First home game World Series home run hit in Mets history? As we were reminded during the otherwise forgettable Interleague interlude from Baltimore, it was by Tommie Agee against eventual Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, leading off Game Three of the ’69 Fall Classic, Shea Stadium’s first World Series contest ever. But in a way, Agee was the next link in a chain that had gone untended for 15 years. The last National Leaguer to hit a home game World Series home run while wearing an NY on his cap before Agee? Agee’s fellow Alabaman, Dusty Rhodes of the New York Giants in 1954. He was born James Lamar Rhodes, but as Arnold Hano explained in A Day in the Bleachers, he was known as Dusty “because all ball players and most little boys named Rhodes are called Dusty.” Dusty was called on to pinch-hit for Monte Irvin in the bottom of the ninth of Game One, two men on, one man out, score between the Giants and the Tribe knotted at two. A lefty swinger could angle the ball just right at the Polo Grounds, and that’s exactly what Dusty did against eventual Hall of Famer Bob Lemon, dropping one down the right field line, just inside the foul pole, just over 257 feet from home plate, giving the Giants a 5-2 victory. You want crazy angles? The Polo Grounds came by them organically. “The Polo Grounds was a lovable freak,” Leonard Shecter would later write.
Dusty was lovable, too, as evidenced by the affection his teammates poured on him as he touched home plate to end Game One and as evidenced by the nice things the men who played ball with him had to say upon learning of his passing at the age of 82 Wednesday. Monte Irvin on what was no small consideration back then: “Even though he was born in Alabama, he was like a brother to all the black players. Dusty was color blind.” Willie Mays: “I’ve never had a greater friend.” His Times obituary, from which the above AP picture is borrowed, included Dusty’s quote about himself: “I ain’t much of a fielder and I got a pretty lousy arm, but I sure love to whack at that ball.”
Keenly self-deprecating or uncannily accurate, Rhodes took another couple of whacks the very next day. First, as a pinch-hitter, he lined a two-run single into center to give the Giants a fifth-inning 2-1 lead. Remaining in left, he smacked what would prove to be the final home run in Polo Grounds history, “a long loud blast onto the right field roof,” as Noel Hynd put it in The Giants of the Polo Grounds. It came off yet another eventual Hall of Famer, Early Wynn, to start the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Two, putting the Giants up 3-1, which was how the final New York (N.L.) World Series home game to be played until 1969 ended. The Giants would go to Cleveland and sweep the Indians. Rhodes would finish the Series with a robust 4-for-6 and 7 RBI in just three games. His OPS, though nobody calculated such things then, was a staggering 2.381. His place in New York baseball history should be just about as lofty.