6.09.2014

My Encounter with Johnny Antonelli

 
Hello everyone. We’ve not posted for a long while as life has become more byzantine. For instance, now we work full-time and you’d be amazed how that jazz can put a crimp in your blogging style! No one in the immediate family does online updates, either; for instance, none of us is on Facebook. Darn us. We do have a Twitter account at https://twitter.com/Dinged_Corners but have been truly pathetic at updating that as well. This may or may not change soon.
We do, however, check the blogs and tweets of our old faves out there. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

We decided to post today because of a neat baseball-card-related experience that yesterday crossed paths with our work day. One of my tasks is to give tours at the place I work in New Mexico. I can take nine people at a time in the van and yesterday, there were eight, so almost a full house. About halfway through the tour, it became clear to me--thanks to his wonderful and hilarious wife, Gail--that on my tour was a former Major League pitcher, southpaw Johnny Antonelli. This gentleman:
Autographed yesterday by Mr. Antonelli. When we realized that we were meeting a baseball legend but had no card
 for him to sign, his wife Gail magically produced this from her purse.
You know, the guy who won the World Series with the New York Giants before they moved to San Francisco in 1958. Mr. Antonelli was the winning pitcher in the second game of the 1954 series and, two days later, came in to close out the Cleveland Indians. A fellow whose name may be uttered in the same breath with Sal Maglie, Willie Mays, Bobby Thomson (for whom he was traded to the Giants!!) and Dusty Rhodes.
Since many brilliant baseball card aficionados have blogs and trained us well, we immediately saw Mr. Antonelli not only as a charming human being but also as a rectangular piece of cardboard, preferably with Sharpie ink on it. Flat cardboard that, mind you, contains upon it some truly amazing cultural history.

If you've ever read our blog, you know that our interest in baseball largely stems from being raised by a crazed, wild-eyed family of New York Giants fans. Okay, long ago-former-Giants fans, but you know how it is when baseball loyalty gets in the blood. Little facts such as that the New York Giants no longer actually exist? Well, those facts only register as a teensy problem. And our baseball fancestors had obediently followed the whole expansion-team philosophy and accepted the New York Mets into their crushed souls when the Giants headed to sunny California. In my lifetime, we experienced only the Mets firsthand, but inherited the New York Giants’ zeitgeist and memories and key words and hopes and demands and place names.
Interestingly, Johnny Antonelli, in addition to being a darned good pitcher, did NOT subscribe to the happy expansion team philosophy, and is well-known not only for his pitching but for his shocking refusal to join the new team—the Mets--and in fact RETIRE FROM BASEBALL rather than pitch for a scruffy bunch of lovable infants. Apparently at the time he was roundly criticized for this.
This fellow had earned respect in his career but perhaps no one could fathom his retiring from baseball merely because he didn’t want to join a start-up team. Perhaps public shock was enhanced by the fact that Mr. Antonelli was a good player and The Public resented the thought of him hiding his talent away from the lunchbox-toting, radio-listening sweaty horde, in which my family were proud participants. Remember, he was wont to do such things such as pitch a 16-inning complete game (in 1955). As he once told the Wall Street Journal, "There was no such thing as anyone telling you that you threw too many pitches. We all had to be ready to pitch whenever Leo [Durocher, the Giants manager] wanted us."

So Mr. Antonelli chose not to move to the Mets in 1962. At the time he graciously said he was “tired of traveling,” and didn’t want to leave a team where “Willie Mays was there to catch all the mistakes I made.”

Not, “I have no intention at this point in my dapper career of playing with fellows who seem to have just emerged from a cornfield.”
So he left the game and returned to Rochester, where he ran a successful tire company for many years. He mentioned to me yesterday that when he informed Casey Stengel of this decision not to join the Mets, Mr. Stengel said, “Oh, big black donuts [that is, tires] must be good business! Good luck to ya.”

From Scott Pitoniak's site (the co-author of Mr. Antonelli's memoir), this is how Mr. Antonelli looks today.
 
Polite, unassuming, generous, curious about many subjects, a fine conversationalist. When the memoir was published (2012), he was quoted as saying “I never met a real bad person in baseball. Most of the things I’d say about any of the players I played with were that they were all nice people.”
That seems about right.

3 comments:

night owl said...

I missed this.

How fortunate of you to run into Johnny Antonelli (he was on one of my favorite '56 Topps cards and I wrote about it once as I recall).

Dinged Corners said...

Hi again. Yes, a fortunate surprise. I will go read your related post!

Commishbob said...

Neat story! I read a bunch about him when I posted his '59 card and he seemed like good guy. Your encounter confirmed that.