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.


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