December 6 – Happy Birthday Tony Lazzeri
If I was given the choice of a back seat to sit in on a historical car ride, I’d have a tough time not selecting the 1936 cross-country trip taken by three members of the New York Yankees. The Yankee front office had just purchased the contract of a young Pacific Coast League ballplayer named Joe DiMaggio. The kid lived in San Francisco as did the two players who composed New York’s starting middle infield back then, shortstop Frankie Crosetti and today’s birthday celebrant, second baseman, Tony “Poosh em Up” Lazzeri. The Yankee front office had arranged to have the two veterans pick up DiMaggio at his home and drive him the three thousand or so miles to St. Petersburg, FL, where the Yankees conducted Spring training.
Lazzeri is still considered to be by many, the greatest second baseman in Yankee franchise history. Born in 1903 in San Francisco, his first year in the Bronx was 1926 and he started fast by belting 18 home runs and driving in 114 runs. He would drive in 100 or more runs seven different times and he finished his fourteen-season career with a .292 lifetime batting average and 1,191 RBI’s. Like Crosetti and DiMaggio, Lazzeri was an Italian-American and before the Yankee Clipper joined him in New York, he had become the number one sports hero of the 1 million plus Italian-Americans who were living in the Big Apple. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his accomplishments on the ball field was the fact that he achieved them while being afflicted with epilepsy, at a time when the disease was poorly treated and very misunderstood.
He played in six World Series as a Yankee and won five rings. He was unceremoniously dumped by New York after hitting a career-low .244, in 1937. He signed with the Cubs in 38 and made it back to the World Series for a seventh time as a part-time player for Chicago. In a bittersweet moment for Tony, the Cubbies lost that Fall Classic to the Yankees. After trying to hang on with Brooklyn and then the New York Giants, Lazzeri retired after the 1939 season. He then became a Minor League Manager for a few years before buying a tavern in his native San Francisco. In 1946, Lazzeri’s wife came home from a vacation to find her husband dead. He apparently fell down the stairs in their home and was killed when his head banged against the bannister. The Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee put Tony’s plaque in Cooperstown, in 1991.