INNING 2 – Top

“Shave & a Haircut, Two Strikes”

DJ Bartel

 

Dolf Luque (Adolfo Domingo de Guzman Luque) was fifty-five and his twenty-year Major League career was more than a decade behind him. That career, almost entirely with Cincinnati, included one catastrophic season at age thirty-one. The Reds finished in second place, seven games back of the Giants, and Luque led the NL with twenty-three losses (thirteen wins). His batterymate, Bubbles Hargrave, was a .316-hitting catcher from New Haven, Indiana. Hargrave toiled twelve years in the Big Leagues, nine as a Red.[1]

Following his alarming ’22 campaign, Luque went home to Cuba and found himself as a pitcher. He returned to Cincinnati and posted his finest year on the mound, tossing a career-high 322 innings, winning twenty-seven games, including an ML-leading six shutouts with a 1.93 ERA, as the Redlegs again finished second to New York,[2] however closer, 4½ games back. What happened from one season to the next? Luque was still pitching to .333-hitting Bubbles Hargrave with a mostly unchanged supporting cast. The difference was Dolf Luque had developed a headhunting pitch. Suddenly, batters were terrified of the stocky Cuban throwing baseballs at their skulls.

At the end of the ’45 season, everything looked to be in place at last for Maglie to commence the business of playing Major League Baseball on a full time basis as a member of the New York Giants starting rotation. Maglie was not the only one who wondered if he’d be up to the task. Giants’ pitching coach Dolf Luque asked Maglie to come to Cuba over the winter, to his home on the southern coast, and pitch for the Cienfuegos Parrots, which Luque managed.

By the winter of ’45, with peace in the world achieved, Dolf Luque became master to his apprentice Sal Maglie. The old man passed along his secrets of pitching. Make them believe you are loco, liable to do anything, like throw a baseball at a man’s head, an act that could kill him. That’s how crazy you must appear to be, in the batter’s eyes.

Dolf Luque
Sal Maglie

The two men could hardly have been more different. Luque was Havana Club. Maglie was a vanilla malted shake. Both were clenched-fist competitors, but Luque fed off anger, which ignited in a matchflash, while Maglie’s simple jerky motion and placid face looked as if he could be playing backyard ball with neighborhood kids.[3] Luque, a surly five-seven, once got so agitated at the dugout heckling of the Giants’ Bill Cunningham and other NY agitators he broke off his windup midway and, in a quick, careful motion, as if performing the ritual actions of a prayer which he was compelled to cut short but as a pious young man could not do so disrespectfully, Luque placed his glove with the baseball inside by the side of the mound, then stood quickly but reverentially and bounded into the enemy’s dugout. Luque got off at least one solid punch before he was overwhelmed by Giant players and with his one solid punch he missed Cunningham and his fist landed squarely in the face of one of the other offending bench jockeys, New York’s 30yo, ten-year veteran outfielder Casey Stengel. Conversely, Maglie, a smiling six-two, was raised on American home pie manners, polite to his elders, gentle to animals and the young. One journalist observed, Maglie’s voice was like a Priest’s in a confessional. Dolf Luque’s nickname was Papá Montero, after the famous pimped out Cuban rumba dancer, seeing as both men sported the same oiled-hair charm and oiled-crotch swagger. Sal Maglie was a worshipful Catholic and a good son. Sal was no mama’s boy. He was perfectly grown up. He just never considered it a good idea to send a fellow ballplayer to the hospital with a cracked jaw from one of his curve balls up and in. Maglie earned his new nickname while pitching under Luque: The Barber. That’s right, he’ll shave you, not take your head off. Luque taught Maglie how to pitch within a whisker of a batter’s chin. From Luque, Maglie learned to throw his so-so curve so it snapped off so sharply it shaved the whiskers on a batter’s neck. And from Luque, Maglie learned to adopt a different persona while toeing the rubber. It wasn’t easy for Maglie. It took time. This wasn’t really his way of playing ball, but eventually he understood, and from then on, when on the mound, Sal glowered, snarled, and spit, his own whiskers a three-day scrub of black. “When I’m pitching,” Maglie let everybody know, “the plate is mine.”

[1] Bubbles’ best year, of many bests, was 1926, but you could not have predicted it from what happened the night before Opening Day. Hargrave (33) was stricken with appendicitis. However bad it first appeared, Bubbles recovered quickly and surgery was called off. He adopted a buttermilk diet and lost nearly fifteen pounds. He said buttermilk also improved his vision. Hargrave got handed his nickname not from buttermilk but because he stuttered – b-bb-b-bubbles.

[2] Eight Hall of Fame inductees played on the 1923 New York Giants, including the great Frisch, who set personal highs for PA 703 / AB 641 / BA .348 / HR 12 / H 223 (NL-high) / TB 311 (NL-high); Stengel in his second best statistical season out of fourteen as a player, though he played in only 75 games (BA .339 / H 74 / HR 5 / RBI 43); 19yo shortstop Travis “Stonewall” Jackson of Waldo, Arkansas; shortstop Dave Bancroft, 32yo at the summit of his career (BA .305 / OBP .391 / SLG .399 / OPS .789); first baseman High Pockets Kelly (BA .307 / H 172 / RBI 103 / HR 16) as the Dead Ball Era was finally put to death; right fielder Ross “Pep” Youngs who led the NL in runs, 121, while hitting .336; as well as the young Bill Terry along with the even younger Hack Wilson, both of whom saw action in only three games. The abovementioned Poncho Snyder, not in the HOF, was behind the plate for NY.

[3] Sal and his girlfriend Kay Pileggi eloped in the spring of 1941, on the eve of his stint in Elmira. Neither family, both Catholic, was too pleased with this Romeo & Juliet kiss-and-dash affair. Sal and Kay had been going together a long time. Both families expected them to marry, and they expected to be there for the wedding. Sal soothed the hurt feelings with his charitable heart and the couple returned to Niagara Falls in late April after the season had begun to be married again, this time in a proper wedding. Sal and Kay eventually adopted two sons.