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2022 SABR Baseball Research Award
Before there was Joe DiMaggio, there was Tony Lazzeri. A decade before the “Yankee Clipper” began his legendary career in 1936, Lazzeri paved the way for the man who would become the patron saint of Italian American fans and players. He did so by forging his own Hall of Fame career as a key member of the Yankees’ legendary Murderers’ Row lineup between 1926 and 1937, in the process becoming the first major baseball star of Italian descent.
An unwitting pioneer who played his entire career while afflicted with epilepsy, Lazzeri was the first player to hit sixty home runs in organized baseball, one of the first middle infielders in the big leagues to hit with power, and the first Italian player with enough star power to attract a whole new generation of fans to the ballpark.
As a twenty-two-year-old rookie for the New York Yankees, Lazzeri played alongside such legends as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He immediately emerged as a star, finishing second to Ruth in RBIs and third in home runs in the American League. In his twelve years as the second baseman for Yankee teams that won five World Series, he was their third-most productive hitter, driving in more runs than all but five American Leaguers, and hitting more home runs than all but six.
Yet for all that, today Lazzeri is a largely forgotten figure, his legacy diminished by the passage of time and tarnished by his bases-loaded strikeout to Grover Cleveland Alexander in Game Seven of the 1926 World Series, a strikeout immortalized on Alexander’s Hall of Fame plaque. Tony Lazzeri reveals that quite to the contrary, he was one of the smartest, most talented, and most respected players of his time, the forgotten Yankee who helped the team win six American League pennants and five World Series titles.
About the Author
Lawrence Baldassaro is a professor emeritus of Italian at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. He is the author of Beyond DiMaggio: Italian Americans in Baseball (Nebraska, 2011), Baseball Italian Style: Great Stories Told by Italian American Major Leaguers from Crosetti to Piazza, and The Ted Williams Reader.
"Baldassaro does an incredible job of bringing Tony Lazzeri to the masses. Every baseball fan needs to read this book to appreciate Tony's baseball skills and his place in American society as he is one of the most underrated and unappreciated baseball players in the game's rich history."—Thomas R. Mueller, NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture
"Well-known Joe DiMaggio biographer Baldassaro has scored a gem with this biography of baseball star Tony Lazzeri. . . . This book adds much new detail and perspective to the history and development of baseball. It is a must-read for baseball fans, particularly fans of the New York Yankees. It belongs in all public libraries, and libraries with a local connection to the subject."—Steve Dixon, Library Journal, starred review
"More than a biography of the subtitled Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer, this study helps us understand how this sport affected not only a nation, but also those newcomers looking for a way to fit into the new culture. . . . Tony Lazzeri had a feel for the game that was not restricted to the fields. Beyond his move from sandlots to professional ball, from the minors to the majors, Lazzeri developed a baseball sense that he brought to life, enabling him not only to become an outstanding player, but a deep thinker of the game. . . . Thanks to Baldassaro, today’s generation can better appreciate what this man did for the game and his paesani in his gentlemanly and modest way."—Fred L. Gardaphé, Voices in Italian Americana
"Baldassaro has written the definitive biography of Tony Lazzeri."—Jason Schott , Brooklyn Digest
"In Tony Lazzeri, Baldassaro provides a nuanced view of Italian Americans—on and off the baseball diamond."—Bob D'Angelo, Sports Bookie
"In Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer, Lawrence Baldassaro has written the book that was long overdue. It's remarkably well researched and detailed, and holds the reader's interest from start to finish. In my opinion, it will soon be recognized as the definitive biography of this great Hall-of-Famer ballplayer, Tony Lazzeri. It's one I highly recommend to all baseball fans."—Gary Livacari, Baseball History Comes Alive!
"Great authors write history in a way that makes it seem like a novel. Lawrence Baldassaro does this in his great book. Tony Lazzeri: Yankees Legend and Baseball Pioneer is an outstanding read. I recommend this book highly. It is outstanding and will prove to be one of the definitive texts on the Yankees of this era."—Paul Semendinger, Start Spreading the News
“Cheers to Mr. Baldassaro for mining this terrific story.”—Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of How Life Imitates Sports
“Tony Lazzeri was one of the first Italian American sports stars, a key player of the famed Murderers’ Row Yankees lineup, and an underappreciated American success story who overcame poverty and epilepsy. He is a worthy subject for this closer look at a Hall of Famer.”—Tom Verducci, senior baseball writer for Sports Illustrated and MLB TV commentator
“In real life as in baseball, how one performs in a climactic moment may unfairly obscure a multitude of other feats; Larry Baldassaro’s book reveals its subject to have been not only a wonderful ballplayer but also a great pioneer on behalf of Italian Americans forevermore.”—John Thorn, official historian of Major League Baseball