Three weeks into spring training, New York Giants manager Leo Durocher had a problem. It was a problem that every manager wished he had.

Durocher termed his 1954 team as the “best squad, especially young and talented players, I have ever had as manager.”

There was plenty of time, and a lot of baseball would played before Leo would have to decide which players stayed and which players would go, since the cut-down date, unlike today, occurred 30 days into the regular season, which was May 13.

A few of the veterans remarked that not since 1947 had there been such great talent in camp. That year, the Giants moved up from a last place finish in 1946 to fourth. They set a major league record in 1947 by hitting 221 home runs.

The 1947 hopefuls included Bobby Thomson, Whitey Lockman, Larry Jansen, Clint Hartung and Lucky Lohrke.

The “problem” was the infield. The regulars were Whitey Lockman at first, Davey Williams at second, Henry Thompson at third and Captain Alvin Dark at shortstop. Power-hitting Bobby Hofman was the first infield reserve off the bench.

Youngsters Foster Castleman, Billy Gardner, Ron Samford and Joey Amalfitano would challenge them.

Second baseman Davey Williams had a chronic back problem, which was a pinched nerve that could force him out of the lineup at any time, Durocher was considering carrying seven infielders. Since Amalfitano was a “bonus baby,” he had to make the team.

The Giants won five of their first nine exhibition games, winning their last four straight after dropping four of the first five.

The pitching, which Bob Feller pinpointed as the key to the season, had been fairly solid. Sal Maglie and Larry Jansen appeared to be heading for comeback seasons

Maglie had suffered from back, shoulder, and arm problems in 1953, while Jansen’s back problems, which arose in 1952, forced him to compensate, resulting in arm problems.

In 1951, the year of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” both Maglie and Jansen had won 23 games. In 1953, Sal was 8-9 with a 4.15 ERA and a 105 ERA+, while Jansen went 11-16, with a 4.14 ERA and a 105 ERA+.

Johnny Antonelli, who was acquired when Bobby Thomson was sent to the Milwaukee Braves, was having control problems, giving up 12 walks in only five innings, but Durocher and pitching coach Frank Shelleback were working with the young southpaw on his stride and follow through. They believed that they had solved the problems.

Right-hander Ruben Gomez led the 1953 Giants with 13 wins, a 3.40 ERA, and a 128 ERA+. Durocher was more than optimistic that Gomez, the rejuvenated Maglie and Jansen, along with Antonelli would give him a formidable starting staff.

If Al “Red” Worthington returned to form, Bob Feller might be right. The Giants might win the pennant.


By LOUIS EFFRAT Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. (1954, March 17). Giants Spend Day Off at Game As Pilot Works on Infield Puzzle :Players See Cards-Cubs Contest at Mesa — Durocher Stays in Phoenix to Wrestle With Problem of 4 Talented Youths. New York Times (1923-Current file),36. Retrieved November 12, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007). (Document ID: 92821238).


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