Posts Tagged ‘Happy Chandler’

The Barber

May 20, 2013
Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie

Sal Maglie was one of the aces of the Giants teams that won a pennant in 1951 and the World Series title in 1954. His nickname was “The Barber” (a nickname he hated) because he pitched high and inside. He was a good solid pitcher who helped four teams to pennants. In other words, he was a heck of a pitcher. Unfortunately, he’s most famous today for a game he lost.

Magile was born in Niagara Falls (the town, not the falls, obviously) in 1917. He’s another of that generation of players who were first generation Americans (his family coming from Italy). Maglie loved baseball, his parents were certain it was ruining his life. Apparently that was a fairly common problem in the period. In researching a lot of different players, I’ve found an inordinate number had immigrant parents who were entirely buffaloed by their son’s desire to play ball and the country’s willingness to pay the kid to do so.

Maglie played semipro ball while working in a factory in Buffalo. He was good enough that the Double A Bisons picked him up. He was raw and ended up in Class D. Desperate for talent in 1942, the Giants picked him up for their Jersey City farm team. He stayed one year, then left to work in a defense plant. In 1945, the Giants enticed him back to baseball. By the end of the season he was in the Majors going 5-4 with an ERA of 2.35 and a 1.115 WHIP. He was 28 and had finally made it.

In 1946 the Mexican League, under new management, began luring big leaguers to Mexico with big salaries. Maglie, who was playing in the Cuban League (under ex-Giants pitcher Dolf Luque), took one of the contracts. Major League baseball was appalled. Commissioner “Happy” Chandler announced a five-year ban on players who jumped to the Mexican League. That included Maglie. He pitched two seasons at Puebla, establishing himself as a quality pitcher. But the Mexican League was in trouble. The big salaries didn’t translate to big attendance and the league began faltering. Maglie jumped ship in 1948 joining a barnstorming team that folded at the end of the season. He bought a gas station in Niagara Falls, then got a call to join a minor league team in Canada. He pitched in Canada in 1949, leading his team to its league championship. At the end of the 1949 season, Chandler lifted the ban on the Mexican League refugees (it lasted four of the five years) and Maglie rejoined the Giants.

Maglie, now 33, was a hit. He won the ERA title (and the ERA+ crown) in 1950, had his career year in 1951 with a league leading 23 wins, and led the Giants to a three game playoff with the Dodgers. He pitched eight innings of game three, the Bobby Thomson “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” game, but took a no decision. The Giants victory took them to the World Series. They lost to the Yankees, Maglie pitching one game, lasting five innings, and getting clobbered (he gave up four runs in five innings in game three).  He had a good year in 1952, not such a good year in 1953 (he was having back problems), and opened 1954 as the Giants three pitcher (behind Johnny Antonelli and Ruben Gomez). He went 14-6, struck out 117 batters, but allowed more hits than he had innings pitched. The Giants were again in the World Series and Maglie drew game one. Again he picked up a no decision in the game made famous by Willie Mays’ catch and Dusty Rhodes’ homer. The Giants swept the Series with Maglie not taking the mound after game one.

Despite a good start in 1955, Maglie was traded to Cleveland. After two games in Cleveland in 1956, the Indians sold him to Brooklyn. The Dodgers, needing pitching, returned Maglie to a starting role (he’d mostly relieved in Cleveland) and he went 13-5 with a 2.87 ERA and a league leading 139 ERA+. He pitched his only no-hitter in 1956 and pitched the pennant clinching game for Brooklyn.  That meant the Dodgers would play in their second consecutive World Series, squaring off against the Yankees. Maglie pitched and won the first game of the Series (beating Whitey Ford), then drew game five in Yankee Stadium. It was his most famous game. He was great, giving up only two runs and five hits while striking out five. The problem was that Yankees starter Don Larsen threw the World Series’ only perfect game that day.

Maglie began 1957 with the Dodgers, went 6-6, and was sent across the city to the Bronx. He was 2-0 for the Yankees as they made another World Series. He didn’t pitch in the Series (which New York lost to Milwaukee in seven games).  In 1958 he was 41 and done. He pitched a few games for New York, then ended the season for the Cardinals. They released him before the 1959 season. He’d played parts of 10 seasons in the Majors, becoming the last man to wear the uniform of all three New York teams (this doesn’t count anyone who played for all three teams once the Dodgers and Giants moved to California).

He coached one year in the Cards minor league system, then became Red Sox pitching coach in 1961 and 1962. He was out of baseball in 1963, ’64, and ’65. He spent part of 1965 with the New York Athletic Commission, but most of his time was taken nursing his dying wife (she had cancer). He returned to baseball as pitching coach of the 1966-67 Red Sox, including the “Impossible Dream” team that lost the 1967 World Series. He was fired at the end of the Series (he and manager Dick Williams didn’t get along). He spent time after 1967 as a pitching coach for the Pilots (now the Brewers), general manager for the Niagara Falls minor league team, ran a liquor distributorship, and was a coordinator for the Niagara Falls Convention Bureau. He retired in 1979 and died in December 1992.

For his Major League career “The Barber” was 119-62, had an ERA of 3.15 (ERA+ of 127), 25 shutouts, 562 walks, and 862 strikeouts in 1723 innings pitched (a WHIP of 1.250). He was a member of four pennant winning teams and one World Series champion (1954). In postseason play he was 1-2 with a 3.41 ERA, 20 strikeouts and a 1.345 ERA. All this with four years lost to the Mexican League.

It’s useless to speculated how much Maglie lost because of the Mexican League fiasco. We can never know. He didn’t make the big leagues until he was 28 and didn’t become a regular until he was 33. It was not in the cards that he would join the Hall of Fame. But he was considered one of the better “money” pitchers of his era, especially in the regular season. Not a bad legacy for a man who hated what is one of the better nicknames of all time.

Maglie's final resting place

Maglie’s final resting place

Happy Talk

March 9, 2011

Happy Chandler

If you’ll take the time to go to The On Deck Circle (see blogroll at right), you’ll find an interesting article by Bill Miller about Bud Selig. It got me to thinking about the office of commissioner and about the men who held the job. Some of them did well, others not so much. If I had to pick the most underrated, and that’s hard to say because he made the Hall of Fame, it would be Albert “Happy” Chandler.

Chandler was born in Kentucky in 1898, attended Transylvania University in Lexington, and was in some ways a typical jock. He played baseball, football, and basketball, did some work in semipro baseball during the summers and graduated in 1921. He went to both Harvard and the University of Kentucky Law Schools, getting his degree from the latter (and to think I’m about to say some good things about both a lawyer and a politician, EEK!!!). He coached as an assistant in football at Center College in Kentucky while practicing law. In his autobiography he calls the period one of his favorite times. He had a new wife, the got to practice law, and he was still active in sports.

In 1928 he went into politics, running for the Kentucky state senate and winning. By 1931 he was lieutenant governor and in 1935 governor of Kentucky. He was 37.  A New Deal Progresive (which isn’t the same as a modern “progressive”), he got rid of the sales tax and prohibition. I always wondered how well prohibition went over in Bourbon County. Anyway, he was quite popular and in 1939 was appointed to the US Senate (the sitting Senator died in office). He was confirmed in office in a 1940 special election and elected to a full term in 1942. He supported the President and the war effort, although he favored attacking Japan first over Germany. He also began to look around to find ways to integrate the military. That came to nothing, but baseball came calling.

In 1944 Judge Landis died and baseball needed a new commissioner. In April 1945, Chandler got the job, resigning his US Senate seat for a higher calling. Because of his lack of a baseball background, he was controversial from the beginning (but remember Landis was a judge, not a sports executive). In 1947 he tossed Leo Durocher from the game because of Durocher’s perceived association with gamblers and “loose women” (there’s a gag here, but my wife tells me I shouldn’t use it on a family oriented blog). He tended to favor players in arguments with owners and was instrumental in setting up the first player’s pension fund. But overshadowing his entire term as commissioner was the issue of integration.

When Branch Rickey sent Chandler the contract for Jackie Robinson, there was instant opposition from most of the owners. They bluntly urged him to void the contract and as he was a Southerner they seem to have expected he would. In a secret meeting they voted 15-1 (Rickey being the one) against integrating the big leagues. Chandler steadfastly backed Rickey and Robinson and accepted the contract. He told Rickey that as a Senator he had seen black soldiers fight and die for the US and he was sure that “I’m going to have to meet my Maker some day. And if he asks me why I didn’t let this boy play, and I say it’s because he’s black, that might not be a satisfactory answer.”  The Robinson experiment was a success, but most everyone agrees it cost Chandler his job. When his term was up in 1951, he wasn’t rehired as commissioner. As a short aside, considering the reputation the South has when it comes to race, it’s surprising how many border Southerners (Chandler, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson) have been instrumental in shifting  race relations toward equality. Maybe it’s “border” that’s the key word. I dunno.

Chandler went back to Kentucky, won another term as Governor, where he enforced the Brown vs Board of Education ruling to integrate schools and helped set up the Medical Center at the University of Kentucky. He went back to law after the term ended. Although he threw his hat in the ring a couple more times, his political career, like his baseball career, was over. In 1968 George Wallace considered him as a Vice Presidential running mate, but chose another. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 and died in 1991.

Chandler’s Grave. Note mention of his baseball honors

Nobody pays much attention to Chandler anymore. If they do, it’s because of his connection to Robinson. But his ability to take the side of the players and his support of the pension system are almost as significant because they represent a departure from the commissioner’s normal position as spokesman for the owners (And I don’t mean to imply that Landis never went his own way. He did on occasion.). I don’t think Chandler gets enough credit for being a first-rate commissioner. If forced to rank the commissioners, I’d probably place Chandler second, right behind Judge Landis.