Sal Maglie was the other pitcher in some of the most memorable games in baseball history. On this episode of Cover the Bases we speak with biographer Judith Testa, who provides us with insights into the story of Sal Maglie: Baseball’s Demon Barber and how his persona (and nickname) transcends his baseball legacy. We also discuss those baseball moments that every fan will recognize and highlight Sal’s role in the game.
As we do with all guests on Cover the Bases, we start off by asking Judy what compelled her to write a book about a New York Giants pitcher who was usually the opponent for a young Brooklyn Dodgers fan growing up in the suburbs of New York. As she eloquently states, she learned baseball along with the English language. There was something fascinating about the pitcher on the Giants that conveyed menace through an old black and white television, and as an adult she remembered her feelings for the game and the player.
Maglie presented himself as the perfect subject for Judy to write about in a biography.
There is something romantic about a city with three major league baseball teams. This was an era when baseball coverage was in depth via newspaper and radio, and to a later extent television, so that the conversation and buzz around town was all about the team’s fortunes and the favorite players who performed on a nightly basis.
Judy touches on how player loyalty to the teams, and even the neighborhoods they played in, is missing in today’s game. The players are no longer part of the fabric of the cities whereas in the 50’s, the conversation about their exploits permeated the air.
In a household of split allegiances, Judy remembers hearing her Grandfather, a staunch Giants fan say “Sal the Barber, he’ll give the Dodgers another close shave today!” …
There can be no discussion about Sal Maglie without starting out with the nickname – Sal the Barber. What was once an ethnic slight, disparaging him by comparison to the Italian immigrants, he ultimately cultivated it as something that he realized added to his reputation as a pitcher. The inside pitch that buzzed batters under the chin, combined with his demeanor and appearance on the mound, ensured that batters were not digging in too deep in the batters box.
Maglie helped tutor future stars such as Jim Lonborg and Dick Radatz as pitching coach of the Red Sox. Players can have an entirely different persona off the field versus on the field, and Maglie was the epitome of that. He was great to the fans, writers, and support staff while not being anyone’s friend on the field. The same can be said certainly of Jim Longborg.
His career was not without some interruptions. A chronic sinus condition kept him out of military service, but he also did not compete in the majors while working in a defense plant. He took a nice contract in the Mexican League funded by a couple of brothers trying to compete against the bigs, and since Maglie had not reached his full potential with the Giants, he decided the opportunity might be better elsewhere. His decision cost him a couple of more years out of the majors due to a ban by the commissioner. Judy believes that the time in the Mexican League actually helped him develop his intimidating presence by working with Cuban pitcher Dolf Luque.
We had to address some of the famous appearances in baseball history in which Sal Maglie was involved. Historically some of these moments rank as some of the greatest of all time. He was the losing pitcher in Don Larsen’s perfect game. He was naked in the locker room after getting relieved from the mound when Bobby Thompson hit the Shot Heard Round the World. And finally in this category, he was relieved prior to facing Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series. It was a deep drive to center off the bat of Wertz when Willie Mays made what some believe one of the greatest catches in history. Sal was a close encounter with all of these events.
Sal Maglie had to overcome tragedy later in life with the death of his wife and adopted son, however he pushed on in stoic fashion serving as pitching coach for the Red Sox and Seattle Pilots as well as some minor league instruction. He returned to his hometown of Niagra Falls, where the local community re-named the baseball stadium in his honor. First built in 1939, and dedicated in Sal’s name somewhere around 1983, it will be the home of the Niagra Power baseball team in 2010.
We express our sincere gratitude to Judith Testa for sharing this story with us and for taking the time to appear on the Cover the Bases podcast. If you would like to find out more information about Judy’s writings, her Amazon page has a great summary of her other books.
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