Managers claim pitching is 75% of a baseball club. If this is true, a good-looking, durable, 24-year-old left-hander named John August Antonelli can lay claim to being almost 20% of the New York Giants this year. The statistics credit Antonelli with approximately one-fourth of the victories won by the Giants in their surprising run for the National League pennant. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that the midwinter trade with the Milwaukee Braves which brought him to New York was chiefly responsible for making a potential flag winner out of a fifth-place club and a star out of a $65,000 question mark.
There are other factors, of course. Willie Mays' spectacular assault on fences figures largely in the winning formula. So does Leo Durocher's smart managing, and a team in which the elements of attack and defense are nicely blended. But in so far as any one man can be singled out for major credit, Antonelli is the man.
By all rights he should not even be in New York these days; he should long since have choked to death, figuratively, on the golden spoon which baseball thrust into his mouth when he adopted it as his professional career. He was a bonus baby after his graduation from high school in Rochester, N.Y., with $65,000 from Lou Perini, president of the Braves (then of Boston), and a contract that prevented him from ever playing in the minor leagues. Bonus babies rarely last, and Antonelli seemed well along a short, if money-laden, road to oblivion. Only an unusual combination of fortuitous circumstances and a level-headed personality saved him from this fate.
ONCE IN A GENERATION
Antonelli is one of those naturals who come along about once in a generation. At the age of 24, when most pitchers are still learning their trade in the minors, Johnny, who never played a game in organized baseball outside of the majors, is a finished craftsman, blazing the way for all big-league moundsmen. At the end of August, his 20-3 record was the best of the year and his 2.29 earned-run average topped the National League.
Six-feet-one-and-one-half inches tall and weighing 185 pounds, Johnny is ideally built for a pitcher. He is highly intelligent and of calm disposition as well, with none of the instability attributed to left-handers, and that goes for his control as well as his temperament. Starting out with speed and a tireless arm, he developed a good curve in high school, and this year added a deadly change of pace to his repertoire. Frankie Frisch, the old National Leaguer now doing a television program from the Polo Grounds, calls Johnny's change-up the best in baseball.
What amazes old-timers is that he has mastered the pitch so early in his promising career.
Johnny is not as easily impressed. He is inclined to look upon his success as a natural development. "The fact that I was one more year experienced probably accounts for everything," he said recently. He also reminds late comers that he was out for five weeks last year with pneumonia. Despite this, Antonelli had a 12-12 record last season and the fifth best earned-run mark in the National League.
'I KEPT WORKING'
"This summer," he reports, "my health has been perfect. What's my best pitch? The one that's working best that particular day. My change of pace has helped me a lot though. I kept working at it all season, trying different motions on the pitch until I finally got it. Coach Frank Shellenback helped me a lot. In fact everyone has been good to me."