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March 14, 2013

Pebble Hunting

The Evolution of World Series Celebrations

by Sam Miller

A few weeks ago, the Astros played an intrasquad game against a pitching machine. The winner got banana splits. One team won*, and when those players won they did this:

Obviously, the celebration was mostly tongue-in-cheek. Entirely tongue-in-cheek. The Astros were play-acting an important celebration on the field, which raised the question (for me) of where the template for this type of celebration came from. And so, while this might seem like a very odd time of year to look into the history of World Series dogpiles, I’m going to look into the history of World Series dogpiles. MLB.com has been beefing up its highlight archives, so most of the past 65 years of celebrations are available. Not all—from 1960 to 1989, I could find 23, and scattered others are available in the 20 years before that—and not from all angles, so when I say something is the first, I just mean it's the first time I could find it. It's entirely possible that the true origins of these traditions came in the few preceding years. 

The Starting Point: 1950, Yankees
After the final strikeout of the 1950 World Series, the Yankees immediately run off the field; the catcher initially goes toward the dugout, then veers slightly toward the pitcher, who runs right past him into the dugout. The rest of the team, along with some non-uniformed humans, follow them toward the dugout. Players navigate past assorted ragamuffins and besuited gentlemen to reach the dugout. "We won, now get me into this doggone dugout!" they all shout excitedly.

Historical context: WWII is fresh in the players’ memories. Thus, once they defeat an enemy on the battlefield, they are wary of getting locked into a costly and time-consuming reconstruction effort. They flee the scene and race home to kiss their wives or strangers.

The On-Field Huddle: 1958, Yankees
You’ll see here two GIFs that, together, give a good sense of the eight-year evolution of the celebratory scrum. In the first, Mickey Mantle catches the final out, then jogs in lackadaisically, as though it is merely the third out of any inning. In the second, the Yankees gather together on the field of play to commemorate their success, but do it on their way off the field and quickly exit.

By 1958, the World Series has been televised for a little more than a decade, but viewership would have been much higher than in 1950. The series wasn’t broadcast to the entire country in 1950, and television ownership was just about 4 million nationwide. By 1958, television ownership was up tenfold, to nearly 42 million households. My theory is that the growing dogpile movement is in part due to the presence of television cameras, which gave players both the freedom and obligation to celebrate on the field, where the fans could see them. Still, as we see with Mantle’s nonchalance, there is a sense of perspective in the celebration. Or maybe what they saw as dignity, or professionalism. It’s a calm happiness, not total euphoria. It takes six full seconds before anybody from the dugout reaches the scrum.

Watch Yogi Berra run up to the pitcher, hug him, then abandon the circle and run toward the dugout. There’s no indication that he expected a permanent celebration on the field.

Historical context: Pope Pius XII died the same day. It’s hard to dance if you just lost your Pope.

The Breakthrough to Modernity: 1962, Yankees
There are a number of important milestones in this celebration, and that number is three:

1. The thrown equipment. Note that the pitcher tosses his glove lightly in the air, and another player—as you can see by the shadow in the center of the field—flings his very, very high.
2. The bear-hugged teammate. Catcher Elston Howard chases down pitcher Ralph Terry, hugs him from behind and pulls him into the air. There are previous World Series celebrations in which the team hoists the pitcher and carries him off the field, For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow style, but this type of bear hug—so familiar to us—seems to have been novel at the time.
3. The celebration turns not toward the dugout but away from it. The victors intend to celebrate on the field. Decorum no longer prohibits it, even as the visiting team.

Interestingly, though, the dugout is still slower to join the scrum.

Historical context: Two days before this celebration, the Cuban Missile Crisis began. Time may have seemed too short to postpone celebration, so teams decided they must do it immediately, on the field of play.

The Flying Leap: 1963, Dodgers
There are two significant steps in the Dodgers’ 1963 celebration. The first is small, but it’s Sandy Koufax’s reaction to the third out: A big, wound-up leap, and a sprint to the catcher. This is about 98 percent of the way to what modern pitchers do when the final out of the World Series is recorded. It’s not exactly as it is today, but in the same way that the Beatles sound more like something that would come out today than something that would have come out even five years earlier than they did, this looks more like a 2012 celebration than a 1958 celebration:

The more important developments are the flying leaps taken by Ron Fairly and Willie Davis.

Dogpiles happen because somebody falls over, and somebody falls over because somebody else runs and jumps on their back. It's not chaos until people start leaving their feet. Fairly and Davis don't knock anybody over here, but they introduces a pretty important step toward celebratory chaos, one that will lead to the next two decades of radical celebratory initiative.

Historical context: George Wallace, the bigoted governor of Alabama, took office earlier in the year, declaring “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!” Fairly and Davis’ full-body leaps into an integrated group hug are a fatal blow to Wallace’s vision.

Complete Chaos: 1966, Orioles
In 1966, when Paul Blair caught the final out, the field was stormed by fans. For a decade, this would be something close to the norm (check out 1969!), turning the celebration into something that was explicitly shared with fans.

Compare Blair’s post-catch run to Mantle’s, just eight years earlier. It’s like that scene in Pleasantville where everything gets color. Well, I mean, it’s literally like that because this is now a color broadcast. But it’s also metaphorically like that!

If a team after this tried to go back to a 1950s-style celebration (as the Dodgers did in 1965), they would look like real jerks, depriving fans of their part of the fun. And no team does try to go back. The 1967 celebration has the sprinting catcher and lots of flying leaps, and 1968 introduced another element that is now the norm.

Leg-Wrap Hug: 1968, Tigers

Of course, as we have seen, the celebration has taken place on the field for nearly a decade, but here we see catcher Bill Freehan literally pick up the pitcher and carry him back to the field to celebrate.

Historical context: Hippies, riots, crowds of demonstrators, acid, etc.

Manager: 1981, Dodgers
Again, I can’t see every angle of every celebration, but 1981 is the first time that we get the now-standard shot of the manager running out to join his gang.

The only other time I saw a broadcast cut to the manager was in 1979, when the Pirates’ manager goes over to congratulate (presumably) the team’s owner. In 1975, Sparky Anderson says he didn’t go out at all: ““I never appeared on that field. I was so tired and exhausted, I could not have made it.” 

Historical context: The post-60s generation, raised to believe that all authority is untrustworthy, begin to rebel in the only way certain to infuriate their parents: by actually embracing authority figures.

An Actual Dogpile: 1982, Cardinals
Finally, the scrum actually falls to the ground, creating the first World Series dogpile in (recorded) baseball history (where “recorded” means shot on video and later uploaded to mlb.com’s highlights).

Historical context: The disappearing middle class.

The End of History: 1986, Mets
Everything that has ever been done in a World Series celebration is done in the Mets’ 1986 victory: the glove throw, the pitcher dropping to the ground, the catcher raising his arms, the catcher leaping into the pitcher’s arms, the full-body leaps of teammates, the almost frightening moment when the entire scrum topples over

the shot of the losers, 

the police on horses riding out to keep fans in the stands,

the cameramen invading the scene for closeups,


the fans’ signs,


The only place left to go from here is literally breaking each other’s legs.

Other milestones:
1978, the television broadcast shows the losing bench
1988, the first pitcher to say a prayer of thanks

*Astros manager Bo Porter after the game: "Never say die with the 'stros. That's outstanding. Those guys had a great comeback and it was good to see. They played the game the way it was supposed to be and took advantage of any mistakes the other team made, and it was good to see."  

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  World Series,  Playoffs,  Celebrations,  Dogpiles

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