UPSTATE N.Y. SPORTS LORE: Salerno part of Adirondack sports lore
In the 1950s, Adirondack baseball was put on the map when 23-year-old Mineville native Johnny Podres beat the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the 1955 World Series.
Podres hurled a 2-0 shutout against the perennial World Champions and was named the World Series Most Valuable Player.
From 1953-69, Podres pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres. He compiled a career record of 148-116, struck out 1,435, was a 4X all-star, 3X world champion and led the National League with a 2.66 ERA in 1957.
During the professional scouting process for Podres, another Adirondack baseball talent was discovered by the name of Pasquale “Pat” Salerno. It came during the spring of 1950 when the Port Henry High School team traveled to rival Mineville to play their high school team. It was the very first game played under the lights at Mineville’s Linney Field and in the stands that night was Brooklyn Dodgers scout Alex Isabelle. Isabelle, a native of Amsterdam New York, was a regional scout for the Dodgers and was there to watch Mineville’s star pitcher Johnny Podres. Podres did not disappoint, as he scattered just three hits during the game and was offered a professional contract by the Dodgers. Two of the hits that Podres gave up that night were to Port Henry’s centerfielder Pat Salerno, which caught the attention of the Dodgers scout. After the game, Isabelle approached Salerno about him signing with the Dodgers as well. When he learned that Salerno was only a junior in high school, Isabelle made him a promise that he would be back the following spring to talk about a professional contract.
During the summer of 1950, Podres was signed by the Dodgers, and Salerno spent the summer playing for the Saranac Chiefs, a independent town team in Saranac Lake. He lived at a hotel in Saranac Lake and worked a part time job during off days, polishing his baseball skills for his upcoming senior year of high school.
True to his word, a few days after Salerno graduated high school in 1951, Isabelle showed up at the Salerno home in Port Henry and offered the 18 year old a Brooklyn Dodgers contract, that included a $1,000 signing bonus.
According to Salerno “that was a lot of money to me, so I signed. I gave $250 of the bonus to my Mom, and saved the remainder that was put towards a 1956 Chevy I bought a few years later when I got married.”
On the advice of Isabelle and the Dodgers, Salerno did not immediately report to the professional ranks. Like Podres had done the previous summer after signing a professional contract, he instead spent the summer playing for the Mineville Miners town team. This was a high-level town team that often played before 1,000-plus fans. In mid-July, the world-famous “House of David” travel team came to the area to play the Miners. While the visitors won the game by a score of 9-7, Salerno shined, going 4-for-5, with three doubles and scoring three runs.
To stay in shape during the winter months, Salerno played basketball with Johnny Podres on the Town of Moriah Community All-Stars. In addition to playing town teams throughout the Adirondack region, they also played exhibition teams that included the New York Renaissance (RENS). This was an all-black team of players that traveled the country beginning in the 1920s before the integration of professional basketball.
In the spring of 1952, Salerno reported to the Valdosta Dodgers (Valdosta, Ga.) of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. He made $150 per month and appeared in 99 games. In 353 at bats he had 71 hits and batted .201. That season, he went up against future New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, who played his only year of professional baseball for the Brunswick Pirates. In the final game of the Georgia-Florida League Championship, Salerno bunted the winning run to second base, putting him into scoring position. He went on to score and Valdosta won the league championship by a score of 1-0.
On December 11, 1952, Salerno’s professional baseball career was put on hold when he was drafted into the United States Army and reported to Fort Dix in New Jersey.
After basic training, 80 percent of those in his class were sent to Korea and 20 perfect went to France or Germany. Salerno was sent to Orleans France, where a warrant officer discovered that he was a talented athlete and moved him to a special service division. With that unit his job was to entertain his fellow servicemen by playing on the Army’s basketball and baseball teams. With those teams, he traveled across France and Germany. In France, his teams frequented the cities of Verdon, Nancy and Paris. They also played in the German cities of Frankfurt, Munich, Strasburg and Heidelberg. In a basketball tournament in Paris he was a “first-team all-star” and a fan favorite amongst the serviceman he performed for. While stationed in France, he received a surprise package from the Dodgers in the winter of 1953. Unbeknownst to him, the Dodgers mailed him a championship ring for winning the Georgia-Florida league championship.
According to Salerno, “I had no idea that the league winners got rings, and I was shocked when I received the small box in the mail from the Brooklyn Dodgers that contained a ring.” Salerno would serve in the Army for two years, being honorably discharged and returning to Port Henry in 1955.
Having fulfilled his military obligation, Salerno was set to return to professional baseball. The Dodgers offered him a $15 per month raise (now $165) and intended to send him to play for the Thomasville Dodgers (Thomasville, Ga.) of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. Salerno refused to return, balking at what he thought was an unfair pay raise. But after holding out for two months, he reconsidered and ended up signing for what the Dodgers offered and reported to the Thomasville team. Because of the hold-out, Salerno missed all of spring training and the beginning of the season. Even though he did not report until June, he still appeared in 94 games. He connected for 114 hits in 372 at bats, had seven home runs and batted .306 .
Because of his strong 1955 season, Salerno received a promotion in 1956 to the Cedar Rapids Raiders (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) of the Class B Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League. He also received a raise to $400 per month. After just 16 games with Cedar Rapids, he threw out his arm. He was then sent to the Reno Silver Sox (Reno, Nev.) of the Class C California League. Despite his injured arm, he turned things around, appearing in 111 games, with 120 hits, two home runs and batted .292 .
In 1957, he received a promotion back up to the Class B level and was assigned to the Big State League with the Victoria Rosebuds (Victoria, Texas). The promotion came with another pay raise, which brought his salary up to $425 per month.
During spring training he was issued his uniform for the season, which was a recycled uniform that came down from the big league team. Much to his surprise, he was given Rube Walkers 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers #10 road uniform. This was the same uniform that Walker wore while crouching behind the plate when Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” when the Giants beat the Dodgers to win the 1951 National League pennant. Walker was filling in at catching duties that game for the injured Roy Campanella.
During spring training Salerno got to play alongside with many future Brooklyn Dodgers stars which included Maury Wills, Tommy Davis, and Frank Howard. He often received invitations by Podres to go out for drinks with Sandy Koufax, Duke Snider and other Brooklyn Dodger stars.
According to Salerno, “with the exception of the celebration after winning the league championship with Valdosta in 1952, I never drank or went out to the bars, as I was dedicated to being in shape. Also, I did not have any money for such a luxury, so I always declined the offers.”
When the 1957 season opened, Salerno started out with Victoria. Early in the season, the owner of the Rosebuds put a challenge out to the team that he would pay a $100 bill for every home run a player hit. Salerno quickly jumped at that opportunity and hit six home runs in the month of June, and had no errors in 99 chances in the outfield. Salerno remembers the $100 bill he got after the first game as being a big deal to him, as it was nearly as much as he had made in an entire month during his rookie year in 1952. While the $100 promotion was working for Salerno, the Victoria manager put an end to the bonuses as he felt his players began focusing too much on swinging for the fences. After 50 games in the Big State League, Salerno was sent to the Shawnee Hawks (Shawnee, Okla.) of the Class D Sooner State League. In 68 games with Shawnee, he hit nine more home runs, to finish the season with a total of 15.
During spring training in 1958, Salerno was informed me that I was going to be sent to the Great Falls Electrics (Great Falls, Mont.) of the Class C Pioneer League.
Salerno recalls, “after having hit 15 home runs the season before, I felt I deserved a promotion. It was also frustrating to know that the Brooklyn outfield included stars Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Sandy Amoros ahead of me. So, after four seasons, I packed my duffel bag and walked away from professional baseball to go home to work.”
Salerno went to work for the Port Henry Grand Union grocery store as their produce manager, and continued to play baseball for the Port Henry town team from 1958 through 1961. While initially picked up as their center fielder, Salerno was once put into a game when the starting pitcher got into trouble. While it was initially planned for him to help get them out of the inning, he ended up striking out 13 batters. Salerno had often thrown batting practice minor leagues, so he could pitch well and was then used as a reliever from that point on. They played town teams from Crown Point, Chilson, Mineville, Moriah, Port Henry, Elizabeth Town, Willsboro and Ticonderoga. Games were played once a week on Sundays from April to September, and in the four seasons he spent with Port Henry, they never lost a game.
He married his high school sweetheart Jane (Egan) in 1956, and raised a family that includes four boys; Tony, Pat Jr., Tim and Randy. As his boys grew up, he taught them how to be great athletes and also instilled in them his knowledge and love of whitetail deer hunting. Salerno has been hunting the Adirondacks since 1946, when his brother, Paul, returned home from WWII and started taking him. He shot his first deer at the age of 16 and has shot a total of 30 bucks since, with five of them dressing out at over 200 pounds. The biggest was a 10-pointer that dressed out at 232 pounds.
As each of his boys turned 10 years old, he began taking them hunting. He gave them sticks and placed them a quarter-mile away, and then had them walk towards him, banging the sticks and barking, in hopes driving deer towards him. Today, the Salerno brothers are known throughout the hunting community as ‘New York State’s First Family of Deer Hunting’ (www.salernobrothers.com). The group has been featured in dozens of outdoor and hunting publications as well as on ‘Live the Wildlife TV’ (www.livethewildlifetv.com) on the Wild Television Network.
Upon retiring from Grand Union in 1990, Salerno has worked at the Basin Harbor Golf Course in Vergennes, Vt., each summer since. He has also continued to play in the Moriah Country Club golf league, since retiring from baseball in 1962.
In 2019, at the age of 86, he shot an even-par 32 on nine holes. During that round, he had three consecutive holes in which he shot under par: 6th Hole; Par 3, shot a 2/7th Hole; Par 4, shot a 2/8th Hole; Par 4, shot a 3. The 2020 season will mark his 59th year in the league
Along with Johnny Podres, Salerno was inducted into the Capital District Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 as part of the organization’s inaugural class. He was also inducted into the Glens Falls Baseball Society Hall of Fame in 2012.
Pat Salerno and the entire Salerno Hunting Family will be appearing at the Adirondack Outdoorsman Show on Feb. 8 and 9 at the Johnstown Moose Club (109 South Comrie Ave., Johnstown). They will be displaying their famous ‘Adirondack Whitetail Deer Exhibit’ which features many of the 200-pound bucks that they have taken in the Adirondacks. They will also have copies of their DVD “How to hunt Trophy Whitetail Deer of the Adirondacks” available for sale and will be discussing Adirondack Whitetail Deer hunting strategies and giving pointers and tips to help you become a better deer hunter. And anyone asking about Pat’s baseball career will receive a complimentary Pat Salerno baseball card.
A special ‘thank you’ to the following who helped with the research for this story; Pat Salerno Jr., Randy Salerno, Stephen George, Phil Kahn and Assemblyman Robert Smullen.
Mike Hauser is the founder of the Fulton County Baseball & Sports Hall of Fame in Gloversville. If you have story ideas, old articles/photos or would like to nominate someone for the HOF, he can be reached through the organizations website at www.fchof.com, email; email@example.com or call 518-725-5565.