Farewell to “MVP 55”

A quick memory of Johnny Podres, who died over the weekend at 75:

Summer of 2001, I’m driving down to Lakewood, N.J., to cover the BlueClaws in a game that night. On the Garden State Parkway, I pass a Cadillac or Lincoln or some other luxury car type that’s common with grandfathers. Think Jerry Seinfeld’s dad on the show. In this instance, the New York plates on the bumper read “MVP 55.” Clearly a personalized tag, I try to catch a glimpse of the driver, but can’t really make him out. The rest of the drive, I’m trying to remember if I have any idea who the MVPs in 1955 could have been. (Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra, by the way, and I think I got Berra, but I knew he lives in New Jersey.) Remembering that Podres continued to be a Spring Training instructor with the Phillies, I wondered if that could be him, heading down to visit their lower Class-A team.

Down at the ballpark, I’m making my pregame rounds of the clubhouse and walk into manager Greg Legg’s office.

“Dan, have you met Johnny Podres?” Legg asks me.

A gracious and funny interviewee, Podres, of course, makes it into my notebook that day and I check off another baseball legend I’ve met on my mental roster.

Here’s that notebook entry:

THRILL RIDE: Johnny Podres, the 1955 World Series MVP for the Brooklyn Dodgers, remembers riding the Cyclones’ namesake.

“When I got to Brooklyn, I went over to Coney Island and rode the Cyclone,” said Podres, who works for the Phillies as a part-time roving pitching instructor. “We were sitting right in the front. What a ride.”

While a short-season Class A team back in the borough does have historical interest, it won’t be quite the same, Podres said.

“It’s not gonna be like Brooklyn,” Podres said while discussing curveball grips with Lakewood pitching coach Rod Nichols in the clubhouse Saturday. “At least it gives them a team in Brooklyn. They’ve got their foot in the door, you wonder what can happen from there. But I doubt it.”

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