Italian American Baseball Stars Honored in Italy

Jun 25, 2024 512

BY: Barbara Klein

What do Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Frank Crespi and Jim Pisoni have in common? The four baseball legends have been immortalized on a mural in Cuggiono, Italy! All four were born during the period 1918 to 1929 on “The Hill”, the Italian American neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, to parents who had emigrated from western Lombardy.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of residents of Cuggiono and nearby towns, such as Inveruno, Malvaglio and Buscate, immigrated to the United States with St. Louis being one of their primary destinations.

The idea to honor the four baseball stars was initiated by Oreste Magni, president of the Ecoistituto della Valle del Ticino, a non-profit promoting cultural, social and ecological initiatives in the Ticino River Valley. Magni, who also designed the mural, explained, "Looking at the past and at one's roots helps to better understand our present. At the end of the 19th century, thousands of inhabitants around Cuggiono migrated to the Americas, with many settling in St. Louis. Integration was difficult but through sports, especially baseball, some children of our emigrants became champions.”

The mural is composed of six photographic panels—one each of the honored baseball stars in a batting stance during their playing years, bordered by two present-day photographs of The Hill, one of the “The Italian Immigrants” statue by Rudolph Torrini, which stands outside St. Ambrose Church, and the second of a typical home on The Hill. The mural stretches sixty feet in length on a wall bordering a small park between Via San Rocco and Via Manzoni.

The ceremonies for the unveiling of the mural were presided over by Mayor Giovanni Cucchetti. Several of the descendants and relatives of the honored baseball players, including Yogi Berra’s son Larry and granddaughter Lindsay, along with Frank Crespi’s brother Richard, and Richard’s children, Tom, Sue, Jane and Julie, virtually attended the ceremonies on Sunday, June 16, fittingly Father’s Day in the USA.

Lindsay Berra, executive producer of the documentary about her grandfather, “It Ain’t Over” (2022), stated “My grandfather was very proud of his Italian heritage and the athletic accomplishments of the guys with whom he grew up on The Hill. It is very important to me to keep his legacy alive, as both a great baseball player and a great human being. I love that this mural will introduce him and his accomplishments to generations of Italians and I'm so grateful to Cuggiono for including him.”

The town sports four other murals and plans to add more murals highlighting local culture and their connection to the USA, including honoring the 1950 US World Cup Soccer Team that included several St. Louis residents.

Cuggiono is located 14 miles south of Milan’s Malpensa airport. On your next trip to Italy, stop by Cuggiono to see the murals dedicated to four legends of our great American pastime!

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