Johnny Podres nearly put a damaging dent into the armor of baseball’s perfect knight.
While researching a recent post about Jon Jay and Cardinals who have been hit by pitches a high number of times, I wondered how often Stan Musial had been struck.
Described by former baseball commisioner Ford Frick as “baseball’s perfect knight,” Musial became a St. Louis icon as much for his good-guy demeanor as for his outstanding baseball ability.
Still, Musial wasn’t immune from wild-armed pitchers and brushback pitches.
He was struck by pitches 53 times in a 22-year big-league career. The pitch that did the most damage was delivered by Podres, a Dodgers left-hander who, like Musial, would be inducted into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1955, Musial was hit by pitches a National League-leading eight times. One of those occurred on Aug. 29, 1955, when the Cardinals played the Dodgers at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field. Though the Dodgers were in first place and the Cardinals were in seventh, the competition between these longtime rivals remained fierce.
In the first inning, catcher Roy Campanella hit a two-run home run off Cardinals starter Tom Poholsky. When Campanella batted again in the third, he was buzzed by a pitch.
Musial, playing in his 593rd consecutive game, led off the Cardinals’ fourth. Podres unleashed a fastball that sailed directly toward Musial’s head. Musial instinctively raised his right hand to protect himself _ and it was fortunate he did.
The ball struck the back of his hand. If it hadn’t, the ball would have struck him in the skull, according to multiple news reports.
Musial felt “acute pain” in the hand, the Associated Press reported. The Sporting News described the hand as “painfully bruised.”
In the bottom of the fourth, a pitch from Poholsky went behind the head of Dodgers batter Jackie Robinson. Umpire Jocko Conlon immediately stepped out from behind the plate, raised a finger on each hand, faced each dugout and declared, “All right, that’s one and one. The next one is out (for the manager and pitcher),” The Sporting News reported.
Soon thereafter, Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, out of the lineup that Monday afternoon, was ejected for using offending language within earshot of spectators while yelling at Cardinals manager Harry Walker.
In the seventh, with the hand throbbing, Musial was removed from the game. Boxscore
Reported The Sporting News: It was feared he’d miss his first game since the 1951 season’s wind-up.
The next day, Aug. 30, Musial was placed sixth in the batting order against the Pirates at Pittsburgh. He played right field in the bottom of the first. When his turn at-bat came up in the second, he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Boxscore
Musial was listed as the right fielder, batting fifth, the following day at Pittsburgh. When the Cardinals got two on with two out in the top of the first, Musial again was replaced by a pinch-hitter. Though he didn’t appear in the game, the consecutive-game streak officially continued because he was in the starting lineup. Boxscore
Dan Daniel of the New York World-Telegram and Sun wrote: There is a well-founded suspicion that some of the club owners feel that duster pitching, sparking violent rhubarbs, helps the gate. However, what would have been the popular reaction around the country if Stan Musial had been skulled dangerously by the Johnny Podres pitch which he managed to soften with his hand the other day?
Seven years later, Podres hit Musial with a pitch again on Sept. 22, 1962. Boxscore
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote of Podres: “If he hadn’t had back trouble, Podres would have been a 20-game winner … Podres has the best change-up since (Howie) Pollet or (Carl) Erskine, good control and a good curve.”
Though Podres twice pelted him with pitches, Musial, as usual, got the last laugh. On Sept. 16, 1963, Musial hit the 475th and last home run of his career. He hit it, of course, off Johnny Podres. Boxscore