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Welcome Rocco Baldelli - from a long line of Italian players

Posted by mikelink45 , 31 October 2018 · 654 views

italian dimaggio lazzeri lavagetto twins
Welcome Rocco Baldelli - from a long line of Italian players With our new manager comes a lot of new stories and expectations, but his arrival actually got me thinking about Italian heritage and the game of baseball. Like the earlier essay regarding the American Indian and another essay looking at the black pioneers who crossed that large barrier of prejudice I know that other ethnic groups also had a lot of challenges. To discover more I found a superb book – Beyond Dimaggio by Lawrence Baldassaro to guide my search.

In our age where we see so much racism raising its very ugly head again and so much angst about immigration, it might be hard to remember that these stories are not new and that the Italians were the focus of such issues and sentiments at one time.

From 1881 – 1890 307,000 Italians (approximately) came to America, in the next two decades the numbers went to 625,000 and then 2,136,000. To the many of the already existing Americans they posed a threat that was both economic and moral – threats to their jobs and their families. They had darker skin, were Catholic, spoke a different language and brought their customs and beliefs with them. They were judged guilty of being poor, uneducated, and certainly brought crime with them. The press said they were criminals and radicals and hatred exploded into incidents like New Orleans – 1891- lynching of 11 Italians after they had been acquitted. Is it any secret why Italians lived, worked, and socialized in their own neighborhoods? Or is it any secret why one of the first three Italians to become Professional baseball players would choose to go by the name – Ping Bodie – instead of Francesco Pezzolo?

It took time for the Italian to be established in MLB – the first was – Ed Abbatichhio who played with Honus Wagner, and made it through 9 seasons as an average ball player. The fact that he was first was significant. The fact that Ping Bodie would follow, then Babe Pinelli would complete the triumvirate as the only Italians in MLB until Tony Lazzeri in 1926. Pinelli was essential for taking on one of the biggest generalizations – Italians are hot heads! Actually he was, but he learned to control his emotion and went on to two decades as an umpire after leaving the bat and glove behind.


It was Tony Lazzeri who led the way in the 1920’s filling a role that the Yankees were searching for – an Italian who could bring in the fans from the large Italian boroughs. He did that and more as a member of the murderer’s row and eventually was elected a hall of fame 2B. But even his effectiveness in drawing fans did not stop the press from calling him a WOP – in the headlines. He was soon joined by Frank Crosetti – SS, who went on to hold the position until he groomed his replacement – Phil Rizzuto. In fact, he was so good at grooming he became a coach and his last stint was with the Minnesota Twins in 1970 – 71!


And all of this without talking about DiMaggio – all three brothers, Lombardi, Berra, Rizzuto, and all the other great Hall of Fame contributors to our favorite game.


The first Italian Manager would be Oscar “Spinach” Melillo in a short stint with the Browns, but that would change. Phil Cavarretta in 1951 was the first Italian to manage a full season. The Twins would have Sabath Anthony “Sam” Mele, Billy Martin, Frank Quilici, and Cookie Lavagetto who came with the Senators to the Twin Cities. Now we move into the new age of analytics, player/manager relations, and hopes and I welcome Rocco from our long list of Italian baseball legends.

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