Sal Yvars was a backup catcher for eight years in the majors for the New York Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, getting his shot at World Series history in 1951 when the Giants captured the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world.”
As a player, Yvars had a volatile temper and a feisty personality that caused friction with Giants’ quick-tempered manager Leo Durocher.
“I had a fairly good year subbing for Wes Westrum. Wes was a great defensive catcher and I hit .317 in a limited amount of games, but I never got along with Leo because Leo had the most vulgar mouth and he treated guys like dirt and I didn’t like him,” Yvars recalled before his death at age 84 on December 10, 2008. “A few times during the years we were together, I got off the beam a little bit and I came back at him with a nasty remark.
“One time I threw shin guards at him and he embarrassed the hell out of me in spring training.
“I got into an argument with him a month or so before the World Series. And this was hard for me to believe after two reporters mentioned this particular story to me. It was the third game of the World Series, and normally I pinch-hit and was pretty good. I didn’t get into a game at that point when of couple of reporters questioned Leo why he didn’t use me, despite me being a contact hitter and wasn’t used in certain situations. ‘Let me just tell you one thing,’ Durocher said, ‘that kid is one kid who is not going to get into the World Series.’ The reporters relayed this story to me about how Leo was going to teach me a lesson and I was not going to get into the World Series,” Yvars said.
“It’s always an honor to get into a World Series whether you get up one time or fifty times,” he continued. “So I went up to Leo the next day and told him what I heard about him saying I wasn’t going to get into the World Series. Leo told me get the hell out of his office and go catch batting practice. I was nasty as hell and broke all my bats because I knew I wasn’t going to get in.”
With the Yankees ahead in the Series three games to two, Yvars was in the bullpen for Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on October 10, 1951.
“I was in the bullpen warming up Sal Maglie in the ninth inning when we were down, 4-1. We rallied to score two runs making it 4-3 with the tying run on second and two outs. Leo then starts signaling for a pinch-hitter and we had five guys down there who didn’t know who he was calling for because the phones weren’t working in the bullpen so that’s why guys were standing up and when they did, Leo would yell, ‘No, no, no.’ So then a batboy runs out to the bullpen telling us Leo wants Yvars to hit and up to that point, I was the only guy not used in the Series. Leo was keeping his word,” Yvars said.
“But the tying run was on second, we’re losing by a run and I trot in from the bullpen. I go by third base where Leo was coaching and he didn’t say a word, except to report to the umpire that I was batting for Hank Thompson.
“The batboy comes up to me and says, ‘Mr. Yvars you don’t have a bat.’ Believe me I broke them all, so I tell him to pick one out for me.
“In the meantime, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin and pitcher Bob Kuzava are on the mound looking in to see who is going to pinch-hit. I played against Kuzava two years in Triple A, so I was familiar with him.
“Anyway, I am at home plate getting a bat and didn’t use the weight bat to loosen up and didn’t even have batting practice before that game. I just thought I would get up there and do the best I could. And I’ll never forget the umpire. He says, ‘Sal, good luck. Let’s see you swing that bat.’ I never heard that from any umpire.
“So now I made up in my mind with the tying run on second, Kuzava, a left-handed pitcher, was going to throw that fastball fading away. I used to be a pull hitter in the minors until I broke all my fingers and I started to get smart by just trying to meet the ball.
“I guessed right, Kuzava threw the fastball that tailed away from the outside corner and I was trying to hit it right through the middle but instead hit a line-drive over the second baseman where right fielder Hank Bauer, who was playing close in, made a diving catch, rolled over and came up with the ball. That ended the World Series.
“You think of these things now and what happened and the kind of people who were there and guys coming up and saying tough luck Sal. In the clubhouse, Leo came walking by and said, ‘Tough luck kid.’ And I said a few words, thinking I was through with this club.”
Yvars remained with the Giants midway through the 1953 campaign and retired after the ’54 season. His career was full of memorable events including his lone World Series at-bat.
For stars such as Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter, Stan Musial, Pete Rose and many more who were blessed with the opportunity to appear in several World Series and have several plate appearances, it becomes intriguing to look back on how they performed in their first time in the batter’s box during a Fall Classic match.
Asked if he recalls his first World Series at-bat, Rose smiled and said, “Jim Palmer was the pitcher and I grounded out to short. I hit my first World Series home run off Palmer in Game 4 and I didn’t get my first hit until Game 3 when I singled off Dave McNally. I went 2-for-5 in that game. But yeah, I remember that first time up. It was special.”
It was a special time for every player coming to bat for the first time in a World Series game. “It was so long ago,” said Stan Musial several years ago about his first Fall Classic appearance. “I remember being very young and wanting to do well. You work hard to help get your team to the World Series, so when you get that opportunity to play in one, you remember how you got there and who helped you along the way. I recall my first time up in the ’42 Series against Red Ruffing, who was a big, strong right-hander with a heavy fastball. I remember hitting a fly ball to right fielder Roy Cullenbine in my first at-bat. I didn’t get a hit in my first World Series game, which we lost to the Yankees, 7-4. I got my first hit in Game 2, a single off Tiny Bonham.”
First plate appearances in such a meaningful game are great memories for the players involved and for fans to reminisce about the top players on the game’s biggest stage.
Here are some first plate appearance accomplishments in World Series competition for some of the more popular names in the game.