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1954

 
Wally Westlake
And The 1954 World Series

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This weekend (Jun. 24-26), the Cleveland Indians visit AT&T Park for a rare three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. As inter-league matchups go, this one is less than scintillating. But for Giant fans, it naturally inspires thoughts of the two teams battling in the 1954 World Series.

 Westlake_Wally_Indians

Cleveland entered the series as heavy favorites after setting an American League record for most wins in a season (111). "We were supposed to win, hands down," remembers Wally Westlake, the Indians journeyman outfielder.

As a veteran former National Leaguer, Westlake knew the Giants were talented. After 1241 games and 1400 at-bats, the '54 Fall Classic represented his first—and as it turned out his only—opportunity to play in a World Series.

Fifteen years removed from Christian Brothers High School where he dominated Sacramento ball fields with his bat and speed, Westlake may have been a step slower, but he was certainly wiser.

Before the series, Westlake gave a gambler some advice on the betting line. "They're giving us monster odds. You think we're going to go out there and beat the Giants and Leo Durocher's ass four straight. If I was a gambler, I'd have to take those odds and put some money on (the Giants) out there."



The first game was held on September 29 at New York's Polo Grounds. Westlake, a right-handed hitter, learned he would be sitting on the bench, as Cleveland manager Al Lopez knew the Giants were starting right-handed pitcher, Sal Maglie. Westlake wasn't surprised or upset. He had platooned all season, playing in only 85 games, while hitting .263, with 11 home runs and 42 runs batted in.
 

Even from the bench, Game One was thrilling and entertaining.

 

 PoloGrounds2
This photo of the Polo Grounds shows a view of the clubhouse
in centerfield nearly 500 feet away from home plate.



In the top of the first, Cleveland struck first when left-handed slugger Vic Wertz tripled to deep right field, driving in two runs. That blow was a portent of things to come, and just the first of Wertz' four hits that day.

New York answered in their half of the third, scoring two runs on a fielder's choice and a single by Hank Thompson (no relation to Giants' 1951 hero, Bobby Thompson).

With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth, Maglie walked Larry Doby and gave up a single to Al Rosen, who came into the series with a .300 batting average. Next up was Wertz, who already had three hits, but who batted a meager .257 for the season with only 15 home runs. Giants' manager, Leo Durocher, however, had seen enough and called for relief pitcher Don Liddle.

Westlake believes Durocher was skilled at handling his teams, especially his ability to create favorable matchups in an era when "platooning" was still in its infancy. "That Leo Durocher, he may have been a showman, but that guy was a manager, boy. He was a devil."

When Durocher left the mound, and placed the ball in Liddle's hands, maybe he knew something no one else did. For Wertz then blasted a ball that has gone down in baseball legend.

As it rocketed toward right center field, Mays sprinted and ran for the ball. Racing toward the deepest part of the Polo Grounds, and closing in on the center field bleacher wall, Mays made an over-the-shoulder basket catch, immediately spun and fired the ball back to the infield. Doby tagged and went to third, but Mays' throw held Rosen at first base, maintaining the double-play possibility. 

 Mays_Catch_Polo_Grounds
This photo of Willie Mays' famous catch in the 1954 World Series was also snapped from the opposite side by another photographer. To read the story, visit this page.



Watching from the third base dugout Westlake remembers "I'm looking right down the slot (toward right center field), and Wertz pounded that thing. We thought it had a chance to make the bleachers. He hit that ball damn near 500'. And Mays just outran that damn thing; picked it off," he laughs.

Westlake noted that just as Wertz' ball started to arc (descend), he noticed "a little bit of a wind blowin' in, just a tad, and I could see the ball start to lose its momentum," the 90-year-old recalls with detailed clarity. "I'm not trying to take anything away from Mays; he just outran the ball. That was a helluva catch."

Mays' catch not only quashed Cleveland's scoring opportunity, it came to be known as one of the classic momentum killers in baseball history. The Giants won the game in the bottom of the 10th inning on a 3-run homer by Dusty Rhodes pinch hitting for Monte Irvin.


The next day, Westlake was penciled in to start Game Two in right field as the Giants were throwing 21-game winner, Johnny Antonelli, a southpaw.

Again, the Indians jumped out to an early lead, as Al Smith led off the game with a homer to deep left field, giving the Tribe a 1-0 lead. With two outs, and Al Rosen and Vic Wertz aboard after drawing walks, Westlake singled to center field in his first time up in the series. Rosen, however, was held at third, loading the bases. The next hitter George Strickland popped up to first base and the Indians squandered an opportunity to take a bigger lead.

As Westlake ran to his position in right field, he noticed the flags were now blowing out to the center field bleachers. "That little wind that was blowin' in yesterday is blowin' out today," he thought to himself. "If Wertz hits that ball today, it's in the center field bleachers."

And maybe history records a different chapter. 




"That was a crazy place to play," Westlake now laughs about the odd-shaped Polo Grounds. "I don't know how Mays put up the numbers he did in that place."

 

 
Polo_Grounds_airship



In one regular season game, Westlake recalls hitting a line shot off of Giants' pitcher Larry Jansen, and the ball "sliced and just tucked around the right-field foul pole into the stands" for a 260-foot home run. Running around the bases, he chuckled to himself "If I hit the same ball in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field), it would be ten-foot foul.

"And then you can hit 450-foot-homers to center field all day long and you've got three center fielders tryin' to catch it. Crazy place," Westlake laughs.

The Sacramentan surprises baseball historians when he posits that the '54 Indians were overrated. He notes that Cleveland split their 22-game series with the New York Yankees and White Sox. Instead, they claimed the pennant by trashing the cellar dwellers. "It's always been my feeling that if you're a great team, you kick everybody's ass. And we didn't do that."

That team claimed first place for good on June 12 and never relinquished the lead. They won the pennant by eight games over the Yankees.

Westlake also theorizes Cleveland peaked too early.

"The Chivas Regal and Early Times stock went up about a hundred points," he jokes, "as we (Indians) were laughing and having a good time. But the Giants went right down to the very minute. They came into that series and they were on fire. They jumped on us like we was home cooking."

After 1954, Westlake played only 29 more games in the major leagues, but still considers himself fortunate to have a long, satisfying career. "Sometimes this ol' country boy hick, I have to pinch myself to think that I was fortunate enough that the Good Lord gave me the tools to give it a shot."

And one fine time in the 1954 Fall Classic.

10 Years Later...

Program 

For another segment of baseball fans, mostly from the Central Valley, the Giants-Indians hearkens to an exhibition game played on Sunday, April 12, 1954 at Sacramento's Edmonds Field.

San Francisco played host to Cleveland in what was the final professional game ever played at Edmonds Field, the home of the Sacramento Solons (In 1961, the Solons moved to Honolulu, although Fred David, former owner of the Solons, retained rights to the property located at Broadway and Riverside Blvd.).

Alan O'Connor, memorabilia collector and contributor to BaseballSacramento.com, retains several collectibles from that memorable contest. Shown at left is a program and ticket stub from the two games. Ticket prices were $3.50, $3.00 and $2.

Featured on the program cover is the Indians' Woodie Held (above), who enjoyed one of the most successful major league careers for a Sacramento native. Held was voted #21 to BaseballSacramento's All-Time Top 50.

On April 11 the Giants trounced Cleveland in the first game 12-7. Woodie Held and Willie McCovey (4 RBI) were among the sluggers to hit home runs in that contest. Mays doubled in the slugfest.

Mays_1964_Edmonds_Field

 Photo of Willie Mays courtesy of Alan O'Connor / © Doug McWilliams  1964, 2011



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Cepeda_POKAN Davalillo

Photos taken at Edmonds Field on Sunday April 12, 1964 by Kirk Pokan, 15, of Sacramento.
At left, Giants' first baseman Orlando Cepeda listens to a young fan.
At right, the Indians' Vic Davalillo tosses a ball into the stands during batting practice.

 

On Sunday, April 12 in the final professional contest ever held at Edmonds, 8,542 customers came out to watch the Giants take the last game of the Cactus League by a 7-6 score over the Indians. In the third inning Willie McCovey blasted a ball over the left field scoreboard, and Mays followed with a solo shot in the same area of the ballpark. When McCovey was with Tacoma in Triple-A he accomplished the same feat, noted the Sacramento Bee report. In the second inning, Jimmy Ray Hart smoked a ball that hit off the wall in centerfield for a 440-foot triple, demonstrating the ballpark's challenge to long-ball hitters like AT&T Park today.

Edmonds

Edmonds Field, Sacramento, CA



In the ballpark's obituary, the Bee wrote: "The old Solons weathered many a stormy session from a financial standpoint, until they bowed out of the PCL after the 1960 season.

"So it will be the final curtain for professional baseball at the park today when the last out is made in the exhibition contest between the Indians and the Giants at the old landmark at Riverside and Broadway.

"The demolition of the park will begin on May 1st (1964) when the big steel ball begins hammering at the concrete stands. The site was purchased by Lucky Stores, Inc. from the Sacramento Baseball Association, Inc."

Lucky's built a Gemco discount store on the site. Target now runs a department store at the location.


Updated 08/20/11
Uploaded 05/25/11
All contents © Rick Cabral 2011

 

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