With apologies for the long period of no reviews, I am back to reviewing after getting my personal schedule settled. This book is one that those who are not familiar with Tony Lazzeri and what he meant to the Italian-American population in the 1920's and 1930's should read. Like me, readers will learn a lot about not only the man, but also about the social inequities that this population was facing.
Title/Author: "Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer" by Lawrence Baldassaro
Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)
Review: When one thinks of the 1927 New York Yankees, the first names that come to mind are Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. However, they were far from the only two fine baseball players on that historic team. One was Tony Lazzeri, whose main claim to fame prior to 1927 came the previous October when he struck out in the World Series against Grover Cleveland Alexander with the bases loaded. Unfortunately, history was not kind to Lazzeri for many years afterward because of that one strikeout but that was eventually corrected and Lazzeri became a member of the baseball Hall of Fame in 1991, 45 years after his untimely death at age 42. Lazzeri's life and career is captured in this book by Lawrence Baldassaro.
The structure is the same basic format as most sports biographies – accounts of Lazzeri's family and his childhood in the hometown. In his case, that is San Francisco. Then it covers his career and important personal events, a detailed account of not only the baseball on the field but also important events and implications off the field and finally his life after baseball. Some parts of this are short, such as the latter because he died soon after his baseball career was over but overall the book is well organized and reads well.
There are two big takeaways from reading this book, especially if the reader knows little about Lazzeri. One is that no matter how good his statistics were (and they were VERY good for an extended period in the 1920's and 1930's) there was always something to overshadow them. If not the strikeout in 1926 mentioned earlier, it would be the success of his teammates like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, or it would be the press coverage that would make slurs of his Italian heritage. At the time, as Baldassaro reminds the reader, slurs like "dago" and "wop" were common in putting down Italians.
However, the second big takeaway from the book is that despite this negative press, Lazzeri's success was an inspiration to Italian-Americans and gave them a baseball hero they could look up to, follow in the newspaper or in the stands and point out with pride that he was one of theirs. Lazzeri never shied away from this, despite being mostly private. While he was considered an excellent teammate by those he played with, he always preferred to keep his personal life private, something that wasn't always successful.
Despite all of this, many do agree, then and now, that Lazzeri deserves his place in baseball history both for his representation of his ethnicity and his performance on the field. Even though he did not complete his career as a Yankee, playing briefly for the Cubs, Giants and the minor league Toronto Maple Leafs before ending his playing days, he is considered to be one of the all time Yankee greats. After reading this book, the reader will understand why that is the case.
I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.