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Say Hey Kid and Hammerin Hank: The 54 Giants vs The 57 Braves

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This game would be a treat as two of the greatest ball players of the post integration era would lad their respective teams against each other to determine which team would advance into the next round. The match-up would be Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid” and the 1954 New York Giants against “Hammerin Hank” Aaron and the 1957 Milwaukee Braves.

The 1954 Giants team would be managed by future Hall of Fame manager Leo “the Lip” Durocher while the 1957 Braves squad would have Fred Haney at the helm of the Braves ship.

New York would have as catcher Wes Westrum with Whitey Lockman at first base. Davey Williams was the Giants second baseman, while Alvin Dark was the shortstop and Hank Thompson, the third baseman. Mays, who would be in centerfield was flanked in left field by future Hall of Famer and former Negro Leagues great Monte Irvin with Don Mueller flanking Mays in right field. Pitching for the Giants would be Johnny Antonelli, Ruben Gomez, Sal “the Barber” Maglie, Jim Hearn and Don Liddle. If needed another future Hall of Famer, Hoyt Wilhelm would lead the relief corps of the Giants.

Milwaukee’s catcher was Del Crandall, while Frank Torre would be manning the first base position. At second base was Red Schoendienst with Johnny Logan at short and Eddie Mathews at the hot corner, third base. Outfielders for the Braves were Wes Covington in left field, Bill Bruton in center field and Hank Aaron in right field. As for pitchers, it would be Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Bob Buhl and two sport star Gene Conley on loan from the Boston Celtics.

It would be Wes Westrum of the Giants against Del Crandall of the Braves in the pitching matchup. Westrum was a weak hitting catcher who never hit higher in his career than .243 during the 1949 season with the Giants. In the 1954 season he would have 8 home runs, 27 runs batted in, 25 runs scored and a .187 batting average. Crandall was a 16- year major league veteran and an 8 time All Star selection. During the 1957 season for Milwaukee Crandall hit 15 home runs, had 46 runs batted in, scored 45 runs and had a batting average of .253 for the season. The winner here would be the Milwaukee Braves with Del Crandall handling the catching.

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For the first base position, the Giants would have Whitey Lockman manning the base. In 1954, Lockman would hit 16 home runs, drive in 60 runs and carry a .251 batting averge through the 148 games he would play. The Braves would put Frank Torre at first base. Torre who was the older brother of future catcher, manager and Hall of Famer Joe Torre would play in 129 games for Milwaukee at first and hit 5 home runs. He would also have 40 runs batted in, and hit .272 for the season. Advantage here was to Lockman and the Giants.

Moving over towards the middle of the infield to second base, the 1954 Giants Davey Williams was their second baseman for 142 games. Williams hit .222 for the season with 9 home runs and 46 runs batted in. The Braves second baseman in 1957 was Red Schoendienst who would play in 93 games for Milwaukee. Ironically Schoendienst spent the 1956 and part of the 1957 with the Giants before being traded to the Braves. Between the Giants and the Braves, he would play in 150 games hitting 15 home runs, having 65 runs batted in with a .309 batting average. He also would later manage the 1967 Cardinals to the World Series title in a thrilling seven game series over the Red Sox in their “Impossible Dream” year. Schoendienst was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a player in 1989 by the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee. Clearly here the advantage goes to the Braves with Schoendienst.

Alvin Dark would play in 154 games for the Giants in 1954 at the shortstop position and hit 20 home runs, have 70 runs batted in and hit .293 for the season. Dark won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1948 and was a 3 time All Star in his career. After his playing career ended he would go on to manage and in 1974 he led the Oakland Athletics to their 3rd consecutive World Series title. For the Braves, the shortstop for the 1957 was Johnny Logan. In 129 games, Logan would hit .273 with 10 home runs and 49 runs batted in. Alvin Dark gives the Giants the edge here and now it is on to the third base position.

Hank Thompson was the Giants third baseman during the 1954 in 136 games. Thompson had played in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs in 1943 and 1946 before playing with the St Louis Browns in part of the 1947 season. Thompson went back to the Monarchs in 1947 and played with them in the 1948 season as well. He spent the rest of his major league career with the Giants, playing for them from 1949 until 1956. During the 1954 season Thompson, in 136 games hit 26 home runs, had 86 runs batted in with a .263 batting average. The Braves would counter at third base with Eddie Mathews who played for Milwaukee in 148 games in 1957. During the Braves run in the 57 season, Mathews hit 32 home runs with 92 runs batted in and he also for the year had a .292 batting average. During his career Mathews hit 512 home runs (currently ranked at number 23 with Cubs great Ernie Banks and one ahead of Giants legend Mel Ott who finished with 511 home runs). Mathews also ended his career with 1,453 runs batted in and a .271 batting average. Together with Hank Aaron they formed a fearsome power combination in the lineup. Mathews was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1978. I think it is a safe bet to say the Braves have the edge here with Mathews at third base.

Now we move to the outfield and here is the dilemma, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron are two of the greatest players of all-time and both played the outfield. However, Mays played centerfield and Aaron was a right fielder so let us just go, position by position in the outfield, starting with left field. The left fielder for the Giants was former Negro League great Monte Irvin. Irvin began his storied career in 1938 with the Negro National League Newark Eagles. The man who was known as “Mr Murder” for the way he hit played with Newark until 1949 (except for 3 years when he was in the service for World War II) when he appeared in his first major league ball game. During the 1954 season, Irvin hit 19 home runs, with 64 runs batted in and a .262 batting average. He would also provide good advice for center fielder Willie Mays who was only in his third year in the major leagues. Irvin later became a special advisor to MLB and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 by the Negro Leagues Baseball Committee. Milwaukee would have in left field, Wes Covington, who in 94 games for the Braves hit 21 home runs with 64 runs batted in and a .284 batting average. Monte Irvin would have the advantage over Covington for the left field position.

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Centerfield will not be a contest and for that matter neither will right field. Centerfield for the Giants was Willie Mays, “the Say Hey Kid” who in 1954 hit 41 home runs with 110 runs batted in and a league leading .345 batting average. Mays would go on to a storied major league career, hitting 660 home runs placing him 5th on the all-time home run list behind Bonds, Aaron, Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. He also had 1,903 runs batted in and a .302 batting average. He was Rookie of the Year, 2 time league MVP, 24 time All Star, 12 time winner of the Gold Glove for fielding and a first ballot selection for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. The center fielder for the 57 Braves was Bill Bruton who played in only 79 games in center for the Braves that year. While he was a good ballplayer ( 5 home runs, 30 RBIs and a .278 batting average) his numbers certainly don’t match up to Mays’ numbers either for 1954 or his career.

The rightfielder for the Giants in 1954 was Don Mueller, who during the 1954 season hit 4 home runs, with 71 RBIs and a .342 batting average. On defense Mueller made 6 errors in 280 chances for a .979 fielding percentage, not too shabby numbers. The right fielder for the Braves was “Hammerin” Hank Aaron one of the greatest sluggers the game has ever known. During the 1957 season Aaron hit 44 home runs with 132 runs batted in and a .322 batting average. During the 1957 season Aaron made 6 errors in 353 chances for a .983 fielding percentage. As we know Aaron hit 755 home runs in his career with 2297 runs batted in and a .305 batting average. He was a 25 time All Star selection and the National League MVP in 1957. He also won three Gold Gloves and was selected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 garnering 97.8% of the votes. Advantage to Aaron and the Braves.

Now moving on to the pitching staffs, the Giants would have Johnny Antonelli (21-7), Ruben Gomez (17-9), Sal Maglie (14-6), Jim Hearn (8-8) and Don Liddle (9-4). The Braves would have, Warren Spahn (21-11), Lew Burdette (17-9), Bob Buhl (18-7) and Gene Conley (9-9). In just a one game series Antonelli would probably face off against Spahn and if both of them went the distance Spahn would probably have slight advantage as that year he led the league in wins for the fourth time in 9 years. He also led the league in complete games with 18 and was well capable to go the distance. It may not be a cakewalk though as during the 1954 season of New York Antonelli’s 21-7 record gave him a winning percentage of .750 which led the league. He also led the league with a 2.30 ERA and 6 shutouts.

If the bullpen were to become involved, then the advantage might go to the Braves on the strength of Burdette and Buhl’s record. In this day of baseball pitchers finished what they started and Spahn certainly could do that. He was a veteran of World War II and would set the record for all-time wins by a left hander with 363. On the strength of Spahn advantage would go to the Braves.

In looking over the numbers, these teams are surprisingly very closely matched. Position wise they come in with the Giants winning first base, shortstop as well as both left and centerfield. The Braves would take catcher, second base, third base and right field. Then in the pitching matchup if they teams played 20 games it could very easily end up with each team winning 10 games. But in one game series the overall advantage would go to the Braves based on the pitching of Spahn and the backup of Burdette and Buhl.

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Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.

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