What Is the Worst MLB Pennant Race Collapse of All Time?

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterAugust 21, 2013

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 30:  A disconcerted New York Mets fan reacts following the Mets' loss to the Florida Marlins during the MLB game at Shea Stadium September 30, 2007 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Marlins defeated the Mets 8-1. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Welcome to Round 2 of our Lead Writer debate series! In the aftermath of debating about the DH rule in Major League Baseball, the Bleacher Report MLB team is back for another spirited argument. Check back next week for a third installment.

At some point, every Major League Baseball fan will enter into arguments, debates and boisterous conversation (bordering on screaming) about the most infamous moments in the history of the sport.

Odds are, the biggest collapses in history will take center stage in your baseball-themed debates before long.

While you gather your info to win an argument, take down a friend or simply rub in the worst time in the history of a certain fanbase or two, MLB Lead Writers Joe Giglio and Jason Catania will take the reins today on this topic: What is the worst MLB pennant race collapse of all time?

There were many, many to choose from, but Joe and Jason decided to throw barbs in the concrete jungle of New York.

Well, to be honest, they wrote from their home offices. Nevertheless, the debate centers around the respective collapses of the 2007 New York Mets and the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers. Adding to the New York feel is the team the Dodgers ultimately collapsed to in 1951: The New York Giants

Feel free to chime in below with your thoughts and to tell us who is wrong!

To clarify: Joe Giglio will be arguing on behalf of the 2007 Mets as the worst collapse ever. Jason Catania will back the merits of sadness in Brooklyn in 1951.

Why the 2007 New York Mets' Collapse Is the Worst of All Time

On September 12, 2007, the New York Mets were seven games up in the National League East with 17 games left to play. Sporting a National League best plus-71 run differential, the team didn’t just look the part of soon-to-be National League champions; they were destined to win the championship that eluded them the prior fall.

Coming off of a disappointing seven-game National League Championship Series loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006, the 2007 campaign, led by David Wright (149 OPS-plus), Jose Reyes (.354 OBP, 78 SB), and Carlos Beltran (.525 SLG), was set to be the culmination of general manager Omar Minaya’s vision.

For the first time since 1986, the Mets were going to hoist a trophy, earn a parade down the Canyon of Heroes and wrestle New York’s baseball fervor and loyalty from the New York Yankees.

Over the last 17 games, the best team in the National League turned to pumpkins, dropping 12 games and, ultimately, the division crown to the Philadelphia Phillies.

While the details (5-12 record, Tom Glavine’s season-ending disaster, “Fire Willie” chants, Jose Reyes’ 0-for-5 finale, a 5.96 staff ERA in the fateful 17 games, Reyes’ .240 batting average over August and September and the listless 8-1 loss in game 162) were very, very ugly, the aftermath of the franchise and lack of success through today still resonate in Queens, New York.

As former Met and current broadcaster Keith Hernandez said in the SportsNet New York postgame show that fateful Sunday, “this is a stigma that’s going to be attached to this team forever.”

Six years later, it still is attached to the New York Mets franchise.

After winning 89 games in 2008, yet finishing in second place to Philadelphia once again, the Mets franchise has endured nothing but losing since. Barring an unforeseen run of excellent baseball to close the 2013 season, the Mets will enter 2014 on the heels of five straight losing campaigns and zero postseason appearances since the 2006 season.

The fallout from 2007 may have cost that New York Mets team a chance at a World Series ring, but the aftereffects have damaged the franchise more.

Fans wanted answers. Unfortunately for the downtrodden Mets, the answers came quickly and swiftly from the New York media: Break up the team. They’re chokers. The franchise can’t win with this core. The stench of collapse will always be on this group.

Never mind that the 2009 Yankees won a World Series with several of the players associated with the 2004 American League Championship Series collapse. New York wanted answers, created labels and stuck with them.

General manager Omar Minaya built a loaded team for a short burst of success, but he didn’t have reinforcements ready when the nucleus aged or reached free agency. Fairly or not, manager Willie Randolph was on thin ice from the moment the final out was recorded in 2007. His eventual replacement, Jerry Manuel, was ill-fitted for the rigors of the job and demands of New York.

While the Mets spiraled out of control in subsequent years, the collapse had a ripple effect about 90 miles south down Interstate 95: The birth of the Philadelphia Phillies NL East reign of terror.

Every Marlins base hit off Tom Glavine in Game 162 of the 2007 finale set the stage for the Phillies to capture the crown, complete the comeback and buoy themselves as legitimate contenders for the next half decade.

From 2007-2011, the Phillies captured every National League East crown, made three trips to the National League Championship Series, two appearances in the Fall Classic and captured the World Series ring that has eluded New York Mets fans for nearly 30 years. It’s impossible to say definitively that the Phillies wouldn’t have done all of those things starting in 2008 had the 2007 collapse never occurred, but the tide shifted that September.

Major League Baseball has been littered with major, franchise-changing collapses for years, but few, if any, changed the tide of two franchises so distinctly.

The 2007 Mets didn’t just collapse. They spawned a dynasty of their division rival.

Why the 2007 New York Mets' Collapse Isn't the Worst of All Time 

Fellow MLB Lead Writer Joe Giglio has tried to convince you that the 2007 New York Mets suffered through the worst collapse in baseball history. He's stated his case, coherently and concisely, even with some pretty pictures and fun facts along the way.

And he is wrong.

While there's an awfully compelling case to be made for those Mets—losing a seven-game lead with just 17 to go ain't easy—one can claim that wasn't even the worst collapse we've seen in recent memory. If we want to consider only the past few seasons or so, weren't the 2011 breakdowns by the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox more dramatic, more memorable and, heck, fresher in our minds?

So if the '07 Mets isn't even the worst collapse in the past six years, well, how can it be the worst collapse of all time? Answer: It can't.

Now let's take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The way we approach things today, in this era of immediacy, this culture of current, if something hasn't happened in the last five minutes, it pretty much doesn't matter and is probably not relevant anymore. But that's silly.

Just because the Braves and Red Sox tailspins were bigger and badder—and worse—than the Mets collapse was, it doesn't mean even those two are the worst of all time. Again, we're talking IN THE HISTORY OF BASEBALL. Like, ever.

So perhaps instead of focusing on the recent past, maybe it would help to pan the camera out a bit, widen the scope and consider a collapse of a more—shall we say—distinguished vintage.

Why the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers' Collapse Is The Worst of All Time

In 1951, the Brooklyn Dodgers were one of the great baseball powers.

The club was filled with superstar players: Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Don Newcombe—really, the list could go on. That same core group had built Brooklyn into a team that made two trips to the World Series in the previous four seasons, losing to the New York Yankees in both 1947 and 1949.

The Dodgers could smell it, could taste it. They were on the verge of something great, but they just hadn't made it all the way there. To make matters worse, the 1950 club put together its own late-season run, as they were as far as nine games behind the Philadelphia Phillies on September 19—only to come up short of another World Series appearance by two games.

That's the background in Brooklyn heading into 1951. As for the season itself, well, the powerhouse Dodgers took over sole possession of first place as early as May 15—and they never relinquished that position during the summer. In fact, their lead swelled to a whopping 13 games after a doubleheader on August 11.

While the Dodgers played only so-so over the next three weeks—they went 9-9 prior to finishing August with three straight wins—Brooklyn entered September with the best record in baseball at 82-45 and seven games ahead of the New York Giants, who were 76-53.

Not only were the Dodgers actually eight games up in the loss column through August, they also had two games in hand: Brooklyn's September schedule accounted for 27 games, whereas the Giants only had 25.

Here, folks, is where things got crazy.

Over their final 27 contests, the Dodgers went 14-13, while the Giants pulled off a miraculous 20-5, including a run in which they won 12 of their final 13. New York also won five straight to catch Brooklyn—with two games still left to play in the regular season.

From there, both clubs won out, setting up the ultimate tiebreaker—a three-game playoff to decide which side goes to the World Series. Because that's how they did it in those days.

The first game, on October 1, was played at the Dodgers' home park of Ebbets Field, and even after scoring first, they actually lost by a score of 3-1. The game-winning hit came with two outs in the fourth inning when Bobby Thomson hit a two-run home run off Ralph Branca.

There was to be more where that came from, but we'll get to that in a second.

In the second game, which was on the Giants' home turf at the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers bounced back in a big way, defeating the Giants in a 10-0 whitewashing. Of course, the season would come down to one final, decisive game—because it had to.

At the start of Game 3, once again at the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers struck first on an RBI single by Jackie Robinson, scoring Pee Wee Reese. But from there, it was a pitching duel between Don Newcombe and Sal Maglie, with neither side scoring until the Giants pushed one run across in the seventh. The Dodgers, though, came right back with a three-spot in the eighth, putting them up 4-1 heading to the bottom of the ninth.

There they were: The mighty Brooklyn Dodgers team that was unable to clinch during the regular season after being up by seven games in the final month—and they were just three outs away from putting an end to those just-won't-go-away New York Giants in a win-or-go-home third game of a dramatic tiebreaker series with the World Series on the line.

If only.

After Newcombe gave up a pair of singles and an RBI double to cut the lead to 4-2 with one out and runners on second and third, manager Chuck Dressen, in one the most second-guessed decisions in the history of the sport, brought in Ralph Branca to face—you guessed it—Bobby Thomson. Never mind that Branca, you'll recall from just a few paragraphs ago, gave up the game-winning homer to Thomson in the first game.

And then this happened:

That, folks, is why the title of worst baseball collapse belongs to the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only did one of the best teams in baseball at the time fall apart during the final month of the regular season, but they also blew it in the final inning of a three-game playoff against the Giants, culminated by a little walk-off home run you might've heard of, whether you're eight or 88.

After all, it's only called the Shot Heard Round the World.

Why the 1951 Dodgers' Collapse Isn't the Worst of All Time

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Bobby Thompson’s ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ spawned one of the greatest home-run calls in the history of baseball broadcasting, launched the New York Giants into the 1951 World Series and completed one of the biggest collapses in baseball history.

While my colleague, Jason Catania, has tried to convince you that the 1951 Dodgers endured the greatest collapse in the history of this great game, two details have always made their collapse slightly overrated in my opinion: The franchise aftermath and how the Giants achieved their rousing success down the stretch.

First, and on theme with why I believe the Mets suffered the worst collapse in history, the Brooklyn Dodgers didn’t suffer any long-term setbacks in spite of the dramatic nature of their loss.

Over the next five years, the franchise qualified for the World Series four times. In 1955, they finally cleared the hurdle that was the New York Yankees and won a World Series title. If Ralph Branca’s gopher ball had any lasting effects, the franchise certainly didn’t show it when averaging 96.8 wins per season over the next half decade.

While the Mets-Phillies rivalry inside the NL East clearly changed direction in 2007, the Dodgers-Giants went back to normal quickly. In other words, they were the two best teams in the league for a long period, but Brooklyn held a sizable advantage.

From 1951-1956, the Dodgers and Giants captured all six National League pennants. Of course, Bobby Thompson’s shot secured 1951 for the Giants, but Brooklyn rebounded to take the flag in 1952 and 1953. After the Giants took it back in 1954, the Dodgers won it again in 1955 and 1956.

In other words, Ralph Branca’s famous home-run pitch served up nothing other than status quo for the National League.

Disclaimer: Cheating is as much a part of baseball as scorecards and hot dogs. If the Giants did truly use and benefit from stealing signs down the stretch of the 1951 season, good for them.

Still, it’s hard to pin the worst collapse of all time on the Dodgers when the Giants may have devised a system affording them the opportunity to rally from a 13.5-game deficit in mid-August.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Giants ability to steal signs, especially effective in their home park of the Polo Grounds, allowed the initial August run to take place. In the aftermath of a 16-game winning streak heading into August 27, 1951, the Dodgers’ lead had been shaved to just five games.

However achieved, it’s worth noting that the Giants went on a 40-14 burst through August and September. While the Dodgers weren’t quite as good in August and September as they had been for the first four months of the season, a 33-26 record down the stretch wasn’t poor.

Two of those Giants wins coincided with two Dodgers losses in early September. As stated in the Wall Street Journal piece, the team from Brooklyn was suspicious of sign-stealing after being outscored 19-3 over two contests.

"We took binoculars out on the bench to observe center field," Dodgers coach Cookie Lavagetto told Mr. Rosenfeld in The Great Chase. Mr. Lavagetto, who died in 1990, continued: "The umpire spotted us. He ran over and grabbed those binoculars away from us. There was nothing we could do. We told the ump that we were just trying to observe center field. Whatever Durocher had out there, he had a good system."

History, and Jason Catania, will tell you that the 1951 Dodgers collapsed. While the wording of their fall from first to second place can be debated, they did have an opportunity to hold on to the National League pennant, but ultimately failed.

It’s not the worst collapse of all time, however.

The immediate aftermath showed the lack of aftereffects on each franchise, and sign-stealing may have greatly contributed to the Giants making a historic run, rather than Brooklyn playing losing baseball in August and September.


Hope you enjoyed our second MLB Lead Writer debate between Joe and Jason. Was any particular argument more convincing than the others? Did any of the points sway your opinion at all? Be sure to give us your thoughts in the comments section below. 

If you missed it, here's Round 1, a battle of DH vs. non-DH between Adam Wells and Jason Martinez. And keep an eye out for Round 3 of our debate series next week!


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