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Johnny is riding on a rose-tinted cloud this season. Every move in his career that seemed to be for the worse has turned out for the better. His $20,000-plus salary is sure to be boosted at contract-signing time after his remarkable season with the Giants, in addition to which there is the strong possibility of a World Series cut. And all this came after Johnny thought he was being dealt out of one when the red-hot Braves traded him to the ill-favored Giants.
"I felt funny at first about being traded," he confesses, "especially after all that hoopla at Milwaukee last season. But I can tell you now, I've never been happier in baseball. Not many guys are as lucky as I've been."
Sal Maglie, the saturnine veteran of the Giants' pitching staff, has been Johnny's pal and adviser ever since he joined the club. They knew each other previously as upstate New Yorkers. Sal has told him all he knows about National League batters, which is considerable. Stan Musial is the toughest batter Johnny has to face. "When a hit means something, he's poison," says Antonelli. "As a matter of fact, the whole Cardinal team gives me trouble."
However, trouble is a word that seems foreign to Antonelli's pitching. Five of the 20 victories Johnny had scored up to the end of August were shutouts. He has beaten every rival club. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, whom he vanquished five times each, are his cousins in the baseball sense of the word. The Phillies won two out of five against him but these were early season games in which Johnny actually wasn't responsible for the defeats. Twice out of three times he turned back his old club, the Braves. He won two each over the Cubs and the Cards and one over the Dodgers. In only three of his 20 winning performances did Johnny need help in the late innings from relief pitchers.
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"His victories speak for themselves," said Leo. "He's just great. But when I am speaking of Antonelli, I'm thinking of him in the clubhouse, on the plane, in the dugout, hotel lobby, bus or anywhere the team assembles. What a personality he is to have around! Everybody goes for him. He likes to be with the gang, and that sort of situation is healthy for a club. He's like Willie that way?not exactly in the same manner, of course, because Johnny's quieter. But Johnny is sharp with a pun?a happy guy."
A SPORTING FAMILY
If ever blood lines destined a man for the life of an athlete, Johnny's should have. His father, August Antonelli, who arrived in America from Abruzzi, Italy, at the age of 14, played amateur baseball with a Syracuse team in the New York Central Railroad League. Johnny's mother was a high school badminton instructor. His older brother, Anthony, played football at Bowling Green College in the mid-40s, and a sister, Lucy, was a member of a Rochester girls' basketball team. Johnny himself earned letters in baseball, football and basketball at Jefferson High, but he was at his best on the diamond even in his pre-high school softball days. In three years on the school varsity nine, he won 13 games, lost one and tied one, pitched three no-hit shutouts and struck out 231 batters in 103 innings. Summers, he pitched for one Flower City Legion nine in Rochester.
When he was 15 years old, the St. Louis Cardinals screened Johnny out of a tryout school of 101 hopefuls at their Rochester farm club. The Cards offered to send him through college if his father would sign an agreement giving them inclusive rights to his services as a professional after graduation. That's when shrewd August Antonelli, by that time a successful railroad contractor, launched one of the most successful sales campaigns on record. He politely declined the Cards' offer and for the next three years acted as his son's campaign manager, press agent and sales representative. He made Johnny the best-known high school baseball player in America.