Jul 28, 2014

Former Italian American Player: Johnny Rizzo (1938-1942)

John Costa Rizzo was born on July 30, 1912 in Houston, Texas . The six foot right handed outfielder was originally signed by St. Louis in 1930. He seven years in the minor leagues before having a fantastic 1937.

That year he had over 200 hits, with 21 HRs & batted .358 at AA Columbus. He got traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates as a hot prospect in a multi player deal.

Rizzo made his MLB debut in 1938, and had there been a Rookie of the Year Award at the time, he would have probably won it. He came in sixth overall in the MVP voting, setting a Pirate rookie record with 23 HRs that stood until Ralph Kiner came along.

Rizzo hit .301, drove in 111 runs (3rd in the league) and would be in the NL’s Top Ten in hits (167) runs scored (97) slugging (.514) hit by pitches (5) & strikeouts (61). The outfielder also hit 31 doubles & nine triples making a big impression in the major leagues.

Unfortunately for Rizzo, he would never match those numbers again. He began 1939 by setting a Pirates record, driving in nine runs in a game. He also hit two HRs that day as well. He fell off the rest of the year batting only.261, playing in 94 games with 6 HRs & 55 RBIs.

He was becoming unpopular with both team mates & fans for his temper tantrums. In 1940 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Vince DiMaggio. Once he got to Cincinnati, he jumped into the stands to beat up a fan who was heckling him. After just 31 games, that act got him traded to the Philadelphia Phillies. Overall on the season, he improved to 24 HRs (3rd in the league) 72 RBIs & a .282 average. Most of his best hitting came while in a Phillies uniform. Rizzo dropped to .217 the next year then was sent to the Brooklyn Dodgers where he finished  out his career.

In 1941 he joined the United States Marines, serving in World War II for three years. He returned to play & manage minor league ball for a four more seasons.

He ended up hitting .322 with 127 HRs lifetime in eleven minor league seasons. He finished his five year MLB career batting .270 with 497 hits 61 HRs 90 doubles 289 RBIs & a .345 on base % playing in 577 games.

Retirement: After baseball he sold sporting equipment & used cars in the Houston area. He passed away at age 65 in 1977.

Jul 26, 2014

Short Time Mets Relief Pitcher: Jeff Kaiser (1993)

Jeffrey Patrick Kaiser was born on July 24, 1960 in Wyandotte, Michigan. The six foot three inch, lefty attended Western Michigan University getting drafted by the Oakland A’s in the tenth round of the 1983 draft.

Kaiser began his minor league career well going 8-1 at A ball, Medford in 1980. He was 12-10 at Modesto the following season and by 1985 was converted into a reliever.

He first appeared with Oakland in 1985 pitching in 15 games posting a 14.58 ERA over 16 innings. Kaiser was traded to the Cleveland Indians the next year & spent four seasons pitching there in middle relief. He signed with the Milwaukee Brewers but was released, then signed with the Detroit Tigers in 1991. He saved two games there, but an ERA of 9.00 in ten games got him released again. The Cincinnati Reds gave him a shot but placed him on waivers after three games in April 1993, even though he posted his best ERA at 2.70.

The New York Mets picked him up off waivers at the end of April 1993. He spent less than a month with the Mets pitching in six games wearing #56.

His debut came against the Giants in San Francisco, where he gave up two runs in one inning in a 10-5 loss. His best performance was two scoreless innings against the Florida Marlins in a 6-4 loss.

His last outing was on May 17th, against the Pittsburgh Pirates, relieving Jeff Innis in a 9-4 loss. It didn’t turn out to well as he allowed a walk, a passed ball; a stolen base & a two run double to Orlando Merced.

He pitched in just six games from April 29th to May 15th and the Mets lost every one of those games. He posted no record but allowed six earned runs in just 4.2 innings pitched. He was sent down to AAA Norfolk, going 1-1 the rest of the year with nine saves & a 5.57 ERA.

At the end of the season he ended his pitching career, going 0-2 with a 9.17 ERA in 52 innings of 50 games. Kaiser spent the majority of his career in the minor leagues, in twelve seasons there he was 55-39 with 36 saves & a 3.88 ERA in 310 games pitched.

He played in the major leagues for parts of seven seasons but only appeared in fifty games in that time. He spent one season in Oakland- in 15 games (1985) then pitched four years in Cleveland- 31 games total (1987-1990) & one year in Detroit- ten games (1991).

Jul 19, 2014

Former Italian / American Pitcher Mark Lemongello & How He Kidnapped His Cousin; Singer Peter Lemongello

Mark Lemongello was born on July 21, 1955 across the river from Manhattan, in Jersey City, New Jersey. He grew up down near the Jersey Shore in Hazlet, New Jersey. The six foot one right hand pitcher, was signed by the Detroit Tigers as a free agent in 1973.

His cousin is the singer Peter Lemongello, who in 1976 became the first singer to sell a million records through television marketing. His “Love 76” campaign flooded the six major television stations in the New York area with seventy to one hundred commercials a week.

The commercials then ran the same way in Los Angeles & Las Vegas as Lemongello cashed in, big time. He became a popular crooner, playing Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show three times, Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall & New York's Lincoln Center. He was spoofed on Saturday Night Live by Chevy Chase & I remember as kids we made fun of his name all the time.

Peter still sings around the country, & was recently billed in Branson, Missouri as the “the Italian Crooner”. Another famous Lemongello, that is another cousin; is Mike, a professional bowler.

As for Mark, in December 1975 he was traded along with Leon Roberts, Terry Humphrey & Gene Pentz to the Houston Astros for Jim Crawford, Milt May and Dave Roberts.

In 1976 he was brought up to the Astro staff and impressed with a 3-1 record posting a 2.79 ERA. He earned a spot in the rotation for 1977, but found himself at 1-10 by mid June. He got stronger toward the end of the season, winning eight of his last twelve decisions. He finished at 9-14 allowing 237 hits with a 3.48 ERA for the third place Astros. 

On April 15th, 1978 he had a no hitter going through seven innings in a game against the Cincinnati Reds. In the 8th, Johnny Bench led off with a long HR, but Lemongello won the game 6-1. Overall in '78 he repeated with a 9-14 record, allowing 20 HRs & 92 earned runs, while posting a 3.94 ERA in 210 innings pitched. That year the Astros fell to fifth place. Lemongello was fourth on the club both seasons in victories.

In 1979 he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for Alan Ashby & went 1-9 with a 6.29 ERA ending his MLB career. In a four year career he was 22-38 with a 4.06 ERA in 89 games pitched.

Kidnapping Drama: In 1982 Mark Lemoncello & former ball player Manuel Seoane (who pitched briefly for the Phillies & Cubs) were both arrested on kid napping charges.

The two former ball players held Mark Lemongello’s cousins, brothers Peter & Mike Lemongello up at gun point & forced them to with draw $50,000 from a bank in Pinellas County Florida. 

The two brothers were then left in a nearby wooded area. Supposedly, Peter was also on probation for insurance fraud but no formal convictions were made. The two kidnappers were ordered to spend ten years on probation.

Jul 17, 2014

Italian / American Outfielder: Chris Denorfia (2005-2014)

Christopher Anthony Denorfia was born on July 15, 1980 in Bristol, Connecticut. Bristol is now the home of ESPN studios. Denorfia was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, out of Wheaton College in Massachusetts, in the 19th round of the 2002 draft.

The six foot right handed hitting outfielder, made it to AAA by 2005, hitting .330 for Chattanooga. He would debut for the Reds that season, hitting a HR in second at bat, a pinch hit shot in an 8-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 18 games that September, he batted .263.

In 2006 he began the season at Cincinnati, was sent down again where he hit .349 in 82 games at Chattanooga. He was back up again for the latter part of the season, hitting .283 with one HR & seven RBIs. At the end of the season, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics for a player to be named later.

In 2007 he had Tommy John surgery & did not play. He didn’t see much playing time in Oakland, batting .290 in just 32 games over two seasons (2008-2009).

WBC: In the 2009 World Baseball Classic he was Team Italy’s starting centerfielder, and had a huge game against Canada. He went 4-4 with a pair of doubles & two RBIs. In the outfield he made a diving catch to rob Italian/Canadian, Joey Votto of a double. 

Italy went on to beat the heavily favored Canadian team 6-2. He represented Team, Italy again in 2013 going 8-21 scoring five runs.

In 2010 Denorfia signed with the San Diego Padres as a free agent. On August 5th at Dodger Stadium, he chopped a ball in front of the plate that was misplayed at third base. The ball rolled along the outfield tarp & Denorifia circled the bases with one of the shortest hit inside the park HRs in history.

He was consistent batting over .270 in two seasons as a fourth outfielder, seeing action in 130 games in 2012 after Carlos Quentin went down with injury. Denorfia impressed, batting .293 with 8 HRs 36 RBIs & a .345 on base %. On April 11th, his two run HR were the only runs needed in the Padres 2-1 win over the Arizona D-backs.

In 2013 he saw solid playing time replacing the injured Cameron Maybin. On May 14th he hit a game tying 9th inning HR off the Baltimore Orioles; Jim Johnson, the Padres went on to a 2-1 win.  

Denofria played a fine outfield, winning the Padres Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award, making 13 assists (5th best in the majors). He also won the teams September Heart & Hustle Award, he got into 144 games while batting .279 with 10 HRs 21 doubles 47 RBIs & a .337 on base %. 

In 2014 he returned as the Padres fourth outfielder, playing all three outfield positions, posting a perfect 1.000 fielding % through mid June. In a nine year career he is hitting .279 with 495 hits 36 HRs 87 doubles & 171 RBIs through mid June 2014. In the outfield he posted a .988 fielding % making 35 assists in 565 games.

Jul 15, 2014

Former Mets Catcher Norm Sherry (1963) & His Big League Brother Larry Sherry

Norm Sherry was born on July 16th 1931 in New York City. The Sherry family soon moved out West to Los Angeles California where Norm attended high school.

The five foot eleven right handed hitting catcher, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers just like his brother, as a free agent in 1950. He went off to serve two years in the Military during the Korean War returning to baseball in 1954.

He spent most of the decade of the fifties in the minor leagues, hitting 44 HRs with 200 RBIs batting .245. He only played in two games in the 1959 season, at the big league level. The first was in the second game of the season, where he got his first MLB hit. The next game would be the Dodgers 150th game where he appeared as a defensive replacement. He made it to the Dodgers as Johnny Roseboro’s backup catcher in 1960 & would even spend a few games catching his brother Larry while behind the plate.

Norm Sherry’s claim to fame was talking to a young wild pitcher named Sandy Koufax who couldn’t find his control. He told Koufax to take something off his fast ball & that advice helped Koufax gain his control. Koufax went on to dominate the game in the mid sixties & go on to the baseball Hall of Fame.

Arthritis ended his career early or he probably would have gone on to own many more baseball pitching records. In 1962 Sherry would see Koufax strike out 216 batters wile going 14-7 with a 2.54 ERA.

In October of 1962 Norm Sherry's contract was sold to the New York Mets. The ’63 Mets had five different guys behind the plate at one time or another playing as the team’s catcher. Choo Choo Cloeman (91 games), Jesse Gonder (31 games), Chris Cannizzaro (15 games), Sammy Taylor (17 games) & Norm Sherry.

Sherry saw action in 61 games behind the plate & threw out 51% of would be base stealers, posting a .980 fielding %. On April 20th he hit a HR off Warren Spahn in Milwaukee helping the Mets to a 3-1 win over the Braves. Two weeks later he hit his last career HR, it was a three run shot against the San Francisco Giants. On July 16th, Sherry singled off the Houston Colt 45's Harry Woodeshick, driving in the game winning run in the bottom of the 9th inning at the Polo Grounds.

In his five year career he hit .215 with 107 hits 18 HRs & 69 RBIs, throwing out 38% of would be base stealers. At the plate, he hit .136 with 2 HRs & 11 RBIs.

Retirement: After his playing days he managed in the minor leagues with the Dodgers & California Angels organizations in the late sixties.

He coached the Angels big league club in 1970-1971 returning in 1976 under manager Dick Williams. After Williams was fired, Sherry was named the team's manger in July 1976. But he was fired himself the following season also in the month of July.

Sherry then went on to have a successful career as a pitching coach under Dick Williams in San Diego with the Padres & in Montreal with the Expos. He later coached the San Francisco Giants under former Brooklyn Dodger Roger Craig in the late eighties.

Larry Sherry was born July 25th 1935 and was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1953. The five foot eleven, right hander debuted in 1958 for five games, but was a huge part of the 1950 Los Angeles Dodgers World Championship team. Sherry made nine starts & appeared in 23 games overall posting a 2.19 ERA (best on the Dodger staff) with a 7-2 record with a .778 winning % also best on the Dodger staff.

Post Season: In the 1959 World Series against the Chicago “Go Go” White Sox, Sherry had a part in all four Dodger wins, earning two victories with two saves posting a 0.71 ERA. In Game #2 he pitched three innings earning the save in relief of Johnny Podres.

1959 World Series: Game #3
In Game #3 he relieved Don Drysdale in the 8th inning earning his second save at Dodger Stadium. In Game #4 Sherry pitched two scorless innings in a 4-4 tie at Dodgers Stadium, earning the win when Gil Hodges hit an 8th inning HR.

In Game #6 the Dodgers broke the game open with an 8-0 lead in the fourth inning. Sherry relieved Johnny Podres and rolled along to the 8-4 win as the Dodgers won their first championship in Los Angeles. In 12 innings Sherry only allowed one earned run.

The next year Sherry went 14-10 with seven saves out of the Dodger pen. He went on to become one of the nest relievers of the sixties, finishing in the top ten in saves four times in the decade. In 1961 he saved his Dodger career high 15 games for Los Angeles (fifth in the league) & then saved 11 more the next season.

In April 1964 he was traded to Detroit for Lou Johnson. Sherry would save a career best 20 games (third in the AL) in 1966 for the third place Tigers.

In his 11 season career Larry Sherry was 53-44 with 82 saves & a 3.67 ERA in 416 games retiring in 1969. After his playing career Larry was a coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates (1977 -1978) & California Angels (1979 -1980).

Jul 14, 2014

19th Century New York Giants Pitcher: Cannonball Titcomb (1887-1890)

Ledell "Cannonball" Titcomb had a name made for 19th Century baseball. He was born on August 21st 1866 in West Baldwin, Massachusetts. 

At five foot six inches, he is remembered as one of the shortest pitchers in baseball history. The left hander made it to the Philadelphia ball club in 1886 & 1887.

Later that year he was sent to the New York Giants, pitching in the early days of the first Polo Grounds. At that time the Polo Grounds was located at 110th St. near 5th Avenue. Cannonball was the Giants opening day starter that year, as the went on to win first place as well as the leagues Championship. He went 14-8 with a 2.24 ERA on a staff that featured 35 game winner; Tim Keefe & 26 game winner; Mickey Welch.

In 1888 he was second in the league in strike outs, behind team mate Keefe and it is believed this is how he got the nickname of Cannonball. Another team mate; Ed Crane was also referred to as Cannonball & they became known as "the Cannon ball Duo".  Cannonball was a common nickname of the time, but only Titcomb is remembered for having it known as his first name.

He pitched one more season with the Giants, before going to the Rochester Broncos & throwing a no hitter in 1890. In a five year career he is 30-29 with 283 strike outs & a 3.47 ERA in 63 games (61 of them complete games).

Jul 13, 2014

Former Italian /American Pitcher: Long Island's Own Don DeMola (1974-1978)

Donald John DeMola was born on July 5th, 1952 in Glen Cove, New York on Long Island.

The right handed pitcher was drafted out of South Commack high school in 1970 by the A.L. New York team. After two minor league seasons, he was released and signed on with the Montreal Expos in January 1973.

DeMola made it to the Expo staff the next year, earning his first career win against the San Diego Padres on June 16th, 1974. It was his only decision of the season, as he mostly pitched in middle relief in 25 appearances.

In 1975 he earned a victory at Shea Stadium, with his family & hometown friends looking on. He pitched two scoreless innings striking out Rusty Staub, Jerry Grote, Joe Torre & Randy Tate along the way. His battery mate that night was non other than Gary Carter, who was in his first full season.

It was a Gary Carter RBI base hit that put Montreal on the board that night, followed (by former & future Met) Mike Jorgensen's three run HR that put the Expos ahead for good. DeMola would make appearances the next two nights as well at Shea, allowing no runs in three innings of work. The Mets won both those games.

Overall on the 1975 season he was 4-7 with a 4.16 ERA making 60 appearances, second on the club (to future Met) Dale Murray. The next year he needed arm surgery & missed the entire season.

He lost his velocity and the injury eventually ruined his career. After pitching in the minor leagues through 1978 he retired from the game.

Retirement: He returned back to Long Island and went into the fur business.

Jul 2, 2014

Former Italian / American Player: Jason Canizaro (1996-2003)

Jason Kyle Canizaro was born on July 4th, 1973 in Beaumont Texas. The five foot nine right hand hitting infielder, attended Oklahoma State University getting drafted in the 4th round of the 1993 draft by the San Francisco Giants.

He made his debut in April 1996 getting called up for one game, three different times before staying up from August 3rd through the end of the season. He was used to back up Mark Scarsone at second base, in 43 games he batted .200. He would spend the next two years in the minors, before returning to the big leagues in 1999.

In that time he told an ESPN reporter how much he's seen Bobby Bonds baloon up & show all signs of being a steroid user. He later denied the accusations & admitted he was scared, when MLB began a crackdown on the issue. In April of 2000 he was released by the Giants & got signed by the Minnesota Twins.

Canizaro was the Twins main second baseman that year, as the team finished fifth (69-93). This was two years before they went on to win three straight AL Central titles. It was Canizaro's best year, batting .269 with 21 doubles 7 HRs 40 RBIs & a .318 on base %.

An injury cost him the entire 2001 season & pretty much ended his career. In 2002 he played in just 38 games with Minnesota, as Luis Rivas took over second base duties. He signed with Tampa in 2003 but only played 26 games at the minor league level.

In a four year career Canizaro batted .250 with 149 hits 35 doubles three triples 10 HRs 68 RBIs & .303 on base %. He played 159 games at second base (.981 fielding %) 8 games at third base & 7 games at short.