Reno Bertoia: One Of Seven MLB Players To Be Born in Italy (1953-1962)

Reno Peter Bertoia was born January 8, 1935, in San Vito al Tagliamento, Udine, Italy. Udine is located in the Northeastern section of Italy, between the Adriatic Sea & the Alps Mountains.

At the time his father Libero, was working for the Ford Motor Company in Windsor Ontario across the border from Detroit Michigan. 

Libero finally saw his son Reno almost two years after his birth, he soon moved the family his wife Rina, son Reno & daughter Julie to Canada.

The Bertoia's neighbor in Windor was Hank Biasatti, one of the six other players in MLB history to be born in Italy. Biasatti would go on to play pro basketball & pro baseball. He played 21 games at the major league level with the 1949 Philadelphia A's batting .083.

Quotes- Reno Bertoia: "Biasatti was my role model & I wanted to be like him. He would go away to play ball & then he would come back & give me a glove. I never owned a glove myself until I signed with the Tigers".

Living in nearby Windsor, Reno Bertoia grew up a Detroit Tiger fan. In their 1945 Championship season he was a newspaper boy following the team through the newspaper articles.

In 1953 he was signed by his favorite team as a bonus baby, at 18 years of age. He received $10,000 & a promise for the Tigers to pay his college tuition. They also gave his mother $1000 to travel back to Italy. The Tigers also had Al Kaline & Bob Miller as bonus babies at that time.

Roommates with Al Kaline: Reno was roommates with future Hall of Famer, Tiger legend Al Kaline for five seasons. The two players became good friends as Bertoia was an important part of Kaline’s early years in Detroit.


MLB Debut: On September 22nd, 1953, Reno made his MLB debut playing second base. In the top of the 1st, he was spiked at second by Ed Mickelson. Although he required three stitches he came to bat in the bottom of the 1st, facing 47-year-old Satchel Page & striking out on three pitches. He was replaced in the 2nd inning by Johnny Pesky.

In 1954 he played 54 games in a utility role batting just .162. 

First MLB Hit: On July 11th, he collected his first MLB hit, a HR off the Orioles Bob Chakales in a 2-1 Tiger win.

The Tigers were on a youth movement the next year, but Reno couldn't break the line up as a regular as he struggled to get near the .200 mark over the next two seasons.

 In 1957 he got to see action in 97 games and raised his average to .275 with 16 doubles 4 HRs & 28 RBIs, his best year with the Tigers. That year things had gone so well early on he was at one point leading the All Star voting for third baseman.

Drama: Bertoia was very tense & all wound up around game time. Former New York Giants Hall of Famer Mel Ott, a Tigers broadcaster at the time suggested to the team trainer, Bertoia take something to calm him down. Reno told Time Magazine he would take a tranquilizer to relax him before each game. This became big news in those days & he was accused of taking happy pills. The team physician told the press the pills were to be terminated. His manager & trainer did defend him but years later Bertoia thought the situation could have been dealt with differently. 

Bertoia would play utility infield for the Tigers for six seasons, never finishing higher than fourth place. After spending five years studying remotely he achieved a bachelor's degree from Assumption University.

Grand Slam HR: On May 7th in the first game of a double header, Bertoia hit his first career grand slam. It came off the Washington Senators Camilo Pascual in a 5-1 Tigers win.

In December 1958 after dropping to a .233 average, he was traded along with Jim Delsing & Ron Samford to the Washington Senators for Rocky Bridges, Neil Chrisley and future Mets coach Eddie Yost "the Walking Man". 

 In Washington Bertoia saw more playing time, becoming the teams main second baseman sharing time with Ken Aspromonte in 1959. He started out the season with HRs in the first two games of the season while driving in runs in the first four games. He batted over .300 into mid-May. Thats season Harmon Killebrew came into his own & would eventually take over the third base spot. Killebrew would go on to lead the league with 42 HRs that season, the first of his six HR titles.


In 1960 Bertoia moved over as the Senators main third baseman as Killebrew moved over to first after a string of injuries. Bertoia made a costly error in a game at third base then came back to go 4-8 with four RBIs in a double header the next day. 

That year Bertoia posted a .961 fielding % (4th in the league) making only 13 errors in 112 games at third base. At the plate he was third in the AL in triples (7) fourth in getting by pitches (8) fifth in sac hits (13) while batting .265 with four HRs and a career high 45 RBIs.

New Twins Franchise: In 1961 Reno moved with the team to Minneapolis as an original member of the Minnesota Twins. On Opening Day, he hit a HR off Ralph Terry in a 6-0 win over the AL New York team. In the home opener he collected the Twins first hit at Metropolitan Stadium with a base hit. He also became the first Twins player to be traded, when that June after 35 games batting .212 he was sent to the Kansas City A's as the player to be named later.

He finished out the year in Kansas City, then was traded back to the Tigers for Ozzie Virgil & Bill Fischer. That year the Tigers won 101 games but a September losing streak had them finish second. Reno finished the year there then played five games in Detroit in 1962 before finishing his career at age 29.

Career Stats: Bertoia finished his ten-year career with a .244 lifetime average, 425 hits 60 doubles 10 triples 27 HRs & 171 RBIs. He struck out 252 times walked 142 times with a .303 on base 5 & .639 OPS. 

In 367 games at third base, he posted 949 fielding %. In 148 games at second he posted a .974 fielding %. Overall, he played 612 career games.

Retirement: In 1964 he briefly played baseball in Japan with the Hanshin Tigers. He also did work as a scout for the Tigers & Blue Jays later in his life.

In the sixties, Reno returned to Windsor, Ontario becoming a Catholic School teacher for 30 years. in the Windsor Catholic School Board. 

Honors: In 1988 he was honored getting elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Baseball in Italy: In May of 2009 he & his wife saw their first professional Italian baseball game at Europeo-Nino Cavalli Stadium, in Parma, Italy. Bertoia was honored as a celebrity in his return to the land of his birth.

Family:
Reno married Rosalie LaFontaine of LaSalle Ontario in November 1959. Rosalie was twenty at the time of their marriage. She eventually earned a B.A. in communications & became a registered nurse. She & Reno had three children together. 
The eventually divorced. She passed away in Windsor in 2017 at age 78.

Reno married his second wife Joan Daly who he was with until his death.

Passing: In April of 2011, Bertoia passed away after a battle with lymphoma in Windsor, he was 76 years old.

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