Jan 9, 2016

1954 World Champion New York Giants Short Stop: Alvin Dark (1950-1956)

Alvin Ralph Dark was born January 7, 1922 in Comanche, Oklahoma. The five foot eleven right hander, was a five sport player at Louisiana State University. It was there he earned the nickname "Blackie".

He was an outstanding football player, originally getting drafted by the NFL Philadelphia Eagles. After serving in World War II, he chose to play baseball, signing with the Boston Braves in 1946. He appeared briefly that season in 15 games, spending the next year in the minors batting .303 at AA Milwaukee. It was the only year he would play in the minor leagues.

In 1948 Dark won the Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .322 (4th in the league) with 175 hits (3rd in the league) 39 doubles (3rd in the league) 3 HRs & 48 RBIs. He finished fourth in fielding (.963) & third in the MVP voting helping the Braves' win their first pennant since 1914. In the World Series Dark hit only .167 (4-24) losing to the Cleveland Indians. He hit .276 in 1949 & after the season ended, was traded to the New York Giants, along with Eddie Stanky for Sid Gordon, Buddy Kerr, Willard Marshall and Red Webb .

It turned out to be a great trade for the New York Giants. In New York, Dark was eventually named team Captain by manager Leo Durocher. In his first season there hit .279 with 16 HRs, 36 doubles & 67 RBIs.

He would hit over .300 three times, play in three All Star games and become the first NL shortstop to hit more than 20 HRs in two different seasons.

In the Giants 1951 pennant season , he led the league in doubles (41) batted .303. He hit 14 HRs with 7 triples (10th in the NL) 69 RBIs, a career high seven stolen bases and 114 runs scored (5th in the NL). On the field he led all shortstops with 45 errors, but also led in put outs, assists & was fifth in fielding % (.944).


On May 1st 1951 he hit a grand slam HR helping the Giants beat the Cubs at the Polo Grounds 5-3. Four days later he had a big four hit, four RBI day in a 8-3 Giants win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. On May 9th the hot hitting Dark, drove in another four runs in a 17-3 walloping of the St. Louis Cardinals.

That month he drove in 23 runs overall & was batting at .331. On June 9th he hit two HRs in a 10-1 win against the Cubs, driving in another four runs. On July 7th Dark's 11th inning sac fly of the Braves Hall of Famer; Warren Spahn, won the game for the Giants 6-5. 

In the Giants incredible September stretch run, where they came from being six games back on September 1st ( 10.5 games from August 15th) Dark had seven multi hit games while scoring 18 runs.

Post Season: In the 1951 playoff series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dark was held hitless until the 9th inning of the final Game #3. He began the 9th inning comeback rally with a single off Dodger; Don Newcombe. Dark, scored the first run of the inning on Whitey Lockman’s double, leading up to Bobby Thomson's famous pennant-winning three run homer.

In Game #1 of the World Series he had two hits, including a three run HR leading the Giants to a 5-2 win over the A.L. New York club. Overall in the Series he hit .417, second only to Monte Irvin, going 10-24 with three doubles, two walks, five runs scored & a .462 on base %. He hit over .290 the next three seasons, scoring over 90 runs each year with over 25 doubles in each of those seasons.

In 1953 he hit .300 for the second straight season, having career highs in HRs (23) RBIs (88) hits (194) runs scored (126) slugging (.488%) games (155) & a league leading 647 at bats. In the Giants 1954 championship season, he opened up the year with a two run HR off the Brooklyn Dodgers Carl Erskine in a 5-4 win at the Polo Grounds. On April 18th his 7th inning double off Milwaukee's Lew Burdette drove in two runs including the game winner.

On May 14th he had a big five hit day that included a two run HR in a 9-6 win over the Chicago Cubs. On June 12th Dark drove in three runs in a game & did the same later that week on June 20th. From July 6th through July 10th, Dark not known for his power, hit five HRs including one in three straight games. On July 10th he hit a Grand slam HR in a 10-7 loss to the Pirates. That month he drove in twenty runs. In the first two weeks of August he hit six HRs with ten RBIs. He rode a twelve game hit streak into September as the Giants ran away with the NL Pennant.
Dark played in every regular season game, leading the league in at bats (644) hitting .293 belting 20 HRs with 26 doubles 70 RBIs & 90 runs scored. He made the All Star team & came in fifth in the MVP voting.

Although he led all short stops in errors he was second in assist, fourth in put outs & posted a .956 fielding %. Dark was a fine defensive player, from 1948-1957 he never finished lower than fifth in fielding %.

Post Season: The Giants swept the mighty Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series with Dark having a great series. He hit safely in every game, batting .412 overall (7-17) with a walk & a .444 on base %.

He opened up Game #1 in New York with two hits & drawing a walk. In the final Game #4 he got three hits (3-5) scoring two runs on Willie Mays 3rd inning double & Hank Thompsons 5t inning walk.
In 1955 he won the first annual Lou Gehrig Award, and hit .282. In June of 1956 he was involved in a nine player deal sending him to the St. Louis Cardinals at age 34. There he hit .290 & led the NL in putouts and double plays for the second time, coming in second in assists.

In May of 1958 he was traded to the Chicago Cubs, batting .295 over the remainder of that season. The next year he switched to third base when Ernie Banks had arrived at shortstop, that year Dark batted .264. He went to Philadelphia, Milwaukee & returned back with the Giants on Halloween 1960.

After a 14 year career Dark retired with a .289 career batting average, 2089 hits, 1064 runs 126 HRs 757 RBIs 59 stolen bases in 1828 games played.

His .411 career slugging average was the seventh highest by an NL shortstop when he retired, and his 126 home runs placed him behind only Ernie Banks and Travis Jackson.

He ended his career playing in 1404 games at short stop (68th all time)with the 933 double plays turned (46th all time) and a .960 fielding percentage. He made 286 errors (77th most all time) and has 2672 put outs (62nd all time) & 4168 assists (72nd all time). 

Retirement: After his playing days he quickly became the Giants manager in 1961 finishing in third place. In 1962 his Giants caught the Dodgers at the end of the season, forcing a best of three playoff series, just like they had done in 1951 back in New York. The Giants once again beat out the Dodgers for the pennant this time on the West Coast.

Dark earned the nickname "the swamp fox" when he was accused of flooding the Candlestick Park base paths in order to slow up the speedy Dodger runners, Maury Wills & company. In the World Series the Giants fell short by one game & one out when Willie McCovey hit a bullet line drive that was snagged by the second baseman, ending the game with the winning runs on base.

In 1964 Newsday misquoted Dark with comments about black and Hispanic players saying, "They are just not able to perform when it comes to mental alertness." His friend & team captain, Willie Mays as well as Jackie Robinson came to his defense. Dark was eventually fired when owner Horace Stoneham found out about an extramarital affair he was involved in.

Dark went on to manage Charlie Finley's Athletics in Kansas City in 1965 finishing in seventh place. In 1966 he finished 10th as Finley moved the franchise to Oakland. Dark moved on to Cleveland serving as both GM & field manager, in 1968 finishing in third place. He remained there until 1971 when he he was fired in last place.

with Reggie Jackson after the
A's World Series Win
After that he became a golf fanatic playing every day, living on a golf course in Miami Beach. Then his wife began taking Bible classes & invited Alvin to the classes as well. The two became devout Christians and it changed his whole outlook on life.

In 1974 he returned to work under Charlie Finley, this time with the Oakland A's who were coming off two straight World Series titles. Dark won a third straight title for the A's although he wasn't nearly as popular as previous manager Dick Williams was with the players. Williams had resigned following the 1973 season, fed up with Finley's constant meddling. Captain Sal Bando once said of Dark "He couldn't manage a meat market".

Dark led the A's to another AL West title in 1975 but was fired after losing the ALCS to Boston. He ended his managerial career with a 994-954 record (.510%) winning two pennants & a World Series.

He created the Alvin Dark Foundation to financially support Christian ministries & spread the Gospel. Into 2014 Dark was the oldest living manager to have won a World Series & pennant.

Passing: On November 12th, 2014 Dark passed away at his home in South Carolina, he was 92. 

 Quotes: The Oakland A's said in a statement : "We are saddened to learn of Alvin's passing. He was a true baseball man who will always hold a prominent place in our history, both in Kansas City and Oakland. A's fans will never forget the 1974 team he managed to a third consecutive World Series title. Our condolences go out to his family and friends."

No comments: