Former Dodgers Star Podres Dies

Johnny Podres, who insured his place in Brooklyn's immortal pantheon by beating the New York Yankees twice to give the Brooklyn Dodgers their only World Series championship in 1955, died January 14 at a hospital in Glens Falls, N.Y. Podres, who lived near Queensbury, N.Y., was 75. His wife, Joan, announced his death and said he was being treated for heart and kidney problems and a leg infection.

Podres, almost 23, nearly didn't make the World Series roster and was overshadowed on a star-studded team with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo and Duke Snider in the lineup and Don Newcombe, Clam Labine and Carl Erskine on the pitching staff.

Podres had been injured twice during the '55 season and he had a so-so record of 9-10 for a team that had won 22 of their firsst 24 games and coasted in to win the National League pennant by 13 1/2 games.

But at 3:43 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1955, Podres pitched a brilliant 2-0 victory in the seventh game of the series, ending at least for a time of the age-old Dodger refrain of "Wait til next year."

Brooklyn had won seven pennants but they had been beaten seven times by the Boston Red Sox in 1916, the Cleveland Indians in 1920 and, embarrassingly, by the Yankees in 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952 and 1953.

The Dodgers became the first team to win the series after losing the first two games. Podres won Game 3 on his 23rd birthday, giving up seven hits in an 8-3 victory at Ebbets Field. The Dodgers won the next two games at home, but lost at Yankee Stadium in Game 6.

Podres and and the Yankees Tommy Byrne (who died December 20) battled in Game 7 at the Stadium. Gil Hodges had driven in both runs and the Dodgers took that slim lead into the sixth inning.

George Shuba had hit for second baseman Don Zimmer in top of the sixth; Jim Gilliam moved in from left field to take over at second and Sandy Amoros was inserted into left field in a series of moves that Dodger fans have determined were made in heaven.

Every living Brooklyn fan can recite the sequence of events that conspired to kill and New York rally and eventually give the Dodgers their first "Woild Serious."

Yogi Berra sliced a shot into the left-field corner off Podres with Billy Martin and Gil McDougald on first and second. Amoros, who had been playing Berra in left center, streaked into the corner, extended his (right) gloved hand and caught the ball. His relay to Pee Wee Reese and the subsequent throw to first nailed McDougald to kill the threat.

Many claim that Gilliam could not have caught the ball because he was a right-handed thrower and, of course, wore his glove on his left hand.

Podres, switching from the changeup that had baffled the Yankees earlier in the game, switched to fastballs and sailed in with the win, getting Elston Howard on a ground ball to Reese for the final out

Brooklyn went wild.

"There was a hell of a party that night at the Hotel Bossert in Brooklyn," Podres told Donald Honig in "The October Heroes." "Boy, the champagne! There was one guy there who kept telling me he'd been waiting for this since 1916." Podres was justifiably named the most valuable player of the World Series.

"I guarantee, there was more celebrating in Brooklyn that day than there was for the end of World War II," Buzzie Bavasi, the Dodgers' general manager at the time, said a half-century later.

Born and raised in Witherbee, N.Y., in the Adirondack region where his father mined iron ore. Podres grew up a Dodgers fan and signed with the Brooklyn organization out of high school. He nearly made the big team after only a single season in the minors (he was 21-3, 1.67 for Class B Hazard) but spent a year at Montreal before making the big club.

In 1955, the ground crew nearly into him moving the batting cage and he suffered bruised ribs that nearly put him on the disabled list for the rest of the year.

But he recovered in time to be the guiding force in the biggest season ever experienced by the Dodgers in Brooklyn.

He was a member of a superb rotation that included Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax. Claude Osteen and Ron Perranoski. Podres led the N.L. in earned run average (2.66) and shutouts (6), in the team's final year in Brooklyn (1957), and had an 18-5 record in 1961 with a league-leading winning percentage of .783.

He finished a Dodger career that ran from 1953-1966 with a 136-104, 3.66 record. He was 4-1 in World Series games with a 2.12 earned run average and was a three-time All-Star.

Podres pitched for Detroit and San Diego and after his 15-year major league career was a pitching coach for the Dodgers, helping develop Frank Viola when he was with the Minnesota Twins and Curt Schilling when he was on the Philadelphia Phillies staff.

He pitched in four World Series, winning four games to tie Koufax, and he was an All-Star three times.

But his career peaked at the age of 23 on the sun-baked mound at Yankee Stadium in October 1955.

"Sometimes when I'm home doing nothing, I'll put the video in," he said 50 years later. "I get the feeling that I'm young again. What a time that was."

His last public appearance was in Tampa when his old teammate Don Zimmer celebrated his 59th year in baseball. Joining the celebration, the Dodgers wore throwback flannel Brooklyn uniforms.

"For them to take time to come down here for this, it makes you feel pretty good," said Zimmer, after having breakfast with Snider and Podres. "They're not both in the greatest of health. And to think that they would fly down here for this, it makes you feel pretty good that the guys think that much of you."

Among those joining in the tribute are some of Zimmer's teammates, Hall of Fame member Duke Snider and former Dodgers pitchers Johnny Podres and Carl Erskine, teammates on the World Series winner. During the celebration, Zimmer took credit for the win in the final game, saying "If they had not taken me out for a pinch-hitter, Gilliam would have been in left and we would have lost."

Dodger owner Frank McCourt said, "I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Johnny Podres during the 5oth anniversary celebration of the 1955 World Series championship. The memories of Johnny's career and his significant accomplishments will forever be remembered by Dodger fans everywhere."  

Former teammate Tom Lasorda added, "I roomed with Johnny Podres and I can say, without a doubt, he was one of the greatest guys I ever had the pleasure of playing with. He represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character. I've never, ever heard anybody say anything bad about Johnny Podres. He was a great roomie, a great teammate, and a great friend."  

Former Dodger General Manager Buzzie Bavasi: He was one in a million. I have said this many times: I've had many good pitchers on my teams during my career, including the best in the business in Sandy Koufax and I am sure that all these pitchers will agree that if a club had to win one game, it would be Podres that would get the call. He did it many times for me during his career. I am going to miss him. I know the first thing he will do when he gets upstairs is to look for Walter Alston and Leo Durocher."  

Former teammate Don Newcombe:When I heard of Johnny's passing, my mind went back to Yankee Stadium, 1955, the seventh game of the World Series. I thank God for Johnny Podres, as I do all the time. I remember how confident he was in the clubhouse before Game 7. Walter Alston called a meeting and Johnny said, ‘Just give me one run.' Well they gave him two and we were champs. He was a man of his word, he lived up to his word, and I appreciate it."

And as for the story that Podres told his teammates on the bus going to Yankee Stadium for the seventh game inn 1955, "Get me a run today and we'll win this thing" -- well, he couldn't remember saying that.

"I don't know if I said it or not. That's what they said I said," a grinning Podres recalled in 2005. "I was probably young and dumb — something like that could haunt you your whole life. ... You put on a big league uniform, you've got to think you're pretty good."

No one will ever think differently, Pod. Rest in Peace.

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