The 1954 baseball season couldn’t have opened any better for the New York Giants. Sal Maglie, “The Barber,” started for the Giants against the hated Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds on Tuesday, April 13. He was opposed by Brooklyn ace Carl Erskine.
The Giants were held to a mere four safeties, but they were enough for a spine tingling 4-3 win. All New York’s runs scored on home runs.
With the game tied 3-3 in the sixth inning, Willie Mays, always a thorn in the side of Brooklyn, blasted a Carl Erskine delivery 400 feet into the upper deck in left field to give the Giants a lead they never relinquished.
The Giants were out to prove that they had improved sufficiently to contend after their disastrous 1953 season. Their 16-13 exhibition season record indicated that they would be better, but no one was certain by how much.
It was significant that Brooklyn didn’t have much trouble with Maglie on this particular day. Sal had a well-earned reputation as a Dodgers killer.
Roy Campanella led off the second inning with a home run into the upper left field stands for a 1-0 Brooklyn lead.
Maglie walked Jim “Junior” Gilliam and Reese to lead off the third, but shortstop Alvin Dark made a spectacular grab of a Duke Snider blooper near the left field line and the great number 42, Jackie Robinson, hit into a double play.
The Giants scored a pair of runs in third when Sal Maglie, of all people, led off with a single and scored when Alvin Dark hit a home run, but the lead was short-lived when Campy hit another home run into the upper deck in left.
After Willie’s home run had given the Giants a 4-3 lead, Maglie ran into more trouble.
Sandy Amoros, who would always be remembered by New York’s other team for his World Series saving catch of a Yogi Berra bid for extra bases in 1955, batted for Erskine with one out and doubled.
Maglie then walked Gilliam and Reese to load the bases, which was not the way he usually pitched. Manager Leo Durocher had seen enough.
He brought in right-hander Marv Grissom to face the left-hand hitting Duke Snider. Grissom retired the Duke on a harmless infield pop up to Dark, bringing up Robinson.
Jackie made good contact, hitting a sharp ground ball to third baseman Henry Thompson’s left. Thompson reacted quickly, gloved the ball, and fired a strike to second baseman Davey Williams to force Reese and end the threat.
In 1954, unlike today, a starting pitcher was removed based how effective he was pitching, not how many pitches he had thrown. If Maglie, who was 18-6 lifetime against Brooklyn, had been more effective, Grissom would not have come in.
Grissom is an interesting story. He was a journeyman who worked both as a starter and reliever. The Giants picked him up on waivers from the Boston Red Sox on July 1, 1953.
He saw limited service that year, appearing in 21 games, starting 7, and finishing at 4-2 with a 3.95 ERA, which was considered high.
But the Giants caught lightning in a bottle with Grissom in 1954. Appearing in 56 games, 53 of them in relief, Grissom won 10 games, worked 122 and one-third innings, had a 2.35 ERA, and was a major cog in the vastly improved Giants’ pitching staff.
The opening win a portent of things to come. Durocher was a gambler, as bringing in Grissom indicates. Maglie would have a solid season, winning 14 while losing only 6, and Willie would have an MVP season.
The Giants were on their way.
By JOHN DREBINGER. (1954, April 14). Giants Defeat Dodgers as Five Home Runs Highlight Polo Grounds Opener :MAYS’ BLOW IN 6TH DOWNS BROOKS, 4-3 Dark and Thompson Wallop Homers for Giants Also — Campanella Hits Two. New York Times (1923-Current file),p. 36. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 84115694).