Arthur Daley was a sports columnist for the New York Times from 1942-73. In 1956, he became the first sportswriter to win a Pulitzer Prize. Daley knew baseball, but this is not about him. It is about his take on the upcoming 1954 baseball season.
The New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers had met in the World Series in both 1952 and 1953. They were the popular picks of most fans and “experts” to meet again in 1954, but Daley had doubts.
The Milwaukee Braves were a strong team with a major problem. Bobby Thomson, acquired from the New York Giants in exchange for left-handers Johnny Antonelli and Don Liddle, broke his ankle in an exhibition game and would be lost for at least one-half of the year.
In essence, the Braves gave up two pitchers for nothing, but the return of left-hander Chet Nichols from the army was expected to give the pitching staff a boost.
We now live in the age of statistics, but even 56 years ago, statistics were important, although less sophisticated. Daley compared the 1952 and 1953 seasons of the Dodgers’ regulars.
With the exception of second baseman Jim “Junior” Gilliam, who was a rookie in 1953 and didn’t play with Brooklyn in 1953, every regular but one improved his batting average.
PeeWee Reese, a great defensive shortstop, dropped one point, from .272 in 1952 to .271 in 1953. Left fielder Jackie Robinson gained 21 points, third baseman Billy Cox picked up 32, center fielder Duke Snider was 33 points better, catcher Roy Campanella improved by 43 points, first baseman Gil Hodges moved up by 48, and right fielder Carl Furillo went from .247 to .344, which was good enough to win the batting title.
Daley concluded that it was inconceivable that the Dodgers’ regulars could produce two consecutive seasons that, for most of them, were career years. Reese. Cox, and Robinson were almost 35 years old, while Campy, Hodges, and Furillo were no youngsters.
The fact that Don Newcombe, the great right-hander who won 20 games in 1951 and then went to serve the causes of freedom, was returning, was a positive. It was hoped that Newcombe’s great pitching would compensate for any decrease in offense.
The Dodgers strongest challenger appeared to the Braves. Warren Spahn led the pitching staff, but he would rarely pitch in Ebbets Field because of the short fences and right-handed hitters. Led by Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Billy Bruton and 20-year-old rookie Henry Aaron, the Braves figured to score a lot of runs.
The New York Giants were the most intriguing challenger. Daley, like most individuals who followed the game, felt that Willie Mays might be the difference. He thought that Willie might breath new life into former 20 game winners Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen, and that newly acquired Johnny Antonelli might reach his potential.
Hesitatingly, with much caution, Daley picked the Yankees and Dodgers. New York won 103 games, the most ever under Casey Stengel in 1954, while Brooklyn won 92 games, but neither won its league’s pennant.
The “long shot” New York Giants and pitching rich Cleveland Indians met in the World Series.
By ARTHUR DALEY. (1954, April 11). Sports of The Times :Just One Man’s Opinion. New York Times (1923-Current file),S2. Retrieved November 21, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 83328502).