Former Italian / American Player of the Day: Bill Serena (1949-1954)
William Robert Serena was Born October 2, 1924 in Alameda, California. He was the son of an Italian immigrant carpenter who came to USA after World War I. Serena served in World War II returning in 1945 getting signed to a baseball contract to play in the West Texas-New Mexico Class C league. He tore up the league, hitting 57 HRs with 190 RBIs in the little ballparks where pitching was no match for him. He hit 28 HRs at AAA Dallas in 1949 and his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs. He made his MLB debut in 1949 hitting his first career HR playing in 12 games going 8-37, half his hits were extra base hits.
In 1950 he was the Cubs main third baseman, playing a fine defense coming in the league’s top five in put outs, assists & fielding percentage (.945). At the plate he hit 17 HRs with 20 doubles & 61 RBIs, giving him enough votes to finish fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. In a strange event at the Polo Grounds on May 1st, he & 11 of his team mates were ejected from a game for taunting Umpire Frank Dascoli. They harassed him & called him rabbit ears, which was the final straw.
The next year Serena was batting .333 in May when he fractured his wrist sliding into second base. He stayed in the game to get two hits & drive in a pair of runs but the injury would end his season. In 1952 he returned to bat .274 with 15 HRs 21 doubles & 61 RBIs, playing in 122 games. In June he hit a game tying HR in the 9th inning off Milwaukee Braves pitcher Warren Spahn during a record setting 18 strikeout performance.
In 1953 Serena became a reserve infielder playing third & second base, as Randy Jackson (19 HRs 66 RBIs .285 Ave) put up better numbes & became the regular third baseman. He sat in a dugout with three other Italian America player; the future celebrity broad caster Joe Garagiola, former batting champion & first Mets batting coach Phil Cavaretta & infielder Bob Ramozzotti. Serena only played one more season and was batting .159 when the Cubs sold his contract to the cross town White Sox. He ended his brief six year career batting .251 with 48 HRs 57 doubles & 198 RBIs.
He returned to the Pacific Coast League playing with the San Francisco Seals & Oakland Oaks before retiring at age 32. Next he became a long time base ball scout for 38 years, spending 25 years with the Braves organization alone. He retired from baseball at age 70, in 1994. In 1996 he passed away from lung cancer in Hayward, California.