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Article:When the "Closer" Opened the World Series

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by Harold "Doc" Friend

"Brooklyn Dodgers' manager Charlie Dressen announced today that rookie right handed relief pitcher Joe Black would start the first game of the 1952 World Series against the New York Yankees. Black was 15-4 with a 2.15 ERA in 56 games, 54 of which were out of the bullpen, but Brooklyn is a pitching-challenged team, and Dressen believes that the rookie give his team the best chance of winning. Black's first start of the season was on September 21 when he beat Boston to clinch at least a tie for the pennant, and that was followed by his second start six days later when the Braves knocked him out of the box after only five innings. His third career start will be on October 1 against the Yankees."

No Pitch Counts or Concerns About Role Changes

Can anyone imagine that happening today? Joe Black made 54 relief appearances and started the first game of the World Series after making only two starts the entire season. Black faced Allie Reynolds, pitched a complete game victory, held the Yankees to 6 hits and 2 runs, and became the first black pitcher to win a World Series game. There were no pitch counts, no thoughts that facing the Yankees' lineup a second and then a third time might affect Black's effectiveness, and no concerns that Black's role had changed. Reporters asked Black if he felt any trepidation about starting Game 1. "Not so far, anyway. I don't know how it'll be around game time tomorrow, but this is the way I feel right now. It's just another ball game and Charlie (Manager Charlie Dressen) has told me to go ahead and pitch the game] as I've been doing."

Jim Konstanty Did It in 1950

It is an old baseball rule for any manager whose team is going to the World Series that, if possible, he start his ace in Game 1. For Charlie Dressen, his ace was relief pitcher Joe Black, so Dressen started him, and it was not the first time that an ace relief pitcher opened the World Series. In Game 1 of the 1950 World Series] against the Yankees, Phillies manager Eddie Sawyer started Jim Konstanty, who made 74 relief appearances in the season and had not started a game in over two years. All Konstanty did was hold the Yankees to a single run over eight innings, but Vic Raschi shut out the Phillies as the Yankees prevailed, 1-0.

Why Can't Today's Pitchers Do It?

There is no reason that modern pitchers must be taken out of games after 100-115 pitches. Joe Black was 6'2" and 220 pounds and Jim Konstanty was 6' and 202 pounds. Many (most) of today's pitchers are bigger and heavier, but that is not the point. Bobby Shantz was 5'6" and 142 pounds and he started and relieved. Starting Joe Black and Jim Konstanty in a World Series opener was not the traditional move, but it makes one wonder why modern pitchers are limited to slightly more than 100 pitches every five days, and why every pitcher is given a "role" that must be adhered to. When pitching great John Smoltz agreed to become a closer, and then, after being highly successful, agreed to once again be a starter, it was looked upon as a remarkable feat, which it was, but as great as Smoltz is, there are others who could do it. Too bad few, if any, will ever be given the chance.

References:

Daley, Arthur. "Sports of the Times: The Deciding Factor." New York Times. 1 October 1952, p.42.

Drebinger, John. "Konstanty of Phils Will Oppose Raschi of Yanks in Series Today." New York Times. 4 October 1950, p.1.

McGowen, Roscoe. "Dodgers Name Black to Face Reynolds of Yanks in Series Opener Tomorrow; Negro Relief Star Brooklyn Starter." New York Times. 30 September 1952, p.39.

McGowen, Roscoe. "Joe Black Unawed by Yankee Legend; Series Opener 'Just Another Game' to Dodger." New York Times. 1 October 1952, p.41.

Joe Black at Baseball Reference

Jim Konstanty at Baseball Reference

Retrosheet


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