John August Antonelli was born April 12, 1930 in Rochester, New York. While in high school the sox foot one left hander, tossed five no hitters and became a top pitching prospect. He received the highest signing bonus in history at that point, originally signing for $65,000 with the Boston Braves.
Antonelli caused controversy right away, as Braves Manager Johnny Southworth wasn’t too impressed with his pitching.
Boston's ace pitcher Johnny Sain, spoke out saying he thought Antonelli's huge bonus was way too much to be given out for an unproven pitcher. Sain even threatened to walk out of training camp at one point. In any event, Antonelli debuted in 1948 pitching the minimum required by bonus baby rules at the time.
In 1949 he struggled as a rookie, appearing in 22 games overall with ten starts, going 3-7 with a 3.56 ERA. In 1950 he was 2-3 with a 5.93 ERA making twenty appearances. He went off to serve in the military for two years during the Korean War, when he returned the Braves had now relocated to Milwaukee.
Antonelli went 12-12 behind Hall of Famer Warren Spahn & Bob Buhl for the second place Braves, posting a 3.18 ERA. He threw two shut outs with eleven complete games & struck out 131 batters.
Antonelli caught the attention of the New York Giants, who were wanted a left hander to head out their staff. They were willing to trade away one of their most popular players, 1951 playoff hero, Bobby Thomson to get him. The deal was made in February of 1954.
At first the Giants fans were furious at losing Thomson & did not take to well to Antonelli, who had been nothing more than a .500 pitcher. But that all changed real quickly, as Antonelli became one of the National League's best pitchers and the ace of a Giants staff that would go on to win the 1954 World Series championship.
Antonelli made his Giants debut in the third game of the season at Philadelphia, taking a tough 2-0 loss to the Phillies. He came back to win his next two starts, pitching two complete games, including a three hit shut out at the Polo Grounds against the same Phillies on April 25th. He went 4-1 in May & at the end of the month he was 6-2 a with a 3.01 ERA. From that point on, he really went on a roll into mid August.
He won eleven straight decisions that summer & even had a save in relief during that stretch. He tossed eight complete games in that stretch with an amazing five shut outs. At the end of August he was 20-3 with a 2.29 ERA, reigning as one of baseball's best pitchers.
Antonelli threw back to back shut outs at the start of June then again in September. On June 13th he allowed just one run & threw a three hit victory against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. On July 5th he tossed a three hit shutout against the Phillies at the Polo Ground, in a Giants 10-0 blowout. After a 5-1 August he was 1-4 in September but the Giants clinched their second pennant in four years that month & went on to face the Cleveland Indians in the World Series.
Antonelli finished 21-7 on the season leading the National League in winning percent (7.50) ERA (2.30) and shutouts (6). He struck out a career high 152 batters (4th in the NL) pitched 258 innings (5th in the NL) & in 32 starts, tossed 18 complete games (4th in the NL). He was voted the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year & came in third place in the MVP voting behind winner Willie Mays, his Giants team mate.
Post Season: In the 1954 World Series he got the start in Game #2 against the favored Cleveland Indians at the Polo Grounds. After giving up a leadoff home run to Cleveland’s Al Smith, Antonelli didn’t allow any runs the rest of the way. He scattered eight hits & struck out nine Indians in the Giants 3-1 victory.
In Game #4 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Antonelli came in to pitch relief, the eighth inning and closed out the Cleveland rally. He pitched 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief, earning the save, as the New York Giants completed the sweep over the Indians. In the Series, Antonelli went 1-0 with a save in two appearances, allowing one run in 10.2 innings, while striking out 12.
The following season in 1955 he pitched under .500 going 14-16, but his 14 wins were 5th most in the league. He posted a 3.33 ERA (6th best in the NL) & had 143 strike outs (4th in the NL). That season the Giants finished third as hard times were now falling in the Polo Grounds.
In 1956 the Giants finished sixth under new manager Bill Rigney, Antonelli came back to win twenty games again (second best in the league) going 20-13. He was the only pitcher besides Steve Ridzik, to win have a winning record on the staff. The next Giants close to his twenty wins were Ruben Gomez & Al Worthington who both had seven wins.
Antonelli threw five hit shut outs against the Cardinals in May & then one against the Cubs in June. On August 15th he threw a beautiful two hit 1-0 shutout against the rival Dodgers in Brooklyn. In the season's final month, he was 7-0 lowering his ERA from 3.36 to 2.930.
He posted a 2.36 ERA (3rd best in the NL) pitching 258 innings with 143 strikeouts (4th in the NL). Antonelli was a true work horse, as he would pitch over 210 innings for six as a pinch hitter & straight seasons. He had the second most shutouts in the league with five, posting a 6.06 winning %. He made his second All-Star team and would play in the next four All Star games as well.
In the Giants last season in New York (1957) he was 12-18 with a 3.77 ERA. During the season he pitched two separate three hit shut outs in Milwaukee against the Braves. In July he threw a five hit shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals & then a seven hit shutout against the Braves (again) to close out the month.
Antonelli started the Giants last game at the Polo Grounds, taking the 9-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates as the Giants bid farewell to New York. During his years pitching in New York, he lived in Queens at the Jamaica Estates.
In 1958 at the Giants new home in San Francisco he continued to be among the National League's top pitchers. He won 16 games (16-13) sixth most in the NL, with a 3.28 ERA (sixth in the NL), 13 complete games (seventh in the NL) & three saves in relief.
He enjoyed his last successful year in 1959 winning 19 games second best on the Giants staff to Sam Jones (fourth most wins in the league). He led the NL in shutouts (4) was third in innings pitched (282) while posting a 3.03 ERA 9seventh in the league). This year would be his last All Star appearance, but he got the win for the NL as team mate Willie Mays drove in the winning run at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field.
In 1960 at age thirty he struggled to a 6-7 record, getting traded with Willie Kirkland to the Cleveland Indians for Harvey Kuenn. After one season, he was sent back to the Braves, and then sold to the expansion New York Mets but chose to retire. He ended his twelve season career with a lifetime 126-110 record, posting a 3.26 ERA. He recorded 25 shut outs (173rd all time), 102 complete games 21 saves & 1162 strikeouts in 1999 innings pitched in 377 games.
Retirement: After his playing days ended, Antonelli returned to upstate Rochester New York where he ran a chain of tire stores bearing his name.