Year In Review : 1955 National League
Off the field…
Entrepreneur Ray Kroc opened the first McDonalds restaurant in Des Plains, Illinois, initiating the world's largest and most successful "fast-food" chain. Even after McDonald's was well established, Kroc still attempted to move forward with German-tavern restaurants, pie shops and even theme parks, like Disneyland. No endeavor however, would match the success of the "Golden Arches".
After racing in Bakersfield, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, up-and-coming actor James Dean traded in his Porsche Speedster for a Porsche Spyder 550 called "Little Bastard". Later that year he was killed in a bizarre auto accident on his way to race in Salinas, California. "Rebel Without a Cause" (considered to be his greatest work) was released less than a month later to rave reviews.
America's greatest theme park, Disneyland, opened in Anaheim California with eighteen cutting-edge attractions, including the Jungle Cruise, Tomorrowland Autopia, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the Mark Twain Adventure. After years of construction, the ground-breaking visions of animation tycoon Walt Disney evolved into the creation of a Magical Kingdom that drew one million visitors in six months.
In the American League…
Eight years after Jackie Robinson broke the color-barrier, Elston Howard became the first African-American to don the Yankees pinstripes. The twenty-six year-old catcher, debuted with a clutch single in his first at-bat as New York went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox 8-4 at Fenway Park.
Cleveland Indians' ace Bob Feller one-hit the Boston Red Sox for a 2-0 victory on May 1st setting a Major League record with twelve career one-hitters. Later that season, teammate Herb Score broke Grover Cleveland Alexander's rookie season strikeout record after fanning his two-hundred thirty-fifth of the year.
On June 21st, Mickey Mantle became the first New York Yankee ever to hit a home run to straight-away center at Yankee Stadium. The epic blast traveled well over the thirty-foot hitter's backdrop and landed in the ninth row of bleachers for an estimated total of four-hundred eighty-six feet.
In the National League…
In his first Major League start, Pittsburgh Pirates' pitcher Al Grunwald threw "for the cycle" after surrendering a single, a double, a triple, and a home run (for four runs) all in a single inning during a 12-3 loss to the New York Giants.
Brooklyn Dodgers' pitcher Don Newcombe became the only National League pitcher of the decade to steal home (after he hit a clutch triple) in the ninth inning en route to a 6-2 win over the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates on May 26th. Later in the season he would win twenty games and set another National League record with seven home runs, the most ever by a pitcher.
New York Giant Willie Mays became only the seventh player ever to hit fifty home runs in a single season after knocking two-run homers in each game of a double header against the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Polo Grounds. Mays joined fellow sluggers Babe Ruth, Ralph Kiner, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hack Wilson and Johnny Mize as a member of baseball's prestigious "50 Club".
Around the league…
At the beginning of the 1955 season only three teams, out of sixteen, still had yet to field a black ballplayer (Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies).
On July 9th, Chicago newspaperman Arch Ward, the originator of the All-Star Game, died suddenly at the age of fifty-eight on the way to cover his twenty-second Midsummer Classic. Ward was the sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and was also credited with initiating the All-Star College Football Game and the All-America Football Conference.
One of the game's greatest, Hall of Fame shortstop Honus Wagner died at the age of eighty-one on December 6th. Wagner had played twenty-one years of outstanding baseball with eighteen of them as a Pittsburgh Pirate. He completed his career with a .327 career batting average, six-hundred forty-three doubles, two-hundred fifty-two triples and seven-hundred twenty-two stolen bases. He also hit one-hundred one home runs (with never more than ten a season), won the National League Batting Champion title eight times and batted .300 (or better) sixteen times — including fifteen seasons in a row.
The 1955 season debuted such rookie talents as Sandy Koufax, Brooks Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Harmon Killebrew. All now have plaques hanging in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.