No press agent ever had a more cooperative client. In 1947 Johnny started an ivory rush on Rochester by major league scouts when he pitched two seven-inning no-hitters in a row for his American Legion club. The Chicago Cubs offered $35,000 after seeing the tireless lad strike out 20 men in a game. The Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves were all after him.
A FLAT NO FOR LEO
But Papa Antonelli had time to consider all comers while waiting for Johnny to graduate from school, and he adopted a policy of playing one club against the other. The only offer he turned down flatly was that of the Brooklyn Dodgers, conveyed by Leo Durocher, Johnny's present boss, who was then managing Brooklyn. It seems someone had warned August not to have anything to do with Brooklyn?and is Leo glad now!
During both spring training seasons in 1947 and 1948, Papa Antonelli toured the Florida training camps, armed with Johnny's scrapbook. Bob Feller of the Indians spent an hour poring over it and expressed unfeigned astonishment over his feats.
"When I was his age," he told Owner Bill Veeck, "I didn't have any such record as this." Then Bob made August beam: "My dad was just like you. Johnny is lucky to have a father with his son's career at heart."
A few days after Johnny received his diploma, Papa Antonelli's campaign reached its climax. He invited every major league club to send a representative to a bidding contest unique in baseball annals. Eighteen scouts gathered at the Antonelli home for an Italian dinner, after which they adjourned to the Rochester Red Wings' ball park where Johnny made all his papa's superlatives seem like "lame apologies. He pitched a no-hit, no-run game for the Rochester All-Stars against the Brockport Barons and struck out 17. When the clamor had subsided, George Toporcer, representing the Boston Red Sox, bid $50,000 for Johnny. Papa carried the offer to Owner Perini of the Braves whom he had softened up earlier in the year in Florida. Perini had resolved to top all other bids. The record books say he paid $65,000 for Johnny.
The price tag caused raised eyebrows, but the stipulation Papa Antonelli insisted upon having inserted in Johnny's contract was unique: he was not to be farmed out. For a high school boy contemplating a major league baseball career, this should have been the kiss of death. Minor league training is to a ball player what medical college is to a physician.
VINEGAR IN THE SHORTCAKE
When the Rochester stripling joined the Braves, he found himself treated like a plague-carrier. That bonus publicity was vinegar in the veterans' strawberry shortcake. His new teammates saw in Johnny's windfall the equivalent of 15 World Series shares they hoped to get (and did) the following October, and were dissatisfied. Manager Billy Southworth was none too pleased either. Furthermore, in the middle of a red-hot pennant drive young Antonelli couldn't be entrusted with ball games. Johnny sat out a painful summer on the bench and pitched only four innings.
His experience with the Braves during the next two seasons wasn't much more encouraging. If Johnny weren't a young man of unusual intelligence, courage and common sense, he might have decided to take up railroad work or something else less complicated than baseball. Manager Southworth used him now and then, but between the nows and thens were ordeals of idleness?six weeks on one occasion. Johnny won three and lost seven in 1949 when he got into 22 games. His only consolation outside of occasional flashes of grudging praise from fellow Braves was his earned-run average of 3.56 and 48 strikeouts in 96 innings.