The Brooklyn Historical Society: A Panel Discussion on Carl Furillo
With author Ted Reed who wrote ~ CARL FURILLO BROOKLYN DODGERS ALL STAR
On Saturday, March 26, 2011 - I attended a panel discussion held at the Brooklyn Historical Society regarding the career and post-Baseball life of former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger great, Carl Furillo. He was a Baseball Great who got a bad rap for several reasons. Based on decades of work put into his book, visiting author Ted Reed came to Brooklyn to discuss what he believes has been an injustice in perception against Carl Furillo. Also on hand to lend her insights and anecdotes was Judith Testa who authored the book; Sal Maglie - Baseball's Demon Barber.
A mad scramble for more chairs was an early indication a lot more old Brooklyn Dodger fans showed up for this event than had been anticipated. But there was plenty of room for everybody and seats for all. An educated guess based on the number of rows and length of rows, I'd say there was a little over one hundred, mostly former Brooklyn Dodger fans, with a sprinkle of folks too young to have lived through those days like myself.
There were eight members of The Happy Felton Knot-Hole Gang Alumni in attendance and many Dodger fans that were thrilled to share stories of the old days with me. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. We talked Baseball and Brooklyn...and yes, even trolleys. The gentleman seated to my left was also named Mike. His first game at Ebbets Field was in 1953. Another gentleman's first game was in 1949. The mention of Walter O'Malley's name still makes the veins in their necks pump vigorously with contempt for the man who took that team away from them and from the Borough of Brooklyn. Robert Moses doesn't escape their wrath either. But there is always the point of contention that O'Malley could have just paid market value for the properties he wanted in order to build a new home for the Dodgers. Robert Moses continually refused to condemn the land for O'Malley which would have let him buy the parcels more cheaply. So, as far as these gentlemen were concerned, the decision to move the Dodgers out of Brooklyn was ultimately O'Malley's. And righfully so, he will always be blamed for all eternity around these parts for taking our Bums away from us. That argument will be debated till the end of time.
Carl Furillo Jr. worked extensively with Ted Reed on the book over many years. They are great friends. He was supposed to have been in attendance for this discussion panel. But sometimes life isn't that accommodating. He lives a regular life like you and I, and presently resides in Pennsylvania like his Father did before him. He just started a new job and was unfortunately for us, obligated to work the weekend and could not attend.
Ted Reed was handed a microphone and the discussion was under way. I took notes as best I could. So, the following is just a loosely paraphrased review of the topics discussed regarding Carl Furillo.
They called him "Skoonj"
Why write the book? Carl Furillo's career ended 51 years ago. Ted Reed said it took 40 years to write this book. As it turns out, Carl Furillo was the only member of the famous, more prominent Dodger "legends" of this era not to have a book written about him.
Many of his peers and those in the Media (then and now) would not argue that Carl Furillo was maybe the greatest right-fielder of his day, and one of the greatest of All-Time. He had a superb arm; a cannon in fact. Carl Erskine marveled many times how Furillo threw out potential base hits to right at first-base. He played in seven World Series. Carl Furillo was a lifetime .299 hitter in 15 season and won the batting title in 1953 with a .344 average.
In 1960, the Dodgers released Carl when he was 38 years old. They did it by wire. But this was a second and separate matter that served to give Carl Furillo a bad rap because of the way things were handled between him and the Dodgers over salary. There were two episodes that played out to provide Carl Furillo with a smeared historical legacy. Mr. Reed also says the media bears a large responsibility for misrepresentations and that bad reporting about Carl Furillo must be dealt with. An old New York City and overly influential sports writer named Dick Young; Murray Allen; and even the author of the famous book "The Boys of Summer" Roger Kahn, Mr. Reed says, all served in their own way to further misrepresent Carl Furillo.
First, there is the matter of Jackie Robinson, and the mythical petition that supposedly circulated around the clubhouse formally protesting Jackie's signing and eminent playing for the Dodgers.
Was Carl Furillo one of those opposed to the prospect of playing with Jackie Robinson? The conventional myths and scuttlebutt; tall-tales and fables say Yes, - and that he was to be the one to work the petition around the room seeking signatures. All investigations, interviews with team-mates, team-executives, and even the Media established it was never clear a petition ever existed. The only document remotely related to this matter was drafted by Dixie Walker and submitted to the Dodgers by him, stating he no longer found it possible to continue playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, without clearly stating a reason why. That document does exist. But no petition is believed to have ever existed. And on top of that and more importantly, no one ever suggested Carl Furillo was on board with that petition. Dixie Walker never was traded by the Dodgers either.
This is where the problems and misrepresentations have their genesis. The Dodgers were conducting Spring Training in Panama in 1947. Carl Furillo was 26 years old at the time. Supposedly there was talk among the Southern ball players regarding a petition to thwart the signing of Jackie Robinson. In clubhouse conversation, Carl Furillo was asked ~ "Carl, what would you do if someone tried to take your job; your livelihood; your money?" Carl Furillo responded by saying something to the effect of, "I'd cut his fucking legs off!" Of course, he could have chosen a different tact and choice of words I guess, but at no time was that sentiment directly intended for an African-American; i.e.; Jackie Robinson. It's believed by all who say they have knowledge of the incident, Carl's comments applied to anyone who dared try to take his job, regardless of color. And as an Italian-American himself, he was familiar with insensitivity towards Italians and in general. As a matter of fact, the movie "The Jackie Robinson Story" once infuriated Carl Furillo Jr. for the way it disparaged Italians and says his Father was equally unappreciative.
So, that's the alleged quote that started Carl Furillo's misrepresentation. Later it was exasperated when Dick Young once wrote Carl Furillo was the lone Northerner to sign the petition against Jackie Robinson regardless that no one ever admitted to ever hearing Carl say he'd never play with Jackie. And Dick Young conveniently left out the fact he and Roy Campanella were very good friends. It was Young again who perpetrated the myth by saying Carl was the one asked to bring the petition around the room. The author of this book believes this was all part of the mythification of Branch Rickey, as it was he who interceded and had the petition squashed and started threatening players with releases and trades. In fact, no proof exists supporting the existence of a petition and that Carl Furillo was in accord with it.
Carl Furillo's release from the Dodgers evolved into a contentious affair. His legs were shot, but he could still hit. There was talk of trading him to the Yankees or the Red Sox. But that never happened. Instead, the Dodgers released Furillo on a Thursday by wire. But they released him while he was injured. Carl and then Dodger GM Bavasi engaged in heated arguments over salary owed because you can't release someone who's injured. There was also a snag over the next year's salary also. The short version is the Dodgers very matter of fact, told Carl Furillo to get a lawyer. It's said the Dodgers would have paid up because they never stiffed anyone before. But they wanted to settle on their terms. The two eventually did settle and Furillo got his money. But his net gain after legal fees left him with less than half of an original $64,000 dollar settlement.
Suing The Los Angeles Dodgers didn't sit well with mostly...everybody. It's just not the way people behaved and settled differences back then. Carl Furillo was now looked upon as selfish. Having this stigma held against him led to another problem he perceived to have adversely affected him.
He was out of Baseball and wanted to get back in as a coach if possible. He believes he was Black-Listed from baseball after his salary dispute with the Dodgers. He wrote a letter to every Major League Baseball team with nary a response. Between 1965 and 1967 he and Wes Westrum talked many times about him coaching. Wes Westrum was manager of the New York Mets at the time. He said he'd make a request to ownership. But Wes had to tell Furillo the Front Office said no. Even with Gil Hodges later managing the Mets, Carl Furillo still could not get back into Baseball. Gil never offered him a job. Carl was living in Flushing at the time.
Peter O'Malley always did his best to invite Carl back for Old-Timer's Games and for Fantasy Camps. But that's as close to the game Carl Furillo would ever get again.
In 1966, Carl Furillo was working at the Big Apple Supermarket. He then got a job as an iron-worker through which he gained employment with the Otis Elevator Company installing elevators during construction of the original World Trade Centers in NYC. That's where author Tim Reed and Carl Furillo met for the first time and the genesis of his book was born. The last job Carl Furillo held was as a night watchman; security guard. He passed away in 1969 at the age of 66 years old. (error - Carl Furillo passed away in 1989).
This is the Book.
Carl Furillo By Ted Reed
Judith Testa, author of: SAL MAGLIE Baseball's Demon Barber
She contributed many anecdotes complimenting the Carl Furillo discussion. Some were based on a real hatred that existed between Sal Maglie and Carl Furillo while the Barber pitched for the hated cross-town rival New York Giants. But it turns out, when Sal Maglie was traded to the Dodgers, he and Furillo became very good friends.
Another offering of hers was based on extensive interviews, anecdotes, reports of the account and everything else she could gather about a very famous locker room speech. Judith Testa red off a what she believes most closely recreates the profanity laced tirade and scolding of the Brooklyn Dodgers by their manager; a one Leo Durocher, as he admonished them regarding the eminent arrival of Jackie Robinson, and more Black ball players to follow. The speech was met with laughter and resounding applause. I admit, the messenger added to the humorous oddity of the moment.
Judith Testa. Ted Reed seated at right.
also has a limited time exhibit of Brooklyn Dodgers memorabilia:
The Home Base Collection