Pat Salerno, right, of Port Henry was part of the inaugural class of the newly-formed Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame. Congratulating him is his son, Tim. Salerno was inducted along with Witherbee native Johnny Podres.
Pat Salerno remembers the first night baseball game ever played at Linney Field in Mineville.
“It was Port Henry at Mineville (high schools); it was a big deal,” Salerno, now age 79, recalled. ”Johnny (Podres) pitched a three-hitter. I had two hits and Chuck DeVito had the other. Mineville came out on top. That was a great game; there were some great players back in those days. We had some real battles.”
Moriah fans witnessed some of the best baseball in the country in the late 1940s. Podres, the Mineville ace, went on to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers — winning the 1955 World Series Most Valuable Player award. Port Henry stalwarts Salerno and DeVito both played professional, minor league ball — Salerno, an outfielder, in the Dodgers system and DeVito, a catcher, with the Yankees.
That bygone era was immoralized Nov. 6 when Salerno and Podres were part of the inaugural class of the newly-formed Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame. They were among 32 players enshrined at the hall of fame at Joseph Bruno Stadium in Troy, home of the New York-Penn League’s Tri-City Valley Cats.
Salerno didn’t know he was to be honored at the induction ceremony. He went to see Podres inducted.
“I had no idea I was going to be inducted,” Salerno said. “It’s a great honor, especially being inducted with Johnny Podres. He was a great, great player and a very good friend. It was a real surprise.”
Alex Isabelle, a scout with the Brooklyn Dodgers, came to Mineville in 1950 to see Podres, a top pitching prospect. He saw Podres — and Salerno. Both were signed and began professional baseball careers.
“They gave me $1,000 (signing bonus),” Salerno said. “It was a lot of money for me; it was like a million dollars. I couldn’t believe someone would pay me to play baseball. Mickey Mantle only got $500 and he turned out to be pretty good.”
Salerno played the 1952 season with Valdosta in the old Georgia-Florida League. His team won the league championship in a one-game playoff. Salerno played a key role in the win, laying down a sacrifice bunt that led to the winning run.
“I still have that jersey,” he said. “I was number 7, 7 for good luck. That year I felt lucky.”
Salerno was drafted after the season and spent the next two years in the Army. He returned to baseball in 1955 and played through 1957.
That was the golden era for the Brooklyn Dodgers who won their only world championship behind Podres in 1955. The outfield included all stars Duke Snyder, Carl Furillo and Sandy Amoros. Snyder is a member of the baseball hall of fame.
“It was really hard for me to break into the Dodger line up,” Salerno said. “I got to triple A (one level below the major leagues) in St. Paul, Minn., but that was it. I hit .300 that year (1957) and didn’t get called up. In 1958 when I didn’t get called up I packed my duffel bag and came home. I wasn’t going to make it.”
He appeared in 438 professional games with 427 hits, a .262 batting average, 45 doubles, 26 triples and 24 home runs. He played with future Dodger stars Maury Wills, John Roseboro, Tommy Davis and others. He played against future major league all stars like Steve Barber of the Orioles — who served up two home runs to Salerno.
“I had a great career,” Salerno said. “I wish I could have played in the majors, but I played on some great teams, met really good people and traveled all over the country. I really enjoyed baseball. I gave it 100 percent. I’m happy with my career.”
Salerno came home to Port Henry and worked the next 32 years at the Grand Union. He’s worked the last 20 years at the Basin Harbor Club in Vermont.
“I love working,” he said. “I’ll work as long as I can put one foot in front of the other. And, I still play golf. I’ve been a member of the Moriah Country Club for 50 years.”
Podres, who died in 2008, had a spectacular career. The Witherbee native was named the 1955 World Series Most Valuable Player after winning two games, including the decisive seventh game, 2-0. He was also Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year that season.
Podres ended a legendary sports drought. The Dodgers had lost the World Series to their cross-town rival Yankees five straight times. The day after the final game the New York Post published a full-page photo of the Dodger ace with the headline: PODRES! (Need We Say More?).
As the story goes, Podres told his teammates to get him just one run and the Dodgers would win Game 7. They got him two, and the franchise celebrated its first and only championship while playing in Brooklyn.
The celebration in Brooklyn following the World Series victory was said to be greater than at the end of World War II. Moriah celebrated, too. Shortly after winning the World Series, Podres returned home for a huge parade and celebration.
Podres pitched 15 years in the major leagues with the Dodgers, Padres and Tigers, posting a 148-116 record with a 3.67 earned run average. The southpaw appeared in three All-Star Games and was 4-1 in World Series play (1953, 1955, 1959 and 1963) with a 2.11 ERA.
Podres also served as a pitching coach when he was older, helping develop Frank Viola when he was with the Minnesota Twins and Cy Young winner and three-time World Series champion Curt Schilling when he was on the Philadelphia Phillies staff.
“You had better get the bat off your shoulder against Johnny,” Salerno said. “If not, it was 1-2-3, you were gone. He just threw the ball by everyone. He was an amazing pitcher, with great control. He always threw strikes.”
The Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony, held at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Albany, featured current and past major league players.