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Rubino: Off the record, 1954 Series MVP was Rhodes

  • In this Sept. 29, 1954, file photo, New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays, left, jokes with pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes in the clubhouse after the Giants' 5-2 win in 10 innings over the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the World Series. Rhodes' 10th-inning three-run homer clinched the victory. (Associated Press)

Let's say you're playing Jeopardy and the information you're given is this:

With a .667 batting average, two homers and seven RBIs in his underdog team's four-game sweep, he likely would have won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award except that the award's existence didn't begin until the following year.

Let's say your answer, given in Jeopardy-speak, is: Who is Dusty Rhodes?

Take a bow.

It's World Series time again, and the thoughts of at least one aging New York born-and-raised Giants fan turn to Mr. James Lamar Rhodes. The fear is that younger baseball fans, and especially younger Giants fans, might not know of Rhodes' feats in the 1954 Series. The legend of Dusty Rhodes is a heck of a story, worth telling, worth remembering. And worth putting in context.

In 1954, Rhodes, 27, was a scrub, a pinch hitter and part-time outfielder. He had 186 plate appearances, the equivalent of playing about one-third of the season. His numbers, though — 15 homers, 50 runs batted in, a .341 batting average and a .410 on-base percentage — if calculated over a full year were those of a superstar.

Then came the '54 Series, the underdog New York Giants against a Cleveland Indians team that had won a then-American League record 111 games.

In Game 1, with more than 52,000 fans packed into the old Polo Grounds in Harlem, the score was 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning. With one out, future Hall of Famer Bob Lemon walked Willie Mays, who then stole second base. Cleveland manager Al Lopez ordered an intentional walk to Hank Thompson, and that brought the aging future Hall of Famer Monte Irvin to the plate. Irvin had gone 0 for 3 against Lemon, striking out once. Giants manager Leo Durocher countered by sending up Rhodes to pinch hit.

You need to know that the Polo Grounds was a ballpark with the most magnificently odd features, the likes of which we'll certainly never see again. Bullpens were on the field, in fair territory, tucked away in deep right-center and left-center. The locker rooms and Giants executive offices were housed in an edifice (which included a scoreboard, clock and huge cigarette billboard) that was also on the field, in dead center, in between the bleachers.

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