As you may know, Italy has played the World Baseball Classic with a national team composed mainly of Italian American players. If the WBC had existed say roughly 75 years, we would have been a kind of DREAM TEAM. I looked a little bit at all those faces of Italians who are no longer there. I saw the Italy of 1948 and told about it on Che Palle! blog of my newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport. Which I thank
"Did you ever imagine, Ernie?" "No, Babe: you know optimism has never been my strong suit." On the morning of March 21, 1948, Babe Pinelli and Ernie Lombardi were having breakfast looking out over the ocean on the terrace of the Nacional in Havana. Neither had slept, too much adrenaline.
The night before, Italy had muffled the Latinoamericano, the new stadium inaugurated just over a year earlier. Fulgencio Batista had wanted the final phase of this first World Baseball Classic at all costs, certain that Cuba would win it. And he would do so in the final against the United States. So much for all those whores coming to his country on vacation. That's why the rounds had been somewhat suggested, shall we say.
The problem was that the U.S. had made it to the finals, hard, sweating: they had it pretty bad, against Poland. But they finally made it, with a Pee Wee Reese valid in the 11th. Cuba didn't. Cuba, in its stadium, in front of its people, had surrendered the night before. Against Italy. "Who the hell could have expected that?" said the Cubans fading under the stands, wistfully heading toward the Malecon. Well, they might even have had some idea: if only they had foreshadowed it, the roster of the Azzurri...
However, there were only a few hours now. Ernie and Babe, pouring themselves milk and coffee were to collect their ideas and think about the formation to be fielded in the evening. "I wonder if after the thrashing we gave them last night they will cheer for us?" asked the breezy Pinelli. Marino Pieretti, Rugger Ardizoia, Lou Lombardo, and Vic Lombardi had been heroic the night before. They had thrown them all on the mound, and they had done it. They had limited the Cuban bats. So that now all three of the best Blue pitchers were fresh, ready for the final.
At that moment Ping Bodie arrived at the table. Who unlike his dugout colleagues those few hours in bed had slept all of them like a pasha. "Last effort, guys," he said. "Tonight we're going to bludgeon our beloved United States, too, and then we're going to Italy to celebrate." Ping's name was actually Francesco Stephano Pezzolo; the times when he played were not ripe for having an Italian surname on the court, so he changed it, and while he was at it he changed his name too. He owed the rest of his fame to his roommate during his years at the Yankees: Babe Ruth. Let's be precise, he invariably ended up saying every time, "I was roommate to his suitcase. He was never there. Every night he had a different woman."
Ping sat down and attacked, "Can you imagine, what a dickhead they were, Connie Mack and everybody else. They let Ted Williams play for Mexico. He was supposed to do a tribute to his mom...." Even Ernie Lombardi smiled. "And they almost dropped the ball last night against Gene Hermanski and Stan Musial. Think how wonderful: Italy-Poland World Cup baseball final."
"Come on, come on: before the kids start arriving. Let's get an idea for tonight," Ernie cut short. "Well, sure our pitcher will be right-handed. And we go the whole game with right-handers," Ping continued laughing. "That's for sure," Babe quipped. "I'd start Sal," Ping proposed, "he's already mean when he’s normal, now that he's disqualified from MLB and has to play in the fucking Mexican league he's pissed as a dragon. The first two hitters that come in front of him, he drills them with a straight and then the game starts."
"Exactly," Lombardi sighed, thinking of Sal Maglie's terrifying reputation, "no, that's not the case. And on the pitchers I have decided. Vic Raschi starts, first reliever Ralph Branca, Sal we shut him down. You'll see that if we get ahead in the seventh, we'll never get caught again." Bodie and Pinelli nodded.
"Rather let's talk about the catcher," Lombardi continued. "Well, you've been playing it all your life," Babe interrupted him, "no one can decide better than you.
"It's not easy," said Ernie. "But who cares," laughed Ping, "we can pick at random: Roy, Yogi and Joe are the three best catchers in MLB. And we also had poor Phil, Phil Masi, who we had to leave at home. I'll tell you: I'd have Campanella play, so if in fifty years some jerk feels like singing 'There are no Italian niggers' we'll show him the picture." "We would need a rule," Pinelli jumped up, "whereby the pitcher does not go to bat and is replaced by one of the manager's choice. So one between Campanella and Berra plays and the other goes behind the plate. With Joe Garagiola ready." "Oeh, great idea," looked up at Ernie Lombardi. "But Raschi at bat is strong, better even than some of the position players." "Than the ones from France for sure," laughed Ping.
"We’ll think later about the catcher. My other doubts are about the interior. All but the shortstop, Scooter is a safety..." "At first I would put Phil Cavarretta," Pinelli threw in. "You know instead I think of Dolph, Dolph Camilli. I know, he was retired and I got him back in. In fact, because of that. And because of his brother's story."
Dolph Camilli's brother was a challenger for the heavyweight title. But America didn't like an American on his way to becoming World champion to be called by that surname from the hills near Urbino, too Italian, too burino, too little wasp. So he decided to be called Campbell.
"And he died on that ring," sighed Ping. Killed by Max Baer's fists. "In my opinion with the blue jersey and the word Italy on his chest he has something to say to the United States." Ernie had spoken almost to himself.
"Third?" "I think of Dario. Dario Lodigiani. He's not in MLB anymore, all right, he's playing in Oakland in the Pacific League. But he's a guy who gets the valid one out when he needs to."
"And why do you have doubts about the second one, too?"
"Because maybe I'd like to try the kid," amazed everyone Lombardi.
"Who? The Big Nose?" said Ping. "But that one's 20 years old and he's already had a fight with half the MLB...."
"Yes, but even he when the valid is needed... Of course Frankie Crosetti as well, he's a guarantee."
"Exactly. And then that Billy Martin is the only one of all of us who doesn't even have an Italian last name. Maybe in Italy some moron will come out and say, 'oooh but you sold out passports....' ".
"Here," sneered Ernie, "I would play him for that alone. Besides, his mother's name is Salvini. Suppose in 75 years in Italy they make a minister with that name and he's always pissed off at immigrants. Maybe he'll be reminded of the stories of our families, who left Italy with three liras and came here to be treated like beggars."
"This is also why we have to beat the United States tonight. Especially for this."
Meanwhile, the boys were beginning to arrive and take their places at the breakfast tables.
"Stop speaking English: we are Italy. We should speak Italian," provoked Lodigiani all. "He's right," said the other Dino, Restelli. "And Ernie we should call him Mister, like they do in soccer."
“Monsù," Lombardi pointed out. "In my house we say Monsù."
"Holy Cow, and what the fuck does that mean?" asked Phil Rizzuto. "Ueh, pirate, show respect to your manager," Berra shushed him with a scowl.
Joe Dimaggio looked at them, a little amused, a little pitying.
At 10 o'clock, as scheduled, in a reserved room of the hotel they held the last meeting. Lombardi, Bodie and Pinelli were to talk about the opponent. "But we know them very well," Campanella took the floor, "of the good ones they have three or four, my fellow Dodgers. The others are laughable. In my opinion they put Jackie Robinson in first, in second they already have either Bobby Doerr or Red Schoendienst. And then watch out for Pee Wee shortstop..." "That if Boudraeu hadn't chosen France he wouldn't even be playing," a voice in the back of the room interrupted him.
"Outfielders," Ernie finally imposed himself, "I expect Dale Mitchell, Tommy Henrich and either Richie Ashburn or old Hoost Evens. In third Ken Keltner."
"Damn him," thought Joe Dimaggio. Without opening his mouth.
"I'm curious to see if Connie starts Satchel Paige or Bob Feller."
"...and in my opinion Walker Cooper plays catcher. Probably." Garagiola and Berra smiled. Campanella patted both of them on the back.
The floor passed to a gentleman from Rome. He said he was a representative of CONI (The Italian Olympic Committee). He spoke of the honor of representing Italy, the country of their parents. Even though it is only over there this year, for the first time, they will have a championship. And practically no one even knows how the heck to play this baseball. "Honestly," he admitted, "I doubt that anyone even has any idea that this World Classic is being played and that we're in the finals.
General bewilderment. Out of the group of three sphinxes came a voice. Joe Dimaggio and Frankie Crosetti were silent, as always. It was Vic Raschi who had spoken, unbelievable. "I have a second cousin who is a sports journalist. From Vigolone he moved with his family to Borgotaro. He studies in Turin, I think he writes about cycling for a newspaper in Parma."
"Uagliò, what the fuck is stu Vigolone?" chuckled Carl Furillo. "Come on Parma and Turin at least you know where they are, right?", Dom Dimaggio reprimanded him.
"I know Turin." "Miracle: even The Crow Crosetti spoke, yelled Bob Ramazzotti. "Il corvo, in Italian you say il corvo," closed Lodigiani.
Even the Coni delegate laughed. "Don't worry," the third Dimaggio brother, Vince, reassured him, "if we win, I'll take care of singing 'Fratelli d'Italia.'
Then evening came, and in the belly of the Latinoamericano, Ernie Lombardi, perhaps the world's shyest man, announced the lineup.
At first Phil Cavarretta
At second Frankie Crosetti
At third Dario Lodigiani
Shortstop Phil Rizzuto
Center fielder Dom, Dom Dimaggio
Left fielder Joe, Joe Dimaggio
Right fielder Carl Furillo
Receiver Roy, Roy Campanella, sorry Yogi.
Throw Vic, Vic Raschi. And let's hope your cousin in Italy hears about this.
Guys, everybody else ready. Ralph will come in, and hopefully just at the end, it will be Sal's turn. Sal, I'll tell you right off the bat: we're here to win, we're here for Italy, not to settle personal issues.
With every change of pitcher there will be a need for the others at bat. Yogi's, Dolph's, Joe Garagiola's, Al Gionfriddo's, who I don't know how the Dodgers came up with the idea of sending you back to the Minors, show them, what a fuck-up they've made. And then we will also need Billy Martin, Frank Verdi, Dino Restelli and Vince: there will come a time in this final game when there will be three Sicilian brothers all together.
Joe smiled. Without opening his mouth.
"Come on guys, out. You know no what Abba said to Garibaldi. Either you make Italy or..."
"Uagliò, who the fuck is stu Garibaldi?" was heard in the distance.
Then the match began
And Italy, as was inevitable, with a formation like that, was World Champion.
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