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When Carl Furillo’s `honors’ were really for Branch Rickey

For Brooklyn Daily Eagle

I came across an article written by my dear friend the late Carl Lundquist that appeared in the May 1989 issue of  “Baseball Digest.” Here it is in part.

"It was unbelievable -- but what else could be expected in Brooklyn? It was an unusual day there only if something unusual did not occur.

"This was the one when rookie Carl Furillo's ship came in -- or did it? Ebbets Field was packed with the faithful on this Saturday afternoon of Sept. 14, 1946 when the Cardinals and the Dodgers – in a battle for first place that would not end until the season was over – were meeting for the last scheduled time.

"Furillo had fine credentials for Rookie of the Year honors, sporting a batting average not far from .300 and bringing Brooklyn a throwing arm that already earned him the nickname of `The Reading Rifle’ because he could not only throw with bullet speed, healso had the accuracy of a bomb sight. There was just one hitch – it was a year before baseball had gotten into an official selection of Rookie of the Year.

Carl Furillo, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ “Reading Rifle”

"That did not deter a loyal band of hometown friends from Reading, Penn., including a few American Legion vets who had been with him in the Battle of the Pacific, were there were real bullets on dissolute islands.
"They had come to honor him with a tiny banner that said, `Carl Furillo, Our Rookie of the Year.’ They were at home plate ready to make a presentation.

"Suddenly the gates opened in center field and in came a gigantic cabin cruiser, sufficiently seaworthy to sail all the oceans. Even in this arena of the improbable, the fans had to be authentically astounded. They thought the boat was for rookie Carl and they overwhelmed him with an ovation that threatened to crack the plaster.

"One small detail. The boat was not for Furillo but for Dodger major-domo Branch Rickey, and the rookie outfielder had even chipped in $300 as his share of an unprecedented gift from ballplayers to a boss.

"The timing was simply in the design for daffiness that was a tradition in Brooklyn. Tex Ricard, the ballpark PA announcer, had directed the attention of the fans to home plate, where Furillo and veteran Cardinal third baseman George "Whitey" Kurowski, also from Reading, were being honored jointly. Those wristwatches they were about to receive were unceremoniously ticking a few minutes ahead of schedule. The arrival of the boat was supposed to come later.

Whitey Kurowski, third baseman for the St. Louis CardinalsCarl said, "I sure didn't want things to get mixed up the way they did, but that's the way things happen in Brooklyn.

"Years later, he came eloquently to the defense of Rickey, the master builder, who had gotten an undeserved reputation for parsimony, mainly from New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Powers. Powers labeled him "El Cheapo" for his choice of cigars, but even in those days Rickey smoked only pure Havanas that went for a buck apiece.

"There wasn't anything cheap about Rickey,” claimed Carl. " I was especially glad we dug in and bought the boat for him. One thing I remember – when he gave you his word – that was it. I got a nice raise after that season, which he had promised. Of course I think I deserved it. I was making five thousand dollars at the time."

"Later that season those same center field gates opened and on came a parade of brand new Studebakers. The cars were gifts to every regular from Rickey. That '46 team finished in a tie for first place but lost the two out of three playoff in two games to St. Louis. But Rickey remained grateful and correctly predicted it was the beginning of a baseball dynasty. The Dodgers won pennants in six of the next 10 years through 1956."

And Carl Furillo was with them all the way!

Carl was 66 when he died on January 21, 1989.

October 11, 2012 - 4:30am


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