JANUARY 2, 1956
Watching the World Series on TV at home in Queensbury, N.Y., in October, 71-year-old Johnny Podres caught a glimpse of his youthful self as Florida Marlins righthander Josh Beckett mowed down the New York Yankees in Game 6. Beckett clinched the Marlins' improbable championship with a masterly 2-0 victory at Yankee Stadium, a near carbon copy—same score, same mound, same complete-game dominance—of Podres's unforgettable outing for the Brooklyn Dodgers 48 years earlier. In 1955 the preternaturally poised lefthander (like Beckett, Podres was 23) capped his third big league season with a Game 7 gem that gave Brooklyn its only world championship. "Why would I be nervous?" Podres says, thinking back to the day when next year finally came for the Bums. "Who the hell expected me to beat the Yankees?"
His postseason heroics—Podres also won Game 3 and was named the Series MVP-landed him on SI's cover the following January as our second Sportsman of the Year. He went on to win 148 games in a 15-year career spent mostly with the Dodgers, then retired as a player in 1969.
Over the next three decades Podres was a successful pitching coach and minor league instructor for the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies. He helped develop Twins lefthander Frank Viola into a Cy Young winner, in 1988. Righthander Curt Schilling, now with Boston, credits Podres with turning around his foundering career after he was traded to the Phillies in '92. In one year Philly went from having the National League's worst ERA to winning the pennant, in 1993. "We had a bunch of guys who were leftovers," he says. "That's one thing I feel really good about."
The antithesis of the modern pitching coach, Podres eschews pitch charts and complex discussions about mechanics. His old school approach accentuates aggressiveness, confidence and a positive attitude. In his gravelly voice he stresses the need for nothing more than the basic repertoire of fastball, changeup and curve. "I never had my guys keep a book on hitters or anything like that," Podres says. "I'd rather have them watching the ball game, not writing things down."
Heart bypass surgery forced him to retire from coaching in 1995, though he has worked off and on since as an instructor in the Phillies' minor league system. With his wife of 37 years, Joanie, Podres spends most of his time at home, about 50 miles south of the iron-mining town of Witherbee, N.Y., where he grew up, and fulfills his lifelong passion for horse racing by watching live telecasts and wagering from his living room. He had surgery last year to repair a stomach aneurysm and his plans to work with Phillies prospects in spring training were derailed by severe arthritis in his hips. "When you get older and have some aches and pains, it's time to stay home," he says. But in the minds of Brooklyn fans, he'll be forever young.