This article was written by Steven C. Weiner
The weather was stifling hot, and it was just the beginning of summer. The temperature reached 100 degrees in Manhattan’s Central Park, and it became what is still (through 2016) the hottest June 26 on record.1
The oppressive heat already had helped sway an event across the Harlem River the preceding night. The 99-degree temperature on June 25 also had set a record for the date, but under the fight lights at Yankee Stadium, it reached 104 degrees as a crowd of 47,968 saw Sugar Ray Robinson and Joey Maxim fight for Maxim’s light-heavyweight title. The bout was scheduled to go 15 rounds. Ringside reporters all agreed that Robinson had outfought Maxim for 13 rounds, and the referee’s and two judges’ cards showed Robinson to be ahead.2 Having also conceded 15 pounds to Maxim, Sugar Ray was totally exhausted and could not answer the bell for the 14th round. Maxim retained his title.
There were other consequences. (The writer recalls one such result in the author’s note below.) Thomas Myler interviewed Sugar Ray Robinson in a Glasgow hotel during Robinson’s British tour in 1964. Robinson noted about the June 25 fight, “It was so hot that referee Ruby Goldstein had to be helped out of the ring at the end of the [10th] round and Ray Miller took his place. I guess it was one of the few times two referees were ever used in a championship fight.”3 For Robinson, there was never a hint of any excuses or regrets for the fight’s outcome for any reason, be it the weather, the scorecards or the finality of the 13th round.
The Chicago Tribune led its sports section with a story about the Giants’ victory over the Dodgers, noting the game-time temperature, 93 degrees. On the same page, the paper recounted the fight. “There was only one cool man in Yankee Stadium Wednesday night [the 25th] where Ray Robinson and Referee Ruby Goldstein were overcome by heat. … He was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. … Boxing Commissioner Robert K. Christenberry says the general sat through the entire Maxim-Robinson program without removing his coat. The heat was so terrific in New York that yesterday Christenberry’s hotel, The Astor, for the first time permitted men in the lobby to go coatless.”4
Record heat or not, there was nothing like the intense rivalry of a Dodgers-Giants game to bring the fans out to the Polo Grounds. A crowd of 32,767 went to see the Giants’ Sal Maglie pitch against the Dodgers’ Ben Wade for the third time that season. On April 20, Maglie shut out the Dodgers on two hits. On May 27, he shut them out again, 3-0 on four hits. However, since that latter game, he had been hit hard in five starts and one relief appearance with no wins to show for it.
As he took the mound on June 26, Maglie was going through a tough stretch, but his reputation as a feared hurler known as “Sal the Barber” followed him since a game in the 1950 season. Jim McCulley of the New York Daily News began using that moniker after a game in St. Louis on July 21 because Maglie was fearless in throwing high and tight and shaving the batter’s chin.5 With Maglie’s assortment of heaters and curves, Stan Musial wondered to Russ Hodges, the Giants broadcaster, “Where have you been keeping that guy?”6 The fact was that Maglie had been used mainly as a relief pitcher to that point in the season and not a particularly good one at that. Clearly, his 11-inning complete-game performance that night was a turning point. In her biography of Maglie, Judith Testa notes that Maglie finished the season brilliantly and at one point hurled four straight shutouts and 45 consecutive scoreless innings.7
The Brooklyn starter, Ben Wade, had signed with the Dodgers in 1940 as an 18-year-old. (His older brother, Jake Wade, had made it to the major leagues in 1936 with the Detroit Tigers.) After stints in the minors interrupted by military service, the younger Wade finally made a brief appearance in the majors in 1948 with the Chicago Cubs before being sold back to the Dodgers in 1950. Don Newcombe serving in the US Army in 1952, Wade made it into the Dodgers’ pitching rotation.
Whatever runs Maglie needed this night he got in the first inning. Davey Williams lined a double to left field and with two outs and advanced to third base on Hank Thompson’s infield single. Both runners scored when Bob Elliott hit a triple over George Shuba’s head in left-center, and the Giants led 2-0. In the bottom of the third, Thompson ripped a triple off Wade that traveled over Carl Furillo’s head in right-center. Elliott delivered a monstrous sacrifice fly that Duke Snider caught in front of the center-field bleachers. That finished the night’s scoring.
Meanwhile, Maglie was virtually flawless. When Carl Furillo opened the fourth inning with a walk, he was the first Dodger to reach first. He managed to get to second on an infield out but was left stranded. Jackie Robinson got the first hit off Maglie, a single over second base to open the seventh inning, and Roy Campanella followed with a walk. Any chance of a Dodger rally ended when Maglie retired Shuba, Snider, and Gil Hodges in order. The Dodgers got two of their three hits in the ninth inning on singles by Billy Cox and Campanella, but those hits sandwiched a double-play grounder that Robinson to shortstop Alvin Dark. When Shuba grounded out to first baseman Whitey Lockman, Maglie became the first National League hurler to reach 10 wins in 1952. His record against the Dodgers was dominant. He beat the Bums six times in 1952 and went 22-6 against them from 1950-54. His career with the Giants continued until the Cleveland Indians claimed him off waivers in July 1955.
No essay reflecting Maglie’s dominant pitching against the Brooklyn Dodgers would be complete without a mention of what took place on May 15 of the 1956 season. Biographer Judith Testa recalls: “In what may be the greatest bargain in baseball history, the Dodgers’ astute general manager Buzzie Bavasi out-bargained the Indians’ Hank Greenberg and obtained Maglie for a mere $100. During his years with the Giants, Brooklyn had found Sal almost unbeatable, and on more than one occasion his pitching tactics had ignited nasty on-field brawls. Dodger fans, at first horrified to see their team’s nemesis in Dodger blue, soon warmed to Sal as the aging (Maglie was 39 during the 1956 season.) hurler won key games that enabled the Dodgers to gain their final Brooklyn pennant.”8
As for this hot June night and against this opponent, New York Times sportswriter John Drebinger put it best: “Apparently, all Sal Maglie ever needed was another good look at a Brooklyn uniform.”9
My father took me to this game—my first visit to the Polo Grounds and my first Dodgers-Giants game—just shy of my 9th birthday. I was already hooked on being a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, having seen my first major league games a year earlier, a Dodgers-Cubs doubleheader at Ebbets Field. More than the heat, I remember that the vendors had sold all the cold soda by the first or second inning.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Baseball-Reference.com (baseball-reference.com/boxes/NY1/NY1195206260.shtml) and Retrosheet.org (retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1952/B06260NY11952.htm).
2 Thomas Myler, “Sugar Ray Robinson, Night of the Big Heat,” in Close Encounters With the Gloves Off (Durrington, England: Pitch Publishing, 2016).
4 Chicago Tribune, June 27, 1952: Part 4, 1.
5 James D. Szalontai, Close Shave: The Life and Times of Baseball’s Sal Maglie (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2002), 99-100.
7 Judith Testa, “Sal Maglie,” in Bill Nowlin and C. Paul Rogers III, ed., The Team That Time Won’t Forget: The 1951 New York Giants (Phoenix: SABR, 2015), 115. Maglie’s record stood at 6-3 after that victory over the Cardinals before winning 12 of his last 13 decisions. Only 16 of his 47 pitching appearances in 1950 were as a starter but he pitched 12 complete games and finished at 18-4, leading the league with five shutouts and a 2.71 ERA.
8 Testa, “Sal Maglie,” 115.
9 John Drebinger, “Maglie Hurls 3-Hitter as Giants Beat Dodgers and Cut Lead to Three Games,” New York Times, July 27, 1952: 26.