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Antonelli in 1955
|Born: April 12, 1930|
Rochester, New York
|July 4, 1948, for the Boston Braves|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 4, 1961, for the Milwaukee Braves|
|Earned run average||3.34|
|Career highlights and awards|
John August Antonelli (born April 12, 1930) is an American retired professional baseball player, a former left-handed starting pitcher who played for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves, New York and San Francisco Giants, and Cleveland Indians between 1948 and 1961. Noted at the outset of his pro career as the recipient of the biggest bonus in baseball history when he signed with the Braves for $52,000 in 1948, he later became a six-time National League All-Star, a two-time 20-game-winner, and the leader of the 1954 world champion Giants' pitching staff. He batted left-handed, stood 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) tall and weighed 185 pounds (84 kg).
Braves' "bonus baby"
Antonelli is a native and lifelong resident of Rochester, New York. A brilliant schoolboy career at Jefferson High School led to fierce competition among nine of the 16 Major League Baseball teams in existence in 1948, with the Braves the highest bidder. Baseball rules of the time mandated that "bonus babies" be kept on major league rosters for at least two full seasons before they could be sent to the minors. So Antonelli went from high school to the MLB Braves, a veteran team fighting for Boston's first National League pennant since 1914. He never would pitch in the minor leagues.
While the Braves went on to win the 1948 NL championship, Antonelli was used largely as a batting practice pitcher. He appeared in only four games and four innings pitched, all relief assignments in low-leverage situations. His large bonus dwarfed the salaries of veteran Braves like ace starting pitcher Johnny Sain, causing some resentment among his teammates. When the Braves voted to divide their World Series share, they ignored Antonelli completely. His second season with the Braves, 1949, brought no pennants to Boston, but it saw Antonelli gain more experience and greater success. He worked in 22 games with ten starts, notching his first three career complete games and shutout. After a mediocre 1950 season, he served in the United States Army, where he was stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, and starred on its baseball team. His two years of service over, Antonelli rejoined the Braves—now based in Milwaukee—for 1953. As a regular member of the Braves' starting rotation, he posted only a 12–12 win-loss mark but finished fifth in the National League in earned run average (3.18).
Giants' star pitcher
The following February, Antonelli was dealt to the Giants as a major piece in a six-player trade for veteran outfielder Bobby Thomson, one of the most popular Giants since his "Shot Heard 'Round the World" pennant-winning home run of 1951. The trade set up Antonelli's most successful season. In 1954, Antonelli went 21–7, led the league in ERA (2.30) and shutouts (six), was selected an All-Star, and pitched the Giants to the pennant. Against the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series, Antonelli started and won Game 2, then came into Game 4 as a reliever to shut down an Indian rally—earning a save—as the Giants pulled off a sweep.
Although the post-1954 Giants, like the 1949–50 Braves, fell back in the standings, Antonelli pitched well for five more years. He won 20 games for a sixth-place team in 1956 and another 19 for the 1959 San Francisco Giants, tied for the NL shutout lead (four) in 1959, and made four straight All-Star teams from 1956 to 1959. After his stellar 1959 campaign, he spent one more year with the Giants (1960), earning 11 saves out of the bullpen, before being traded to the Indians, his 1954 World Series foe, with Willie Kirkland for Harvey Kuenn.
Late career and retirement
But Antonelli was ineffective in Cleveland. After a no-decision in his first start of 1961, he lost his next four attempts, with his ERA ballooning to 6.04. On July 4, his contract was sold to his original organization, the Braves. He worked in nine games for Milwaukee, all in relief, and won his only decision, but his earned run average deteriorated to 7.59. On October 11, his contract was sold again, this time to the expansion New York Mets, a deal that would have returned Antonelli to the ballpark (the Polo Grounds) and the city where he had experienced his greatest MLB success. But instead of reporting to the Mets, he retired in February 1962. Antonelli said he was "tired of traveling" and wanted to be home with his family.
In 12 MLB seasons, Antonelli worked in 377 regular-season games, with 268 starts. He fashioned a 126–110 record, with 102 complete games, 25 shutouts and 21 saves. In 1,9921⁄3 innings pitched, he allowed 1,870 hits and 687 bases on balls, striking out 1,162. His career earned run average was 3.34. In two World Series games in 1954, he compiled a 1–0 record, allowing one run (on a home run to Cleveland's Al Smith leading off Game 2) on eight hits and seven bases on balls in 102⁄3 innings pitched, with 12 strikeouts, for an earned run average of 0.47. In All-Star play, he appeared in three midsummer games (in 1954, 1956 and 1959) and compiled an ERA of 4.26 in 61⁄3 innings pitched. Although he only pitched one-third of an inning, he was the winning pitcher in relief in 1959's first All-Star Game on July 7, when the Senior Circuit rallied from a 4–3 deficit in the eighth inning to prevail over the American League, 5–4, at Forbes Field.
After his baseball career, Antonelli returned to Rochester and for many years ran a chain of Firestone Tire stores bearing his name.
- Rathet, Mike (January 23, 1962). "Jackie Jensen and Johnny Antonelli announce retirement from baseball". The Florence Times. AP. p. 11. Retrieved June 29, 2011.
- Edelman, Alexander, Johnny Antonelli. Society for American Baseball Research Biography Project
- Retrosheet box score: 1959 MLB All-Star Game (1)