Bring Back the High Hard One: Remembering Sal Maglie

Posted: 15th September 2010 by Joe Guzzardi in by Joe Guzzardi

Here’s the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, a regular Wednesday and Saturday contributor.

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For years, I’ve listened to Pittsburgh Pirates’ announcers Steve Blass and Bob Walk urge Bucco hurlers to pitch fastballs inside. Although Blass and Walk were accomplished major league starters with more than 100 career wins, their advice is ignored—and not just by the Pirates.

Pitching inside is baseball’s lost art. Whether the commissioner’s office, umpires or pitchers and their coaches have decided that taking the inside of the plate is not politically correct, the fact remains that the high hard one is as rare as a complete game. Baseball is the poorer for it, too.

The name synonymous with inside pitching is Sal “the Barber” Maglie whose reputation as a headhunter dwarfs his outstanding career statistics.

On the mound, Maglie with his gaunt appearance, grim expression and stubble cut a fearsome presence that contributed to his reputation as a rough customer.

In 1958, Maglie spoke to Sports Illustrated reporter Roy Terrell for the first installment in a series titled “Big League Secrets.” Maglie’s chapter, in which he described his philosophy and nickname, was titled “The Art of Pitching”

Said Maglie: “You can’t let anyone run over you, for example. O.K., so they hit you a little. Right then is when you have to show them who’s the boss. Every batter is a challenge. I’ve been accused of giving some close shaves in my time and I guess I have. I don’t throw at hitters but I won’t deny that I make pretty sure that they aren’t digging in on me. I know I have to keep them loose.”

Maglie listed the three attributes necessary for a pitcher to succeed: 1) control of his pitches and himself, 2) confidence and determination and 3) knowledge and experience.

“The Barber” practiced what he preached. I count three back-to-back-to-back seasons when if it had existed, Maglie could have won the Cy Young Award. With the New York Giants from 1950 through 1952, Maglie posted records of 18-4 (2.71), 23-6 (2.93) and 18-8 (2.92). By 1956, the award’s first year, Maglie (13-5, 2.87) finished second to Don Newcombe in the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player voting.

In 1951, during the Giants famous end of season pennant run against the Dodgers, Maglie rolled off eleven straight victories and earned the All-Star Game win.

During his ten seasons, Maglie had a 110-62 record (3.15 ERA). Had Maglie not been banned by baseball from 1945 until 1950 for playing in the outlaw Mexican League, he may have reached the Hall of Fame. If you assume 15 wins during each of Maglie’s lost years, his average from 1950 through 1954 after he returned, that would put his win total at 185. Given that Maglie played an important role on championship Brooklyn Dodgers and Giants and earned the admiration of the baseball writers, he might have made Cooperstown.

Maglie holds two further distinctions. Maglie is the last player to be a member of all three New York teams, the Dodgers, Giants and New York Yankees. And infamously Maglie, despite pitching masterfully, lost to the Yankees’ Don Larsen in his 1956 perfect World Series game.

After Maglie’s career ended in 1958, he coached pitching for the Boston Red Sox (his star pupil was Jim Lonborg) and the Seattle Pilots.

Just how tough a cookie Maglie was in real life is debatable. Maglie’s first wife Kathleen, who died in 1967, couldn’t understand the fuss. According to her, “He isn’t tough at all. He lets his beard grow before a game so he’ll look fierce. I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said he scowled ferociously at the batters. Then I stayed home one day and watched him on TV. I hardly knew him.”

Watch this classic video from the old “What’s My Line?” television program with Maglie as the mystery guest and Phil Rizzuto appearing as a panelist. Notice Maglie’s neatly folded breast pocket handkerchief.

Then decide for yourself whether Maglie, out of uniform, was a good guy or a bad guy.

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Joe Guzzardi belongs to the Society for American Baseball Research, as well as the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America. Email him at guzzjoe@yahoo.com

  1. vinnie says:

    Joe,
    Thanks for bringing back those great memories.