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The menacing spectre portrayed so vividly above by Artist Robert Riger hovers over the Borough of Brooklyn like the angel of darkness. Small children are cowed into obedience by the mention of its name, strong men pale and women weep.
"The Barber?" the Brooklyn Dodger fan asks fearfully, looking over his shoulder. "Is he pitching tonight? We never beat him. Never."
This is legend, of course. Salvatore Anthony Maglie of the New York Giants (for indeed it is he) never scared a child to sleep, never made a woman weep and never beat the Dodgers every time he faced them, although his margin of superiority—23 victories over Brooklyn to only 10 defeats—is remarkable. But his undeniable effectiveness, his grim shadowy appearance, his obvious relish of the challenging job facing him each time he pitches against Brooklyn, have given him an aura of invincibility and made him a major character—hero and villain both—in the tremendously dramatic pageant of Dodger-Giant baseball.
The quality of civil war inherent in any Dodger-Giant game (Artist Riger, for instance, is a Giant fan who lives in Brooklyn, a not uncommon phenomenon) generates in the huge crowds an intense, personal interest unlike that found in any other major league ball park. Here it is not home town against visitor but neighbor against neighbor. A strikeout is more than just fine pitching; it is a chance to demolish a rival fan. An error is a chance for him to ruin his tormentor in turn.
In a Dodger-Giant game, therefore, the general reaction to a player's individual effort is vociferous, emphatic and immediate, although the spectators probably do more hooting and hollering at each other than they do at the ballplayers. The result is constant noise, a bubbling of sound, a tingle of excitement flowing from the stands onto the field. The ballplayers feel it. They can't help it. Perhaps it is simply a chemical reaction to noise. Whatever it is, the players seem to play harder, do more than they ordinarily would, make greater fielding plays, or (in their anxiety) more flagrant errors. Every pitch takes on a deeper meaning.
When Sal Maglie pitches, as he did last Friday night in the first of a three-game series between the Dodgers and the Giants in the Polo Grounds (the Dodgers took two of the three and a commanding nine-game lead over the Giants in the rapidly maturing pennant race), the drama is heightened. Maglie, as a pitcher, is easy to hate, if you are a Dodger fan. He is called the Barber because of a proclivity he has for throwing baseballs high and tight and quite close to the chins of opposition batsmen. It is an effective device: a batter shaved by a close fast ball tends to lean back just a little bit from the next pitch—which is usually on the far side of the plate—and an off-balance, teetering-on-the-heels position is not recommended for power hitting.
Nor are Maglie's methods recommended for making friends. At times he has aroused considerable animosity among Brooklyn players, most notably Carl Furillo and Jackie Robinson. They have sometimes retaliated with the time-honored custom of bunting along the first-base line, a maneuver that invites the pitcher to field the slowly rolling bunt at a point where the batter, running full tilt, can bowl him over and perhaps persuade him to refrain from throwing fast balls at the batter's beard. These little refinements and nuances add an astringent to games that the Barber pitches.
But despite the discouragement of the bunts, Maglie appears to sneer at Dodger hitters. He peers at them from under his peaked cap, a somber scowl on his face. When things work right and he catches a good hitter rocking back on his heels and swinging ineffectively, the Maglie mouth splits into the Maglie grin, which to Dodger eyes looks like an open sneer.
When he is right, Maglie seems to toy with the hitters. For instance, last Friday night the first three Dodger batters in the first inning combined a walk, a base hit and a fly ball to produce a quick run. But thereafter, though 33 men came to bat and nine reached first base, only two got as far as second. Maglie, trailing 1-0, held the Dodgers at bay and in the seventh inning, almost inevitably, Bobby Hofman's pinch home run tied the score. In the eighth, Willie May's two-run homer won the game. Maglie had won again.
Afterwards, in the Dodger clubhouse, the players sat for several minutes in perfect silence. They sat unmoving, not gloomily but almost reflectively, as if wondering, "How do you beat that guy?"