Perfection, chess, & track: New York Times headlines from 1956

This week’s headlines from sports history come from The New York Times, as published the week of October 7-13, 1956.

Location of New York City.
Location: New York City.

The New York Times is a major American newspaper that got its start in 1851. Nicknamed “The Gray Lady”, the paper is still published today and has one the largest circulations in the US.

In 1956, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower won reelection and Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Elvis Presley released his first hit single, “Heartbreak Hotel”, and movie goers took in The Ten Commandments and Around the World in 80 Days. In sports, Oklahoma’s college football team was in the midst of its 47-game win streak and equestrian events for the Melbourne Olympics took place in Sweden due to Australia’s quarantine laws.

Here is a sampling of sports headlines The Times published this week in 1956:

“Ohio State Coach Drills Team in India”

Publication Date: Sunday, October 7
This image of Larry Snyder giving pointers to Joginder Singh ran alongside the story.

This story by foreign corespondent and future Times editor-in-chief A.M. Rosenthal covered Ohio State track and field head coach Larry Snyder’s visit to India. While staying in the city of Patalia, Snyder gave coaching tips to the Indian national track and field team as well as tasting local curry.

As the article noted, India was the field hockey champion at every Olympiad since 1928 (the streak would eventually end in Rome at the 1960 Games). However, the country was lacking when it came to track and field: India had never placed an athlete in the top six at an Olympic Games.

Snyder, whose coaching pedigree included the 1936 Olympic champion Jesse Owens, planned to stay in India for another month to help the program train for the 1956 Melbourne Games, which were slated to begin in late November. Snyder remarked that the Indian national team was equivalent in skill to “a good average-year team at Ohio State.”

While India failed to make much of a dent in Melbourne, Milkha Singh recorded the nation’s best track and field finish at the Olympics when he finished fourth in the men’s 400-meters at the 1960 Games.

Snyder coached Ohio State until 1965. In addition, he was hired as the US track and field head coach for the Rome Olympiad.

“Larsen Beats Dodgers in Perfect Game; Yanks lead, 3-2, on First Series No-Hitter”

Publication Date: Tuesday, October 9
The iconic moment of catcher Yogi Berra leaping into Don Larsen’s arms after the final pitch ran on the front page.

In a 2-0 thriller, New York’s Don Larsen became the first pitcher to ever toss a perfect game at a World Series in Game 5 between the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It was the first perfect game the major leagues had seen in 34 years and sixth of all time.

The game, which took place at Yankee Stadium, was reported on for The Times by John Drebinger, who covered baseball for The Gray Lady from 1923 until 1964.

Utilizing an unorthodox no wind-up delivery, Larsen kept the Dodgers from reaching base in any fashion. The 6-foot-4 Californian was so dominant that day in the Bronx only one of the 27 batters he faced saw a count reach three balls. Larsen fanned seven of those 27.

The closest Larsen came to giving up the perfect game happened in fifth inning. With one out, Gil Hodges hit one of Larsen’s pitches into Yankee Stadium’s Death Valley in deep left-center field. Future Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle—whose fielding, Drebinger noted, had been “a trifle spotty” during the series—darted from his center field post to snag Hodges’ smack and save the perfect game.

↓ Affiliated content ahead ↓

Read more about Don Larsen’s perfect game.

Get “Perfect: Don Larsen’s Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made It Happen” on Amazon →

Mantle had provided additional support earlier in the contest when he collected a solo four-bagger by belting one down the right field line in the fourth frame. The Yanks’ other run was tacked on in the sixth when Hank Bauer’s single to left brought home Andy Carey.

Larsen told the press he did nothing special to get ready for his now-historic outing: “I did just like I always do. Had a few beers and went to bed around midnight or so.”

After the perfect performance, which put New York up 3-2 in the series, Brooklyn forced a seventh game when Jackie Robinson’s 10th-inning walk-off single sealed a 1-0 victory in Game 6. In the final act, pitcher Johnny Kucks limited the Dodgers to only three hits as the Yankees cruised to a 9-0 win and their 17th world championship.

Larsen’s effort was not only the first postseason perfect game; it was also the first-ever postseason no-hitter. A World Series perfecto (or even a no-hitter) has not been dealt since. In 2010, Philadelphia’s Roy Halladay joined Larsen as the only other hurler to pitch a postseason no-hitter when the Phillies beat the Cincinnati Reds 4-0 to open their National League Division Series.

Larsen pitched with the Yankees until 1959 and helped the ballclub win the ’58 Series. After bouncing around with six MLB teams, he retired in 1967 as a member of the Chicago Cubs.

“Hands of Catchers Take Battering”

Publication Date: Friday, October 12
This image of Roy Campanella showing his battered hands ran with the article. A similar image of Yogi Berra’s hands also made the paper.

An article covering the beating catchers’ hands took ran two days after the Yankees had clinched the World Series.

In the article, Brooklyn backstop Roy Campanella and New York catcher Yogi Berra shared some of the brutality they faced as catchers. Campanella, who had earlier undergone surgery for a pinched nerve that left his left thumb permanently weakened, faced surgery following the Series. According to the report, he would have to undergo a procedure to remove a chipped bone from his right thumb.

As for Berra, the future Yankee manager bruised his right index finger and split the skin on his left thumb during the World Series against the Dodgers.

Campanella’s career was tragically cut short after spending only one more year with Brooklyn. In January 1958, he was paralyzed from the shoulder down after breaking his neck in an automobile accident. The Philadelphia native later occupied various roles within the Dodgers organization before his death in 1993.

Berra played for New York until the mid-1960s. After retirement, he had two stints as the Yankees manager and one for the New York Mets. He also coached for both ballclubs and the Houston Astros. Berra passed away in 2015.


Publication Date: Saturday, October 13

This article recounted future chess great Bobby Fischer’s draw against Sidney Bernstein during the Lessing J. Rosenwald Trophy Tournament. The match featured the youngest and oldest competitors in the 12-player field: Fischer was 13-years-old in 1956; Bernstein, 45.

The Times noted that Fischer, who was a student at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn at the time, showed “ingenuity in avoiding defeat.” He forced the draw by leaving Bernstein with just a bishop and no pawns.

Later in the tournament on October 17, Fischer would beat former American champion Donald Byrne in what has been called “The Game of the Century”. Fischer ultimately finished ninth the tournament; Polish-born and eight-time US champion Samuel Reshevsky won the event.

The tournament, which held its third edition in 1956, took place at the Manhattan Chess Club from October 7-24.

Fischer eventually won the World Chess Championship in 1972 by defeating Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. After falling away from chess, Fischer became a recluse known for his erratic nature and controversial comments about Jews and September 11. He died in 2008 as an émigré in Iceland.

“Dodgers Plan No Shift to Coast, They Say on Way to Orient Tour”

Publication Date: Saturday, October 13

An Associated Press report, this article covered the dim prospects of the Brooklyn Dodgers bolting the borough for Los Angeles.

In the article, a Los Angeles County supervisor detailed a breakfast meeting he had with Dodgers president Walter O’Malley the morning before the ballclub jettisoned the continent for a goodwill tour in Japan.

Brooklyn authorities reportedly promised that a modern stadium would be constructed to replace the Dodgers’ home of Ebbets Field, which had been built in 1913. The supervisor claimed that O’Malley said there was “no likelihood of it (the stadium deal) not going through.”

Of course, no new stadium was built and the Dodgers moved west before the 1958 season. The club has remained in Los Angeles since.

This article also mentioned the slim possibility of the Washington Senators moving to California. The Washington, DC franchise ended up not following the Dodgers to the City of Angels, but did leave the nation’s capital for Minneapolis after the 1960 season.

The Dodgers’ trip east after their World Series defeat saw them post a 14-4-1 record against Japanese competition. Future Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson would retire at the age of 37 following the tour.

Headlines for this article were sourced from The New York Times’ own TimesMachine.