The Italian American stars in US sports: Baseball 2 of 2

The Italian American stars in US sports: Baseball 2 of 2

  • WTI Magazine #90 Apr 14, 2017
  • 93

After World War II, American sports becomes a very important content for the television business, and everybody starts looking to buy sports television rights and also the market of image rights. Let's think about the commercial success of the trading cards: they were already widespread and sponsored in the early twentieth century, but after the war this will become a market with an incredible value, also thanks to the chewing gum.

In 1946, the New York Yankees are the first team to sign a television contract with a local broadcaster for $ 75,000 (in 1999, the same rights will be sold for $ 52 million per season). In 1951 the World Series became a nationally televised event and, in 1966 the MLB, following the example of the NFL, will sell its first deal with national television worth $ 300,000 for each of the teams in the league. In 2002 the same national television contract will bring something like 24 million $ to each team.

From the Fifties to the Seventies

Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra, a native of the Italian district of St. Louis, The Hill. He was one of the greatest, inducted into the Hall of Fame, with his shirt # 8 retreated at the end of his career. He played as a receiver with the Yankees for 17 years (until 1963), with 359 home runs, before starting a second life as a coach and manager (1963-1989) of the New York Yankees and Mets and then with the Houston Astros. In his career, he also has 5 selections for the All-Stars Games and 3 elections as MVP of the American League.

Yogi Berra was the son of Peter, who left Malvoglio (Milan) in 1909 and landed at Ellis Island, and Pauline, who also arrived from Italy two years later.

Roy "Campy" Campanella was the son of John Campanella, born to Sicilian immigrants, and Ira, an African American woman. Roy was born in Nicetown, in the Philadelphia area. Before joining the Major League with the Brooklyn Dodgers, he played as a receiver a few seasons in the Negro Baseball League and then in the Mexican League. He will arrive in the MLB only in 1948, when the embargo towards black players will be lifted thanks to the famous signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947. So, Roy's career in the MLB will last just 10 years and ended prematurely in 1957, when he will remain paralyzed after a car accident. He had 8 All-Star Games participation (1949-1956), three-time MVP of the American League (1951, 1953 and 1955), and then he was elected into the Hall of Fame. Roy will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, traveling to California and becoming an observer for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Speaking of the Dodgers, let's talk about Thomas Charles "Tommy" Lasorda, born in Norristown (Pennsylvania), son of Sabatino and Carmela Lasorda, who left for America from Tollo (Chieti). His experience as a pro player in the MLB was short and not particularly significant (1954-1955 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and 1956 for the Kansas City Athletics), but he had a long and rewarding career as a manager, starting ed as a coach in the minor leagues. In 1973 he became coach of the third-base of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and under the guidance of the famous Walter Alston in 1976 Tommy will become team manager (he will hold that job for 20 years) and win two World Series (1981 and 1988), 4 American League Pennants and 10 divisional titles. In 2000 he will also win a gold medal leading the USA team at the Sydney Olympics in Australia.

Americo Peter "Rico" Petrocelli, shortstop and then third baseman with the Boston Red Sox (1963, 1965-1975) with two All-Star Games (1967, 1969) and 773 RBIs in his career. He went down in the history of baseball for his  "Fenway Stroke", his mad rush to recover the ball toward the left fence of the home stadium, Fenway Park. A native of Brooklyn, he was the youngest of seven children of Attilio and Louise. The father ran a shop selling tools in the Garment District and brought Rico to watch the games of the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. Very good baseball lessons.

Victor Angelo "Vic" Raschi, a pitcher native of Massachusetts, one of the best of the New York Yankees at the turn of the decade between late 40's and early 50's (one of the famous "Big Three" along with Eddie Lopat and Allie Reynolds). He will end his career in Kansas City, after spending two years with the Cardinals in St. Louis (1954-1955), with a record of 944 strikeouts.

Salvatore "Sal" Anthony Maglie, a pitcher from Niagara Falls, began with a disqualification for playing irregularly in the Mexican League. Sal will come back home in the midst of his physical and mental maturity and, at age 33, will sign for the New York Giants (1950-1955), collecting the title of best pitcher in the National League in 1951, two All-Star Games in '51 and '52 and competing in three World Series. The "Barber" played with a brilliant continuity, he was a solid and reliable athlete with a vast repertoire of shots, managing to maintain long good concentration and knew how to command respect. He was one of the dominant pitchers of the' 50s and his fastball often "shaved" the greatest hitters of the time: a nickname, a guarantee.

Carl Anthony Furillo, outfielder native of Pennsylvania, has spent his entire pro career with the Dodgers of Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles (1946-1960), with a title of best hitter in the National League in '53 and two victories in the World Series (1955, 1959). His biggest regret was to be forced to quit school in eighth grade to go to work.

James Louis "Jim" Fregosi, shortstop from California, was one of the most prominent Italian Americans playing pro baseball in the '60s and' 70s, with a long career, first as a player (1961 to 1971 California Angels, New York Mets from 1972 to 1973, Texas Rangers from 1973 to 1977) and then as manager (from 1978 to 2000 for California Angels, Chicago White Sox, Philaldelphia Phyllies and Toronto Blue Jays). 

Joseph Paul "Joe" Torre, Brooklyn receiver, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, won a Gold Glove as best receiver and MVP of the American League in 1971. From 1960 to 1977 he played uninterruptedly in MLB with the Braves, Cardinals and Mets. As soon as he retired he started his manager career, which lasted until 2010.

A mention also for Gene Tenace, born Fiore Gino Tennaci in Pennylvania, one of the best receivers of the '70s, playing with the Oakland Athletics, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals; and Salvatore "Sal" Bando, third baseman from Cleveland, Kansas City/Oakland Athltetics (1966-1976), Milwaukee Brewers (1977-1981) with three World Series (1972-74).

The Modern Era

Davis Allan "Dave" Righetti, left-handed pitcher, rookie of the year in the American League in 1981, 11 seasons with the Yankees (1979-1990), 3 with the San Francisco Giants (1991-1993) and other 2 between Toronto and Chicago. Since 2000 Righetti started a new successful career in the role of coach, which still continues (3 World Series in the new millennium).

Michael Joseph "Mike" Piazza, Norristown receiver, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016, played in the MLB from 1992 to 2007 with the Dodgers, Marlins, Mets, Padres and Athletics and is considered the best receiver hitter of all time. He has been naturalized Italian in 2006, the same year he played the World Baseball Classic for the Italian team. He is currently the president of Reggiana Soccer and working with the coaching staff of the Italian Baseball national team. 

Michael Lorri "Mike" Scioscia, receiver native of Pennsylvania, played from 1980 to 1992 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. After a two years experience as a coach of the same Dodgers, from 2000 till today he has been the manager of Anheim Angels, with a positive record. 

Carl Pavano, a pitcher native of Connecticut, played in major league from 1998 to 2012 with Expos, Marlins, Yankees, Indians and Twins, winning the World Series in 2003.

In this last section we decided to name only the Italian-American players who today are retired; of those still in the roster of MLB teams (some of them play  with the Italian Baseball national team to the Baseball Classic in 2017) we will discuss in a future article.