Diamond to Boot: Legendary Italian Baseball Players You Need to Know

Representing Italy in Baseball

Since the 19th century, Major League Baseball (MLB) has had a diverse pool of players, including Italian baseball players.

Italian athletes have impacted baseball by playing in various positions, such as shortstop, infielder, outfielder, baseman, catcher, and pitcher. Here are some legendary Italian Major League Baseball players you need to know.

baseball on the field

Italians and Baseball – A History Lesson

Baseball is America’s pastime, but the sport has a long history extending beyond the United State’s borders. Italy is one country that has made significant contributions to baseball. The involvement of Italian-Americans traces back to the early 1900s when they started immigrating to the United States with influence at all game levels. 

Many Italian immigrants settled in East Coast cities, such as New York City and Boston, forming communities and social clubs and later forming teams and leagues.

Aside from being players, Italian-Americans have also succeeded in baseball management and ownership. Joe Torre, who managed the New York Yankees from 1996 to 2007, was one of the most prominent Italian-American baseball executives. 

The success of Italians in the MLB has led to the growth and development of baseball in Italy, with the founding of the Italian Baseball League in 1948, with more than 40 teams in the league. Italian baseball players such as Anthony Rizzo, Chris Colabello, and Brandon Nimmo have all had successful careers in Major League Baseball.

Famous Italian Baseball Players

Anthony Vincent Rizzo (Born August 8, 1989)

Place of birth: Parkland, Florida. 

Position: First baseman

Statistics: .265 batting average, 283 home runs, 889 RBIs, and 1476 hits

Known as Alex Rizzo, whose nicknames are Tony or Rizz. He is left-handed and began his Major League Baseball (MLB) career with the San Diego Padres in 2011 and then traded to the Chicago Cubs, where he played from 2012 until mid-season 2021.

During his tenure with the Cubs, Rizzo became a beloved player in the city and was instrumental in helping the team win the World Series in 2016. Rizzo has been named to the All-Star team three times, winning several Gold Glove Awards and a Silver Slugger Award. 

Carmen Ronald Fanzone  (Born November 26, 1943, Died March 1, 2022)

Place of birth: Detroit, Michigan

Position: Third baseman

Statistics: .241 batting average, 20 home runs, and 94 RBIs.

Fanzone, known for his powerful hitting abilities, played in the MLBs with the Chicago Cubs in 1970 and the Boston Red Sox between 1971 and 1974.

One of Fanzone’s notable achievements includes hitting his first major league home run off the Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver in 1970. 

Christopher Adrian Colabello (Born October 24, 1983)

Place of birth: Framingham, Massachusetts

Position: First baseman, outfielder

Statistics: .259 batting average, 28 home runs, and 111 RBIs.

Known as Chris Colabello, he played college baseball at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, before beginning his professional career in the Can-Am League. 

Colabello played for several teams, including the Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Can-Am League, the Nashua Pride of the same league, and the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB).

In 2012, he signed with the Twins and made his MLB debut in 2013. He played for the Twins for two seasons before being released in 2015 and signing with the Blue Jays between 2015 and 2016.

Colabello’s career highlights included being named the Can-Am League MVP in 2011. Colabello, who grew up in Italy, played for Italy in the 2013 and 2016 World Baseball Classics and other tournaments.

Dario Antonio Lodigiani (Born June 6, 1916, Died February 10, 2008)

Place of birth: San Francisco, California. 

Position: Infielder

Statistics: .260 batting average, 16 home runs, and 156 RBIs.

Lodigiani began his professional career in the minor leagues in 1935 before making his Major League debut with the Philadephia Athletics in 1938. He later joined the Chicago White Sox, where he played between 1941 and 1942, then in 1946.

After retirement as a player, Lodigiani became a scout for the Chicago White Sox and coached the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Athletics. The Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame inducted Lodigiana in 2006.

Edward James Abbaticchio (Born April 15, 1877, Died January 6, 1957) 

Place of birth: Latrobe, Pennsylvania

Position: Shortstop and second baseman

Statistics: .254 batting average, 11 home runs, and 324 runs batted in (RBIs)

Nicknamed Ed, Abbaticchio debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies on September 4, 1897, and he went on to play for the Boston Beaneaters and Pittsburgh Pirates. Abbaticchio was the first Major League Baseball and professional football player of Italian ancestry and was part of the World Series in 1909.

baseball player

John Patsy Francona (Born November 4, 1933, Died February 13, 2018)

Place of birth: Aliquippa, Pennsylvania

Position: Outfielder, first baseman

Statistics: .272 batting average, 125 home runs, and 656 RBIs.

Francona’s father nicknamed him Tito, which stuck throughout his career. He played for multiple teams, including the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Milwaukee Brewers.

Francona had notable achievements, including winning the 1961 American League. He was also a 1959 National League champion Milwaukee Braves team member and played in the 1961 MLB All-Star Game.

Joseph Paul DiMaggio (Born November 25, 1914, Died March 8, 1999)

Place of birth: Martinez, California,

Position: Centre fielder

Statistics: .325 batting average, 361 home runs, 2,214 hits, and 1,537 RBIs.

DiMaggio, nicknamed Yankee Clipper, Joltin Joe, or Joe D for his speed and agility on the field, played for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951, was a 13-time All-Star, a nine-time World Series champion, and won three American League MVP among many other accolades.

He also twice won the prestigious batting title and was known for his exceptional defensive skills, winning a record-tying nine Gold Glove Awards.

DiMaggio holds the record for the longest hitting streak in MLB history, with 56 consecutive games in 1941. He also set a record of hitting safely in 61 of 63 games during the 1936 season. In addition, he was named the most valuable player of the 1939 World Series after leading the Yankees to victory.

His impressive accomplishments on and off the field earned Dimaggio a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955.

Marcos Scutaro (Born October 30, 1975)

Place of birth: San Felipe, Yaracuy, Venezuela. 

Position: Second baseman and shortstop

Statistics: .277 batting average, 77 home runs, 509 RBIs

Scutaro began his professional career in the minor leagues, playing for several teams before making his MLB debut with the New York Mets in 2002. During his 13-year career, he played for the Oakland Athletics, Toronto Blue Jays, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, and San Francisco Giants.

Scutaro was the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series in 2012 and helped lead the San Francisco Giants to a World Series championship that same year.

Scutaro retired from baseball in 2014 after missing the entire season due to an injury.

Nathan Edward Eovaldi (Born February 13, 1990)

Place of birth: Alvin, Texas

Position: Pitcher

Statistics: Earned run average (ERA) of 4.24, 1,060 strikeouts, and a win-loss record of 67-68.

Eovaldi, who is of Italian descent, began his professional career in 2008 after drafting into the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made his MLB debut in 2011 and played for the Dodgers until trading him in 2012 to the Miami Marlins.

After two seasons with the Marlins, the New York Yankees traded Eovaldi in 2014. He spent two and a half seasons with the Yankees before being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. In 2019, he signed a four-year contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Eovaldi has also pitched in the postseason, helping the Red Sox win the World Series in 2018.

Phillip Francis Rizzuto (Born September 25, 1917, Died August 13, 2007)

Place of birth: Brooklyn, New York. 

Position: Shortstop

Statistics: .273 batting average, 38 home runs, 563 RBIs.

Rizzuto nicknamed the Scooter, played his entire 13-year Major League Baseball career for the New York Yankees from 1941 to 1956. He had exceptional defensive skills and the ability to bunt and steal bases.

 Rizzuto was a five-time All-Star and named the American League Most Valuable Player in 1950. He was also a member of seven World Series championship teams with the Yankees.

Rizzuto retired in 1956 and became the Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 1994.

Salvatore Anthony Maglie (Born April 26, 1971, Died December 28, 1992)

Place of Birth: Niagara Falls, New York. 

Position: Pitcher

Statistics: 119-62 win-loss record with a 3.15 ERA and 862 strikeouts.

Known as Sal Maglie and nicknamed Sal the Barber because of his close shaves, he played for several teams, including the Cleveland Indians, New York Giants, Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees, and St. Louis Cardinals. 

Maglie was a two-time All-Star team in 1951 and 1952. and was part of the New York Giants when they were the champions of the World Series in 1954.

After retirement as a player, he held several executive positions, such as coaching several Boston Red Sox and scouting for the Seatle Pilots.

Samuel Joseph Dente (Born March 25, 1922, Died March 28, 2002)

Place of birth: Harrison, New Jersey

Position: Shortstop

Statistics:.252 batting average, four home runs, and 214 RBIs.

Fondly known as Sam Dente, his nickname was the Jet for his speed and agility on the field; he began his MLB career with the Boston Red Sox in 1947 and played for the St Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox, and Cleveland Indians during his nine-season career.

Steve Charles Balboni (Born January 16, 1957)

Place of birth: Brockton, Massachusetts

Position: First baseman and designated hitter

Statistics: .229 batting average, 181 home runs, and 495 RBIs.

Balboni attended Morris Harvey College in West Virginia, and the New York Yankees drafted him in 1978.

Balboni earned a few nicknames, including Bye Bye, due to his tendency to hit towering home runs. Balboni played for six teams during his 11-year Major League Baseball career, including the Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals, and Texas Rangers. 

One of Balboni’s career achievements came in 1985; he was the first baseman for the Kansas City Royals, helping the team win the World Series.

baseball player in stadium

Final Thoughts

Baseball players of Italian descent have significantly contributed to baseball throughout history. Many more players have gone on to break records and become inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame for their contributions to the game.

After retiring, some players took up management and administrative roles in baseball, while others left the game and successfully built careers in other industries.