Andrew Paul Mele is no stranger to the readers of the Italian Tribune. Mr. Mele has been a long-time contributor to the paper, writing about Italian and Italian American sports figures from the past. Whether it was an iconic figure such as Joe Di Maggio or a player whose name is barely remembered, Andy brings life, luster and passion to the stories of these sportsmen. While the author is versed in many areas of the sporting world, his knowledge of baseball is remarkable. In this, his sixth book of non-fiction and his fourth about baseball, Mr. Mele covers Italian Americans in major league baseball from 1897 through 2017.
In Andy’s engaging style, he chronicles the careers and achievements of the major league players, always mindful of their heritage and recounting amusing anecdotes from their lives. Far from a dry compendium of player stats, the book sings with the color and enthusiasm that brought the players to the field in the first place. A perfect illustration of that begins the book. Chapter 1 covers the current batch of Italian Americans who are tearing up the base paths, painting the plate and knocking the horsehide off the ball. His research is remarkable, but that is only the beginning. Any fan of baseball, especially those who are of Italian extraction, will revel in the stories that follow.
When baseball became the national pastime in the 1920s, the game was filled with characters. The stories and players became larger than life. In the case of Ping Bodie (born Francesco Sanquenitta Pezzolo), he was sold to the Yankees after demanding more money from the Philadelphia A’s notoriously parsimonious owner Connie Mack. Ping had told the skinflint owner, “This town’s got only two attractions – me and the Liberty Bell.” So off to New York he went. When Babe Ruth was sold to the Yanks, he was assigned to room with Ping during road trips. When queried by sports writers how it was to room with the Great Bambino he replied “I don’t know, I room with the Babe’s suitcase.”
These are the sort of priceless stories that make “Caesars of the Diamond” a treasure. Readers will learn how the Cardinals became “The Gas House Gang” and Alfred Manual Salvani (for a guy with so little natural talent, he could do anything) became Billy Martin. There is the Springfield Rifle (Vic Raschi) and the Reading Rifle (Carl Furillo) and the Shot Heard Round the World, hit off Ralph Branca. There are stories about Brooklyn and the Dodgers that will make you both laugh and cry. There is the date that will live in infamy – May 28, 1957. That was the date baseball owners voted unanimously to allow the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to move to the west coast. No one much derided the Giants’ move. They were right across the Harlem River from the Yankees, who garnered more than their share of the fans money. But in Brooklyn, it ripped the heart out of the borough. The impassioned pleas of every fan, from youngsters to seniors, resonate in the stories told by Mr. Mele. You will feel as though you are back at Ebbets Field, being regaled with tales of the “Bums.”
As a true fan of the game, Andy does a superb job covering the Italian Americans of the Yankees and that must have been painful for a fan from Brooklyn, but as the author points out, during the 1950s, the team led the league in Italians.
With countless stories and authoritative writing, even the most casual fan of the sport will be bowled over with “Caesars of the Diamond.” It is a grand slam home run.
About the Author – Andrew Paul Mele grew up in Brooklyn during the Golden Age of baseball in the borough – the 1950s. He has written extensively about the Brooklyn Dodgers in his definitive books, Brooklyn Dodger Reader, Tearin’ Up the Pea Patch and The Boys of Brooklyn. He now lives in Staten Island and wrote Images of America – Italian Staten Island, as well as his recent book, Before the Echoes Fade – the Biography of Entertainer Len Carrie.