Baldassaro interview collection details rich history of Italian Americans in baseball

Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series
Written by: Janey Murray

When Lawrence Baldassaro finally put two and two together, he realized he was the perfect person to chronicle the rich history of Italian Americans in baseball.

“Here I am, all four grandparents and my mother were born in Italy, so they were immigrants. I’m a professor of Italian, and I’m writing about baseball,” Baldassaro said. “Why not write about Italians in baseball?”

It began with an interview with Phil Rizzuto in 1993 at Milwaukee County Stadium, where Baldassaro was a frequent visitor thanks to his role as a writer for the Brewers’ Game Day Magazine. Decades later, Baldassaro is the author of three different books focused on Italian Americans’ contributions to baseball – and now, a collection of the interviews he conducted for one of those books is part of the Hall of Fame’s Recorded Media Archives.

Baldassaro grew up in Western Massachusetts as a devoted fan of the Red Sox and Ted Williams. His playing career came to an end after a childhood spent in American Legion ball and a brief tenure in college and semipro ball. But by the 1980s, Baldassaro, then a professor of Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, got back into the game by writing about it – and eventually recognized a void he could fill.

“I discovered at that time, very little had been written about Italian Americans in baseball, in spite of an incredible history that goes back to the 1920s,” Baldassaro said.

His first book, “Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball”, published in 2011, provides a narrative history of Italian Americans’ contributions to the game. “Baseball Italian Style: Great Stories Told by Italian American Major Leaguers from Crosetti to Piazza”, published in 2018, uses first-person accounts from Italian-American baseball players, presented in a style modeled after Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times”, long considered one of the great first-person accounts of baseball history.

Baldassaro’s most recent book, “Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer”, details the life of Hall of Famer and longtime Yankees second baseman Tony Lazzeri.

Thanks to Baldassaro’s recent donation, a collection of interviews conducted for “Baseball Italian Style” are now part of the Hall of Fame’s Recorded Media Archives, and can be accessed by visiting the the Museum’s Giamatti Research Center in Cooperstown.

The interviews were conducted from 1993-2017, and include conversations with dozens of former big leaguers, including Larry Bowa, Dom DiMaggio, Tony La Russa and Rizzuto, among many others.

Baldassaro’s interviews, conducted with players from a variety of different generations, provide a look at the human side of the game, and the many ways in which life as a big leaguer has changed over time.

He knew that, for posterity, the Hall of Fame was just the place where these rich accounts of baseball history should reside.

“The game on the field pretty much stayed the same, but it changed in many ways – day games, no night games, traveling by train, sharing rooms in the hotels, working in the offseason,” Baldassaro said. “These stories do reveal the humanity behind the statistics, and they provide, I think, a very vivid description of day-to-day life in the big leagues, going back to the 1930s, all the way to today, seeing how life in the big leagues has changed.”

And yet, despite the many changes to the game, by Baldassaro’s observation, the core motivations of baseball’s greatest talents have remained largely stagnant.

“You get a sense from every one of them that, yeah, they made money, and some of the more recent ones a lot of money, but fundamentally, the motivation was always, ‘I love the game, and that’s what I want to do with my life,’” Baldassaro said.

Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the BASEBALL HISTORY series