Summary

American professional baseball player during the 1920s and 1930s, predominantly with the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball. He was part of the famed "Murderers' Row" Yankee batting lineup of the late 1920s (most notably the legendary 1927 team), along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Bob Meusel.

Birth:
06 Dec 1903 1
San Francisco, California 1
Death:
06 Aug 1946 1
San Francisco, California 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Anthony Michael Lazzeri. 1
Also known as:
Tony Lazzeri. Poosh Em Up Tony 1
Birth:
06 Dec 1903 1
San Francisco, California 1
Male 1
Death:
06 Aug 1946 1
San Francisco, California 1
Cause: heart attack 1
Burial:
Burial Place: Sunset View Cemetery, El Cerrito California 1
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Birth:
Mother: Julia (Cheasa), 1
Father: Augustine Lazzeri 1
Marriage:
Maye Janes 1
1923 1
Spouse Death Date: 1994 1
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Occupation:
Baseball 1
Race or Ethnicity:
Italian 1

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Stories

Anthony Michael "Tony" Lazzeri

Day after day at Salt Lake City, Utah in 1925, Bill Essick, a scout for the New York Yankees, watched a young infielder named Tony Lazzeri. Essick reported to Ed Barrow, the Yankees' business manager (general manager) that Lazzeri was hitting the ball exceptionally well, batting .355 and hitting 60 home runs.

"But the air is thin out there," Barrow told Essick.

"The air may be thin but this player is solid," Essick responded.

Scouts from all the major leagues were watching Lazzeri. Most also felt that the altitude in Salt Lake City helped Lazzeri's batting average. They were wary of signing him, knowing other recent players with impressive numbers playing in that altitude had not succeeded. But there was another reason the scouts shied away: Lazzeri was an epileptic.

South Market Street in San Francisco's Cow Hollow district was a rough neighborhood at the turn of the century. Living there at the time was an Italian born boilermaker named Augustine Lazzeri. On December 6, 1903, his wife Julia (Cheasa), also from Italy, gave birth to a son - Anthony (Tony) Michael Lazzeri.

In 1918, Tony was expelled from school at the age of 15. Glad to be finished, Lazzeri told his father that he wanted to go to work. Told to pack a lunch for the next morning, Lazzeri accompanied his father to the Maine Iron Works, where the elder Lazzeri worked as a boilermaker. Tony started as a helper, heating rivets and tossing them to the riveters. The job gave him extraordinary strength in his shoulders and forearms. With black hair and brown eyes, the young man developed into a lean, hard, 5 foot, 11 inch, 160-pounder. Lazzeri was soon earning $4.50 a day at the iron works and became a member of Local Union No.6.

Lazzeri also made a little money playing shortstop for a semi-professional baseball team. Later, while he was training as a boxer, Lazzeri became the shortstop of the Golden Gate Native Police Department, a good semi-pro team. He continued working at the iron works and playing for the Golden Gate Natives until 1922. At that time, as he was just about to become a full-fledged boilermaker, a friend of his named Tim Harrington convinced Duffy Lewis, manager of the Salt Lake City Bees baseball club of the Pacific Coast League (PCL), to give Lazzeri a tryout

 In 1923 Lazzeri was sent to Peoria, Illinois, of the Three-I League for more experience. Before reporting, he married Maye Janes, whom he had met some six months earlier through her brother-in-law, Paul Pettingill, a teammate of Lazzeri's on the Golden Gate Natives. (Maye and Tony would have one child -- David Anthony Lazzeri -- born in 1931.)

Accompanied by his new wife, Lazzeri reported to Peoria. He had a good first month but was then benched while the manager tried out two other players at second. Lazzeri sat on the bench for three weeks until he was called on to pinch hit in the ninth inning of a game against Terre Haute. With two men on the bases and two runs behind, Lazzeri hit a home run that won the game. After that big hit, he became the regular second baseman on the club, playing in 135 games, hitting 14 home runs, and batting .248. Lazzeri rejoined Salt Lake City that fall.

In 1925 the New York Yankees took an interest in the young slugger. At that time the Salt Lake City club had a working arrangement with the Chicago Cubs. Knowing that Lazzeri had epileptic episodes off the field, the Cubs were afraid to buy him. The Cincinnati Reds also passed him up, and Garry Hermann, owner of the Reds, wrote to Yankee owner Jacob Ruppert and told him why his club had not bought Lazzeri.

Nineteen twenty-seven was a historic year for the Yankees. Known as Murderers' Row, the '27 Yankees became a legend. Paced by the long-ball heroics of Ruth (60 home runs, 164 RBIs, .356 batting average) and Gehrig (47 home runs, 175 RBIs, .373), the Yankees won 110 and lost 44, winning the American League pennant by 19 games. Recovering from the Series to have an outstanding season, Lazzeri was a major contributor on that historic club with 18 home runs (third in the American League behind Ruth and Gehrig), 102 RBIs, and a batting average of .309. He was also the anchor of the infield. In addition to playing second base, Lazzeri also filled in at shortstop and third base due to the occasional injuries to Joe Dugan and Mark Koenig.

Ed Barrow sent Ed Holly, another scout, to Salt Lake City to look at Lazzeri. Holly reported he was sensational. He also confirmed reports about Lazzeri's medical disorder. Wanting to know more, Holly went on to San Francisco and looked into Lazzeri's family history. Barrow, meanwhile, sent head scout Paul Krichell to Salt Lake City to watch Lazzeri. He also asked Bob Connery, president of the St. Paul Baseball Club of the American Association to see Lazzeri play.

Barrow received good reports. Holly found that no other members of his family were affected and that Lazzeri's insurance company was willing to increase his policy. Connery reported that Lazzeri was great. Krichell also told Barrow that the stories about Lazzeri's episodes, or fits as they were known, occurred only off the field.

"As long as he doesn't take fits between three and six in the afternoon, that's good enough for me," said Barrow.

As it turned out, Lazzeri's epilepsy never affected him on the playing field. The public never knew he had the disorder.

Nineteen twenty-seven was a historic year for the Yankees. Known as Murderers' Row, the '27 Yankees became a legend. Paced by the long-ball heroics of Ruth (60 home runs, 164 RBIs, .356 batting average) and Gehrig (47 home runs, 175 RBIs, .373), the Yankees won 110 and lost 44, winning the American League pennant by 19 games. Recovering from the Series to have an outstanding season, Lazzeri was a major contributor on that historic club with 18 home runs (third in the American League behind Ruth and Gehrig), 102 RBIs, and a batting average of .309. He was also the anchor of the infield. In addition to playing second base, Lazzeri also filled in at shortstop and third base due to the occasional injuries to Joe Dugan and Mark Koenig.

A quite, modest man, Lazzeri would rarely talk about himself. The sportswriters found him difficult to interview.

"Interviewing that guy," one reporter complained, "is like mining coal with a nail file."

As the first great ballplayer of Italian heritage to play in New York, the Italian-American fans in New York and elsewhere took great pride in Lazzeri. Because of him, thousands of people of Italian descent were introduced to baseball for the first time, and they came back again and again. At Yankee Stadium, their rallying cry was "Poosh-'Em Up Tony," imploring him to hit the ball, preferably out of the ballpark. According to Lazzeri, the nickname, which remained with him always, was given to him while he was playing at Salt Lake City. A fan of Italian descent that wanted him to get a hit and could not express himself well shouted "Poosh-'Em Up, Tony."

On May 24, 1936, Lazzeri set an American League single game record with eleven RBIs by hitting a triple and three home runs (two of the home runs were with the bases filled) in Shibe Park. That same month, he set records for most home runs in three consecutive games (6) and four consecutive games (7).

After his conditional release by the Yankees on October 17, 1937, Lazzeri signed with the Chicago Cubs as a player-coach. Lazzeri played for the Chicago Cubs in 1938 and appeared in the fall classic against the Yankees. He finished his major league career with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants in 1939. Lazzeri then managed Toronto of the International League during part of 1939 and 1940. He played and managed Portsmouth, Virginia, of the Piedmont League in 1942 and ended his baseball career as a player-manager of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania of the Eastern League in 1943, batting .271 in 58 games.

Lazzeri always loved being a Yankee. In 1945 he told sportswriter Bob Considine: "Around New York I used to hear that expression, ?once a Dodger, always a Dodger.' But how about, ?Once a Yankee, always a Yankee?" There never was anything better than that. You never get over it."

A year later on August 6, 1946, after returning home from a short vacation out of town, Mrs. Lazzeri found her husband slumped on the landing of their home in San Francisco, California. Sadly, the former Yankee infielder had died alone of a heart attack at the age of 42.

Tony Lazzeri was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1991.

Tony Lazzeri's son recalls days of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio

BETTINA HANSEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES

 

Tony Lazzeri, 82 and living in a retirement home in Issaquah, holds a picture of his father with Yankees teammate Babe Ruth in 1926.

Tony Lazzeri still remembers youthful days at Yankee Stadium, when The House That Ruth Built — the original, not the recently opened version — was almost brand-spanking new.

He would watch one of the most successful teams in baseball history, led by the Babe and Lou Gehrig, and later the great Joe DiMaggio. Lazzeri would pass the idle times by picking up bottle caps and sticking them on his shirt like jewelry.

"We had a lot of fun with that," he said.

If the name sounds familiar, it should, if you are a baseball fan. His father of the same name, Tony Lazzeri, was a Yankee stalwart in their most golden era. Lazzeri's career spanned from the iconic '27 Yankees that spawned the famed "Murderers Row" (of which Lazzeri himself was a member in good standing) to the DiMaggio-led teams of 1936 and '37, which won the first two of four straight World Series titles.

A quiet but highly productive second baseman, Lazzeri was overshadowed by his legendary teammates, but still made an indelible mark. For instance, 77 years ago Friday, Lazzeri knocked two grand slams, a solo homer and a two-run triple in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics, his 11 runs batted in establishing what still stands as the American League record.

And now, Tony Lazzeri is 82 and living in a retirement home in Issaquah with his wife of 52 years, Marilyn. The couple settled here after he retired from a career with Texaco, for whom he worked in a variety of marketing positions in San Francisco, Medford, Ore., and, finally, Redmond.

Tony moves slowly these days, but his mind is still sharp, and he revels in memories of his father's career. Like the time, after his dad signed with the Cubs in 1938, he sneaked back into the Yankees clubhouse and nailed down the shoes of his former teammates and clipped their gloves. Or the time Lazzeri secretly substituted a scuffed-up, doctored baseball into a lopsided game for the amusement of watching the Athletics' hitter, Bob Johnson, flail at it.

"They used to have a lot of fun playing ball," Lazzeri said. "There were stories of him doing stuff like that. He was a kidder around. Not a clown, but he'd get in and have fun. Let somebody else take the blame."

'A quiet, modest man'

Tragically, Lazzeri's father died young, of an apparent heart attack at age 42 in 1946, at their home in Millbrae, Calif., outside San Francisco. The New York Times obituary noted of Lazzeri, whose playing career had ended in the minor leagues just four years earlier, "his cool disposition and slugging prowess earned him the reputation of being regarded as one of the game's finest 'clutch' hitters."

Young Tony was just 14, and the subject of his father's death still makes him visibly upset. In a recent lunch visit with a reporter, he recalled how he and his mother, Maye, were away when his father died, but he broke off abruptly.

"I don't like to talk about it," he said.

But Lazzeri, an only child, delights in talking about his father's remarkable career, which culminated in his posthumous election to the Hall of Fame in 1991 (an event that his son attended, along with his mother and wife).

And what a legacy Lazzeri left along the way, including a season with the Salt Lake City Bees of the Pacific Coast League in 1925 that stands as one of the greatest in professional baseball history.

Lazzeri bashed 60 homers, surpassing the record of 59 Ruth had set in 1921 with the Yankees (albeit Ruth did it in the majors, and in 154 games, compared to the 197 games Lazzeri played with Salt Lake). He hit .355, scored 202 runs and drove in 222, earning a contract from the Yankees for '26.

Lazzeri also landed the nickname that would follow him to New York: "Poosh 'Em Up Tony," which according to legend was a phrase yelled to him by a fellow Italian fan in Salt Lake City. Lazzeri was the first Italian-American baseball star in New York, a fact that attracted a huge fan base, as well as paving the way for fellow Italian baseball stars from San Francisco, including longtime Yankee shortstop Frankie Crosetti and the DiMaggio brothers.

Lazzeri has memories of meeting them all — Ruth and Gehrig as a near-toddler, and later the regal DiMaggio. There is a famous anecdote of Lazzeri, his close friend Crosetti, and DiMaggio all driving to spring training in Florida from San Francisco in Lazzeri's snazzy new Buick. Lazzeri and Crosetti shared the driving, but at one point they asked DiMaggio if he wanted to take a turn behind the wheel.

"I don't know how," he replied, according to Crosetti's telling of the story years later.

"Nice fellow, but very quiet," Lazzeri said of DiMaggio, before adding cheekily, "Never met his wife (Marilyn Monroe), though. Oh, well."

Another encounter made nearly as big of an impression on the young Lazzeri. While he and his mother were traveling by train to spend the summer in the Bronx after the school year ended in San Francisco, as they did every year, they encountered heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey.

"Wow," he said, echoing the sentiment of a guest. "You'd better believe it."

Tony Lazzeri compiled a .292 average in 14 years, exceeding 100 RBI seven times. He played in seven World Series, winning five of them, and earned renown as one of the "glue" guys on the vaunted Yankee powerhouses of the 1920s and early '30s.

"Lazzeri was a quiet, modest man," Fred Glueckstein, author of "The '27 Yankees," wrote in an email. "He was popular with his teammates and respected by his opponents."

Memories remain

His son played baseball only recreationally, focusing instead on basketball. The 6-3 Lazzeri played at Santa Clara, squaring off against the likes of Bill Russell (University of San Francisco) and Jim Loscutoff (Oregon).

He and Marilyn have three sons, who are also well-versed in their grandfather's baseball exploits. Much of Lazzeri's remaining memorabilia has been divided among them, including a letter from the legendary Connie Mack — the opposing manager in Lazzeri's 11-RBI game — congratulating him on the feat.

Lazzeri also has many souvenirs from his father's career, including scrapbooks of newspaper articles, and several photos of him with Ruth and other legendary Yankees.

Mostly, he has the memories, and though Lazzeri says he wishes he could remember more about his father, the snippets come back to him.

Like the time he caddied for his dad, an avid golfer, at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

"He had a bag that was about 70 pounds, plus the clubs," he said. "I lasted about four holes. The other kid had to take double."

Lazzeri remembers Yankees Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez, a friend of his father's, coming to watch one of his son's Little League games in Medford. He tells of his father's apprenticeship at age 15 as a boilermaker at an iron foundry.

"He'd catch rivets and throw them to the next guy," Lazzeri recalled — a job credited with building up his father's strength as a power hitter. He mused that the Hall of Famer, chosen in 2003 as the greatest second baseman in Yankees history (a title being challenged by Robinson Cano), never made more than $14,000 in a season.

Lazzeri was known among reporters of the day for being reluctant to talk about his achievements. Interviewing him, according to a writer of the day, was like "trying to mine coal with a nail file and a pair of scissors." It was a trait that apparently extended to his home life.

"My father never talked a great deal about (his career)," Lazzeri said. "He played it, and I guess he was all right, because he's in the Hall of Fame."

COURTESY TONY LAZZERI JR.

 

Lazzeri with his father while he was a minor-league manager after his playing career. Lazzeri died in 1946 at age 42

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