Part 6-The Third Basemen
Good third basemen have traditionally awed onlookers through the years with their ability to pluck hard hit baseballs out of the air. The third baseman needs to have the quickest reflexes of any infielder. He plays closer to the batter than the second baseman, or shortstop and balls hit toward third base, especially by right handed batters, are often harder hit than those going toward the middle of the field. Here are the third basemen selections for The Italian Tribune’s all-time Italian American Baseball team. There is still time to cast your votes. Who do you believe is the best at baseball’s hot corner?
Salvatore Leonard Bando (born February 13, 1944)
During the A’s championship years of 1971-75, he captained the team and led the club in runs batted in three times. He retired among the all-time leaders in games played, assists, and double plays at his position. In a 16-season career, Bando was a .254 hitter with 242 home runs and 1,039 RBIs. Over four consecutive American League Championship Series from 1971–74, he hit five home runs in 17 games, including two in a 1973 game and a solo shot in Game 3 of the 1974 ALCS, a 1-0 victory. Playing almost exclusively at third base in Oakland, Bando played every infield position while with the Brewers, even making one appearance as a relief pitcher in a 1979 game.
Kenneth Gene Caminiti (April 21, 1963 – October 10, 2004)
Kem spent fifteen seasons in Major League Baseball with the Houston Astros, San Diego Padres, Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves. In San Diego he reached career highs at the plate by hitting .302 with 26 home runs and 94 RBIs in 1995 and improved upon it the following year with a batting average of .326 with 40 homers and 130 RBIs. His performance earned him the National League Most Valuable Player Award. Caminiti won three Gold Glove Awards while playing for the Padres and was selected to the All-Star team three times.
Douglas Vernon “Doug” DeCinces (born August 29, 1950)
He began his major league career with the Baltimore Orioles late in the 1973 season, and he played for the Orioles in the ensuing eight full seasons. In total, DeCinces played for fifteen seasons (1973–1987) in the major leagues for three different teams, including nine years with the Orioles and six years with the Angels. DeCinces was a member of the American League All Star Team in 1983. He retired with a lifetime batting average of .259, with 237 homers and 879 runs batted in.
Gary Joseph Gaetti (born August 19, 1958)
Gaetti won a World Series with Minnesota in 1987 and was the MVP of that year’s American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. In 1987, Gaetti became the first player ever to hit home runs in his first two postseason plate appearances. In 1986, Gaetti batted .287 with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in. Gary won four consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 1986 through 1989. He helped propel the Twins to their first World Series championship, hitting .257 with 31 home runs and 109 RBI. Gaetti was selected as an All-Star in 1988 and 1989. Playing against the Boston Red Sox on July 17, 1990, Gaetti helped the Twins make history as the team became the only team in baseball history to turn two triple plays in the same game.
Harry Arthur “Cookie” Lavagetto (December 1, 1912 – August 10, 1990)
Nicknamed “Cookie” after an owner of the Oakland Oaks, his first professional team, he played ten seasons in the National League with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1934–36) and Brooklyn Dodgers (1937–41; 1946–47), missing four full seasons due to military service during World War II. Lavagetto hit .300 while playing 149 games at third base in 1939. He was the pinch hitter whose double ruined Bill Bevens’ no-hitter in Game 4 of the 1947 World Series and gave his Brooklyn Dodgers a victory over the New York Yankees, a game forever known as “The Cookie Game.” A right-handed batter and thrower, he hit .269 in 1,043 games. He later skippered the Washington Senators/ Minnesota Twins from 1957–1961.
Frank James Malzone (February 28, 1930 – December 29, 2015)
Malzone spent 11 seasons with Boston and is among the all-time Red Sox leaders in several categories. His minor league stint in baseball was interrupted by two years of military duty, but when he finally got into the Bigs, he immediately had an impact. In his first full season with the Red Sox, he had a season-high 103 RBI and tied an American League record for a third baseman with 10 assists in a game. He became the first player to lead the league at his position in games played, putouts, errors, assists, double plays and fielding percentage. Malzone led the league with 627 at-bats and hit a career-high batting average of .295 in 1958. Through 1961, he tied a record by leading AL third basemen in double plays five straight seasons. He was an eight-time All-Star and won three straight Gold Glove Awards. For his career, Malzone had a lifetime batting average of .274 BA, with 133 home runs, 728 RBIs, 647 runs scored with 239 doubles. Malzone was inducted to the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame inaugural class in 1995.
Ralph Arthur “Babe” Pinelli, born Rinaldo Angelo Paolinelli (October 18, 1895 – October 22, 1984)
Born in San Francisco, his playing career was mostly with the Cincinnati Reds from 1922 to 1927. He also played with the Chicago White Sox (1918) and Detroit Tigers (1920). After that he became a highly regarded National League umpire from 1935 to 1956, officiating in 6 World Series. Pinelli once wrote about an incident during his first year as an umpire. He was behind the plate and the other umps told Babe not to call a strike on Babe Ruth, who was winding up his career with the Boston Braves. Pinelli didn’t see it that way. When Ruth came to bat, and a close pitch went by, Pinelli called it a strike. Ruth turned to the umpire and bellowed, “There’s forty thousand people in this park that know that was a ball, tomato-head!” Pinelli didn’t lose his cool. He replied calmly, “Perhaps – but mine is the only opinion that counts.” Ruth had no answer for that.
Ronald Edward Santo (February 25, 1940 – December 3, 2010)
Ron played all but one of his 15 years in the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs. He was traded to the White Sox for his last year, so his entire career was spent in the Windy City. A nine-time All-Star, Santo had a strong bat and a great glove. He batted .300 or more and hit 30 or more home runs four times each, and is the only third baseman in MLB history to post eight consecutive seasons with over 90 runs batted in (1963–70). He is one of only three third basemen to have hit 300 career home runs, the others being fellow Hall of Famers Eddie Mathews and Mike Schmidt. Santo showed his skill at the corner by winning the Gold Glove Award for five consecutive seasons. During his career, he drove in 1,331 runs while garnering 2,254 hits, 342 homers and had a .277 lifetime batting average.
Extremely popular with Cub fans, Ron moved to the booth, broadcasting Cubs games for WGN radio. His number 10 was retired by the Cubs in 2003. Santo had battled diabetes since 1971. In 2004, this was the subject of a documentary called “This Old Cub,” written and produced by his son Jeff. Ron was elected to the Italian American Sports Hall-Of-Fame in 1983 and to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012.
Robin Mark Ventura (born July 14, 1967)
A six-time Rawlings Gold Glove winner, two-time MLB All-Star selection and a National College Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Ventura played for 16 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Chicago White Sox, but he also played for the New York Mets, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. During his career, Robin hit 19 Grand Slam Homers, however one was only credited as a single. In Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, with the Atlanta Braves up 3-2 in the fifteenth inning, a bases-loaded walk to Todd Pratt forced in the tying run and brought Ventura to the plate. Ventura hit a home run into right-center field. Pratt, however, did not see the ball leave the park and ran back to first base, hoisting Ventura into the air and lugging him off the field before he could round the bases. The hit was officially scored an RBI single, commonly referred to as the “Grand Slam Single.” For the record, his lifetime batting average was .267, with 294 home runs and 1,182 RBIs. He went back to Chicago as Manager of the White Sox in 2011.