Chris Cannizzaro: Italian / American 1960's Mets Catcher (1962 - 1965)

Christopher John Cannizzaro was born May 3rd, 1938, in Oakland, California. He was the grandson of Italian immigrants on his father's side & Spanish heritage on his mother's side. Chris & his two younger brothers were raised in San Leandro, California just outside of Oakland. There his father was a police officer & a semi pro shortstop.

At age 11 it was determined by his uncle who managed a boys' team, that Chris was too slow for the middle infield & he began the transition to catcher. The six-foot, right hand hitting catcher was signed out of San Leandro high school in 1956 by the St. Louis Cardinals.

In 1958 he hit a minor league best .272 at AAA Omaha making the All-Star team. In 1960 after batting .251 at AAA Rochester, he got his call up.

MLB Debut: In 1960 he made his MLB debut with St. Louis making the team out of Spring Training. He played in seven games usually coming in as a late inning replacement behind Hal Smith & Carl Sawatski but then spent the rest of the year at AAA.

In 1961 he missed time after an appendicitis operation, playing mostly at AAA Portland as well as six games with the Cardinals.

In that year's expansion draft, Cannizzaro became an original Met when he was selected as their 26th pick.

Trivia: In Spring Training of 1962 his son Chris Jr. was born, technically becoming the first Met baby in the team’s history. The elder Chris didn’t see his son until he was three months old. Unlike in today's times where players het paternity leave, players weren’t allowed to leave camp when they became new fathers.

The Professor Casey Stengel: In classic 1962 Mets folk lore, Manager Casey Stengel also used to tell the press “We have a catcher on the team that can’t catch”. Stengel couldn’t even pronounce Cannizzaro’s name correctly, usually calling him “Canzaroni” or something close to that pronunciation. This was also a sign of the times, whereas a mispronunciation would never be permitted in these politically correct times.

Quotes-Casey Stengel: “Canzoneri, He can’t hit, but a catcher like this kid, who can throw, will let my pitcher's pay attention to the hitter instead of worrying about a runner on first base.”

1962: Cannizzaro was a fine defensive catcher, with a fine throwing arm & was tough to steal against. In 1962 he threw out 56% of would-be base stealers, which the best average in the NL throwing out 20 of 36 runners. 

At the Mets first home ballpark, the Polo Grounds, Cannizzaro would have trouble seeing certain pitches that came out of the white Rheingold Beer sign with the white background in the outfield. He made six errors on the season & dropped many balls. He never had that problem in any other ballpark. Certain umpires also complained about seeing pitches in the Polo Grounds.

In 1962 the Mets used seven different catchers during the season. In his Mets career he was primarily a backup or third string catcher. 

Cannizzaro wouldn't hit over .100 until June 19th, in a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Braves he also drove in his first two runs of the year. He played ten games in June & walked none times.

On the July 4th Road trip to San Francisco, Cannizzaro managed to reserve 62 free passes to the three-game series, a large number for a non-regular player. In the Independance Day double header he came in as a defensive replacement in the first game & played all of the second game in the twin bill loss.

On September 2nd, in a rare Mets win, he was brought into the game in the 9th inning as a defensive replacement at catcher with the Mets clinging to a one run lead in St. Louis. The Cards were threatening with pinch runner Julian Javier on first base. Javier attempted to steal second but was nailed by Cannizzaro, preserving the one run 4-3 victory.

Trivia: During his playing days he was known as one of the slowest runners on the base paths. One legendary 1962 Mets tale says how he once couldn’t score from second base on a double.

In 1962 he appeared in 59 games batting .241 with 32 hits two doubles, nine RBIs & a .335 on base %.

1963: That season the Mets acquired Norm Sherry & later Jesse Gonder for the catcher's job, making it harder for Cannizzaro to get into the lineup. 

In his second game of the year, Cannizzaro drove in two runs in a 4-2 Mets loss at Houston. Cannizzaro suffered a finger injury early in the season & was then sent down to AAA Buffalo. There he played in 93 games batting .266 with seven HRs.

He returned to the Mets in September & in his second game back he went 3-3 in a 9-0 loss at St. Louis. On September 27th, he hit two sac flies driving in two runs, in a 10-2 loss to the Astros. The two multi-RBI games were the only four runs he drove in all season.

Overall Cannizzaro played in 16 games batting .242 (8-33) with a double & four RBIs.

1964: In the Mets first season at the new Shea Stadium, Cannizzaro returned to catch 53 games behind the plate, 60 games overall. He shared time with back stops Jesse Gonder & Hawk Taylor. 

Cannizzaro hit a career best .311 that season (164 at bats) with 51 hits 10 doubles 10 RBIs 14 walks & a .367 on base%.

1965: Cannizzaro wore uniform #8 until Yogi Berra came to the Mets team as a player / coach, Chris then took on uniform #5. 

The Mets used six catchers throughout the 1965 season, with Cannizaro being their main guy. 

Behind the plate he caught 112 games (4th most in the NL) & once again he led the league with best caught stealing % in the NL (53%) nailing 31 of 59 base runners trying to steal. He also made 12 errors behind the plate, the most in the NL. 
Problem was he only hit .183 with 41 hits, eight doubles, two triples & seven RBIs, posting a .270 on base %.

On June 19th, he drove in his first run the only run of a Mets 2-1 loss in his hometown area of San Francisco. The next day he caught both ends of a doubleheader in Los Angeles, driving in a run with an RBI base hit off Don Drysdale in a 3-2 Mets win in the nightcap. He caught all four games in the series & drove in another run in the fourth game. 

1966: On April 5, 1966, Cannizzaro was traded to the Atlanta Braves for Don Dillard. In his four-year Mets career Cannizzaro played in 249 games, batting .236 with 137 hits 21 doubles 3 triples & 30 RBIs while posting a .312 on base %. 

Post Mets Career: After playing two years in the minors at AAA Toledo & Richmond, he returned to the majors, with the 1968 Pittsburgh Pirates. On August 17th he hit his first career HR, eight years after making his debut coming off pitcher Mike Kekich. Cannizzaro played in 25 games batting .241.

Original Padre: In March of 1969 he was traded by the Pirates along with Tommie Sisk to the expansion Padres for Ron Davis & Bobby Klaus. Cannizzaro became the clubs first player to ever appear in an All-Star Game. In the 1969 All Star game he backed up Johnny Bench, but he did not play in the NL's 9-3 win in Washington D.C. 

That year he played in a career high 134 games, batting .220 with four HRs 14 doubles & 33 RBIs. He threw out 41% of would-be base stealers & allowed 14 passed balls (3rd most in the NL).

 In 1970 he played in 11 games with career highs in batting (.279) hits (95) triples (3) HRs (5) & RBIs (23).  After two seasons as the Padres main catcher, he was sent to The Chicago Cubs (1971) then the Los Angeles Dodgers (1972-1973) closing out his playing career. In LA he helped the early careers of Joe Furgeson & Bill Russell.

Career Stats:
Cannizzaro retired in 1974, in his ten-year career he batted .235 with 458 hits 66 doubles 12 triples 18 HRs & 169 RBIs. He struck out 354 times walked 241 times & posted a .319 o base%.

Behind the plate he caught 714 games with a .983 fielding % throwing out 41% of would-be base stealers, 175 out of 332 runners. Cannizzaro holds a share of the Major League record for most unassisted double plays by a catcher with two.

Retirement: After baseball he coached at various levels for the Atlanta Braves (1976-1978) & California Angels (1979-1982) organizations.

In 2006 he was named the director of baseball operations at San Diego State University. There he became a very successful coach.

Family: Chris was married to his first wife Beverly & they had three children together. He later married his second wife Janice & she had two daughters. 

His son Chris Jr. played at San Diego State as freshman when Tony Gwynn was a senior at the school.

Honors: In 2016 the Padres honored him as their first All Star back when the Mid-Summer Classic was held at Petco Park.

Passing: Cannizzaro had been suffering from emphysema & lung cancer in his final years. He passed away on December 30th, 2016, at the age of 78.

Quotes- Former Met & Padres Cy Young Winner, Randy Jones: "He taught me a lot about pitching and how to be a professional baseball player. He was hard-nosed, old-school. He fit me perfectly. He wasn’t afraid to take charge. Like young (pitchers) could be stubborn, might say, ‘My curveball’s my best pitch.’ He’d say, ‘Well, you better learn how to use the fastball.’ Chris Cannizzaro would make you learn how to use it, and he’d stay on you. He’d push you. That’s old school, and you needed that. I always enjoyed that. He loved to compete and play.


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