Saturday, April 26, 2014

Baseball's Sal Maglie: The Cutting Edge of The Barber

"He (Sal Maglie) is the only man I've ever seen pitch a shutout on a day when he had absolutely nothing. Pitchers have those days, Maglie got by on meanness." 

- Alvin Dark
From When in Doubt, Fire the Manager (1980)

"On the mound, Maglie had a gaunt look, a grim expression, a stubble beard, a great curveball -- and a high, hard one that earned him the nickname Sal the Barber,  But behind the special effects stood one of the most accomplished pitchers of his era, as well as a man whose wandering career symbolized the confrontations between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and between both of them and the lordly Yankees."

- Joseph Durso
From The New York Times obituary for Sal Maglie, Deember 29, 1992

"He scares you to death. He's scowling and gnashing his teeth, and if you try to dig in on him, there goes your Adam's apple. He's gonna win if it kills you and him both." 

- Danny Litwhiler, outfielder for the Boston Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds from 1940 to 1951

Were he still alive, Salvatore Anthony Maglie would be celebrating his 93rd birthday today.  Born in Niagara Falls, New York on April 26, 1917, Sal was the only son and the youngest of the three children of hardworking Italian immigrants.  According to an article by Judith Testa for the Society of American Baseball Research, Sal's father, Giuseppe Maglie, came from an affluent family in Italy and had a high school education.  Due to his lack of fluency in English, however, Giuseppe could only find employment as a menial labourer in his adopted country.  He worked as a pipefitter and eventually owned a grocery store where Sal helped out in the shipping department.

Giuseppe's wife, Maria, came from a family of farmers and did not have any formal education. Testa wrote that young Sal's interest in baseball "mystified and angered his parents, and as a child, he had to sneak out of the house in order to play."  1n 1937, when he was 19 or 20 years old, Sal tried out with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League.  The following summer he signed with the Double-A Buffalo Bisons for a salary of $275 a month. He did not impress in Buffalo and was sent down to the Jamestown Falcons of the Class D Pony League to hone his skills.

In 1941, Sal Maglie garnered 20 wins for the Elmira Pioneers of the Eastern League and was drafted by the New York Giants of the National League.  World War II intervened, however, and the young man ended up working in a defence plant instead of pitching in the The Big Show.  In 1945, with the war drawing to a close, Sal reported to the Giants' farm club, the New Jersey Giants.  In late July of that year, he was finally promoted to the big leagues.

At 28 years of age, Maglie headed to New York to kick off his major league baseball career. During his ten MLB seasons, the 6 foot, 2 inch (1.88 metres) right-hander played for the New York Giants (1945, 1950-1955), the Cleveland Indians (1955-1956), the Brooklyn Dodgers (1956-1957), the New York Yankees (1957-1958) and the St. Louis Cardinals (1958).  He also pitched in 3 World Series - 1951 (his New York Giants lost to the New York Yankees, 1954 (his New York Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians) and 1956 (his Brooklyn Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees).

Sal was known for his fierce determination and his death stare, emulated by future pitchers such as Bob Gibson and Dave Stewart.  He acquired the nickname "The Barber" due to the fact that his threw the ball so close to the batters' head that it appeared to shave their chins.  Referring to his superb command of the inside zone, Maglie confidently asserted, "I own the plate."  With his five o'clock shadow and his hard, inside pitches, Sal the Barber was quite an intimidating presence on the mound.  Off the field, however, he has been described as "gentle, courteous and good-natured" by his biographer, Judith Testa.

Sal Maglie had a career record of 119 wins and 62 losses.and a lifetime earned run average of 3.15.  During his ten seasons in the major leagues, he threw 862 strikeouts and pitched 25 shutout games.  Sal made his debut with the New York Giants on August 9. 1945.  In his two months as a rookie that season, he compiled a 5-4 record and pitched 3 shutouts.  Although Sal attended the 1946 New York Giants' training camp, he did not play for the Giants that year.  In fact, he did not play in the major leagues again until 1950.

Sal was disgruntled with the treatment he was accorded at training camp.  With many ball players returning from service overseas, Maglie faced a great deal of competition .  He felt that he was not given enough opportunity to prove himself.  Feeling ignored and with no guarantee that he would win a spot with the Giants, Sal decided to take a calculated risk and jump to a renegade league south of the border.

During the mid-1940s, Jorge Pasqual, a very wealthy Mexican customs broker, and his four brothers, had invested millions of dollars in a Mexican League with the intention of competing directing with Major League Baseball. The Pasqual bothers lured major league players to Mexico with the promise of higher salaries and other incentives such as lucrative signing bonuses.  Maglie was one of several players who took the Pasquals up on their offer, including catcher Mickey Owens and outfielder Luis Olmo of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Major League Baseball responded forcefully to this threat to its monopoly.  Commissioner A.B. "Happy" Chandler banned Maglie and all "jumpers" to the outlawed Mexican League from returning to the majors for five years, until 1951.  Sal, meanwhile, played two seasons for the Puebla Parrots in Mexico.  When the Mexican League began to crumble, he played some winter ball in Cuba.

During the 1948-1949 offseason, Maglie returned home to Niagara Falls, New York and purchased a gas station there.  The long hours servicing cars in chilly grease pits aggravated his back, shoulders and right arm. He was was, therefore, quite happy to accept an offer to go to Canada and join the Drummondville Cubs of the independent Quebec Provincial League for the 1949 season.  With three post-season wins, he led his Drummondville club to a championship that year.

On June 5, 1949, a year and a half before it was scheduled to expire, Happy Chandler lifted the ban on the players who had gone to Mexico League and Maglie was free to return to the New York Giants. for the 1950 campaign.  At the age of 33, Sal Moglie began the season in the bullpen.  His performance steadily improved and he posted an impressive win-loss record of 18-4.  His earned run average was 2.71 in his first season back.

1951 was another stellar year for Sal Maglie.  He led the National League with 23 wins and he helped the Giants win the National League pennant (They lost the World Series to the New York Yankees).  Sal was the starting pitcher in the memorable playoff game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in which Bobby Thomson hit his famous come-from-behind pennant-winning home run, "the Shot heard 'Round the World." (Maglie pitched the first eight innings of that playoff but did not get the win),  He was the winning pitcher, however, in the All-Star game that season when the National League defeated the American League by a score of 8-3 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit.

In 1952, Maglie recorded 18 victories and 8 losses. He contributed greatly to the success of the New York Giants of the early 1950s and remained with the team until 1955.  During his final three seasons with the club, Sal's performance on the mound had declined, mostly due sore back problems.  As a result, the Giants waived him to the Cleveland Indians of the American League. After a spell in Cleveland, where he mainly warmed the bench, the veteran hurler was purchased by the Brooklyn Dodgers early in the 1956 season.

Sal Maglie suddenly found himself wearing the uniform of the team whose fans regarded him as their archenemy.  As author Rick Swaine put it in his book Comeback Players: Forty Major Leaguers Who Fell and Rose Again, "To the Dodgers faithful, Maglie donning Brooklyn flannels was outrageous, akin to a Hatfield attending a McCoy family reunion."  Nevertheless, on May 24, 1956, Maglie stepped onto the mound for the first time as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers in a road game against the Philadelphia Fillies.

The Brooklyn fans eventually warmed up to Sal, especially since he pitched so well during the 1956 campaign.  Maglie recorded 13 wins and 5 losses for his new team and on September 25, 1956, as a Dodger, he pitched a no-hitter against those same Philadelphia Fillies.  The Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series that year and Sal came in second to Don Newcombe in Cy Young Award balloting.  He also finished second to Newcombe for the MVP Award.

In 1957, the Dodgers moved west to Los Angeles and 41-year-old Sal Maglie was sent to the New York Yankees.  Although he had pitched well for both the Dodgers and the the Yankees, the Yankees passed him on to the St. Louis Cardinals.  His win-loss record in St. Louis was a mere 3-7 and the Cardinals decided to grant him an unconditional release.  Sal the Barber pitched his final major league game on August 31, 1958.

During the 1959 season, Maglie acted as a scout for the Cardinals.  He then served two terms as pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, from 1960 to 1962 and from 1966 to 1967.  In 1969, Maglie joined the expansion Seattle Pilots in a similar capacity.  The Pilots went bankrupt and only lasted for one season.  On April 1, 1970, the team relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and changed its name to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Sal's last position in baseball was as general manager of the minor league Niagara Falls Pirates in 1970.

Before retiring in 1979 at the age of 62, Maglie was employed as a liquor salesman and he also worked as a membership coordinator for the Niagara Falls Convention Bureau.  On December 28, 1992, Sal the Barber passed away in his hometown of Niagara Falls, New York.   He died of complications from bronchial pneumonia at the age of 75.  He had been living at the Niagara Falls Memorial Nursing Home after suffering a stroke five years previously.

In 1982, Sal Maglie was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame.  He is not, however, a member of the venerable National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.


The Mexican League went bankrupt during the early 1950s and its remaining players joined the Class C Arizona-Texas League.

* On October 7, 1956, Sal Maglie appeared as the mystery guest on the popular television game show What's My Line.  The next day, he was the losing pitcher in Game 5 of the World Series in which Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched a perfect game.  The Yankees went on to win the Series in seven games over the Brooklyn Dodgers.

* Sal Magile was one of the few players and the last one to play for all three New York teams - the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Yankees and the New York Giants.

* Judith Testa wrote a biography of Sal Maglie entitled Sal Maglie: Baseball's Demon Barber.  For baseball fans interested in Maglie and the 1950s era, this is a must read.

* Sal Maglie was married twice.  In March of 1941, Sal and his longtime girlfriend, Kathleen "Kay" Pileggi, eloped. Two months later, they wed in a traditional Catholic ceremony.  After fifteen years of marriage, Sal and Kay adopted a son whom they named Sal Maglie, Jr.  In 1963, the couple adopted a second son, Joseph Maglie. Soon after, Kay Maglie suffered a recurrence of the cancer for which she had had surgery in 1958. Sal spent the next three years at home, tending to his ill wife.

Kay never identified with Sal's fierce image on the mound.  In his New York Times obituary by Joseph Durso, Kay is quoted as having remarked, "He isn't tough at all.  He lets his beard grow before a game so he'll look fierce.  I used to wonder what people were talking about when they said he scowled ferociously at the batters. Then I stayed home one day and watched him on TV.  I hardly knew him."

According to Testa, Sal's first marriage was at times terribly troubled by his infidelities.  When Kay died in February of 1967, Sal found himself a 49-year-old widower with two young children.  In 1971, he wed Doris Ellman of Grand Island, New York and he became a stepfather to Doris' daughter, Holly.

Sal enjoyed relatively good health until 1982 when he suffered a brain aneurysm.  He almost died but was able to make a recovery.  Then he was faced with a terrible tragedy.  After Kay's death, Sal Jr.'s life had become a nightmare of depression and drug and alcohol abuse.  The troubled younger Maglie died in March of 1985 and his passing took a terrible toll on his father's health. Sal Sr.had a stroke in 1987 and spent his remaining days in a nursing home.

* A baseball park located in Hyde Park in Sal Maglie's hometown of Niagara Falls, New York was named after him in 1983.  The facility, originally called Hyde Park Stadium, opened in 1939.  It was built primarily as a football stadium but gradually adapted for baseball during the 1950s.  In 1999, it was reconstructed as a 4,000 seat baseball stadium and the Niagara Falls City School District assumed control over its operation.

Unfortunately, Sal Maglie Stadium was hit by lightning in the summer of 201l.  According to an August 10, 2013 article in the Buffalo News by Jonah Bronstein, field conditions are questionable and it is badly in need of repairs.  The stadium's future is in doubt, particularly since a new athletic complex is being built nearby at Niagara Falls High School.  The school district’s lease on the city-owned stadium expires on June 30, 2014.

Sal Maglie Stadium in Niagara Falls, New York

-  Joanne

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