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Over 60 ... And Getting Younger: June 7, 2012

The Reading Rifle

In sacred Ebbets Field many years ago, there was a sign in right field. It was about four feet tall and it stated “Hit Sign—Win Suit.” It was an advertisement for Abe Stark’s Men’s Clothing Store. Any batted ball that hit the sign would get the hitter an expensive suit from Brooklyn’s leading clothier.

The one impediment was a tenacious guard who played right field, Carl Furillo. Carl has been called the best defensive right fielder in the history of baseball by some. He was known as the “Reading Rifle” because of his powerful throwing accuracy and because he hailed from Reading, Pennsylvania, son of an Italian immigrant family.

He came from Neopolitan parents and had a gruff upbringing. Carl was a core member of the iconic 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers. To me, that team was the most charismatic team in the history of baseball.

Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in the major leagues, was a member. His dashing play at first and then second base is well known. Also on the team were Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe and the ill-fated Ralph Branca. They captured the heart of Brooklyn and many other areas of New York.

Carl’s strong throwing arm was legendary. Occasionally he would throw the runner out on a hard-hit single to right field. He led the National League in hitting in 1953 with a .344 batting average and won the sixth World Series game with a home run. His steadiness was his major attribute.

There was a false perception that Furillo opposed Robinson joining the Dodgers in 1947. It was incorrect, but the stigma lasted a long time. Late in his career in 1960 his reputation was tarnished when he sued the Los Angeles Dodgers and major league baseball when he sought to be paid for a season in which he was injured. These two incidents stained his later years, when he was blackballed from baseball.

The old Brooklyn Dodger fans appreciated Carl Furillo for his lifetime .299 batting average and his defensive skills. He was a plain, simple guy who played great baseball.