Now pitching for Drummondville: Sal Maglie
Texte de Bill Young, publié en 2004 sur le site de SABR-Québec
Text by Bill Young, originally published in 2004 on the SABR-Quebec website
Now pitching for Drummondville: Sal Maglie
More than fifty years ago, on Tuesday, October 4, 1949, Sal Maglie took to the mound under the lights at Drummondville's Piste de Course ballpark and delivered one of the most memorable moments ever in that city’s baseball history.
The Drummondville Cubs, the class of the Quebec Provincial League, were hosting the resilient Farnham Black Sox in Game Nine, the last game, of the league finals. Knowing that the fate of their entire season was riding on the outcome of this one match, more than 3500 Drummondville fans had braved the evening chill and now huddled together within the massive grandstand behind third base, shivering in nervous anticipation. Tonight, the winning team would walk away with the League trophy: the losers would just walk away. Hopes and expectations of the entire town, not to mention the odd wager or two, and indeed, Drummondville's very reputation as a sporting center, hung in the balance. And they were counting on Sal Maglie to deliver.
Today Sal Maglie occupies a place in baseball history, remembered for his outstanding exploits with baseball's National League New York Giants of the early 1950s. But that came later. In 1949, Sal Maglie was a thirty-two year old pitcher whose career appeared to be on the down turn. He was well aware that he was running out of time, that he might never again have a chance to play on a championship team - and so he took this opportunity very seriously.
A native of the Niagara Falls, NY area, Sal Maglie had been a career minor league pitcher who eventually worked his way up to the 1945 New York Giants, where he enjoyed modest success. However, with the end of World War II, former players began returning to their respective clubs, and Maglie saw that there would be little chance of his keeping a spot on the Giant’s roster. Thus, when given an opportunity to jump to the Mexican League - at this time actively recruiting players from the majors and high minors - he took the plunge.
A significant number of other players also made the same decision, such that the game's supreme authorities, led by High Commissioner Happy Chandler decided to set an example and banned them from all organized baseball for a period of five years. The jumpers would not be eligible to return until 1951.
After two years in Mexico, Maglie and most of the imported players called it quits and returned home – only to find they had run out of places to play. By 1949, Sal Maglie was at the nadir of his career. Now completely out of baseball, he was pumping gas at the service station he owned in Niagara Falls, low on hope and desperately needing to be saved..
Fortunately for him, salvation took the form of the Quebec Provincial League, poised to embark on what many would regard as its greatest year ever. A stellar pool of players had become available – Quebecers, displaced major leaguers, young Latins, Negro League veterans, Mexican League jumpers – and every team in the loop was bent on recruiting the best talent it could find.
The Drummondville Cubs manager, Montrealer Stan Bréard, himself a career minor leaguer and jumper, had known Sal Maglie from their days down south and signed him on for $600 a month.
Drummondville was delighted. On March 24, the daily LA PAROLE reported (my translation):
The big news of the week for our baseball fans has to be the official signing of well-known pitcher, Sal Maglie, formerly with the New York Giants of the National League. Maglie’s contract was received Monday night, duly and properly signed¼ Stan Bréard, who knows him well, is convinced that he will be a sensation in the Provincial League.
As indeed he was.
Sal Maglie was not Drummondville's only high profile signing. The legendary Quincy Trouppe, perennial All-Star in the Negro League came on board. So did ex-Giants Danny Gardella and Roy Zimmerman; and pitcher Max Lanier, a former all-star with the St. Louis Cardinals. Other regulars included: Victor Pellot, who would later gain fame in the major leagues as Vic Power; Roger Bréard, younger brother of Stan; Joe Tuminelli, a Dodger farmhand who preferred Quebec; and Conrado Perez, a Latin breaking into integrated baseball.
The Cubs got off to a great start as did the league, and in spite of certain surprises along the way, interest remained high throughout the season. Commissioner Chandler unexpectedly rescinded his ban on Mexican jumpers in mid- June, and while this did affect some teams – Lanier was the only one of the Drummondville nine to leave – the league continued to deliver excellent ball and draw good crowds.
Sal Maglie remained behind for several reasons. He was earning good money, he did not yet consider that he was ready to compete for a position with the Giants, and of greatest import, he believed he was honour-bound to fulfill his commitment to Drummondville.
The regular season ended in early September, and although the Sherbrooke, St-Jean and Granby sides had all taken their run at the Cubs, Drummondville walked away with the pennant, finishing eight games ahead of second-place Granby. Maglie led the league in pitching with an 18-9 record. And now, Drummondville’s post-season run, an inconceivable circus of highs and lows, was about to begin.
The Cubs had every right to feel confident going into the league playoffs, if for no other reason than that their first round opponents would be the lowly St-Hyacinthe Saints who had ended the season twenty-seven games out.
As a result, the Cubs were not prepared for the rude awakening that greeted them, and while, ultimately, they did manage to slip past the Saints, it took them the full nine games and more than a little luck. Their less than stellar performance prompted whispers in certain quarters that not was all on the up-and-up. Rumours that some players, or even umpires, had taken money were exacerbated when Jean Barette, writing in LA PATRIE, branded the Cubs/Saints series “Arrangé!”
These rumblings ceased to be relevant, however, once Sal Maglie had bested St-Hyacinthe’s Walter Brown, formerly of the St. Louis Browns, to nail down the series. In a twinkling, despair had turned to joyous celebration. The Sporting News reported that admirers had showered Maglie with gifts and money worth $700 following the last out.
But the hard part still lay ahead. The Farnham Black Sox would see to that. Anchored deep in the league’s second division throughout the regular campaign, the Black Sox had been the surprise of the post-season. Handily, they had first dispatched St-Jean in the quarterfinals, and then Granby, and were now poised to pull off the greatest upset of all, besting the powerful Cubs. Farnham had a solid formation made up of experienced veterans, several of whom had survived the rigours of the Negro Leagues and winter ball. They were not easily intimidated.
Through the first eight games, fickle momentum played no favourites. The Cubs took the first two games, lost the following pair, won Game Five on Sal Maglie’s four-hit, 2-0 shutout, split the next two, and then with victory in their grasp, lost Game Eight. The stubborn Black Sox had succeeded in neutralizing Drummmondville’s strengths and were still in the hunt. And one more time, fortunes were about to rest on a last, winner-take-all, final game.
Sal Maglie had been outstanding throughout the playoffs. In five starts he had won four, lost none, saved another game in relief and maintained a batting average that was among the best on his team. Against Farnham, in two encounters, Maglie was yet to concede a run. And tonight, in the autumn chill, with everything on the line, he was being called upon one more time.
The game is still remembered as everything one could hope for in a final contest. Facing Maglie on the mound was the venerable Willie Pope, long a stalwart of the Negro Leagues and ace of the Farnham staff. Both had come to win, and for inning after pressure-filled inning, both bore down, giving away nothing. Maglie struck out ten batters in the game, Pope nine. Maglie issued no walks: Pope surrendered one, intentionally.
Farnham was first to put up a run, capitalizing on what the local papers called a lucky home run. In the fourth inning, Al Wilson hammered a long drive to centre field and as Pellot and Gardella converged on the ball, it dropped between and rolled to the fence. By the time Pellot could recover it, Wilson had round the bases and scored.
Pope managed to hold the lead until the seventh before Drummondville finally rallied, and when the dust had settled and the cheering stopped, five runs had crossed the plate, enough to seal the victory. They had done it. At last, the Cubs were truly champions.
One more time, Sal Maglie had prevailed: four hits, ten strikeouts and a 5-1 victory. His last game in Drummondville and it was a masterpiece. The Cubs had required ten wins to earn the title. Maglie had delivered five of them.
LA PAROLE spoke for the fans:
The baseball season now concluded will long be remembered in Drummondville. It offered some of the most brilliant play that we could ever hope to see in a community like ours. It brought us the championship, and glory to the name of Drummondville and to its citizens.
The town held a reception for the team the day following. Head table guests included Stan Bréard, Sal Maglie and Sal’s wife, Kathleen. The league trophy was presented, and Maglie was lauded for the contribution he had made to the city.
His year in Drummondville had run its course, but not his career. In 1950, in New York, Sal Maglie would experience the rebirth that for several years placed him among the premier hurlers in the National League. Drummondville, or so the locals insisted, had prepared him for this challenge. And they were delighted.