'57 Braves overcame injuries en route to title
The Milwaukee Braves suffered what could have been three crushing injuries in July 1957.
Within a span of three weeks, they lost first baseman Joe Adcock, center fielder Billy Bruton and utility infielder Felix Mantilla. A lesser team might have folded, but other Braves picked it up and a couple little-known reserves stepped up big.
Henry Aaron moved from right field to center, and for a while catcher Del Crandall played some in right. The Braves also brought up minor leaguers Wes Covington and Bobby Malkmus, who helped out. Frank Torre, the brother of former Braves player and current Yankees manager Joe Torre, filled in for Adcock at first.
As has been documented in this Milwaukee baseball anniversaries series, Aaron went on to a MVP season. Torre and Covington became productive left-handed hitters. Both had four hits in a big win over the Cubs in September. Torre scored six runs, which tied a big-league record at the time. Covington had six RBI in the game.
Vernal "Nippy" Jones was one of those "lesser-knowns" who came through in the clutch. Jones had been the St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman in 1948-'49, but suffered a herniated disk that left him paralyzed from the waist down for awhile.
Jones went through rehab and regained use of his legs to the point where he showed up for spring training a year or so later. He was assigned to Sacramento and played mostly in the minors for the better part of five seasons.
The Braves purchased Jones' contract from Sacramento on July 6 to back up Torre. On July 26, he hit a game-winning homer run in a 6-3 victory over the Giants.
"It's been a long time between homers up here," Jones said after the game. "I haven't hit one since 1952 when I was with the Phillies."
Later in the World Series, Jones would make even a bigger contribution without swinging the bat. When an inside pitch grazed his foot, Jones convinced umpire Augie Donatelli to check the ball for shoe polish.
Jones' well-polished shoes paid off, as Donatelli did indeed detect a smudge and sent Jones to first base. The Braves later scored.
Another virtual unknown, Bob "Hurricane" Hazle, played a big role after Bruton went down for the season with a knee injury suffered in a collision with Mantilla on July 11.
Hazle hit .403 during the last two months of the season and played key roles in several Braves wins. He had been stuck in the minors after suffered a chipped ankle bone and a wrenched knee.
He was a throw-in on April 9, 1956, when the Braves traded George Crowe to the Reds for pitcher Corky Valentine. But, when Bruton went down, the Braves needed outfield depth and called Hazle up. He lived up to his nickname.
By the time the Braves played in the World Series against the Yankees, Adcock and Mantilla had returned. Jones and Hazle had seen their roles reduced.
But, their performances, coupled with stepped up performances by Frank Torre, Covington and the Braves' stars like Aaron and Mathews, got Milwaukee through a very tough time after the injuries in July.
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