The First MLB Player to Be Born In Italy: Lou Polli (1932 / 1944)
Louis Americo Polli was Born on July 9, 1901 in Baveno, Italy located 50 miles south east of Bern, Switzerland. Polli goes down in history as the first player to make it in the major leagues that was born in Italy.
The Polli family moved to America when he was just seven months old. The settled in Barre, Vermont, where Lou played three high school sports. A high school football injury put him on crutches, earning him the nickname “Crip”, short for cripple by his team mates.
In 1921 he struck out 28 batters in a ten inning game which got him a lot of attention. He got married had children, and went to work in a rock quarry to support his family, but still played semi pro ball. By 1928 he made it to AA St. Ball playing two seasons there winning 22 games (22-9) in 1929.
He went to Spring Training in 1930 with A.L. New York team, becoming a roommate of Tony Lazzeri, while playing golf with Babe Ruth. At night time he found himself playing bridge with Mr. & Mrs. Lou Gerigh.
He later joked it was between him & Lefty Gomez for the roster spot, with the team picking Gomez to pitch. Polli didn't make the team heading North, was released later that year & went back to the minor leagues.
Although he was already in his late twenties, he went on to have a great minor league career, that overall lasted 23 years. In 655 games, he was 263-226 with a 3.77 ERA, throwing three no hitters. In 1932 he got his first chance at the big leagues, pitching with the St. Louis Browns. He debuted on April 18th in Detroit, in a 14-7 loss to the Tigers.
Overall Polli, pitched in five games earning no decisions in any game. He returned to the minors & continued his long career. His last three minor league seasons took him to Jersey City, New Jersey with the New York Giants AA farm club. There he led the International League in ERA in 1944, and got a promotion to Manager Mel Ott’s 1944 fifth place, New York Giants.
After 12 long years he was back in the major leagues, returning on April 20th, in win over the Boston Braves. On May 13th, he finished up a 7-4 win over the Reds in Cincinnati, which would have gotten him a save had it been a stat at the time. To days later he saved another game in Pittsburgh & would earn one more in July.
On May 27th, he took a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals surrendering three runs. On June 20th he took another loss, this time at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, the last decision of his career. Overall he went 0-2 with a 4.54 ERA in 19 games, getting sent back down in July.
While back in AA Jersey City, he threw a no hitter in the last professional game he ever pitched in.
Retirement: He then managed the team before returning to Barre Town Vermont, where he became the constable from 1947-1970. He then went into the tax business as a tax collector until 1981.
The ageless Polli still worked at his friends gas station in Vermont, at the age of 80. He lived a long life to the age of 99, becoming the oldest living major leaguer, until his passing in 2000.