Double The Fun: Johnny Podres, Better Than You Think

Editor’s note: “Any player/Any era” will be up by this evening.

The 1961 Los Angeles Dodgers’ pennant hopes came to a crashing end on August 16 when they lost both ends of a rare Wednesday evening double dip to the Cincinnati Reds, 6-0 and 8-0.

The defeats were bitter for the Dodgers who had entered the season as favorites based on their roster that included Frank Howard, Maury Wills, Junior Gilliam, the Davis brothers Tommy and Will and Gil Hodges. The mound core included Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

But in 1961, the future Hall of Famer hurlers weren’t as effective as one of the great (Brooklyn) Dodgers heroes of all time—Johnny Podres. Koufax and Drysdale had average seasons (for them) of 18-13, 3.52 ERA and 13-10, 3.69. Podres, although he absorbed the second game loss, racked up a 18-5, 3.74 ERA and led the league in winning percentage.

The problem, anticipated by some analysts in their preseason evaluations, was that except for Podres the Dodgers’ stars were past their prime. The Dodgers ended the season 4 games behind the Reds. Coincidentally, the Dodgers dropped both ends of two doubleheaders against Cincinnati—there are the four games.

Podres, who most casual fans associate with his dramatic seventh game 2-0 shutout of the New York Yankees in the 1955 World Series, in reality had a long and productive mound career. Only 23 when he bested the Yankees in the third and seventh games, Podres was the first winner of the Sport Magazine World Series MVP Award which was a red, two-seater Corvette. Sports Illustrated also named Podres its Sportsman of the Year.

During his 15-year career, Podres won 148 games, struck out 1,435, had an 3.64 ERA and threw 24 shutouts in 440 games. Podres saved his best for the World Series. After losing his first decision to the Yankees in 1953, Podres won four straight over the Yankees and Chicago White Sox during the next decade while allowing only 29 hits in 38-1/3 innings with a 2.11 ERA.

After retiring, Podres served as the pitching coach for 13 years for the Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins and Philadelphia Phillies. Frank Viola and Curt Schilling credit Podres with their success.

Podres said former manager Charlie Dressen taught him how to throw the change up that made him into a winning pitcher.

Recalled Podres:

Dressen spent months with me teaching me a change up. He told me ‘Throw a fastball. Then just as you release the ball—Zip! Pull down the shade.’

Dressen explained that the downward motion takes speed off the pitch while at the same takes increases the ball’s rotation.

Armed with that information Podres not only dominated the Yankees but also won the newly transplanted Los Angeles Dodgers’ first game on the road against the hated San Francisco Giants (actually the second game the Dodgers played) and started and won Dodgers’ first home game.

Along his way, Podres met and worked with every Dodger hurler from Dazzy Vance to Pedro Martinez and passed along his change up mastery to any of them who would listen.

“Double the fun” is a Friday feature here that looks at one notable doubleheader in baseball history each week.

3 Replies to “Double The Fun: Johnny Podres, Better Than You Think”

  1. It seems likely that Podres got a jumpstart on his later coaching career in 1969, his final year as a player, when he was the senior member of the pitching staff of the expansion San Diego Padres. His pitching teammates were mostly 21-25 year-olds, two of whom (Clay Kirby and Joe Niekro) went on to have reasonably productive major league careers.

  2. In reading Signor Giuseppe’s piece, I was transported back to my early days of watching the (then) Brooklyn Dodgers destroy any opposition that brazenly sought to challenge their superiority on the field. As clearly as I can see what I write, I can recall the first time I saw #45, Johnny (Never John) Podres pitch. Although he displayed neither the wiliness of “Preacher” Roe, or the defiance of a Don Drysdale – Koufax, at this stage, could not get the ball into the strike zone – Podres had something about him on the mound: he was all concentration, which, with his boyish face, made him appear even younger. His delivery was smooth and fluid, and with the help of Roy Campanella, he could pinpoint his delivery.
    On that fateful day in October of 1955, it was Podres who brought about the release of energy that had been pent up in Brooklyn for more than three decades. The traditional dirge of “Wait til next year,” now resounded in a gleeful chorus of “We did it.” Although I can recall the victory “block parties” after WWII, Podres was right: the Borough of Brooklyn’s celebration after the win in 1955 eclipsed that of WWII – of that I have no doubt. When people of a certain age – mine – read about vaunted figures in their past, I am reminded of Proust:
    When we have passed a certain age,the soul of the child we were and the souls of the dead from whom we sprung come to lavish on us their riches and their spells.
    Requiescat in pace.

  3. Podres was the ERA leader in the NL in 1957 after missing the entire 1956 season for military duty. There is lots of speculation about what the World War II vets would have accomplished if the war had not interrupted their careers. Podres was at the top of his game in the 1955 World Series and he picked up right where he left off in 1957. I think it is fair to say if the Dodgers had Podres in 1956 they would have clinched the pennant well before the last weekend of the season. Perhaps a better rested team would have won the W.S. in back to back years. Even without Johnny, the Dodgers took the Yanks to game 7 in the 56 W.S.

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