AN ARTICLE FROM THE BASEBALL MAGAZINE: DECEMBER: ONEMOREINNING
He had come from a farm in Virginia and here in 1942, at the age of 21, WILLARD MARSHALL was about to play in his first game with the NY GIANTS. He had never been to NY before, never seen the POLO GROUNDS and now he was doing both. His journey had led him through countless numbers of games played in dirt fields in RICHMOND, highschool baseball played in a school without a gym, college
Ball with WAKE FORREST, Minor League ball with ATLANTA in the SOUTHERN ASSOCIATION, a fabulous spring training with the GIANTS, and now here, a starter in left field for the NY GIANTS at the POLO GROUNDS.
MEL OTT, in his first season as manager of the GIANTS, had taken him aside a few days before and told him he was to start in the seasons opener. They were to face the BROOKLYN DODGERS. OTT picked CARL HUBBELL, near the end of his career, to pitch, and newly acquired power hitter JOHNNY MIZE was starting at first base. For WILLARD MARSHALL this was a dream come true, something he had never dreamed of in his wildest thoughts.
The world in 1942 was in turmoil. War raged all around. The Japanese were scoring impressive victories in the South Pacific and were mounting a large offensive in the Bay of Bengal around India and also making gains in Ceylon. On April 13th they bombed Corregidor twelve times but AMERICAN troops were stubbornly holding on. A few days before, the Japanese had sunk the Langley with the loss of many lives. Bataan was being threatened by Japan as well. A small ray of hope for the Allies came with the news that an unnamed Japanese carrier had been severely hit by several American bombs.
In the states Americans were getting used to changes in their lives. Ration books were now a way of life and recently the OPA (Office of Price Administration) to fight inflation, began to freeze wholesale and retail prices for consumer goods. Two days before, Americans were told they no longer could buy bikes. The War Production Board halted all sales of bicycles to adults in order to preserve existing stocks for the use of people who were working in the war effort.
The government released startling news that indicated that STANDARD OIL was aiding NAZI airlines by selling them oil. The government threatened to blacklist them and only then did they stop. There was also a report circulating around that there might be voluntary registration of women between the ages of 18 to 65 for the Army.
The news on the warfront might be discouraging, but Americans had a great deal to choose from in the entertainment world. Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was in town. On Broadway, some of the finest shows in the history of that thoroughfare were playing. On April 14th, the day Willard Marshall was to play in his first ML game, the following shows were on the boards: Paul Muni was opening in a new play called, Yesterdays Magic. Louise Rainer was in A Kiss for Cinderella. Eddie Cantor had a great hit in Banjo Eyes. Gertrude Lawrence was in, Lady in the Dark and Paul Lindsay with Dorothy Stickney were in, Life with Father. Other shows included, Angel Street, Arsenic and Old Lace, Noel Cowards Blythe Spirit, My Sister Eileen, & Porgy and Bess.
Hollywood too was entertaining Americans. Gone With the Wind was a spectaculer success. Abbott and Costello were in, Ride Em Cowboy. Ronald Reagan and Anne Sheridan starred in Kings Row (RANDY WHERES THE REST OF ME?). Sabu was a big hit in, Jungle Book. Tracy and Hepburn were in Woman of the Year. Other films included, my Favorite Blonde with Bob Hope & Madeline Carroll, Mickey Rooneys, Courtship of Andy Hardy, Joel McRea in Sullivans Travels & The Shores of Tripoli with John Payne.
Americans had something else to look forward too. The 1942 baseball season was about to start.
Whenever the giants played the Dodgers exciting things happened. Todays game was no exception. The world was at war, American patriotism was at its peak and baseball was feeling its effect as well. Some players had been drafted and many were soon to join them. The Dodgers had won the NL pennant the year before, while the Giants were taking the field with several changes from last years first game. They had a new first baseman (Johnny Mize), a new second baseman (Mickey Witek), a new third baseman (Billy Werber), A new outfielder in Babe Barna replacing Johnny Rucker and a new rookie outfielder replacing the popular JoJo Moore in leftfield, Willard Marshall. For Willard Marshall it would be a day to remember.
APRIL 14, 1942: WILLARD MARSHALLS FIRST DAY IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES:
50,000 fans jammed into the Polo Grounds to watch the defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers defeat a revamped NY Giants team 7-5. Carl Hubbell at the age of 38 was chosen to face righthander Curt Davis and lasted only 3 ½ innings. He had pitched only 15 innings in spring training and it showed.
The game opened with patriotism and good cheer. Just before game time Horace Stoneham requested fans to return all foul balls so that they could be sent to the Army and Navy camps. AT 2:35 both teams marched onto the field and lined up with the 17TH infantry band to pay homage to Eddie Grant at his memorial. Grant had been a former Giants captain who died in World War one. Soprano Adelaide Gerwig came out and sang a stirring rendition of, ANY Bonds Today? Right on cue, the popular mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia brought managers Ott and Durocher out and presented them with $100,000 War Bonds. Durocher was lustily booed by Giant fans which prompted LaGuardia to say, I see you brought your friends along. Besides the paid attendance of 42, 653, there were 2,100 servicemen who attended, as well as many distinguished guests. Jim Farley, former mayor Jimmy Walker, Thomas Dewey, Mrs. John McGraw, Mrs. Peewee Reese & Mrs Pete Reiser. Harry The Horse Danning caught Mayor LaGuardias perfect strike and the game started. It was 3:PM.
By 3:30 the Dodgers had scored 4 runs and it was only the first inning. Peewee Reese hit a double, newly acquired Arky Vaughan walked and so did Pete Reiser. Ducky Medwick smashed a double to right to score two, a run scored on an out, Babe Herman walked, and Mickey Owen scored the 4th run with a single into the rightfield gap. Mel Ott, in his first year as manager decided to keep Hubbell in there. He worked the top half of the 2nd and had a 1-2-3 inning. In the bottom half of the second Willard Marshall came up to the plate for his first at bat in the Major Leagues.
Curt Davis had quietly built up a fine reputation in the years that he had played ball. Without being a superstar he was considered to have been one of the better pitchers playing in the National League at that time. Lifetime he ended up with a 158-131 record. He possessed a better than average fast ball, kept the ball over the plate, and used his curveball to good advantage. Here, after all those years of playing in poorly prepared dirt fields, walking miles to find a place to play in, leaving college in his second year to play in the minors, here, today, Willard Marshall was getting his chance to plat ML ball. He dug in against Davis and after a few pitches smacked a ball to leftfield for a base hit. He rounded first base and the crowd gave the rookie a big hand. It was his first hit in the Majors, in his first game, and later on another one was to come.
Hubbell hung on till the 4th when he gave up a two-run HR to Peewee Reese. When Pete Reiser followed that with a single, Ott replaced him with Mountain Man Cliff Melton. For the rest of the year
Hubbell would pitch decently and end up with an 11-8 record. It was clear though that the great pitcher was nearing the end of the road.
In the 4th inning a fan caught a foul ball hit into the stands and ignoring Stonehams request to throw the ball back for the servicemen overseas, put it into his pocket. He was roundly booed and finally took it out and threw it back onto the field.
In the sixth both sides went down in order. Before the seventh inning started an announcement was made that Sal Maglie and Rube Fisher were being released to the Jersey City Giants. Maglie would come back, Fisher would not.
In the seventh the Giants made it close. Werber singled, Billy Jurgess drew a walk, and Ott drove him in with a single to center. The stage was set for Johnny Mize to do something special and he did with his first HR as a Giant. Getting up for his fourth time in the game Willard Marshall smashed a single through the infield for his second ML hit. He then raced home on a bad throw by Vaughan which Dolph Camilli could not handle. Another highlight of the inning was Hank Leiber fouling off ten straight pitches before he finally walked.
The game ended with the Dodgers winning 7-5. It had been an auspicious debut for rookie Marshall who went 2-5 and scored one run. The next day would be better.
APRIL 15, 1942: WILLARD MARSHALLS SECOND DAY IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES.
The Giants got even. With a six run outburst in the 5th they won by a score of 6-4 to square the series at one game each. The centerpiece for the Giants was a mighty blow by Willard Marshall.
As a contrast to yesterdays packed house, this second contest only drew 12,448. The Dodgers, as in yesterdays game, were error prone and it was Peewee Reeses 2ND error in two days that enabled Willard Marshall to come up with the bases loaded. Starting pitcher Kirby Higbe was still in there for Brooklyn. It was the fifth inning and Marshall had made out in his first at bat. This time he stood at the plate with Werber, Jurges, and Mel Ott on the bases and one of the Dodgers toughest pitchers facing him. With a 2-1 count, Marshall swung and meeting the ball solidly, hit a drive that carried to the outfield. Pete Reiser headed back to rightfield and then gave up the chase. The ball picked up momentum and finally ended up in the upper tier of the rightfield stands. It was a grandslam and was Marshalls first HR as a major Leaguer. 49 years later, in speaking to Willard, I asked him if he remembered who he hit it off. He said no and then his face lit up and he said yes, it was Higbe. He didnt mention that it was a grandslam and came on his seventh time at bat. At 21 he happened to be the youngest regular on the field for both teams and it was one of the memorable moments in his life.
That just about did in the Dodgers. After the game it was reported that Leo Durocher would have to see Commissioner Landis (one of the many visits he would have with him over his career) to explain why he refused to leave the field after he was thrown out of an exhibition game with the Yankees.
Curt Davis and Kirby Higbe, the two pitchers who gave up those 3 hits in Willard Marshalls first two games, are gone now. Hubbell, Ott, Johnny Mize, Reese, Vaughan, Durocher, and Billy Herman went on to the HOF.
For Willard Marshall those two first games were the beginning of what turned out to be a fine eleven year career. The following year he went into the army and served for three years. Had it not been for that he could very well have ended up with a batting average over.280 and possibly been close to 200 HRS. As it was his lifetime BA was .274 with 130 HRs. In 1943, 47, and in 1949 he was chosen to play in the All Star game.