Part 7-The Corner Outfielders
This week The Italian Tribune pays tribute to the great Italian American outfielders of the major leagues. As every baseball fan knows, the outfielder’s duty is to try to catch long fly balls and field hits, getting to the ball quickly and throwing it back to the infield. There are big differences in the type of play at the positions. Left and right fielders are often slower than the center fielder, but they need to have powerful throwing arms, none more so than in right fielder, so they can make the long throw to third base and few in that position had a better arm than Carl Furillo. There is still time to make your selections for the all-time greatest Italian American team, but get your selections in soon (send to email@example.com), next week, the center fielders.
Frank Stephen (Ping) Bodie (October 8, 1887 – December 17, 1961)
Born Francesco Stephano Pezzolo, Ping played for the Chicago White Sox (1911–1914), Philadelphia Athletics (1917) and New York Yankees (1919–1921). One of the most feared sluggers in the 1910s, Bodie was nicknamed “Ping” for the sound made when his fifty-two-ounce bat crashed into the “dead” ball of his era. He took the surname Bodie from the California town he once lived. Ping broke into the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox in 1911. Ping became a regular for four years with Chicago hitting .289 with 97 RBIs, .294, .265 and .229. In 1918, the New York Yankees purchased first baseman George Burns from the Detroit Tigers and immediately traded him to the Athletics for Bodie. With the Yankees he batted .256, .278 and .295 in three full seasons. It was during this time that Bodie became Babe Ruth’s first Yankee roommate. He is given credit for inspiring other West Coast Italian American ballplayers who followed him – Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the brothers Joe, Dom and Vince DiMaggio, among others.
Joseph Franklin Demaree (June 10, 1910 – August 10, 1958)
Demaree played all or part of twelve seasons for five different teams in the in the majors. He helped the Cubs win the National League pennant in 1932, 1935 and 1938. During his only season with the Cardinals, they won the National League pennant in 1943. During his last season, he helped the Browns win the American League pennant. He was named to the National League All-Star Team in 1936 and 1937. His career batting average was an impressive .299.
Jack Anthony Clark (born November 10, 1955)
Nicknamed “Jack the Ripper,” he is not often a player that people realize that his mother was Italian. He played from 1975 through 1992, Clark played for five teams, but spent most of his years with the San Francisco Giants (1975–84). During his prime, Clark was one of the most feared right-handed hitters in the National League. Eleven times in the majors, Clark hit more than 20 home runs topping out with 35 in 1987 with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he was traded prior to the ‘85 season. In the 1985 National League Championship Series, Jack hit a dramatic ninth inning three-run home run in game six that sent the Redbirds to the World Series. A six-time All-Star, Clark won the Silver Slugger Award in 1987 as the Cardinals once again went to the World Series.
For his career, Clark was a .267 hitter with 340 home runs and 1180 RBI in 1994 games. He also collected 1118 runs, 332 doubles, 77 stolen bases, and 1826 hits in 6847 at-bats.
Rocco Domenico “Rocky” Colavito, Jr. (born August 10, 1933
Best known for his years with the Cleveland Indians, Colavito was the fifth player in American League history to have eleven consecutive 20-home run seasons (1956–66), exceeding 40 home runs three times and 100 runs batted in six times during that span; he also led the AL in home runs, RBI and slugging average once each. He hit all but three of his 374 career home runs in the AL, and ranked behind only Jimmie Foxx (524) and Harmon Killebrew (then at 397) among the league’s right-handed hitters when he retired. In 1965, playing every game, he became the first outfielder in AL history to complete a season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage, and his 1272 AL games in right field ranked eighth in league history at the end of his career.
Carl Furillo (March 8, 1922 – January 21, 1989)
Nicknamed “The Reading Rifle” and “Skoonj,” he was also the crowned “Emperor of Right Field” in Brooklyn. Furillo played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. Before his years with the Dodgers, he served in WWII. Carl was cited for bravery in action and awarded medals including the Purple Heart. But he refused them saying, “I didn’t do anything to merit them.”
A member of seven National League champions from 1947 to 1959, he batted over .300 five times, winning the 1953 batting title with a .344 average. Furillo played in seven World Series with the Dodgers, six of them against the New York Yankees, winning in 1955 and in 1959 against the Chicago White Sox. In his 15-year career, Furillo batted .299 with 192 home runs, 1910 hits, 1058 RBI, 895 runs, 324 doubles, 56 triples, 48 stolen bases, a .458 slugging average and 514 walks for a .355 on-base percentage. As an outfielder, he had 3322 putouts, 151 assists, 34 double plays and 74 errors for 3547 total chances and a .979 fielding percentage. With his tremendous throwing arm and acquired ability to play the tricky right field wall in Ebbets Field, he became one of baseball’s outstanding defensive outfielders. At the height of his career, he was selected on two All-Star teams, though a contemporary right fielder of greats Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. One note that baseball aficionados will seemingly forever about – if Furillo had one more hit in his career, he would statistically had a .300 batting average. Would this have been enough for him to get into the Hall of Fame? We’ll never know.