Note: Leverage Index is an average of the leverage of situations, with 1 being average, below 1 being low-pressure, and above 1 being high-pressure.
In the classic 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Randall McMurphy tries to get his fellow patients to vote to ask Nurse Ratched to allow them to watch the World Series. When the effort fails, McMurphy won’t let Ratched deny them the national pasttime. He gives play by play of the World Series as he imagines it. It’s a great scene:
The scene is more about willpower than anything. It’s about defiance. But I’d also like to think it’s about baseball. Imaginary baseball is more interesting than no baseball at all. The film was set in 1963, and what McMurphy doesn’t know is this: in 1963, his imaginary World Series wasn’t just more interesting than no World Series. His imaginary World Series was more interesting than the actual World Series.
The 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers (99-63) were built on pitching. Sure, they had good hitters – it’s hard to win 99 games without them. OF Frank Howard (.273/.330/.518) was their best, leading the team with 28 HR. Fellow OF Tommy Davis (.326/.359/.457) finished 8th in the MVP race. Veteran 2B Jim Gilliam (.282/.354/.383) finished 6th in MVP voting, and 1962 NL MVP Maury Wills (.302/.355/.349) made an impact as well, stealing 40 bases. Scoring wasn’t an issue, but it’s not what pushed them to the pennant. Run prevention, on the other hand, did, as they allowed a league low 3.4 runs per game. The main culprit was a longtime Dodger having his breakthrough season. As a 19 year old, he pitched 2 shutouts for the 1955 champion Dodgers, but wildness over the years kept him bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. In 1961, Sandy Koufax figured out how to play the game, becoming an All-Star and a pretty good pitcher. In 1963, he figured out the cheat codes. Before, he was Sandy Koufax. In ’63, he became Sandy Koufax. He went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA. He won the CY Award. He won the MVP. He struck out over 300 batters and threw 11 shutouts. This is the Sandy you think of. He was LA’s best pitcher in 1963, but far from their only one. Reigning CY winner Don Drysdale went 19-17 with a 2.63 ERA and led the league with 42 starts. Jonny Podres (14-12, 3.54) was still somewhat effective, and Bob Miller (10-8, 2.89) had the best season of his career. Ron Perranoski (16-3, 1.67, 21 saves) was a beast pitching exclusively out of the pen, finishing 4th in the MVP race.
The back to back defending champion New York Yankees (104-57) dominated the league despite only a partial season from superstar OF Mickey Mantle. Mantle (.314/.441/.622) made the most of his 65 games, with 15 HR. While not the MVP-type player from two years earlier, Roger Maris (.269/.346/.542/ 23 HR) was still effective. Mantle’s replacement, Tom Tresh (.269/.371/.487/ 25 HR), had his best offensive season while doing his best Mantle impression. Veteran C Elston Howard (.287/.342/.528 / 28 HR) was named the AL MVP and won a Gold Glove. 1B Joe Pepitone added 27 HR as well. For all the ballyhooing I gave the Dodgers pitching, New York also averaged 3.4 runs allowed per game, and they did it without the benefit of playing 80 games in Dodger Stadium. Whitey Ford (24-7, 2.74) finished 3rd in the MVP race. Ralph Terry (17-15, 3.22) led the team with 18 complete games. Young Jim Bouton (21-7, 2.53) had his best season. Rookie Al Downing (13-5, 2.56) led the AL in hits per 9 innings (only 5.8) and strikeouts per 9 (8.8). While they had no one on par with Perranoski, the Yankees bullpen was competent and deep, with 3 relievers sporting a sub-2.75 ERA. With Mantle available for the World Series, expectations were predictably high.
Games like this are why I was careful about using the word exciting. This game didn’t lack excitement. There was little doubt about who would win, with Dodgers C John Roseboro hitting a 3 run HR in the top of the 2nd to give LA a 4-0 lead, and the Dodgers adding a 5th in the 3rd. Koufax was excellent, striking out 15 and going the distance. Of course he did.
Average leverage: 0.43
The Dodgers tagged Downing for 2 early runs in the top of the first, both thanks to a Willie Davis double. In the 4th, Bill Skowron homered to make it 3-0. Dodgers starter Podres took a shutout into the 9th, but was relieved by Perranoski after a 1-out double. Elston Howard drove in the run, but Perranoski retired the final two batters for a 4-1 win. The series headed back to LA with a 2-0 Dodger advantage.
Average leverage: 0.65
Don Drysdale had been skipped over for the game 2 start because manager Walt Alston thought Podres was better suited to Yankee Stadium. Drysdale did not let it affect him. Given a 1st inning 1-0 lead on the back of a Tommy Davis RBI single, Big D required nothing else. The Yankees got only 3 runners into scoring position, and none scored. Drysdale went the distance, surrendering just 3 hits and a walk, striking out 9, and completing the shutout.
Average leverage: 1.18
A rematch of Game 1’s pitching matchup, and this time Whitey Ford was up to the challenge. Ford and Koufax matched each other, starting off with 4 shutout innings. Koufax held the Yankees scoreless in the 5th, but Ford gave up a solo HR to Howard to give LA a 1-0 lead. In the top of the 7th, Mantle answered with a solo shot of his own, and the game was tied again. In the bottom frame, Jim Gilliam led off with a ground ball to 3B Clete Boyer. Boyer fired to first, but Joe Pepitone lost the ball in the white shirts of the Dodger crowd. The ball hit his arm and rolled up the line, allowing Gilliam to reach third. Willie Davis hit a ball deep to CF, and Gilliam scored easily on the sac-fly to give LA a 2-1 lead. Koufax picked up 3 K’s over the final two innings and finished off the Yankees for a surprising sweep of a 104-win team.
Average leverage: 1.175
The Yankees scored just 4 runs in the Series, and only 1 of those runs even tied the game. They never held the lead, and the Dodgers required only 4 pitchers in 4 games: Koufax, Drysdale, Podres, and Perranoski combined for 36 innings, 22 hits, 5 walks, 4 runs, and 37 K’s. Koufax in particular was marvelous, striking out 23 in 18 innings and winning the Series MVP.
Average leverage: 0.859