Furillo, circa 1953.
March 8, 1922|
Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania
|Died: January 21, 1989
Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania
|Batted: Right||Threw: Right|
|April 16, 1946 for the Brooklyn Dodgers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|May 7, 1960 for the Los Angeles Dodgers|
|Runs batted in||1,058|
|Career highlights and awards|
Carl Anthony Furillo (March 8, 1922 – January 21, 1989), nicknamed "The Reading Rifle" and "Skoonj," was a right fielder in Major League Baseball who played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. A member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959 inclusive, he batted over .300 five times, winning the 1953 batting title with a .344 average – then the highest by a right-handed hitting Dodger since 1900. Noted for his strong and accurate throwing arm, he recorded 10 or more assists in nine consecutive seasons, leading the league twice, and retired with the fifth-most games in right field (1408) in NL history.
Early years, minor league baseball
Furillo was born in Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania. He left school in the eighth grade, and often felt awkward among his teammates as a result; they would later recall that he rarely socialized with players who were better-educated. He signed with the Reading, Pennsylvania, team in the Interstate League, earning one of his nicknames with his powerful arm; the Dodgers were sufficiently impressed by his ability that they purchased the entire minor league franchise to acquire him. His other nickname, "Skoonj," came from the Italian word scungilli ("snail"), which was his favorite dish.
Major league career
Arriving in the major leagues in 1946, he batted .295 for the 1947 NL pennant winners, finishing the year ninth in the league with 88 runs batted in. He was one of the key members on the Dodgers' 1949 champions, hitting .322 (4th in the NL) with 18 home runs, and placing among the league's top ten players in RBI (106), slugging average (.506), hits (177), runs (95), triples (10) and total bases (278); he finished sixth in the voting for the MVP Award. In 1950 he batted .305 (7th in the league) with 18 home runs, 106 RBI, and a career-high 99 runs. He achieved a personal best with 197 hits, finishing third in the NL for the second year in a row, for the 1951 team which lost a legendary pennant playoff to the New York Giants; he also batted .295 (9th in the NL) with 91 RBI and 93 runs. In that year he set a team record with 667 at bats, exceeding Ivy Olson's 1921 total of 652; Maury Wills broke his mark with 695 in 1962.
He became skilled at negotiating balls hit off the high right-field wall at Ebbets Field, and after he led the NL in assists in both 1950 (18) and 1951 (24), opposing runners were increasingly reluctant to challenge his arm. On August 27, 1951, he threw out Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Mel Queen by two feet at first base after Queen had apparently singled into right field. Furillo batted only .247 for the 1952 pennant winners, though he was selected to his first All-Star team. Diagnosed with cataracts, he had surgery in the offseason and returned with perhaps his best season, winning the batting title and collecting 21 home runs and 92 RBI with a career-best 38 doubles (3rd in the NL). His .344 average was the highest by a right-handed Dodgers hitter since Oyster Burns hit .354 in 1894; Tommy Davis would better him with a .346 mark in 1962. He was again named an All-Star, ending the year fifth in the league in slugging (.580), and finished ninth in the MVP balloting. But his season ended on September 6 against the Giants – he was batting against Rubén Gómez in the second inning, and opposing manager Leo Durocher was yelling for Gomez to "stick it in his ear"; Furillo was hit on the wrist by a pitch, and proceeded to first base, but with a 3–2 count on the next hitter he charged into the Giants dugout and began choking Durocher. In the ensuing brawl, Monte Irvin of the Giants stepped on Furillo's hand, fracturing a knuckle on his little finger.
For the 1955 champions he was seventh in the league with a .314 average, along with 95 RBI and a career high of 26 homers. With the 1956 team which repeated as NL champions, earning the team's seventh pennant in ten years, he slipped to a .289 average but maintained solid power totals with 21 homers, 83 RBI and 30 doubles. He hit .306 in the Dodgers' last season in Brooklyn in 1957, and batted .290 in their first year in Los Angeles, finishing eighth in the league with 83 RBI. With the 1959 pennant team, his playing time was reduced to only 50 games, with just 25 of them in the outfield. But he had one last highlight in the playoff series against the Milwaukee Braves when he beat out a ground ball in the 12th inning of the second and final game, with Gil Hodges scoring from second base to win the NL flag.
Release and controversy
The Dodgers released Furillo in May 1960 while he was injured with a torn calf muscle; he sued the team, claiming they released him to avoid both the higher pension due a 15-year player and medical expenses, eventually collecting $21,000. He would later maintain that he was blackballed as a result and was unable to find a job within the sport – a charge denied by Commissioner Ford Frick.
World Series exploits
Furillo played in seven World Series with the Dodgers, six of them against the New York Yankees, winning in 1955 and in 1959 against the Chicago White Sox. He had an excellent 1947 World Series, batting .353 in a seven-game loss; he had two RBI and scored a run in a 9–8 Game 3 victory, and scored the run which gave Brooklyn the lead for good in an 8–6 win in Game 6. He preserved a 6–5 victory in Game 5 of the 1952 World Series when he made a spectacular catch over the fence of an apparent home run by Johnny Mize – who had already homered three times in the Series – with one out in the eleventh inning. In the 1953 World Series he hit .333, and drove in the tying run in the seventh inning of Game 1, though Brooklyn went on to lose; in the final Game 6, his 2-run homer with one out in the ninth tied the game 3–3, but New York scored in the bottom of the inning to win the game and the Series. In the victorious 1955 Series he started the scoring with a solo home run in his first at bat of Game 1, which New York won 6–5. In Game 7 he advanced Roy Campanella to third base on a groundout in the fourth inning, with Campanella later scoring, and was walked intentionally with one out and runners on second and third in the sixth, with another run following on a sacrifice fly by Hodges. The two runs held up for a 2–0 victory, and Brooklyn earned the first World Series title in franchise history. In the 1959 Series he was limited to four pinch-hitting appearances; his 2-run single in the seventh inning of Game 3 broke a scoreless tie, and Los Angeles held on for a 3–1 win.
In his 15-year career, Furillo batted .299 with 192 home runs, 1910 hits, 1058 RBI, 895 runs, 324 doubles, 56 triples, 48 stolen bases, a .458 slugging average and 514 walks for a .355 on-base percentage. As an outfielder, he had 3322 putouts, 151 assists, 34 double plays and 74 errors for 3547 total chances and a .979 fielding percentage. If he had one more hit in his career, he would statistically had a .300 batting average.
After retiring, Furillo left the sport for good. While writing his 1972 book The Boys of Summer about the 1952 and 1953 pennant-winning teams, author Roger Kahn located Furillo installing elevators at the World Trade Center. During the mid-1960s, he owned and operated a butcher shop in Flushing, Queens. Furillo later worked as a night watchman; he developed leukemia, and died in Stony Creek Mills, Pennsylvania at 66 years of age of an apparent heart attack. Furillo felt that baseball completely forgot about him and his accomplishments. He is interred at Forest Hills Memorial Park in Reiffton, Pennsylvania.
In a 1976 Esquire magazine article, sportswriter Harry Stein published an "All Time All-Star Argument Starter," consisting of five ethnic baseball teams. Furillo was the right fielder on Stein's Italian team.
- Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia (2000). Kingston, NY: Total/Sports Illustrated. ISBN 1-892129-34-5.
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Baseball-Reference (Minors)
- BaseballLibrary - career highlights
- Carl Furillo at Find a Grave