Part Four-The Second Basemen
Second base has been referred to in baseball as the “keystone sack.” It is the defensive foundation of the diamond and requiring unique skill, especially when performing a double play pivot. As a position, speed and agility have traditionally outweighed the second baseman’s batting ability, but there have been some solid hitters and colorful players of Italian extraction. One who did not make the list is Frank Crespi’s, who played during the 1930’s. His nickname, “Creepy,” is widely considered one of the more colorful and unusual names in baseball history (given to him for the way he would crouch low and creep in on ground balls).
We have received many suggestions for our Italian American All-Star team – thank you to everyone who has sent in their player selections. Your votes count, so please continue to send in your favorites (mail@ItalianTribune.com). At the end of the series we will present our selections for the All-Star team. Here are our candidates for the position of second base.
Edward James “Batty” Abbaticchio (April 15, 1877 – January 6, 1957)
Batty was the first Major League Baseball player and first professional football player of Italian ancestry. His lifetime batting average was .254. Ed played on the Pirates’ 1909 World Series team. Outside of baseball, Abbatticchio was also among the first wave of professional football players. He starred as a fullback and kicker. He is credited with developing the spiral punt, enabling the ball to travel farther.
John Joseph Amalfitano (born January 23, 1934)
A native of San Pedro, California. He played a combined ten seasons with the New York/San Francisco Giants, Houston Colt .45s, and Chicago Cubs. He managed the Cubs from 1979–1981 and was the third base coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers for sixteen years from 1983 to 1998. In 642 MLB games played, he batted .244 in 1,715 at bats with 418 hits and nine home runs.
John Beradino (May 1, 1917 – May 19, 1996)
Beradino was born Giovanni Berardino in Los Angeles. He played second baseman and shortstop for the St. Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, and Pittsburgh Pirates, winning the World Series with the Indians in 1948. He also played first and third base. After injuring his leg and being released by Pittsburgh in 1952, he retired from baseball and returned to acting, having appeared in his first film in 1948. He played Dr. Steve Hardy on the soap opera General Hospital from 1963 until 1996. He is the only person to have won a World Series (1948) and have his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1993). Beradino had a lifetime batting average of .249.
Craig Alan Biggio (born December 14, 1965)
Biggio graduated from Kings Park High School in Kings Park, New York, where he excelled as a multi-sport varsity athlete. In college, he played for Seton Hall University along with other future Major League Baseball stars Mo Vaughn and John Valentin. Craig played his entire career from 1988 through 2007 for the Houston Astros. A seven-time National League (NL) All-Star, he is regarded as the greatest all-around player in Astros history, he is the only player ever to be named an All-Star at both catcher and second base. Biggio, who batted .300 four times and scored 100 runs eight times, holds Astros franchise records for most career games, at bats, hits, runs scored, doubles, total bases (4,711) and extra base hits (1,014), and ranks second in runs batted in (1,175), walks (1,160) and stolen bases (414). He is one of only five players with 250 home runs and 400 steals. On June 28, 2007, Biggio became the 27th player in the history of Major League Baseball to join the 3,000 hit club. His lifetime batting average was .281, with 3,060 hits, 291 homers, 1,175 runs batted in and 414 stolen bases. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015 and is the first member of the Hall to be depicted in an Astros uniform on his plaque.
Ralph Joseph “Putsy” Caballero (born November 5, 1927)
Caballero played eight seasons in Major League Baseball, all for the Philadelphia Phillies during the Whiz Kids era, and at age 16, holds the record as the youngest person in major league history to appear at third base, a record he still holds.
Frank John Catalanotto (born April 27, 1974)
Nicknamed the “Little Cat,” the Long Island native batted left-handed and threw right-handed. In his career, Catalanotto has played all infield and outfield positions except shortstop and center field. He began his professional baseball career in 1992 and played for the Tigers, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets, his career ending in 2010. His lifetime batting average was an impressive .291. Catalanotto’s Italian heritage made him eligible to play for the Italian national team at the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Anthony Francis “Tony” Cuccinello (November 8, 1907 – September 21, 1995)
Tony played for five Major League Baseball (MLB) teams from 1930 through 1945. A native of Long Island City, New York, Cuccinello led the National League second basemen in assists and double plays three times and hit .300 or better five times, with a career high .315 in 1931. He was selected for MLB’s first All-Star Game in 1933. In a 15-season career, Tony was a .280 hitter with 94 home runs and 884 RBIs in 1704 games.
Anthony Michael “Tony” Lazzeri (December 6, 1903 – August 6, 1946)
Tony played for 12 of his 14 years with the New York Yankees, hitting .292 lifetime. Lazzeri was a product of the San Francisco bay area Italian community and was one of the first Italian Americans to distinguish himself in the major leagues when he arrived in New York in 1926. One of the Yankees’ “Murderers Row” lineup. A productive RBI man, Tony drove in over 100 runs for seven seasons in the majors, the first being in the Yanks legendary 1927 season. He had his best year in 1929 when he hit for a .354 average, with 18 home runs and 106 RBIs. Lazzeri played in baseball’s first All-Star game in 1933.
On May 24, 1936, Lazzeri became the first player ever to hit two grand slams in one game and set the American League record for RBIs in a game with 11, a record that still stands today. Lazzeri is one of only 14 major league baseball players to hit for the natural cycle (hitting a single, double, triple and home run in sequence) and the only player to complete a natural cycle with a grand slam.
As a personality, Tony was popular with teammates and fans, but was so quiet that it was said that interviewing him was like “trying to mine coal with a nail file and a pair of scissors.”
Tony Lazzeri was inducted into the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1978 and the national baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1991.
Oscar Donald “Ski” Melillo (August 4, 1899 – November 14, 1963)
A native of Chicago Illinois, Melillo reached the majors in 1926 with the Browns. Ski had a career batting average of.260 and was a line-drive hitter. His most productive season came in 1931, when he hit .306 with 189 hits, 34 doubles and 11 triples, a significant offensive contribution for a middle infielder of his era. A fine defensive second baseman, in 1930 Melillo handled 971 chances without committing an error (17 fewer that Nap Lajoie’s 1908 MLB record).
Stephen Louis Sax (born January 29, 1960)
Yes, Steve is Italian. He came to the L.A. Dodgers in 1981 and was one of the premiere second baseman in baseball during the decade of the eighties. He was named National League Rookie of the Year in 1982 when he hit .282 and stole 49 bases. Over a 14 year career, Steve hit a combined .282 reaching a personal high of .332 in 1986; twice getting more than 200 hits in a single season and collecting 1949 over the span of his career. A five-time All-Star, Sax has two World Series rings, both with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and 1988 Sax was five times selected for the league All-Star team. A proficient base stealer, Sax stole over 40 bases in six seasons and had a career total of 444 stolen bases.