I’m pleased to present the latest guest post from Joe Guzzardi, which offers a historical look at the San Francisco Giants’ 2010 World Series victory.

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I’m old enough to remember watching the 1954 World Champion New York Giants beat the Cleveland Indians on television. And as a native Californian who lived close to AT&T Park and attended numerous San Francisco Giants games, I see several parallels between the two clubs that brought both to baseball’s pinnacle.

The 1954 Giants, much like its San Francisco stepchild, won the World Series in large part because of key offseason acquisitions and brilliant managing throughout the year, especially in the post season. Both Leo Durocher and Bruce Bochy made all the right moves even when they seemed wrong.

The Giants had come off a dismal, fifth-place 1953 season that was hampered by poor pitching. From the starting rotation of Ruben Gomez, Larry Jansen, Sal Maglie, Jim Hearn and Al Worthington, only Gomez finished above .500

In February 1954, Durocher approached owner Horace Stoneham to urge him to trade for southpaw Johnny Antonelli, an inexperienced and indifferent (17-22) Milwaukee Braves’ starter.

Durocher knew that Willie Mays would soon return from a 21-month absence spent serving as a U.S. Army private and suggested offering extra outfielder Bobby Thompson straight up for Antonelli. Although Stoneham had a sentimental attachment to Thompson because of his 1951 pennant winning home run heroics against the Brooklyn Dodgers, he reluctantly approved the trade.

As was so often the case, Durocher’s insights proved correct. Antonelli anchored the National League’s best staff, went 21-7, led the league in shut outs (6) and ERA (2.30). Over his career with the New York and San Francisco Giants, Antonelli was a six time All Star.

By mid-July, the excitement surrounding Mays’ return was at a feverish pitch. Mays had 36 homers and was on pace to break Babe Ruth’s record. Nevertheless, Durocher insisted that Mays change his batting stance by coming out his crouch and moving his feet closer together. Although Mays only hit five more home runs, he batted at a .379 clip for the rest of the season to finish with a league-leading .345 average, 110 RBIs and 45 homers and wrap up the Most Valuable Player award.

When the Giants unexpectedly got to the World Series, the team was a prohibitive 8-5 underdog against the 111-game winning Cleveland Indians. Odds against a Giants four game sweep were 22-1. The reasons: Bob Lemon (23-7), Early Wynn (23-11), Mike Garcia (19-8), Bob Feller (13-3) and Art Houteman (15-7) with the lefty-righty tandem of Don Mossi (6-1) and Ray Narleski (3-3) waiting in bullpen. In the unlikely event of a complete collapse, Hal Newhouser (7-2) could be summoned by manager Al Lopez. The Indians, with four future Hall of Famers on their pitching staff, looked unbeatable.

All that changed during Game One. The Indians sent ace Bob Lemon to the mound to face the crafty veteran Sal Maglie. With the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the eighth, Maglie gave up a walk to Larry Doby and a single to Al Rosen. Durocher called for lefty Don Little to replace Maglie.

The next batter, Vic Wertz, then hit his titanic 420 foot fly ball to deep center field– commonly referred to as “The Catch”– where Mays ran it down. (See “The Catch” here.) Now with runners on second and third but only one out, Durocher returned to the mound to make another pitching change.

Durocher’s obvious bull pen call would be to Giants’ closer Hoyt Wilhelm (12-4, 2.10 ERA and seven saves). Instead he tapped 36-year-old Marv Grissom, in his first full year as a reliever. Grissom struck out pinch hitter Dave Pope and, to end the threat, retired catcher Jim Hegan on a harmless fly ball.

Grissom pitched 2-2/3 scoreless innings to get the 5-2 win after pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes hit a three-run bottom of the tenth homer.

When questioned after the game about his strategy, Durocher explained that still fresh in his mind was the eighth inning of a September 10 game when four Wilhelm knucklers got past catcher Ray Katt. With the potential winning runs on second and third, Durocher didn’t want to risk a passed ball.

After the shocking Giants’ first game victory, the Indians folded in the next three contests.

Comparing the two series upsets side by side, the 1954 Giants’ sweep was a ten on the baseball Richter Scale. As heartwarming as the 2010 Giants’ upset is, it registers only a 5. Everyone knew that the Giants have outstanding pitching and that in a best of seven series, anything is possible.

The Giants’ victory parade begins on Market Street in San Francisco today at 10 a.m. local time. As far as Giants fans are concerned, this morning and for many mornings to come a 5 is as good as a ten.

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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. Douglas Heeren says:

    I would like to see stories on the line of who got the better of the trade? Like Tommy John for Dick Allen, ect.. Didn’t Hoyt Wilhelm homer in his first major league at bat and never homered again in his career?

  2. Hi Douglas, thanks for weighing in. You’ve given me an idea for an upcoming post….

  3. Gerry Garte says:

    Hi Doug:
    You’re correct about Wilhelm. His only HR was in his first Big League at bat.