May 23, 2015

Former Italian / American Player & Manager: Joe Altobelli (1977-1991)

Joseph Salvatore Altobelli was Born on May 26, 1932 in Detroit, Michigan. Altobello was son to Italian immigrant parents.

In the early fifties Altobelli, known as Alto, was a Detroit All City high school player. At the next level, he set a record in the Florida State League with a 36 game hit streak. He was a slugging prospect, hitting 47 HRs for the Rochester Red Wings from 1963 to 1966.

He only played for three seasons at the major league level, with the Cleveland Indians & Minnesota Twins. He would never hit above .221 posting five HRs 28 RBIs & eight doubles for the 1961 expansion Twins. He was a versatile fielder playing all outfield positions, as well as first base, making only three errors in 98 games, posting a .989 fielding percentage.

In 1966 he began a successful eleven year minor league managerial career in the Orioles farm system. In six years at Rochester from 1971-1976, his team finished first four times, and made the playoffs each year.

The 1971 team was led by Minor League Player of the Year Bobby Grich, and featured five future MLB managers. They were; Johnny Oates, Don Baylor, Ray Miller & Mike Ferraro.

Utility infielder Ron Shelton would become a successful Hollywood screenwriter and director whose works included “Bull Durham”, “White Men Can’t Jump” and “Tin Cup.”. In “Bull Durham” the characters, Crash Davis and Nuke LaLoosh were based upon Altobelli & the hard-partying Steve Dalkowski.

In 1977 he got his first MLB manager job with the San Francisco Giants, which he held for two seasons. Even though his Giants finished in third place in 1978, (16 games above .500) he was still fired after the season. In 1983 he replaced Earl Weaver as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. There were some big shoes to fill, but the team he inherited was very good.

He led them to 98 wins & An N.L/ pennant. In the World Series Baltimore defeated Philadelphia in five games, giving him his only Championship. He then coached for the AL New York team & the Chicago Cubs, replacing Don Zimmer as manager for a brief period.

In his managerial career he went 437–407 (.518). He went back to Rochester serving as the clubs GM (1991-1993) then a special assistant (1994-1997) & finally a color commentator for 11 years (1998-2009).

Honors: He retired in 2009 becoming known as Mr. Baseball in Rochester. In September of 2010 he was honored with a statue at the Red Wings ball park, as the city officially declared it Joe Altobelli Day in Rochester.

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