal with a pair of Game 4 homers by Bench. He was named Series MVP, finishing 8 for 15 with six RBI.
1966: Changing of the Guard
The year 1966 brought the world the first "Star Trek" episode, escalation in Vietnam and demonstrations back home, the Toyota Corolla, Martin Luther King Jr.'s Civil Rights march in Chicago, The Beatles' final tour performance at Candlestick Park, Sandy Koufax's retirement and the emergence of the Orioles' dominant starters.
For Koufax, it was the end of a short but incredibly sweet career. His greatness was basically compacted into the second half of a dozen seasons with the Dodgers. In 1966, at age 30, he posted career bests of 27 wins and a 1.73 ERA, a 9.8 WAR, and went on to win his third career Cy Young Award. He already had been named World Series MVP in 1963 and '65. And he and his Dodgers teammates returned to face the Orioles in the Fall Classic that season.
Baltimore won Game 1 behind back-to-back homers from Frank and Brooks Robinson in the first inning, and called on a blossoming second-year righty named Jim Palmer to pitch against the great Koufax in Game 2. Koufax allowed only one earned run over six innings, about par for him, but his teammates made six errors, half of them by center fielder Willie Davis in the fifth inning.
"I was 20, he was 30," Palmer said in a recent visit to MLB.com. "He was 27-9 with an ERA under two runs a game that year, and I didn't want to embarrass myself." "But the way the game went, Paul Blair and Andy Etchebarren hit fly balls to center field. Willie Davis dropped the first one, dropped the second one and, after he dropped the second one, I think everybody knew he was having a bad day with the glove. He picked it up and threw it in the dugout."
The Dodgers rarely played day games at home, so Davis likely struggled with the sun. Koufax, mindful of the boos, put an arm around his teammate after that inning, while Palmer cruised toward a four-hit shutout.
As Koufax made his final MLB appearance, the stage was set for one of the greatest rotations in the game's history to take hold. Palmer and Dave McNally, starters in the '66 Series, would combine five years later with Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson on a staff with four 20-game winners, still the gold standard.
1956: Postseason Perfection
Major League Baseball is so deep into a world of competitive balance this generation that it is almost hard to picture an identical World Series matchup six different times within a decade. The most in recent 10-year spans would be two: Red Sox over Cardinals in 2004 and '13, and Yankees over Braves in 1996 and '99.
So imagine what it was like in New York when the Yankees and Dodgers were an October fact of life six times from 1947-56. Dem Bums of Brooklyn finally won it all in '55, but as if to restore order, the Yankees beat the Dodgers in seven games in '56. It was a pair of two-run homers by Yogi Berra in Game 7 that clinched it, but what people remember most about this series was Berra jumping into the arms of battery mate Don Larsen after the hurler pitched a perfect game.
Larsen, a journeyman right-hander who had posted a 3-21 record two years earlier, threw 97 pitches. "I had great control," he later recalled. "I never had that kind of control in my life."
Mickey Mantle, whose homer in the fourth was all Larsen needed, chased down a Gil Hodges deep drive to preserve what remains the only World Series perfecto.
1906: Chicago, that Toddlin' Town
With all due respect to one of the most iconic plays in World Series history -- Enos Slaughter's Mad Dash to lift the Cardinals over the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 1946 Classic -- this story ends all the way back to where it started: the first possible Six Series. In 1906, a White Sox team known as the "Hitless Wonders" shocked the Cubs in MLB's first intra-city Fall Classic.
It was the third "World's Championship Series," a concept still catching on back then. The Cubs came in with the highest regular-season win total (116) and winning percentage (.763) ever in the Majors. The White Sox, meanwhile, had batted just .230, lowest in the fledgling American League.
Future Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown started the opener for the Cubs, but it was opposing starting pitcher Nick Altrock who turned the West Side Grounds into his own Alt Rock Nation. Fans rushed the field and police had to protect him after he outdueled Brown in a 2-1 stunner for the Sox. Both clubs split the first four games, and then the Hitless Wonders, led by George Rohe's .333 average and four RBI, erupted with 26 hits over the final two games to claim the stunning victory.
One thing fans definitely will not see in 2016 is a title being celebrated in a brand-new ballpark, as the Cardinals did at new Busch Stadium in 2006. Nor will we witness a 14-inning complete game like the one Ruth pitched for the Red Sox in Game 2 of 1916. But it's a six year, so, like Mookie said, "anything is possible."
This article appears in the MLB Official World Series Program. To purchase a copy, visit mlbshop.com.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. He covered the 2006 World Series for MLB.com and the 1996 Series for The Sporting News. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.