Our latest Dodgers Rewind looks back at a power-hitting first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1950s. This is not about Gil Hodges, though Wayne Belardi did find a way to carve out playing time on the 1953 team, arguably the best Dodgers team during the Brooklyn years.
Belardi was signed out of Santa Clara, joining pitcher Mitch White in the Santa Clara-to-Dodgers pipeline, and hit 61 home runs in his first three years in the minors through his age-21 season. At 19, he was a bonus baby the Dodgers needed to carry on the major league roster for all of the 1950 season, and he barely played, going 0-for-10 in 10 games off the bench.
He tripled in 1951 for his first major league hit, and a stumble around the bases helped form his nickname. From the book ‘Baseball Nicknames’:
“I have always been clumsy, since childhood, stepping on people with my big feet. After my first home run in 1953, I stepped on Ralph Branca’s foot in the dugout and he started the nickname ‘Footsie’. When I hit my first major league triple, I tripped over second base, fell at shortstop, then lost my hat and went back to grab it, and tripped over third base. It should have been an inside the park home run.”
As a 22-year-old out of options in 1953, Belardi carved out a role for himself as a pinch-hitter and occasional starter. He did reasonably well, with 11 home runs and 34 RBI in only 180 plate appearances, so much so that he even started 36 games at first base, with the established star Hodges saw time in both left and right field at times.
A recent conversation on a recent Effectively Wild podcast episode about the “other” position got me searching through Dodgers history. When a player pinch-hits or pinch-runs and an inning runs long enough that their spot in the order comes up again, during that time at the plate they technically have no position, and show up in splits on Baseball Reference as “Other.”
Belardi walked in the fourth inning as the second batter of the inning, pinch-hitting for pitcher Jim Hughes. Later in the frame, with five runs already in, the bases were loaded when Belardi batted again. He hit a grand slam off Cardinals pitcher Chris Chambers.
Ultimately, playing time for Belardi was hard to come by behind Hodges in Brooklyn, and he was traded to the Tigers in 1954.
In the latest episode of the Three-Inning Save podcast, Jacob Burch and I recount Belardi’s time with the Dodgers, and his career.