Wuz Joe Black robbed in '52?

BY foxsports • February 12, 2015

I just finished reading this new book about Joe Black, best-known for his tremendous 1952 season, really the only good season of his brief major-league career. After that season, he received a big raise, signing almost immediately after the World Series. From the aforementioned book:

The Baltimore Afro-American speculated that the Dodgers wanted to get Joe’s negotiations out of the way before the Most Valuable Player vote was announced, because if he won—and many thought he would—they’d have to fork over even more money. If the Dodger brass had been worried about that, any fretting would have been for naught.

Though the consensus held that the Dodgers wouldn’t have finished anywhere near first place without Joe, the National League MVP award went, in a surprise vote, to outfielder Hank Sauer of the fifth-place Chicago Cubs, an announcement that left many writers aghast. The would have understood if the twenty-four-member panel of writers had chosen Philadelphia Phillies ace Robin Roberts instead of Joe. Roberts, after all, had gone 28-7 with a 2.59 earned run average and a league-high thirty complete games. He pitched in thirty-nine games, started thirty-seven, and got a save in the two games he didn’t start. But Sauer, a .270 hitter for a team that didn’t even make the first division and finished ten games behind the fourth-place Phillies?

A quibble: I really doubt if too many writers were aghast, since of course the twenty-four-member panel was composed of writers, and just five years earlier the writers had given 15 first-place spots in the American League balloting to Joe DiMaggio and relief pitcher Joe Page, and only seven to Ted Williams. Which was controversial, just as the 1952 N.L. balloting was controversial, at least in some quarters.

Of course, Sauer was a ridiculous choice, just as another Cubs outfielder with big power stats would be a ridiculous choice 35 years later. Hey, the writers have been nothing if not consistent, at least in this regard. It’s hard to figure exactly how Sauer won, except there was a large enough minority of voters – only eight of them actually ranked him first on their ballots – to balance the voters who essentially split their votes between Roberts and Black.

But while Roberts was a fine choice, what’s stunning is how many voters (all of them) completely ignored Black’s tremendous teammate: Jackie Robinson, who played tremendously. Again. In 1951, Jackie might have deserved the MVP and finished sixth; in ’52, he might have deserved it again and finished seventh.

It’s hard to say the voters were prejudiced against Jackie because he was black; after all, he’d been Rookie of the Year in ’47 and MVP in ’49. But they seem to have just been missing something after ’49. What, I can’t figure.

Oh, and Joe Black? He was great in ’52, but he also threw only 142 innings, and there were probably a dozen or so players more valuable than him. Yes, a black Dodger probably should have won the award. Just not the Dodger Joe Black.

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Before we leave Joe Black, I was tickled by this story, which somehow I’d never heard before ... It’s Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, Marlins trailing the Indians in the bottom of the seventh, 2-0. Bobby Bonilla’s leading off against Jaret Wright, and Bonilla’s been scuffling: 0 for 2 tonight, 2 for his last 23 in the Serious. Anyway, Joe Black’s sitting near the Marlins’ on-deck circle with National League president Leonard Coleman. From the book:

Professional athletes seem to have this knack for recalling events in precise detail from their past, and as Bonilla swung his weighted bat, Joe remembered how he had handcuffed Mickey Mantle with inside pitches in the 1952 World Series—until the slugging center fielder came to bat in the sixth inning of game seven. Mantle had stepped back from the plate slightly, a move so subtle that neither Joe nor catcher Roy Campanella noticed.

“I threw that same pitch and he hit it out,” Joe said. Mantle’s blast over the Ebbets Field scoreboard in right field and onto Bedford Avenue broke a 2-2 tie; the Yankees went on to win 4-2 and claim their fourth straight World Series title. That memory prompted Joe, who at that time was working for the Arizona Diamondbacks, to call Bonilla over and offer some advice.

“If you step back, he’s not going to notice that you made an adjustment,” Coleman recalled Joe saying. “So Bobby says, ‘You know, Joe, I’m going to try that.’ Bobby takes a step back, Wright comes in on the inside and bam, right into the stands. When Bobby crosses the plate, he points at Joe and shakes his head.”

Here’s the home run:

I’m not sure how inside that pitch was, but it’s one hell of a story. Especially considering the Marlins wound up winning the game (and the Series) in the 11th inning. And if you watch the end of that clip, you’ll see Bonilla pointing, twice, to someone sitting in the stands, close to the field. Maybe Jim Leyland should thank Joe Black in his Hall of Fame speech.


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