Quick: Name the Most Valuable Player of the 1954 World Series! Yes, that one, the one in which Willie Mays makes the miracle catch and throw.
It is late in Game One of the 1954 World Series. Played at the cavernous Polo Grounds in New York, Cleveland Indians first baseman Vic Wertz crushes a fly ball to deep centerfield.
There is one out in the eighth inning, the score is tied 2-2, and with two runners on base, the drive is undoubtedly going to send in two runs, and possibly three, as Giants centerfielder Willie Mays turns towards the wall to make a play.
Mays makes an over-the-shoulder catch that not only robs Wertz of an extra-base hit, but Mays’ unbelievable throw to the infield sends the runners scurrying back to their bases. Cleveland’s Larry Doby tags up and moves to third, but Al Rosen holds up at first base. The next batter walks, but the Giants get two more outs without allowing a run.
The score remains tied into the bottom of the tenth when Mays walks and steals second, Hank Thompson takes an intentional pass, and with one out Giants manager Leo Durocher sends in a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin. James Lamar “Dusty” Rhodes steps up to the plate and wallops a three-run homer off future Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon to lead New York to a 5-2 win.
The next day Rhodes pinch hits for Irvin again and delivers a single to drive in Mays. Remaining in the game to play left field, Rhodes hits a home run off of Early Wynn, another future Hall of Famer, to help ensure the win in Game Two as the Giants beat Cleveland 3-1.
The Series moved to the Indians Municipal Stadium for Game Three. With the Giants ahead 1-0 in the third inning, once again Durocher calls on Rhodes to pinch hit for Irvin. With the bases loaded he delivers a single that scores Don Mueller and Willie Mays and adding to the Giants lead 3-1. Staying in and playing left field, Rhodes is intentionally walked in the fourth inning with New York ahead by a score of 4-0. He strikes out in his last two plate appearances, but the Giants win 6-2 and take a 3-0 lead in the Series.
Rhodes does not play in Game Four, as the Giants quickly take a 7-0 lead and win by a final score of 7-4. Even though the Indians had won a record 111 games to capture the American League pennant, the Giants take the Series in four games. The Giants are 1954 World Champions!
For the Series, Rhodes stats total a .667 batting average, two homers and seven RBIs.
“The Catch” becomes one of the most memorable events in all of baseball history; we’ve seen it over-and-over in film and pictures. One sportswriter said, “It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone.”
So the answer is Willie Mays. Well, no. There was no official World Series MVP until 1955 when the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Johnny Podres won the award.
But in the mind of Giants fans everywhere, it was Rhodes. And there is a Nashville connection.
The 6-ft., 178-pound left-handed hitter had played five seasons with Chicago Cubs minor league affiliates. At the end of the 1951 season, the Nashville baseball club purchased Rhodes from the Rock Hill, South Carolina club of the Tri-State League.
A line-drive pull hitter, Rhodes would fit well in Nashville’s lineup. Taking advantage of the short right-field “dump” at Sulphur Dell, Rhodes delivered, too. After 82 games the 25-year-old led the Southern Association in batting with a .357 average. His 114 hits included 14 homers, four triples, and 27 doubles with 62 RBIs and 64 runs.
He was purchased for $25,000 by the Giants and reported to the major league team in Cincinnati on July 13, and his non-descript seven-year major league career began. Used primarily as a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin, his statistics were not impressive.
The 1954 postseason was a different story.
© 2019 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.