The First Italian / American Ball Player: Lewis Pessano (aka- Buttercup Dickerson)

Lewis Pessano (Dickerson) is a pioneer for Italian American ball players. He is credited as being the first Italian American professional baseball player, paving the way for many greats to come after him. Due to the prejudice against Italians & Americans of European descent, back in those early days, many people chose to change their names to make them sound more Americanized.

Pessano was no different & changed his last name to Dickerson. He became known by the nick name of Buttercup, given to him by his Reds teammates, after a character in the popular Gilbert & Sullivan play of the times, H.F.S. Pinafore. The play had opened in London in May 1878 and ran for 571 performances, which was the second-longest run of any musical theatre piece up to that time.

Lewis Pessano was born on October 11, 1858 outside of Baltimore, Maryland in the town of Tyaskin. He began his playing career as a right handed hitting outfielder way back in 1878 as an outfielder with the Cincinnati Red Legs. He led the league in triples (14) in 1879 while hitting .294 the following season. He was mostly a part time player, also playing for the Troy Trojans & Worcester Ruby Legs batting .316 in 1881.

After that season he was put on the National Leagues blacklist, probably because of his ethnicity, although he was eventually reinstated. In 1883 he went to play in the American Association for the Pittsburgh Allegheny’s, who were known as one of the hardest drinking teams of all time. He went to play briefly with franchises in St. Louis (United Association), Buffalo, Baltimore & Louisville (all of the American Association) .

In his pro career he played in 408 games with 500 hits 84 doubles 34 triples 4 HRs 127 RBIs 48 walks and a .284 batting average. He passed away in July of 1920 in Baltimore, Maryland at age 61. He was inducted into the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 as one of its first members.


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