Monday, January 14, 2008

Johnny Podres dead at 75

Bill Madden
New York Daily News
Monday, January 14th 2008, 4:00 AM

Johnny Podres gets hug from Roy Campanella after beating Yankees in Game 7 of 1955 World Series to give Brooklyn its only championship.

Johnny Podres, the cool and clutch lefty who pitched the Dodgers to their one and only world championship in Brooklyn by shutting out the Yankees, 2-0, in the seventh game of the 1955 World Series, died Sunday night in a hospital in Glens Falls, N.Y. He was 75.

Podres, who forever earned his niche as the toast of Brooklyn with two wins over the Yankees in that '55 Series, had been suffering from a multitude of illnesses, the result of being a lifelong chain smoker, and had just undergone a leg amputation in doctors' efforts to remedy an infection.

"He really struggled these past few weeks," Don Zimmer, Podres' former Dodger teammate and best friend in baseball, said by phone from St. Petersburg, Fla. "I talked to him just three days ago and he said to me: 'Popeye, it's really tough when you can't even take a shower.'"

The son of an iron miner from Witherbee in the Adirondacks, Podres needed only two seasons of minor league apprenticeship before breaking into the majors with the Dodgers as a 21-year-old in 1953. The previous year, Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi turned down an offer of $250,000 from the Cleveland Indians for him after Podres had fashioned a stunning 21-3 record and 1.67 ERA in Class D ball. Podres went on to pitch 15 years in the majors, remaining with the Dodgers through 1965, and compiled a 148-116 record with a career 3.68 ERA. In 1957, he led the National League with a 2.66 ERA and six shutouts, and his best season was 1961 when he was 18-5. In four World Series with the Dodgers, Podres was 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA.

Next day's iconic Daily News captures borough's spirit.

But it was the 1955 World Series for which Podres always will be remembered, especially Game 7, when he shut the Yankees down on eight hits. The Yankees' lone threat off him in the game was thwarted by reserve left fielder Sandy Amoros - who, just after being inserted into the game for defensive purposes for Junior Gilliam by Dodger manager Walt Alston, snared Yogi Berra's slicing fly ball in the left-field corner of Yankee Stadium with two on and nobody out in the sixth inning to start a double play.

"When Yogi hit that ball, I thought it was out," Podres said years later in an interview with Baseball Digest. "But then it started to slice a lot. I don't know if Junior would have caught it, being that he was a righthanded thrower. Being lefthanded, Sandy was able to reach out at the last second and catch it.

"All I know is, we won the game, but the feeling ... I don't know. I can't remember the feeling I had. There was too much hysteria going on."

"I can remember," said Zimmer. "We were all going crazy. I'll never forget all those happy fans lining the streets of Brooklyn when we bused back there for the victory celebration at the Bossert Hotel. We partied all night and Johnny was right in the middle of it."

Podres was essentially a three-pitch pitcher - fastball, curveball and changeup - all of which, Zimmer said, were exceptional. He is credited with being one of the greatest masters of the changeup, having taught it to dozens of pitchers, including Curt Schilling and Frank Viola, in later years as a pitching coach with the Red Sox, Twins and Phillies. As a pitching coach, Podres was strictly old school, scoffing at pitch counts, and that was probably the result of having hurled 77 complete games himself. In 1993, he took a Phillies staff that had ranked last in the National League in ERA the previous year to the World Series.

"That's one thing I really feel good about," he said in a May 2004 interview.

As a pitcher, Podres seemingly was oblivious to pressure and, as a result, gave his teammates a feeling of confidence whenever he was on the mound, especially in big games.

"I know I didn't feel any pressure in Game 7 of '55," he said. "Because I wasn't supposed to win it anyway. I just thought if I could throw strikes and they made the plays behind me, we'd be fine."

In 1955, Podres had been a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Dodgers, taking a 9-10 record into the World Series. But as Zimmer noted: "He had always pitched well against the Yankees and Pee Wee (Reese) always said that if anyone goes down on the staff, 'Pods' will always pick us up."

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