Baseball Italian Style by Lawrence Baldassaro brings together the memories of major leaguers of Italian heritage whose collective careers span almost a century, from the 1930s up to today. The subtitle says it all, “Great Stories Told by Italian American Major Leaguers from Crosetti to Piazza.” In these first-person accounts, readers experience the thoughts and reflections of players, coaches, managers and even front-office executives and umpires on a uniquely intimate level. The lineup is impressive. The list of interviewees in this collection include eight Hall of Famers – Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Ron Santo, Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza, Tom Lasorda, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre. But beyond the star quality of the book, the stories provide an inside at life in the big leagues.
For all of the extensive work conducted by the author, Baseball Italian Style is no less than a time capsule that documents not only the history of Italian American participation in the national pastime, but juxtaposes the game’s continuity with the many changes that have taken place, both on and off the field. At a time when statistical analysis plays an increasingly prominent role in the sport, the monologues in this book are a wonderful reminder that the history of baseball is passed on to future generations through the thoughts and words of those who lived it far more effectively than through stats and figures.
In all, 40 of baseball’s greatest Italian players recount stories that will bring a smile to every fan of the game. The book follows the careers of the great Italian baseball players beginning in the 1930s with players such Frank Crosetti and Phil Cavarretta and continues from 1940s up through 2010, with Anthony Rizzo. The stories paint a vivid picture where the texture is as smooth as a newly mown outfield and sometimes as piecing as a set of old time cleats sliding high in a suicide squeeze. You will love the anecdotes about teammates, coaches and opponents. It might even cause you to rethink your opinion about some of the players that you loved to hate while growing up. Resonating throughout the book is a deep abiding respect for the game and an unabashed humbleness to have made the game their profession. Their fascinating accounts bring home literally what it meant to play in the ‘bigs,’ to both the players and their families.
Over the course of reading the book, you will learn about some of the most famous and influential names in baseball. From DiMaggio to Piazza, the players’ Italian roots are a central theme; however, what the game meant to them and how it shaped their attitudes about life, loyalty and family, all unfold within the pages. If baseball can be used as an analogy for life, then Baseball Italian Style can be used to trace the timeline of opinions and culture over the course of the last nine decades. From the eyes of the players, you will not only read about the changes that occurred through the generations, but also feel the connection and interwoven thread of the Italian American experience. Decade by decade you will see the shift from when a player’s background was integral to their identity, to the present view where heritage means little and statistics dominate the game. But just as has been the case in America, baseball too, has become a melting pot. Unlike many nationalities, the players represented have a stronger bond with their roots and for some, playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic was the highlight of their professional career. It makes for a fascinating read and don’t expect to be able to read every pitch that’s coming. Given the personalities involved, you will catch yourself laughing out loud more often than you expect and that makes reading about the game as much fun as it was to play the game. Baseball Italian Style is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most major book sellers.
Lawrence Baldassaro is a Professor Emeritus of Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is also the author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball; editor of Ted Williams: Reflections on a Splendid Life, and co-editor of The American Game: Baseball and Ethnicity. He has published articles in numerous sports encyclopedias and journals, has been a contributing writer for the Milwaukee Brewers Game Day magazine since 1990 and wrote the chapter on sports for The Routledge History of Italian Americans. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.