IT and US: The Italians in the Major League Baseball 1 of 2
- WTI Magazine #104 Jun 16, 2018
While the story of the relationship between the Italian Americans and baseball (which we have already told you in numbers 89 and 90 of We the Italians) has left significant traces, in the long and fascinating history of baseball, the national pastime, only seven players born in Italy have landed in the Major League. This is the number: even if, thanks to the federation's youth academy, at this time there are Italian boys who are playing their opportunities at the level of minor leagues or in colleges in the USA. There also is Marten Gasparini, born in the province of Udine and player of the Italian national team who, after a few seasons in the minors (Burlington Royals, Idaho Falls Chuckers and Lexington Legends), is playing in the spring training of MLB with the Kansas City Royals along with the other Italian Alex Liddi.
Louis Americo "Lou" "Cryp" Polli (July 9, 1901 Baveno, Italy - December 19, 2000 Berlin, VT), pitcher.
Born on the shores of Lake Maggiore, at an early age (he was only 7 months old) he emigrated to America with his family. His father Battista, a skilled stonemason, at the beginning of the new century found work in the granite quarries of Vermont and settled there with his loved ones, his wife and 7 children, in the town of Barre.
There, after the war of 1812, the first quarries were started and the population exceeded 2,000 inhabitants. With the arrival of the railway a real industry was developed that increased the arrival of labor from Italy, Scotland, Spain, Greece and Scandinavian countries, as well as Lebanon. In 1894 there were more than 10,000 residents. In the nineties Barre proclaimed itself the "Granite Center of the World".
The Polli family had a decent quality of life and Louis had the opportunity to study (attending the Spaulding High School in Barre) and get to the preparatory school of Goddard Seminary, an institute with excellent sports facilities. Due to an accident during a football match, Louis got himself the nickname of "Cryp", diminutive of "Cripple". After playing basketball and football, he decided that baseball would be the sport of his life and, from the 1921 season, led the Goddard team to important victories. In the summer of 1922, after graduating, he married Mary Catherine Smith, of Scottish origin: despite the qualms of their parents, who initially had declared themselves against their relationship, their marriage lasted for just under 70 years!
Just married, Louis began working in the granite quarries and, over the weekend, playing baseball in a semi-professional Montpelier team in the Green Mountain League. In 1923-24 he was considered the best pitcher in the league and was hired in the Boston Twilight League, earning $100 per match.
In 1927 Polli was noticed by the New York Yankees scouts who, after using him a couple of seasons in the minors, in the 1930s invited him to the first team's spring training camp. Closed by a battery of great champions, in 1932 he decided to leave the Yankees and sign for St. Louis Browns: on April 18 he made his MLB debut in the match against the Detroit Tigers. Louis played 4 more games during the season for a total of 7 inning and an average PGL of 5.40. He returned to playing in the MLB only in 1944, signing with the New York Giants and playing 19 games with a PGL average of 4.54.
In addition to his appearances in the Major League, Polli had a bright career in minors, where he played for 22 seasons with a balance of 263 wins and 226 defeats with 3 no-hit. This tall, gangly right-launcher, who had trained with Babe Ruth, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Lou Gehrig, will be remembered as one of the best athletes in the minor leagues from the mid 1920s to 1945. Once his career was over, he returned to Barre to work at the tax agency. He died in December 2000 at the age of 99.
Julio Giacomo Bonetti (July 14, 1914 Genoa, Italy - June 17, 1952 Belmont, CA), pitcher.
Julio's father Paolo, a shoemaker, emigrated to California in 1914 to work in the harvesting of fruit and then as a carpenter; two years later Julio, with his mother Rosa Barile and his brother Giuseppe joined him in San Mateo where, in 1918, his little sister Linda was born.
The Bonetti family moved to San Francisco in 1920 and Giulio was able to attend public schools and start playing baseball. In 1931 he was hired in the Pacific Coast League and then, from 1934 to 1936, in the Western League with Rock Island and Des Moines, with good results. In the spring of 1937 Bonetti was called by the St. Louis Browns to make his MLB debut on April 22. He played 12 games with an ERA of 5.84 and, six months later, was transferred to a minor one in Toledo. In fact the team had a losing record, and his average was better than the rest of the Browns.
In 1938 he returned to the first team to play 17 games as a relief with an ERA of 6.35 and then, in January 1939, was sold to Los Angeles in the Pacific Coast League. 8 days after, playing a great match against Oakland, Julio was purchased by the Chicago Cubs with the commitment to leave him available to the team in Los Angeles until the end of the season. In 1940 he joined the spring training camp of the Cubs and played his first official game on April 22, before being sold back to Los Angeles on April 26!
In reality Bonetti did not play a good game: but, in his opinion, he had not been evaluated fairly by the club staff, considering that during the training he had impressed the coaches and received praise from the specialized press. In PCL he played a great season in 1940, winning 14 games and launching for 64 consecutive innings; the following year he won seven games before being stopped on July 7 by the league, accused of having taken money from a bookmaker. Despite the appeals, he was no longer reinstated. Later, Bonetti began to help his father in carpentry and, in August 1942, he enrolled in the Army and was sent to Texas.
On June 17, 1952, Bonetti died at his home in Belmont, California, after a heart attack. He was forty and left his wife Betty and two children.
Rinaldo J. "Rugger" Ardizoia (Ardizzoia) (November 25, 1919 Oleggio, Italy - July 19, 2015 San Francisco, CA), pitcher.
At the age of two, Rinaldo disembarked in New York on December 6, 1921 from the ship SS Colombo, together with his mother Annunziata Mossina, to join his father Carlo, a tailor who had emigrated to California a year and a half earlier to work in a brick factory of a fellow countryman. At the age of 6 he lost her mother to pneumonia and grew up alone in the middle of the road or in the cardoon-filled terrain nearby, playing with marbles, playing football and soon learning to defend himself from the older boys and bullies: hence the nickname of Rugger.
The call of the baseball team of the neighborhood church took him off the street and let him starting studying; later he attended the High School of Commerce and turned out to be a competitive pitcher. Rugger graduated from high school in 1937 and signed a contract with the Mission Reds of the Pacific Coast League at a cost of $150 a month.
He played in the PCL and Western International League for three years with good continuity, so much so that he was hired by the New York Yankees in August 1940. After the spring training the Yankees sent him to the Newark Bears farm club and there they realized that he had citizenship problems (the USA were at war against Italy) effectively blocking his career. On January 11, 1942, he married his former schoolmate Mary Castagnola, an Italian American born in San Diego, and in 1943 he enlisted in the Air Force. Rugger remained in the Air Force until November 1945, joining the baseball team of the 7th Air Force together with Joe DiMaggio. When the Corporal Ardizoia (a "z" had been lost in the records) was discharged from service in Camp Peale, California, he finally managed to obtain the American citizenship.
In 1946 he returned to playing baseball for the Oakland Oaks in the PCL and, the following year returned to the spring camp of the Yankees. He finally had the opportunity to play with the New York team in a Major League match: it happened on April 30, 1947 against the St. Louis Browns, and Rugger played just 2 inning suffering 4 valid. It was his only MLB match, at the end of the season the Yankees won the American League pennant and he was sold to the Hollywood team.
He continued playing baseball until the age of 32 and closed his professional career with the Dallas Eagles in the Texan League. Then he worked as a warehouseman, driver and salesman. A few months before he died (he lived up to 96 years) he was celebrated by the New York Times which dedicated a page to him: he was the oldest player of the New York Yankees still alive.