Daffiness Boy: Loes Had a Knack for the Unconventional
Billy Loes was not your ordinary, everyday prognosticator.
But then he wasn’t your ordinary, everyday, front-line Major League Baseball pitcher, either. He was someone who would say and do the unexpected.
He was a starter for the Dodgers during the mid 1950s, some of those last few years they played in and won pennants in Brooklyn. Despite their excellence, those Dodgers were still known as the Bums or the Daffiness Boys, monikers the team earned years before through the antics and mistakes of some Dodger players in the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s.
A native of Long Island City in New York’s borough of Queens, Billy Loes played successfully for the Dodgers with a very capable group of athletes, including Carl Erskine, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo, none of whom fit the daffiness mold. But Billy did.
Loes’ Major League career started in 1950, a season cut short by the call to Army service.
In his first full season with the Dodgers in 1952, Loes helped Brooklyn win the National League pennant as he won 13 games and lost eight on a pitching staff with Carl Erskine, Joe Black and Preacher Roe. This led to the fourth World Series between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers. The Yanks won the three previous postseason meetings.
And that is when Loes issued one of the most unusual forecasts ever uttered by an athlete.
Asked how well the Dodgers would do against the Yankees this time, Loes said the Yankees would win the 1952 World Series in six games.
Never before had anyone heard a member of one team pick the opposing team to win a World Series. It just wasn’t done. But Billy Loes did it.
Billy Loes, an excellent pitcher who was a likeable, different and a very interesting person, died last month in a Tucson, Ariz., hospice at the age of 80.
As things turned out, Loes’ prediction for the 1952 World Series was correct when it came to picking the winning team. But he was off by a game as the World Series went to seven games that year.
In fact, the Dodgers squelched Loes’ pick of the Yanks in six when they took the fifth game at Yankee Stadium in 11 innings, 6-5, with Erskine pitching all 11 innings for the victory. This gave Brooklyn a 3-2 edge in the series that went back to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn for games six and seven. The Yanks could not win the series in six.
Loes himself started the sixth game and held a 1-0 lead over the highly favored Bronx Bombers when Duke Snider hit a home run off Yanks’ starter Vic Raschi in the sixth inning. Then along came a couple of those oddities that earned the Dodgers the name of Daffiness Boys. And Loes was the culprit.
Yogi Berra opened the seventh for the Yanks by hitting a home run off Loes to tie the score. Gene Woodling singled but seemed to be headed nowhere as Loes got Irv Noren and Billy Martin out with his opposing pitcher, Vic Raschi, coming to bat and Woodling still on first.
Then inexplicably, while standing on the pitching rubber and looking in for the sign from Roy Campanella, his catcher, Billy Loes simply let the baseball slip out of his fingers and drop to the ground. This constituted a balk so that Woodling was awarded second base.
To add insult to injury, Raschi then slapped a pitch right back at Loes. The Brooklyn pitcher was unable to field the hard grounder that caromed off Loes’ right knee and went all the way into right field. Woodling easily scored from second to give the Yanks a 2-1 lead.
When asked why he could not handle the come-backer off Vic Raschi’s bat in the seventh inning, Billy Loes came up with another of his rather quirky statements when he said, “I lost it in the sun.”
Mickey Mantle hit a homer off Loes in the eighth that was the first of his Major League record 18 World Series home runs. Then Snider hit his second homer of the game in the bottom of the eighth. But the Yanks held on to win the sixth game, 3-2.
The Yankees won the seventh game, 4-2, for their fourth of what became a record five straight World Series victories.
Years later, Carl Erskine defended Loes when he stated that in the fall late afternoons bright sunlight streamed out toward the mound from behind home plate between the upper and lower decks of Ebbets Field. This could get in a pitcher’s eyes, according to Erskine.
Billy Loes started two other World Series games for the Dodgers and both were against the Yankees. He won the fourth game of the 1953 series that the Yanks again won, four games to two. Then Loes started the second game of the 1955 World Series and did not last five innings as the Yanks won that game but were finally defeated in that series by the Dodgers, four games to three.
Traded to the Baltimore Orioles after just one start for the Dodgers in 1956, Billy Loes continued with the Orioles through 1959 and then with the San Francisco Giants in 1960 and 1961.
Loes always prided himself on being the only Major League Baseball player to witness four other MLB players each hit four home runs in a game. These sluggers were Gil Hodges of the Dodgers, who hit four homers against the Boston Braves, Aug. 31, 1950; Joe Adcock of the Milwaukee Braves, who hit four homers against the Dodgers, July 31, 1954; Rocky Colavito of the Cleveland Indians, who hit four homers against the Orioles, June 10, 1959; and Willie Mays of the Giants, who hit four homers against the Milwaukee Braves, April 30, 1961.
During the telecast of that sixth game of the 1952 World Series Red Barber explained that Billy Loes was the son of Greek immigrants who settled in Queens. They changed their last name when they came to America, Barber said. But Barber said that Loes would not tell him what the family Greek last name was originally because Barber “would be unable to pronounce, spell or remember the name.”
Asked after the 1952 World Series about his prediction that the Yanks would win in six games, Loes said reporters got his forecast wrong.
He insisted, “I picked the Yanks to win in seven.”
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His e-mail is email@example.com
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