Baseball: Past and Present

Editor’s note: It is my pleasure to present another research paper from George Haloulakos. George and his father Vassilios contributed an outstanding paper last month on Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax. This paper, written solely by George Haloulakos, concerns one of the mentors for Drysdale and Koufax. And Sal Maglie accomplished plenty in his own right. 

Introduction

In the 1993 film, The Sandlot, a dream sequence features Babe Ruth telling a Little Leaguer that while “heroes get
remembered, legends never die.” Sal Maglie is a baseball legend. And though he died in 1992 at 75, he might always loom large in baseball history.

Nicknamed “The Barber,” Maglie was not only perhaps the most intimidating pitcher of all-time, but a clutch player, too. He did his best work in the biggest games on the grandest stage when New York– Giants, Dodgers and Yankees– ruled the baseball world from 1949-58. During that period, one or two of these teams played in the World Series every year, and Maglie played for all three teams during that span, usually as a significant or major contributor.

In many ways, Maglie encapsulated his era. It wasn’t just his baseball connection to the Big Apple. He also was one of many players to serve in World War II and was among a group that jumped immediately after the war to the Mexican League. Without his absence from the majors for either thing, which kept his career to 10 seasons, Maglie might be in the Hall of Fame today. Regardless, his ferocious reputation and moniker, is indelibly stamped in baseball lore.

Statistical overview

Maglie’s career path was a brief if circuitous one. He played with the New York Giants in 1945 and again from 1950 to 55, the Cleveland Indians 1955-56, the Brooklyn Dodgers 1956-57, the New York Yankees 1957-58, and the St. Louis Cardinals 1958. Nevertheless, Maglie racked up some impressive stats in a short time.

Among his feats in 10 major league seasons:

  • 119-62 lifetime record
  • 0.657 winning percentage (19th all-time)
  • 3.15 ERA
  • 232 starts with 93 complete games
  • 25 shutouts
  • 1,723 innings, allowed 1,591 hits, 862 strikeouts and 562 walks
  • Hit 44 batters

Maglie’s peak performance came between 1950 and ’52 with the Giants where he posted 59 wins against 18 losses. His year-by-year records in that span are as follows:

  • 1950: 18-4
  • 1951: 23-6
  • 1952: 18-8

MLB CAREER HIGHLIGHTS & MILESTONES

  • NL Leader – ERA (2.71) in 1950
  • NL Leader – Shutouts (5) in 1950
  • NL Leader – W/L % (0.818) in 1950
  • NL Leader – Wins (23) in 1951
  • NL All-Star – 1951-52

His finest season, 1956 with the Dodgers:

An interesting bit of trivia: Sal Maglie is one of seven pitchers to have played for the New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees. (The others were Johnny Allen, Burleigh Grimes, Waite Hoyt, Lefty O‟Doul, Bobo Newsom and Rosy Ryan.)

Before all this, though, Maglie had an unremarkable minor league career interrupted by wartime service. Then, following one season with the Giants in 1945, Maglie was out of the majors for four years as he played in the Mexican League and elsewhere. It took a lot of persistence and patience for Maglie to become the savvy veteran pitcher that he was. Here is the journey he made.

Minors, majors, Mexico

Maglie went 38-47 with a 3.52 ERA over six minor league seasons. His performance improved sharply in his final two seasons. In 1941, he was 20-15 with a 2.67 ERA in A ball, and then in AA ball in 1942, he was 9-6 with a 2.78 ERA.

In 1942, Sal Maglie was called up by the draft board but deemed unfit for military service in World War II due to a chronic sinus condition. For 1943-44 he was advised to go into defense work and was placed on organized baseball’s “voluntary retired list.” Maglie worked as a pipe fitter in a defense plant; his employers during that time were International Paper, Union Carbide, and Atlas Steel. As a resident of Niagra Falls, New York, Maglie sharpened his pitching skills during this period by managing and pitching for Canadian amateur teams.

In 1945, Maglie finally debuted in the majors at 28, going 5-4 for the Giants. In those years, with players bound by the Reserve Clause and very intense competition for pitching slots on eight teams in each league, players had an opportunity to earn 50-100 percent more by jumping to the Mexican League. This was especially tempting and profitable for players who were rapidly advancing in age such as Maglie, and facing prospects of limited playing time by staying stateside. The corresponding risk, however, was that for a few years after WWII, players who had jumped to the Mexican League were banned from the majors. This ban was later rescinded, but kept certain players from immediately returning to MLB.

While some have speculated that Maglie’s tenure in the Mexican League plus the years lost to WWII may have cost him the chance to win 200 games, as a practical matter his Mexican tenure helped him become dominant, while achieving a measure of financial respectability, if not prosperity. Ken Burns in his book, Baseball: An Illustrated History, observed that Maglie earned five times more playing south of the border as he would have with the Giants. Maglie’s Mexican League earnings enabled him to purchase a home and a gas station in Niagra Falls, New York that offered self-employment during the off-season and a semblance of security after baseball. The Mexican League also reconnected Maglie with Deadball Era ace Dolf Luque who helped him develop his best pitch, the curve ball, and refine his aggressive style.

Luque first became acquainted with Maglie while serving as a pitching coach for the Giants. He convinced Maglie to sign with the Mexican League and taught him how to pitch the curve from three different release points: overhand, sidearm and underhand. This multiple release technique enabled Maglie to pitch in drastically harsh conditions where the various climates and air conditions at different altitudes would cause the ball to behave very differently. As detailed near the end of this recent paper on Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, a curve ball can move very differently depending on how it’s thrown.

Luque also taught Maglie the necessity of pitching inside and repeatedly brushing back hitters to take control of a game. And while it’s uncertain what effect if any it had on Maglie, it’s worth noting that Luque carried a .22 caliber pistol and would sometimes fire between a player’s legs to get his attention. Maglie said Luque worked him constantly and was all business in helping him transform into a dominant pitcher. In two full seasons under Luque’s tutelage, Maglie posted consecutive 20-win seasons, going 20-12 with a 3.19 ERA in 1946 followed by a 20-13 campaign and 3.92 ERA.

Maglie then joined a barnstorming team that was a “splinter” or “offshoot” of the Mexican League and is reported by his biographer James Szaltonai in Close Shave to have recorded 14 wins. Unlike the Mexican League, however, complete records were not maintained in this barnstorming run, so the final record cannot be fully verified. But what is verified is that playing conditions south of the border were extraordinarily difficult.

First, there were no grass infields and outfields were hard as brick due to the clay underneath the surface. Some ball parks were in the midst of railroad yards where passing freight trains would interrupt games. Riots often broke out at the games, and teams traveled by bus from town to town over narrow, winding roads in mountainous terrain. Maglie reportedly spent approximately $1500 of his own money on airplane travel during his two-year sojourn to avoid the risk and hassles of riding the bus, as it was popularly understood by residents and visitors alike that while people always got on the bus, they did not always get off.

The ban on US major league players who had jumped to the Mexican League was lifted in 1949, and Maglie was able to eventually rejoin the Giants. Before doing so, he played in Canada for the Drummondville Cubs in the Quebec Provincial League where he posted an 11-2 record and three post season wins to pace the team to a championship. His best was yet to come.

How the legend of “The Barber” came to be

Maglie had a triumphant return to the majors in 1950. He posted a dazzling 18-4 record with the best ERA in the National League, 2.71. Maglie appeared in 47 games altogether as he began the season as a reliever but became a starter in the second half completing 12 of 16 starts. Although other pitchers started 15-20 more games, Maglie led the league in shutouts with five. Of note, Maglie hit 10 batters during the season, which represented 23 percent of the 44 total he hit during his big league career. Perhaps appropriately, Maglie got his famous moniker in 1950.

Maglie claims that New York Daily News baseball reporter Jim McCulley gave him this nickname as a tribute to the way Maglie would “shave the batters” chins by throwing high-and-tight. Giant pitching coach Frank Shellenback is also credited with having giving him the nickname because of the way Maglie shaved the corners. There is also the claim that Giant manager Leo Durocher gave him the nickname because Maglie supposedly resembled the barber in the third chair at the hotel where the players stayed.

Regardless of the origin what is certain is that Maglie was masterful in giving close shaves to batters. In his book, The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher’s Mound, Roger Kahn quoted Maglie saying, “The hell with all the hitters. The hell with all of them.” Kahn, who covered the Dodgers during the ’50s, said there was never a meaner pitcher and that Maglie did not know the meaning of the word “remorse.” Decades later, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, in his book, Kings of the Hill, ranked Sal Maglie the #1 all-time pitcher in the category of “intimidators.” (Interestingly enough, the #2 intimidator selected by Ryan was Don Drysdale, with Bob Gibson as #4– both Maglie star pupils.) Other nicknames given to Maglie were “Sinister Sal” and “The Renaissance Assassin” but he is best remembered as “The Barber.”

Maglie played to win

Baseball during the 1950s was a rough, tough and intense game in which there were beanball wars, fights, bench jockeying, retaliation and take-out slides. Maglie used the baseball as a weapon to gain both a psychological and physical
advantage over the hitter. By always threatening to give a close shave, Maglie forced batters to often make a choice between their own personal survival or hitting the ball. When Maglie played ball, he went to war. If he was going to
lose, Maglie would go down with his best pitch regardless of the game situation or the count. In Maglie’s case this often meant throwing a curve on a 3-1 count with runners on base.

Years later Maglie acknowledged that the knockdown pitch was his weapon of choice and that he never, ever thought of giving it up. He likened such an unlikely decision to Marilyn Monroe stopping to wear sweaters. It simply would not happen.

Clutch Pitcher in Hot Pennant Races

Maglie was a big winner in September, the final month of the 154-game regular season, during the hottest NL pennant races of the 1950s. Here’s a look:

Giants 1950-55

  • 1950: Maglie goes 5-1 with two shutouts to help the Giants finish in third place, five games behind the pennant-winning Philadelphia Phillies.
  • 1951: Maglie goes 6-1 games with one shut-out enabling Giants to tie Dodgers for first place in the regular season (after having trailed NL leading Dodgers by 13-1/2 games in mid-August.) Maglie helps New York win 37 of its last 44 games and starts the finale of the three-game playoff against Brooklyn, keeping the Dodgers to four runs.
  • 1952: Maglie goes 4-2 with one shutout that paces Giants to a second place finish behind the Dodgers.
  • 1954: In a spot-starting role in game #148, Maglie records a 7-1 win over Dodgers that increases Giants lead over Brooklyn to 6-1/2 games. While it’s the only decision of the month for The Barber, it helps New York eventually win the pennant by five games.

Dodgers 1956-57

  • 1956: Maglie records six wins with two shut-outs against one loss enabling the Dodgers to win the pennant by one game over the Milwaukee Braves. The Bums had to play catch up with Maglie’s September 25 no-hitter bringing them within half a game of Milwaukee and Maglie’s final win in Game #152 giving Brooklyn a one-game lead.

Center stage in the biggest games of the 1950s

Maglie was noted for pitching very well on center stage in the three biggest games of the 1950s: for New York in Game 3 of the 1951 playoff when Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard Round the World” to win the pennant for the Giants; Game 1 of the 1954 World Series when Willie Mays made his great catch off Vic Wertz; and Game 5 for the Dodgers in the 1956 World Series when Don Larsen pitched his perfect game for the Yankees.

In both the ’51 playoff finale and Game 1 of the ’54 Series, Maglie received a no-decision but pitched well enough for his team to win by limiting the opposition to fewer runs than they usually scored. The 1951 Dodgers averaged 5.45 runs per game, but with Maglie holding Brooklyn to 4 runs, this enabled the Giants to win the game (and the pennant) 5-4 on Thomson’s three-run bomb. In 1954, the Indians won a record 111 games and averaged 4.84 runs per game entering the World Series. With Maglie holding Cleveland to two runs in seven innings, New York won Game 1 in extra innings and went on to sweep the Indians.

When Maglie joined Brooklyn in 1956 he became part of history as he held the Yankees to five hits and two runs in eight innings in Game 5 of the World Series, but lost as Larsen pitched his perfect game. With Maglie having beaten the Yankees in Game 1, 6-3 with a 10-strikeout performance, Larsen helped New York to triumph in seven games. Maglie did Brooklyn a service in 1956 even by simply not playing against the team. Lifetime, The Barber went 23-11 against the Bums, and his record was even better at Ebbets Field, 11-3 in a ballpark known for being a hitters’ haven. From 1950-54, Maglie’s record against Brooklyn was a scintillating 22-6 while the Dodgers cumulative record was an NL-best 479-293.

Maglie out shined his own teams as well. In all, his .657 lifetime winning percentage was nearly 100 points higher than the combined .561 winning percentage for all the MLB teams he played for. The greatest team success enjoyed by Maglie occurred in 1954 when the Giants won their final World Series in New York. For all of 1954, the Giants allowed 550 runs or 3.57 runs per game, for a net ERA of -0.98. This meant that Giant pitchers were essentially one run lower than the National League average, fourth best all time, and Maglie went 14-6 with a 3.26 ERA.

Maglie’s 1-2 record in the 1951, ’54 and ’56 World Series understates how well he pitched. In four starts, Maglie posted a 3.41 ERA in 29 innings, with his team winning two of his four games. Considering that Maglie’s two losses were to the New York Yankees while they were in the midst of winning nine World Series titles in 14 appearances from 1948-64, and one of those losses was Larsen’s perfect game, Maglie battled tough odds while keeping his teams competitive. And he did every bit as well in the postseason as the regular season, this being best exemplified by Maglie posting recording a 2.65 ERA in the ’56 Series after compiling a 2.87 ERA during the regular season.

Passing the Art Along

Maglie achieved great pitching success. He also had enormous and positive influence on Cy Young winners Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson, and Jim Lonborg.

During his time in Brooklyn late in his career, Maglie taught Drysdale and Koufax the necessity of pitching inside and developing an effective curve ball. Maglie’s intimidating and aggressive style was adopted by both pitchers and helped the Dodgers win three World Series titles and four pennants between 1959 and 1966. It also helped earn them accolades, with Drysdale winning the Cy Young Award in 1962 and Koufax collecting the trophy in 1963, ’65, and ’66. Ultimately, both were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Gibson, a Hall of Famer and two-time Cy Young winner, was also a Maglie protégé when “The Barber” finished his playing career with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1958 and served as a pitching instructor. Gibson helped lead the Cardinals to two World Series Championships and three pennants between 1964 and 1968, while setting the modern day record for lowest
ERA with 1.12 in 1968 and posting a 7-2 record in World Series play.

Lonborg won the Cy Young Award in leading the Boston Red Sox to their fabled “Impossible Dream” season in 1967 and helping the team reach the seventh game of the World Series before losing to the Cardinals. Maglie was the Red Sox pitching coach during that period, and Lonborg has said “The Barber’s” lessons on pitching inside enabled him to lead the AL in wins with 22 and strikeouts with 246, while posting a 3.16 ERA. Also of note, Lonborg hit 19 batters that year, perhaps heeding Maglie’s message to pitch inside to keep hitters off balance.

The irony of Game 7 in the 1967 World Series was that the pitching match-up featured two Maglie protégés: Gibson versus Lonborg. Gibson won three games including Game 7 while Lonborg won two, including a one-hit shutout in Game 2. So less than a decade after his retirement from the mound, “The Barber” was still cutting a swath in the Fall Classic– having passed along the art of intimidation to top pitchers who carried on his legacy.

The Ball Four Portrayal: Truth, Hyperbole, or Both?

Despite such an impressive list of protégés, former Yankee 20-game winner and Ball Four author Jim Bouton strongly criticized Maglie as a pitching coach for the 1969 Seattle Pilots. Bouton‟s portrayal of Maglie implied both a lack of communication and knowledge on the art of pitching. Perhaps this perception resulted from both generational and stylistic differences. Bouton was at the end of his major league career and working to master a most difficult pitch– the knuckleball. Maglie, by his own admission, was a practical pitcher who did not engage in profound introspection on the game and was courteous but reserved with both players and coaches. His pitching philosophy was quite simply to shave the corners.

In her Sandy Koufax biography, Jane Leavy quoted him saying, “When a pupil is ready, a teacher will come.” This explained how All Star pitcher Al Leiter excelled working with Koufax, even though Leiter already had two World Series Championships and a no-hitter. Leiter simply wanted to get even better, and he was eager to learn from Koufax. On this basis, one may infer that players like Drysdale, Koufax, Gibson and Lonborg were ready for the type of instruction Maglie offered. Bouton, also eager to learn, was seeking instruction on a highly specialized pitch that few have ever mastered. Bouton desired to explore the game more deeply in terms of philosophy, mechanics and various nuances. Perhaps The Barber’s shop just wasn’t the right place for Bouton to do it.

Like Fine Wine, Maglie Improved With Age

In his short career, Maglie aged like fine wine and was appreciated as such. Like Ted Williams and Warren Spahn, he was an ageless wonder in 1956, finishing second place in voting for the NL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. At 39, Maglie went 13-5 with a 2.89 ERA and became the second-oldest pitcher behind Cy Young to toss a no-hitter. Of his no-no, 5-0 against the Phillies, Maglie claimed he was a much better pitcher than 1950-51 because he was more efficient and adaptable. Following his triumph Maglie observed he threw only 110 pitches and felt able to throw both the fast ball and curve as circumstances warranted.

Maglie played two more years, serving as a spot starter for the Yankees in 1957 and ’58 and completing the rare feat of having played for all three New York teams. He went 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA for the Yanks over parts of two seasons before closing out his career with a 2-6 stint in ’58 for the Cardinals.

Closing thoughts

Salvatore Anthony Maglie personified post-WWII baseball during the 1950s. His honorable wartime service and playing time in the Mexican League resulted in a late start to his big league career. But he had an uncanny ability to surmount difficult playing conditions from the mountains of Mexico to the snows of Canada. He beat the strongest teams of his era, played his best in clutch situations, and all the while overcame age and physical limitations. Terry Cashman immortalized Maglie in his song “Talkin’ Baseball” with his nickname “The Barber.” Be it in verse, with his stats, or in the memories of those who saw him play, Maglie still casts an intimidating presence. He is a legend of the game.

About the author

George A. Haloulakos, MBA, CFA:  Teacher, Author and Entrepreneur. Chartered Financial Analyst [CFA] and consultant: DBA Spartan Research and Consulting specializing in finance, strategy and new business ventures. Award-winning university instructor. Published author of DOLLAR$ AND SENSE: A Workbook on the ABCs of Investments. Hobbyist – aviation, baseball, spaceflight and science fiction. Lifetime member of Strathmore’s Who’s Who
Registry of Business Leaders. Member of ordained clergy in Orthodox Church in America (rank/title of Reverend Protodeacon). E-mail: Haloulakos@gmail.com

Bibliography

Baseball: An Illustrated History, Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns, Alfred Knopf. 1994.
Baseball-Reference.com
Charmed Circle: Twenty-Game-Winning Pitchers in Baseball’s 20th Century, Mel R. Freese, McFarland & Company, 1997.
Close Shave: The Life and Times of Baseball’s Sal Maglie, James D. Szalontai, McFarland & Company, 2002.
Franklin Big League Baseball Electronic Encyclopedia, 1993.
John M. Deegan, Baseball Enthusiast and Collector.
Kings of the Hill: An Irreverent Look at the Men on the Mound, Nolan Ryan with Mickey Herskowitz, Harper Collins, 1992.
Lost Summer: The ’67 Red Sox and the Impossible Dream, Bill Reynolds, Warner Books, 1992.
Once a Bum, Always a Dodger: My Life in Baseball From Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Don Drysdale with Bob Verdi, St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
Personal Collection of George A. Haloulakos, Baseball Hobbyist. CDs, DVDs, scrapbook of news and magazine articles, baseball cards, game programs and books.
Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy, Harper Collins, 2000.
The Best & Worst Baseball Teams of All Time, Harry Hollingsworth, S.P.I Books, 1994.
The Head Game: Baseball Seen From the Pitcher’s Mound, Roger Kahn, Harcourt, 2000.
Vassilios E. Haloulakos, Scientist, Engineer and Professor. Lecture notes on physics and applied mathematics.
1956 World Series, Game 5, October 8 at Yankee Stadium: Complete original radio broadcast with Bob Neal and Bob Wolff on CD (from The Miley Collection) – including all commercials plus the pre-game and post-game shows.



5 Comments so far

  1.    George A. Haloulakos on November 21, 2011 9:41 am      

    It was an insightful and educational experience to research and write about the life and times of Sal Maglie. Looking through the prism of Maglie’s professional baseball career enables the reader to gain a deeper understanding on the different eras in which he played – from pre-World War II through the late 1960s. Baseball is such a wonderful game filled with history and tradition and this project provided a stirring reminder on how it links people from all generations.

  2.    Vinnie on November 21, 2011 3:01 pm      

    Outstanding! Keep them coming.
    What’s next?

  3.    Bill Haloulakos on December 7, 2011 4:32 pm      

    Great article!

  4.    Pam Stinis on December 22, 2011 3:43 pm      

    Awesome, gripping writing style. A pleasant learning experience for me.

  5.    bill wolcott on April 22, 2013 2:07 pm      

    Sal Maglie was not in the service in World War II. He worked in a plant in Ontario.

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