The Righty who thought like a Lefty

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Righty who thought like a Lefty

I loved Billy Loes, the kid from Astoria who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1950-1956 less the year he took off for military ser­vice in 1951.

(I've always felt that if Loes had played in '51, and had beaten out Bud Podbielan or Erv Palica, Bobby Thompson would be a forgotten name1 today.)

Autographed Billy Loes basecall card, circa 1953.

Though he pitched in the 1957 All Star game after he'd been traded to the Baltimore Orioles, as a Dodger with a mound staff which included Ralph Branca, Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe, Carl Erskine, Johnny Podres and Russ Meyer, Loes was at best a third or fourth starter even though he always had a winning record... 50-26 in his Brooklyn years.

From 1960 to 1976 when the Phillies Mike Schmit screwed it up for me, "Billy Loes" was the toughest answer to one of my all-time favorite baseball "pop history2" questions:

"Who were the last four players3 to hit four home runs in a single game, and who was in uniform for all four of those game?"

Someone I posed that to in the late '60s, when I finally told him the answer, said:

"Hellva southpaw for the Dodgers! Hadn't thought of him in years."

When I corrected him and we'd gone to "look it up," he said:

"All these years and I was sure he was left-handed, just from the things he'd say!"

I understood his confusion... Loes was very much a righty with a southpaw sensibility.

Though neither as prolific or as indelible as Yogi Berra, Loes is remembered for two quotes in particular:

"I don't care about being a 20-game winner 'cause then the front office would expect me to do it every year."

And after failing to field the Yankees' Gene Wood­ling's grounder to the mound in the critical sixth game of the 1952 World Series, Loes explained:

"I lost it in the sun."

I still loved Loes... any team today would covet a second or third starting pitcher who, in a three year span, would go 13-8, 14-8 and 13-5, which is what he did from '52 to '54.

In his first game of 1955, a season in which he would go 10-4, Loes started against the reign­ing World Champion New York Giants... and picked the "Say Hey Kid" off of third base.

Things like that simply didn't happen to Willie Mays who had returned from the Army a year earlier and in his size 11 spikes strode through New York City, the entire National League and then the Cleveland Indians to establish himself as one of the game's greats.

And Billy Loes calmly picked him off third base as the Dodgers won their first 10 games of the season and finished the year with a World Series title of their own, their first ever.

One of the last "Boys of Summer," Loes passed away at an Arizona hospice on July 15, age 80.

Note
  1. Just one more regular season win that year and there never would have been a playoff for Thompson to hit his pennant-winning "shot heard 'round the world."
  2. After all these years I still can't bring myself to call it "trivia."
  3. Loes was a teammate of Gil Hodges in 1950, an opposing player when the Braves' Joe Adcock hit four in 1954, an opposing player when Cleveland's Rocky Colavito did it against the Orioles in 1959, and a teammate of Willie Mays when he did it in 1960.

Comments

1. Paul Haines said...

Thanks, Dean, that brought tears to my eyes.

2. EastEnd68 said...

Thanks for the baseball memories. "Losing the ground ball in the sun" is still one of the best baseball quotes-ever.

If you followed any of the links you would have seen that his Dodgers teammate Carl Erskine plausibly defended Loes' explanation.
Dean

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