Sunday, July 6, 2014

Players I Love More Than I Should: Outfield: Carl Furillo

More than 18,000 players have appeared in Major League Baseball games since the start of the league.  Some players have short careers that last one at bat or one appearance in the field.  Others have 20+ year careers.  As I read more and more about baseball history there are certain players I find myself enjoying reading about more than others.  It is obviously illogical since many of them retired, or in some cases passed away, long before I was even born.  I have no first hand experience in watching some of them play but for whatever reason their personalities and perseverance strikes me above and beyond the other players I read about.  Over the next few weeks I will be giving you short biographical histories*of some of these players.  Some of them will be Hall of Fame players.  Some of them will be players only casual fans may know.  Regardless, I chose one player from each position for this series to explore.  This week we will explore one of the outfielders I chose for the series: Carl Furillo.

If you are just joining the blog don't miss the other players in the Players I Love More Than I Should series: Yogi BerraHank GreenbergJoe MorganCal Ripken, Frank "Home Run" Baker,  Frank Robinson and Larry Herndon.

Humble Beginnings:
The 1920's in the Reading, Pennsylvania area were not tremendous.  Although most of the country was running high on the "Roaring 20's" attitude of anything goes, the hub of the railroad was struggling.  With the creation of the automobile, the need for railroad transportation decreased.  As the automobile increased in popularity, the uses for the vehicle increased.  The railroad started to slowly suffer.  As the country went into prohibition, the city was kept from running dry by racketeer Tony Moran.  Moran kept the underground going with gambling, black market whiskey and women.  According to the Berks County Historical Society's website, Moran kept gambling dens and speakeasies at 529 Cherry Street as well as 529 Penn Street.  He must have had deep pockets because the Historical Society tells us that many speak easies were shut down but Moran never had a raid, despite being known city wide.

Five miles east of the city, in the suburb of Stony Creek Mills on March 8, 1922 Carl Furillo was born.  Baseball in the Reading area was a big deal.  The first minor league team started in Reading in 1919 as the Reading Coal Barons in the International League and finished 8th with a 51-93 record.  The team remained in the International League but continuously changed names.  They were called the Marines (1919), Aces (1921-1922), Keystones (1923-1932), Red Sox (1932-1935) and then minor league baseball disappeared from Reading for a few years.  Furillo's older brother Nick played on the Stony Creek baseball team while Carl, the adoring younger brother, was the bat boy.  By 1940 Furillo had shown that he was clearly the best player in the city and he was able to hook on with the Pocomoke City Chicks in Maryland.  Furillo hit .319 and played with future Dodgers team mate Gene Hermanski.

He also played for the Reading Chicks that year where he played all of 6 games and hit .320 (8-25 with no extra base hits).  The Dodgers bought into the rights of the Reading organization and in 1941 renamed the team the Reading Brooks.  The legend says that they only bought the team because of the air conditioned bus and Carl Furillo.  Furillo's team mate on the 1941 team would loom large in the history, although not as a player.  Al Campanis played 108 games for the team.  He would go on to spend decades in baseball front offices, including the Dodgers.   Furillo continued to impress as he hit .313 with 23 doubles, 16 triples and 10 Home Runs.  It was enough to get him promoted to the Dodgers' Montreal Royals team.  The Royals team would be filled with players moving up to the majors though only Stan Rojek and Alex Kampouris would have more than a cup of coffee.

Furillo planned to move up to the majors for the next year but instead he moved out to Europe. He was enlisted in the army, saw significant combat, was injured in combat but refused to accept the purple heart.  After three years with the military Furillo returned a much matured young man, ready to finish what he was so close to starting before he had left.

Breaking In:
Furillo went to spring training in 1946 and picked up where he left off.  Although he immediately took a dislike to his manager.  After an argument over salary and Durocher's misperception of Furillo's drinking habits the two got off on the wrong foot and never got back on track.  Furillo would play 117 games and hit only .286 for the year.  It was his defense that caught every one's attention.  Furillo played all three outfield positions and got attention for the strength of  his arm.  He fired the ball like a bullet from a rifle earning him the nickname "the Reading Rifle".  He even received a vote for MVP.  The team finished the regular season tied for first with the St. Louis Cardinals and had a two game playoff.  Furillo started the first game in Centerfield.  Furillo went 0-4 (though he did reach on an error in the second) as Joe Garagiola, Stan Musial and fellow Reading, PA native Whitey Kurowski took game 1 4-2.Game 2 went little better.  In the bottom of the 9th, trailing 8-1, the Dodgers made a late push to extend the season.  Furillo singled with a runner on 3rd and came around to score.  It was too little too late as the Dodgers lost 8-4.

The team would be drastically different the following year.  1947 would be the year of Jackie Robinson and would start with great turmoil.  A number of players signed a petition, led by Dixie Walker and Kirby Higbe, asking the team not to bring Jackie to the Brooklyn team.  Higbe swore to the day he died that Furillo was one of the signers.  Just as adamant was Furillo who swore he never signed it. "We went to Havana for spring training, and one day when I was at the ball field, and I don't remember who it was anymore, whether it was Bragan or Dixie Howell, he said to me 'Furillo, what would you do if he came after your job?' And I wasn't thinking.  I just said 'I'd cut his legs off."  And the remark got in the papers, and before you know it, I was the guy in the middle."...I had made it and it was too late.  You couldn't retract it.  But I got along good with Jackie.  And I told Jackie about it. I said 'I'm sorry but I didn't mean it the way they put it."   Even more infuriating for Carl was the way he was portrayed in the Jackie Robinson Story film released. Although his name was not used, he felt that the Italian outfielder who protested against Jackie playing with the Dodgers was representative of him. The incident led to a new attitude from Furillo.  He became a loner in the Dodgers locker room.  He rarely associated with the other players.  "I didn't associate with any of them.  I lived in Flushing, and the rest of them lived in Brooklyn.  When the game was over, they went their way, and I went mine."  The Dodgers reached the World Series and Furillo had a great series.  He hit .353 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI.  It wasn't enough.  The Dodgers fell to the Yankees 4 games to 2.

The Dodgers fell off in 1948 but Furillo continued to improve. What did not improve was his relationship with Durocher.  His playing time diminished and when Durocher moved on to the Giants no one was happier than Furillo.

The Dodgers were building something special.  They already had players like Furillo, Reese and Robinson. They added to this Campanella, Hodges, and Duke Snider to build a National League powerhouse.  Year in and year out the Dodgers were on the top of the league and year in and year out they were losing to the Yankees in the World Series.  Furillo was a big part of that success.  He worked perfectly with Snider in Centerfield to patrol the outfield.  Local merchant Abe Stark had an advertisement in right field for years.  It was a target for opposing hitters.  The ad said "Hit sign, win suit".  Eventually Abe Stark gave Furillo a suit because his defense in the outfield had prevented Stark from ever having to give a hitter a suit.  He was a quiet, often sullen personality in the club house.  He got along fine with his team mates when he was in the locker room and on the field but he rarely socialized with them after the games.  He became known as "Skoonj" around the locker room because his favorite food was Scungili.

Campanella, Robinson, Snider and Reese would all make the Hall of Fame.  Hodges would become remembered forever for battling a terrible slump in the 1952 World Series and being the manager who led the Mets to respectability.  Branca would be remembered for giving up the Home Run to Bobby Thompson.  Even Cal Abrams, Sandy Amoros, Cookie Lavagetto and Al Gionfriddo would gain more notoriety.  With all of this Furillo somehow became the forgotten Dodger.  Every year he would hit near or above .300.  He won the 1953 batting title at .344.Every year he would work like a machine to keep the legendary Brooklyn teams in the pennant race.  Every year they would lose to the Yankees.  The Yankees-Dodgers October match up became an annual tradition

1947, 1949, 1952, 1953.   Every season the Yankees would win.  Furillo performed well most post seasons.   In 1947 the Dodgers lost in six games.  Furillo hit .353, scored 2, drove in 3 and walked three times.  1949 and 1952 were down series for him.  He  hit .125 and .174.  1953 was a six game battle and Furillo did everything he could to get past the now Mantle led Yankees.  Furillo had 8 hits (including 2 doubles and a Home Run), scored four runs, drove in four and had a .333 average for the series.

It seemed it would never change.  The 1955 series started as expected.  The Yankees won the first two games of the series.  The Dodgers came back and won the next three.  Furillo's offense and defense helped the Dodgers take a lead in the series.  The Yankees tied it up with a win in Game 6 and everyone expected 1955 to end the same way the other years did.  Furillo did not have a hit in the final game but his ground ball in the 4th moved Campanella to third where he scored easily on Gil Hodges's single.  In the 6th with Reese on second and Snider on first the Yankees chose to intentionally walk Furillo to load the bases.  By Furillo getting on base and moving Reese to third, the Dodgers were able to score the second and final run of the game giving them a 2-0 win and the first World Series Championship in the team's history.

If the Yankees-Dodgers match ups were tradition, the  Giants-Dodgers matchups were vicious.  "We hated them.  We just hated the uniforms." Furillo said.  "I hated Halloween.  There was too much orange and black." Duke Snider would say.  The hatred that many of the players had for Durocher (Jackie and Furillo mainly among them) and the bitterness Durocher had towards the Dodgers led to many an ugly scene.  Not the least of witch was the ugly brawl on the Game of the Week.  Furillo approached the plate and heard Durocher's voice from the Giants bench.  "Stick it in his ear."  The next pitch hit Carl on the wrist.  As he trotted down to first he looked into the Giants dugout.  By at least one account Durocher flipped off Furillo.  Others said Durocher motioned for Furillo to come and get him.  Whatever it was Furillo tore into the enemy dugout with fists flying.  In the chaos that followed Furillo had Durocher in a headlock and was apparently ready to kill.  It was said that Leo was turning purple.  As the story goes, Furillo's hand was stepped on in the skirmish and he broke his finger.  Furillo tells it differently.  According to Carl no one stepped on his finger.  Leo personally bent it backwards until it broke.

In 1958, after decades of fighting for the same city, the Dodgers and Giants decided to move west and fight over the same coastline.  Many of the Dodgers moved with the team including Snider, Reese, Hodges and Furillo.  The first year, playing in the bizarre dimensions of the Los Angeles Coliseum, Furillo performed admirably but the adjustment was difficult.  Koufax and Drysdale were still learning and Erskine and Newcombe were struggling with health issues.  The odd shape of the outfield led to greatly diminished power numbers for everyone (Snider hit only 15) but Furillo hit 18 Home Runs and led the team with 83 RBI.  It was not a successful season for the Dodgers but Furillo's performance earned him one MVP vote.  Jim Gilliam (4 votes) was the only other Dodger to receive votes.

The Downfall
The 1959 season was the first successful season for the Dodgers in Los Angeles.  It was a disaster for Furillo.  He had seen limited action when he entered the game on June 29.  He had only 58 at bats, 19 hits, 2 doubles and no Home Runs.  On June 29th Carl entered the game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth.  The Dodgers trailed by a run and had runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Furillo hit a sacrifice fly to score the tying run, sending the game into extra innings.  In the bottom of the 11th Carl came to the plate with a runner on first.  He singled to right field and as he ran down the line he felt a pain in the back of his leg.  He had torn a calf muscle.  Furillo missed a month of the season but returned in time for the Dodgers to help the Dodgers in the final push for a pennant.  As the season ended the Dodgers tied with the Braves and had a best of three playoff to advance to the World Series.  The Dodgers won Game 1 but Furillo stayed on the bench.  With the Braves' star Lew Burdette on the mound for Game 2, runners on first and third with no out, and the Dodgers down a run, Furillo hit a sac fly to tie the game and send it into the 10th.  In the bottom of the 11th Furillo singled with a runner on first but was stranded there.  The Braves went in order in the top of the 12th riveting up the pressure exponentially.  Wally Moon and Stan Williams went down quickly in the Dodgers half of the 12th and it looked like the Braves might possibly stay alive for one more chance at bat.  If they could do so they would have Eddie Matthews and Hank Aaron coming up.  Instead, Gil Hodges walked and Joe Pignatano singled.  Furillo stepped in hoping to send the Dodgers to the World Series.  The Braves hoped the 38 year old would end the inning and extend their year.  He took the first pitch for a called strike.  He watched the second pitch for a ball.  On pitch three he fouled the ball off.  On the fourth pitch Furillo grounded the ball to shortstop and Braves fans breathed a sigh of relief, until the throw went wild and Hodges scored to send the Dodgers to the World Series.

The Dodgers faced the Go Go White Sox in the 1959 World Series.  The Sox ran away with the first game of the series with an 11-0 win.  The Dodgers tied it up in Game 2, although Carl had little to do with either game.    Game 3 went into the bottom of the 7th scoreless.  With two out and the bases loaded in the 7th Furillo pinch hit for Don Demeter.  His two run single gave the Dodgers the lead in the game and eventually the series as they won 3-1.  It was his only hit in 4 at bats in the series and it tipped the scale to the Dodgers as they won their first West Coast World Series.  It was not the best performance of the series as Chuck Essegian pinch hit two Home Runs and Larry Sherry won 2 games and saved 2 more.  It was the performance of the professional who knew his role in the team's success and did what was needed to win.

As the 1950's ended and the 1960's began the Dodgers had to find a way to transition the aging players to the younger products of the strong farm system.  Norm Larker replaced Gil Hodges at first base.  Maury Wills starred where Pee Wee Rees had formerly led.  In the outfield Ron Fairly, Willie Davis, Tommy Davis and Wally Moon started to push Furillo and Snider to the sidelines.  Although Snider still got significant playing time, the outfield was too crowded.  Furillo played in 8 games but by May 7 he was out of the rotation.  On May 17th he was released.

According to the Dodgers they offered  Furillo a chance to play in the minors or a few options to coach.  According Furillo he was never offered a job, only a minor league option.  Furillo asked to be allowed to find another team that was willing to take a chance.  This was refused.  Nearly a decade before Curt Flood, Furillo decided to fight the reserve clause.  He wrote a letter to Senator Estes Kefauver, known as a politician who fought for fair business practices and against monopolies.  Ultimately the appeal to Kefauver went nowhere.  Not until the end of the 1960's would another serious challenge be made to the reserve clause.  Furillo's claim for the rest of his life was that he had been blacklisted because of his attempt to challenge the reserve clause.

Furillo retired with 1910 hits, 324 doubles, 56 triples, 192 Home Runs, 895 Runs and 1085 RBI. His final career  average was .299.  His numbers are not amazingly eye popping.  They don't bring immediate comparisons to Ruth, Aaron, DiMaggio and Frank Robinson.  They do, however, compare nicely with some other Hall of Fame Players.  He should certainly have received more consideration for the Hall of Fame than he has.  Along with Furillo, Gil Hodges has been locked out of the Hall of Fame, though Hodges's reputation through the years has been much more protected.  Few teams have ever had the run of success that the 1940's-1950's Dodgers teams had.  The teams are heavily represented in the Hall of Fame with Snider, Campanella, Robinson and Reese.  The legend around the contributions of Branca, Erskine, Podres, Abrams, Gionfriddo and Amoros has grown over he years.  The one who has been lost in the shuffle is Carl Furillo.

*This is not intended as a full biography and due to space I have done my best to summarize the life of the players in this series.  For further information on Carl Furillo please check out

Ken Burns Baseball
Dodger Blue: The Championship Years
The Official World Series Film Collection


The Boys of Summer by Roger Khan
Jackie Robinson: A Biography by Ronald Rampersad
The Last Good Season: Brooklyn, the Dodgers and Their Final Pennant Race Together by Michael Shapiro
Summer of '49 by David Halberstam
Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock
I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson
Perfect: Don Laren's Miraculous World Series Game and the Men Who Made It Happen by Lew Paper
Forever Blue: The Story of Walter O'Malley, Baseball's Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles by Michael D'Antonio
Carl Furillo: The Forgotten Dodger by Bill Ninfo
A Tale of Three Cities: The 1962 Baseball Season in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco by Steven Travers
Duke of Flatbush by Duke Snider
Baseball in Reading by Charles J. Adams III
Brooklyn Dodgers: The Last Great Pennant Drive,1957 by John R. Nordell, Jr
Bums No More: The Championshio Season of 1955 by Stewart Wolpin
The Perfect Yankee: The Incredible Story of the Greatest Miracle in Baseball History by Don Larsen with Mark Shaw

Carl Furillo earned the nickname "Reading Rifle" based on his home town of Reading, PA and his strong, accurate throwing arm.  How many career Outfield assists did Furillo have?

Answer to Last Week's Question:
Larry Herndon played in three Post Season Series, a total of 10 games, and won two of them.  Herndon played in 2 games of the 1984 ALCS against the Royals and went 1-5 with a Home Run.  He played in all five games of the 1984 World Series against the Padres and went 5-15.  Herndon also played in three of the five games in the 1987 ALCS against the Twins and went 3-9.  This brings his total hits/at bats in the post season to 9-29 for a .333 career post season average.


  1. Good article. I read The Boys Of Summer. Reading your blog and the above mentioned book I got the impression that Carl Furillo was pretty introverted and remained that way in retirement. I think my first glove was a Carl Furillo model.

    I went to high school with Carl's nephew Frank. He was a really nice guy.


  2. It was interesting to read so many stories about Carl and how his memories were different than what was published or remembered by others. Who do you believe?

  3. Carl Furillo has been described as a hard hat type of ballplayer. Coldly efficient who warmed up and improved in August when other players began to tire and decline. I know his great-niece Janine. Nice girl. I think it would be a fair trade if the Hall Of Fame removes Walter O'Malley and adds Furillo and Hodges instead.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I hope you enjoyed the article. I have to agree with you that Hodges and likely Furillo should be in the Hall of Fame. Furillo's defense is greatly over looked by the offensive heavy statistics fans focus on today. Unfortunately, I think the fact that there are so many players from the Dodgers great teams of the 1940s-1950s already in the Hall of Fame has hurt these two.

      I do believe that O'Malley deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. MacPhail and Rickey may have built the foundation for the Dodgers to succeed in Brooklyn, but the O'Malley's certainly kept the success of the organization going well into the Los Angeles years. O'Malley had some character flaws, as do most people. Many people still believe he is to blame for the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn but I think he takes a lopsided amount of the blame.

      Please keep reading and commenting if you enjoy the article. I welcome your input.


Have questions about something in this or a former post? Have a suggestion for a future post? Want more information on a specific team, player, season or game? I welcome the feedback, so feel free to leave a comment in the box or email me at baseballeras (at) gmail (dot) com.