May 13, 2016

1954 New York Giants World Series Hero: Dusty Rhodes (1952-1957)

James Lamar Rhodes was born May 13, 1927 in the cotton fields of Matthews, Alabama. The six foot left hand hitting Rhodes began playing pro ball in 1947.

Although he hit well he had trouble catching fly balls and ended up spending six years in the minor leagues. He was a carefree, young man who liked drinking, liked the night life & loved the ladies. His partying caused him to miss many a curfew, getting him in trouble with many a manager. A team mate once said "Dusty was a midnight man in a 9 o'clock town."

By 1952 his .347 average at AAA Nashville couldn’t be ignored any longer. That season he came up in July to the New York Giants as a backup outfielder. He hit safely in his first five games & was just under .300 after his first month of play. By August 2nd, he had played in just 18 games & had hit seven HRs with 17 RBIs. In a three game span from July 31st- August 2nd he hit three HRs driving in nine runs.

He was usually unaware of baseball situations, and didn’t care if the pitcher was right or left hander. He just liked to hit and wanted to hit regardless of the situation. He became a favorite of manager Leo Durocher, ready to hit anytime he was called upon. Rhodes once said “I could get out of a coffin & get base hit”.

In his rookie year he finished the season up playing in 67 games with 10 HRs 8 doubles 36 RBIs a .340 on base % & a .250 batting average. In the outfield, when he did play defense (56 games) he made nine errors posting a weak .917 fielding %.

By 1953 Rhodes was used mostly as a pinch hitter since his outfield play was so poor compared with Giants regulars Willie Mays, Monte Irvin & Bobby Thomson. He became one of the best pinch hitters in the game & one of the best all time. Rhodes saw most of his starting playing time in the later months of the season.

On August 16th he followed a Whitey Lockman HR with a HR of his own putting New York ahead 3-2 for good against the Philadelphia Phillies.

On August 23rd in a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at the Polo Grounds, he hit three HRs & drove in five runs in the Giants 13-4 victory. He closed out the month with HRs in four straight games going into September. He played in 76 games overall that season, with 11 HRs & 30 RBIs batting just .233.

In the 1954 World Championship season, Rhodes became a New York Giants legend. Whenever he was called upon he seemed to get a hit. He was used strictly as a pinch hitter going into July and was hitting over .400. On June 1st he came into a tied game against the Brooklyn Dodgers as a pinch hitter with the bases loaded. He singled scoring what would be the game winning runs.

On June 20th he did it again, this time it was early on pinch hitting in the 6th inning. Rhodes hit the Giants third consecutive HR in the inning leading New York to a 7-6 win over the Cardinals. In July he hit HRs in three straight days driving in eight runs playing in the outfield. On July 28th he hit three HRs in a game against the Cardinals, driving in four runs in the Giants 10-0 win. He had three hits that day & had had three hits with a HR the day before. At this point he was batting a whopping .474.

In August he had two multi HR games, including driving in five of the six Giant runs in a 6-2 win over the Phillies. He closed out the month with five straight games where he drove in two runs in each game. On September 13th he drove in the lone run in a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished his incredible season batting .341 in 82 games, with 15 HRs 7 doubles 50 RBIs and 31 runs scored with a .410 on base %.

He was often used as a pinch-hitter late in games, subbing for the future Hall of Famer Monte Irvin. Irvin said that Rhodes was the best natural hitter he ever saw in any league. Rhodes came through with an incredible number of clutch hits, batting .333 as a pinch hitter.

1954 WORLD SERIES: In the 1954 World Series, his legend grew to Biblical proportions as Rhodes almost single-handedly led the New York Giants' to a sweep of the mighty Cleveland Indians.

Game #1 is known for Willie Mays making “The Catch”, which is now known as the greatest catch made in baseball history. It happened in the Polo Grounds vast centerfield, outfield. But also on that day Dusty Rhodes was a hero hitting a walk off World Series HR..

In the 10th inning with the score tied 2-2, Willie Mays drew a one out walk and stole second base. Then New York's Hank Thompson, drew an intentional walk. Dusty Rhodes came to bat as a pinch hitter, facing Cleveland pitcher Bob Lemon. Rhodes blasted a game winning HR into the right field stands, it was the first extra inning walk off HR in World Series history.

In Game #2 the next day Rhodes had an encore performance. In the 5th inning Giants Manager Leo Durocher called Rhodes to bat as a pinch hitter for Monte Irvin once again.

This time with Mays on second base & Thompson on first base. Rhodes delivered as he singled off future Hall of Famer; Early Wynn to tie up the game. Hank Thompson would score on Giants' pitcher Johnny Antonelli’s ground out to put New York ahead. Rhodes  remained in the game, then later he led off the 7th inning with a HR to the short porch in right field sealing the 3-1 win to an ecstatic Polo Grounds crowd. The Giants left New York with a two games to none lead over a Cleveland team that had won 111 regular season games.

In Game #3 at Cleveland's Municipal Stadium, Rhodes once again was called on by manager Leo Durocher to pinch hit for Monte Irvin, this time as early as the 3rd inning. With the bases loaded Rhodes pinch hit & singled off the Indians pitcher, Mike Garcia scoring two runs making it 3-0. The Giants went on to beat Cleveland 6-2, taking a commanding 3-0 Series lead. 

After Game #3, Sportswriter Red Smith wrote that it might not be necessary to play the fourth game: "There's talk of calling it off in order that James Lamar “Dusty” Rhodes may give an exhibition of walking on water."

Overall in the Giants 1954 World Series sweep, Rhodes hit .667 (going 4-for-6) with a pair of HRs, seven RBIs, two runs scored & a walk. Rhodes set his name in stone in New York Giants & NL History. 

In 1955 Rhodes enjoyed his last good season, hitting over .300 with a career high .389 on base %, playing in 96 games. His power numbers fell off to just six HRs with five doubles & 30 RBIs.

In 1956 he played in a career high 111 games and played in 64 games in left field. His defense improved, making just four errors in 96 chances with six assists & a .958 fielding %. But at the plate he struggled & fell to only a .217 average with 8 HRs & 33 RBIs.

1957 was the last year for the Giants in New York, playing at the Polo Grounds. Rhodes dropped to a dismal .205 average in 92 games & 190 at bats. But Dusty Rhodes wasn’t leaving New York that quietly, he was to make history again, this time as the final batter, making the last out in the history of the New York Giants, at the Polo Grounds on Sept. 29, 1957.

Rhodes missed the first season in San Francisco and in 1959 he only hit .188 in 48 at bats before calling it quits. He said after Leo Durocher left the Giants, baseball wasn’t much fun anymore.

In his autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last," Durocher said "Dusty was the kind of buffoon who kept a club confident and happy. And boy could he hit! Between him and Willie Mays, there was nothing but laughter in our clubhouse."

Rhodes went on to play five more seasons in the Pacific Coast League with AAA Tacoma & Phoenix, hitting over 20 HRs twice & batting .324 in 1959. In his seven year career he hit .253 with 296 hits 54 HRs 44 doubles 10 triples 207 RBIs & a .328 on base %. When asked why his career was so short, he said: "After Durocher left the Giants, baseball wasn't fun anymore." He retired from playing in 1962 at age 35.

Retirement: After his baseball days he worked as a Pinkerton Security guard at the 1964 World’s Fair. He then served as a captain on a friends tug boat for 25 years, pulling out of Staten Island, NY. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Rhodes who is of Greek heritage, coached for the Grecian baseball team.

In 2007 he was coaching for the University of North Florida’s baseball team, the Ospreys.

Passing: Rhodes passed away in June of 2009 at age 82 in Las Vegas, Nevada. He had been battling a variety of illnesses, including diabetes and emphysema at the time.

Quotes: After Rhodes passing Willie Mays said: "He was a fabulous hitter and a great friend. He stayed at my house and I've never had a greater friend."

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