His friendly smile and firm handshake greet those at the Chronicle book fair in Glens Falls. He eagerly tells stories from his years in Brooklyn and has discussions with the locals about who he grew up with or the cars he drove. More than 50 years have passed since his pitching performances defeated the New York Yankees in games three and seven of the 1955 World Series, but Johnny Podres still reminisces about his playing days, whether he is talking with a friend or signing autographs for fans.
Podres, 74, was a major league pitcher for 15 seasons and spent the majority of his career in the Dodgers organization. The crafty southpaw, born in Witherbee, N.Y., was a member of four Dodger championship teams and pitched alongside Hall of Famers Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.
“It was an honor just to pitch on a staff that featured two of the most dominant starters in baseball history,” he said.
Podres made his big-league debut in 1953 with the Brooklyn Dodgers and lost to the rival Yankees in the World Series that year. His shining moment would occur two years later on the grandest stage of all.
The Yankees’ Kryptonite
Trailing the series 2-0 to their in-state rivals, Podres got the start for Brooklyn in game three and pitched a complete game to beat the Yankees 8-3.
“After the game, Jackie Robinson told me ‘That’s the most important game you’re ever going to pitch,'” he recalled. “I guess Jackie didn’t realize this series was going seven.”
The Dodgers proceeded to win the next two games, but the Yankees took the sixth game and set the stage for a pivotal game seven.
In what would define his career, Podres shut down the Yankee sluggers for nine innings and won Brooklyn their first World Series with a 2-0 victory. After years of losing to the men in pinstripes, Brooklyn finally got over the hump and gave the city a reason to celebrate.
“They always used to say ‘wait til next year’ about the Dodgers,” he said. “If I didn’t save their butts, the Yankees would have won another series.”
He received the honor of World Series MVP for his clutch performance and was recognized as “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated.
Before the 1958 regular season, the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The team’s relocation to the west coast was tough for Podres, but he was able to adjust to the new situation.
“What was I going to do? I was part of the Dodger organization,” he said. “They were paying my salary, so I went to L.A. with the rest of my teammates.”
Podres would have another chance to face the Yankees in the 63′ World Series, and continued his dominance with a 4-1 win in the second game. The Dodger pitchers allowed only four runs that whole series, leading the team to a four-game sweep.
An Author’s Big Break
While attending Castleton State College in the early 60’s, Bob Bennett had been a lifelong Dodger fan and was interested in becoming a sports reporter.
As a student at CSC, Bennett had the opportunity to meet his favorite Dodger and 40 years later, he decided to write a biography about Podres.
“Nobody ever wrote a book about his life,” he said. “My sons and I tracked down Johnny’s former teammates and did a lot of research for the biography. The toughest part was actually getting Johnny to give us the okay. I even brought him Vermont maple syrup one day to try to persuade him.”
Podres allowed the Bennetts to interview him in 2004 and helped the authors with the book’s direction.
“Johnny and his wife gave us some scrapbooks, which were very helpful,” Bennett said.
The biography, ‘Johnny Podres: Brooklyn’s Only Yankee Killer,’ was published last year and explored the playing career of the big-game pitcher.
For last year’s 50th anniversary of the Dodgers’ first World Series win, Podres and Bennett went to Brooklyn and spent the day talking with fans of the old Dodgers.
“They were happy with me for bringing Johnny back to Brooklyn,” Bennett recalled. “We were both treated like royalty and had a lot of fun.”
Life After Baseball
Podres retired from baseball in 1969 after playing one season with the San Diego Padres. In fifteen seasons as a pitcher, he was a three-time All Star and collected 24 shutouts in 440 games.
Podres came back to the sport as a pitching coach for 20 years and worked for the Padres, Red Sox, Twins, Dodgers and Phillies.
In 1990, he was named the Phillies’ pitching coach and became a mentor to Curt Schilling.
“I’m good friends with Schilling. Our families have dinner together from time to time,” he said. “I taught the kid everything he knows.”
The former World Series MVP now resides in Glens Falls and keeps in touch with some of his Dodger teammates. “[Don] Zimmer’s a good friend of mine; we go to the track and watch the horse races,” he said. “I’m still friendly with [Duke] Snider and [Clem] Labine.”
Podres does not watch many baseball games, but roots for the Phillies whenever they are on television. When asked why they are his favorite team, Podres said “because the Phillies paid me the most money.