'59 Week: Day 2 - Johnny Podres
On my quest to complete the whole 1959 Topps set, this Christmas I became 3 cards closer. Here are the stories of those players:
Card #262 of 572
___ Yellow Background Card
___ Dodgers Player
___ Special Card
___ Hall of Famer
Getting to 1959:
Johnny Podres was born in 1932 in Witherbee, New York, a town best known for hunting and fishing- as with most of the small Adirondack towns. His father was a semi-professional baseball player for 25 years in addition to working in the mines. Johnny was one of 5 children (and 4 boys) and played ball for Mineville High School. He graduated in 1950 and spent that summer playing with the Burlington Cardinals in a collegiate summer league before signing on to play professionally in the Brooklyn Dodgers system.
His first taste of professional baseball came with the Newport News Dodgers in Virginia during that 1951 season, though after just 7 games he was promoted to the Hazard Bombers in Kentucky. Podres spent the rest of the season in Kentucky while helping his team win the league title. The following season, in 1952, Podres spent the whole season with the Montreal Royals where he continued to show his promise as the best (and only) left-handed pitching prospect in the Dodgers system. It was during 1952 spring training that Podres really put himself on the board as a prospect, though he did need a bit more time to mature, which he did.
Johnny Podres would spend 1953 spring training with the Dodgers and ultimately get the call-up to the major leagues as a split starter/reliever in his rookie season. From here until the end of his baseball career Podres would mostly be a mainstay at the major league level. In his rookie year, the Dodgers repeated as National League champions, but were unable to win the World Seires (losing to the New York Yankees). He followed up that rookie campaign (4.23 ERA, 9-4 Record) with a similar 1954 season (4.27 ERA, 11-7 Record) while converting full time into a starter role.
The most notable 2 seasons for Podres came on either side of missing the 1956 season due to serving in the military while being a sailor in the United States Navy.
In 1955, Podres posted his best individual numbers though he lost more games than he won (going 9-10) for the first time in his 3 MLB seasons. However, the Dodgers still went on to win the National League and found themselves in the World Series, again facing the New York Yankees. After the Dodgers had fallen down 2 games to nothing, Podres was called on to start Game 3...where he pitched a complete game- allowing 7 hits- and collecting a pivotal Dodgers win. This would help propel the Dodgers into getting the Yankees to Game 7, where Podres was again put on the mound. In an unbelievable turn of events- especially after his relatively poor regular season stats- Podres delivered for the Dodgers again, pitching a complete game shutout. He was instrumental in winning the Dodgers first (and only) World Series in Brooklyn. With this effort, Podres became the first World Series MVP, won the Babe Ruth Award, and was the "Sportsman of the Year" by Sports Illustrated.
In 1957, Podres had his best individual season in his career. He pitched to a 2.66 ERA (which led the National League) and had 6 shutouts (leading the MLB). Furthmore, with stats we now consider valuable today, Podres also led the MLB in ERA+ (155) and led the National League in WHIP (1.082). Following his career year, Podres would follow the Dodgers out west. And, in his 1958 season Podres earned his first All-Star bid in his first ever 200+ inning season.
From 1959 On:
1959 was the anti-1955 season for Podres. While he had a record of 14-9, he pitched to a 4.11 ERA (the last time he'd ever do so in 75+ innings of work). The Dodgers around him did win the National League pennant, and the World Series, but Podres contributed just 1 of the 4 wins to get there.
In 1960, Podres came back to his form as an above-average pitcher while nearing finishing the season with a sub-3.00 ERA (his ERA was 3.08). He also earned 2 All-Star nods that season (as a mid-season and after-season team was selected from the years 1960-1962). In 1961, Podres would get his first (and only) MVP votes in his career as he pitched to an 18-5 record while leading the National League in winning percentage (.783). In 1962, Podres would earn his 4th (and final) All-Star nod as a member of the "after-season" All-Star team for the National League. In 1963, Podres helped the Dodgers to win their 3rd World Series, getting another win during the series. However, this was the beginning of his decline.
Podres barely played during the 1964 season as he tried to battle through an elbow injury that held him to just 2.2 innings of work at the MLB level. The following season, the Podres would pitch just 134 innings, and while the Dodgers would ultimately win the World Series, he did not appear in any games for them. In 1966, Podres was traded away from the Dodgers after pitching just 1.2 innings for them in his 13th season with the ballclub. He was sent to the Detroit Tigers and pitch just over 100 innings with them to finish the year. He would also play in Detroit in 1967, though he managed just 63.1 innings of work.
Johnny Podres' career was almost over as he spent the entirety of the 1968 season away from baseball, but he did return with the San Diego Padres in their first year of being a franchise in 1969. Podres would pitch 64.2 innings and have a 5-6 record in his final season.
Johnny Podres deserved to be better remembered. He was overshadowed by one of the pillars of the game in Sandy Koufax and other all-time greats like Don Drysdale. However, without Podres pulling magic out of his hat in 1955 the legacies of those men would've looked very different.
Podres wouldn't leave the sport after his retirement either. After that 1969 season, he would take a few years away from the sport before returning as a pitching coach for another 23 years from 1973 to 1996. During this time, Podres worked with the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, and Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2002, he was inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
And, while he never made it into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player or coach, Podres is immortalized at Cooperstown and at the Baseball Hall of Fame itself. Outside of the museum, and standing 60 feet and 6 inches from a statue of Roy Campanella squatting behind home plate, there stands Johnny Podres as if he just released a pitch as a reminder about the greatest game he ever pitched and the moment that the Dodgers finally (after 7 previous defeats) beat the New York Yankees and won the World Series.
Hey, Podres certainty wasn't the best to ever do it. But, he did get an honor that very few others will ever have. And that is special.