Feb 26, 2013

Zany Italian /American New York Giants Player Who Once Challenged MLB's Reserve Clause: Danny Gardella (1944-1945)

Daniel Lewis Gardella was born on February 26th 1920 to an Italian American family in New York City. He originally signed with the Detroit Tigers but  did not get to the major leagues. Six years later, while working in a ship yard, he signed with the New York Giants. 

He was a wild character who was known on the field to walk on his hands to the cheers of the Polo Grounds crowds. On the road, he would scare his roomates by hanging out of hotel windows by his finger tips. 

Gardella would imitate his Hall of Fame manager Mel Otts' one legged batting stance, with a comedic twist getting huge laughs from team mates. He would sing openly and burst out into song out of nowhere, with his baratone voice any chance he got. The muscular Gardella was one of the first players to work out with heavy weights. He would swing an Iron bat to loosen up as well. 

He only played for the Giants for two seasons, seeing action first in 1944, batting .250 in 47 games. In 1945 he had his best season playing in 121 games, batting .272 with 18 HRs (8th in the NL) ten doubles 71 RBIs posting a .349 on base %. He drew 46 walks & was hit by five pitches (6th in the NL). That season he had three different games where he hit two HRs, all coming at home in the Polo Grounds, for the fifth place Giants. The left handed outfielder played an average defense with limited range. 

Family: His brother Al Gardella also played for the ’45 Giants, batting .077 in 16 games. It was his only year at the major league level. 

After World War II the Giants were interested in recruiting more war veterans. They offered Gardella $4,500, but he jumped to the banned Mexican league where he was paid $10,000. Commissioner Happy Chandler, imposed a five year to life ban on any players who went to the Mexican League for violating the reserve clause. Player affected by this were big names like: Sal Maglie, Mickey Owen, & Vern Stephens. 

Gardella couldn’t get back into the majors in 1947 and filed a law suit against MLB challenging the reserve clause. His lawyer, Frederic A. Johnson, charged that baseball was unlawfully depriving Gardella of his livelihood and that it was violating federal antitrust laws through the reserve clause, which bound a player to his team until he was traded or released.

The case was going to trial but his lawyer warned him, it would be a long costly trial. He dropped the suit and allegedly received $60,000 from MLB. In 1950 he was signed by the St Louis Cardinals and after one at bat was sent back to the minor leagues.

 Quotes: Looking back in 1990 Gardella said: "I feel I let the whole world know that the reserve clause was unfair. It had the odor of peonage, even slavery." 

Gardella was married to his wife Katherine for sixty years, they had ten children together. He passed away in Yonkers, New York in 2005 at age 85. He is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery, in Hastings on the Hudson, New York.

Feb 21, 2013

Short Time Italian / American Mets Reserve Catcher: Phil Lombardi (1989)

Phillip Arden Lombardi was born on February 20, 1963 at Abilene, Texas. The six foot two catcher was drafted right out of high school in the third round of the 1981 draft by the A.L. New York club. He hit over .290 at AAA Columbus in 1986 earning him a big league call up. 

He made his debut in the Bronx in 1986, replacing Ron Hassey behind the plate and immediately made a throwing error as Cleveland's Bret Butler was trying to steal a base. In just twenty games he hit .278 with 2 HRs & 6 RBIs. After five brief games at the big league level in 1987 he was traded across town to the New York Mets, along with Steve Frey & Darren Reed for short stop Rafael Santana.

Lombardi hit a team leading .308 at AAA Tidewater in 1988 with 9 HRs & 44 RBIs in 85 games. Although he fell off to .261 the next year he led the team hitting 14 HRs & was second to Tom O'Malley driving in 73 runs. Lombardi was called up in June 1989 when the Mets needed help behind the plate. He was one of four catchers to play on the ‘89 Mets team, along with Gary Carter, Barry Lyons, & Mackey Sasser. 

 Lombardi debuted on a road trip at Montreal that June, as a defensive replacement for Mackey Sasser in the 12 inning at Stade Olympique. In his first start the next day he caught Bobby Ojeda, & got three hits including his only Mets HR, off Mark Langston although the Mets lost the game 4-3. It would be his best day, as his average fell off to just .211 by the end of July & he was sent back down to AAA Tidewater.

 He came back for a September cup of coffee finishing the season hitting .229 with one HR one double & three RBIs in 18 games. He struggled throwing out base runners as well, nailing just one out of 18 base stealers (6%). 

Lombardi underwent three knee operations & in the end injuries would finish his career at an early age; 26. He was placed on waivers & retired after the 1988 season. In his three year career he hit .239 with three HRs, one double, 19 RBIs & a .314 on base % in 43 games.

Feb 6, 2013

Short time Bronx Born Italian / American Player: Peter Zoccolillo (2003)

Peter Jude Zoccolillo was born on February 6, 1977 in the Bronx, New York. He soon moved to Westchester County, going to White Plains high School, playing baseball there among other sports. He then attended Rutgers University where he was a four year Letterman in baseball, breaking ten different school records. The three year All American still holds the schools record for most career RBIs (tied). 

He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in 1999 in the 23rd round as an outfielder. He was soon traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in a deal involving David Weathers. From 2000 to 2003, he batted over .290 three times at the minor league levels, making a brief big league appearance in 2003. He only played in just 20 games in the outfield, for the 2003 Brewers getting 4 hits in 37 at bats (.108) with three RBIs. 

He never made the big leagues again, going to the Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals & Colorado Rockies organizations. In 2006 Zocco, played for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. He is currently a youth baseball coach in Morris County, New Jersey.