This is game 27 of the 2012 baseball season.
In the first inning let’s take a look at This Week in Baseball History for the 1 week of July.
1935 Brothers Tony and Al Cuccinello each hit a home run in the same game making it the first time in major league history that brothers on opposing teams have hit round trippers. Tony’s Dodgers beat Al’s Giants, 14-4.
Anthony Francis Cuccinello, nicknamed “Tony” or “Cootch” was born November 8, 1907, in Long Island City, New York.
While playing in the minor leagues, Cuccinello caught the attention of Branch Rickey who purchased his contract for the Reds after the 1929 season. Tony made his debut on Opening Day, April 15, 1930, playing third base in a losing effort against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Cuccinello had a solid rookie season, batting .312 with 10 home runs and 78 Runs Batted In. In 1931 the Reds shifted Tony to second base and he responded with a .315 average and 93 Runs Batted In, a club record for second basemen until broken by Joe Morgan in 1975. In his best offensive performance that year he got hits in six consecutive at-bats, including two doubles and a triple. He led the league’s second basemen in putouts, assists, errors, and double plays.
Despite Cuccinello’s performances on the field, he refused to sign the contract the Reds tendered to him and found himself shipped to the Brooklyn Dodgers to begin the 1932 season. Tony played in all 154 games that year, turning in respectable offensive numbers for a second baseman (.281, 12 homers, 32 doubles, and 77 RBIs) but, more importantly, becoming a teammate of future Hall of Fame manager Al Lopez, with whom he would begin a lifelong friendship.
Cuccinello’s performance in 1932 earned him a spot on the roster of first All-Star Game in 1933 (the so-called “Game of the Century”), where he had the dubious distinction of pinch-hitting for Carl Hubbell in the top of the ninth and striking out to end the game.
In 1935, Cuccinello’s younger brother, Al, made his major league debut and played in 54 games with the New York Giants, the only major league experience Al would have. The brothers played against each other several times that year and both homered in the same game on July 5. Tony’s homer was a solo shot in the top of the eighth and Al’s a two-run blast in the bottom of the ninth inning of a game Brooklyn won 14–4.
After four years with the Dodgers, Cuccinello was on the move again when Brooklyn traded him to the Boston Braves. In Boston in 1936, Cuccinello had one of his best offensive seasons, batting .308 and driving in 86 runs. Cuccinello‘s excellent defensive performances continued in Boston, as well.
In 1939 Cuccinello suffered a knee injury after Dick Bartell of the Chicago Cubs slid into him at second base, and surgery sidelined him for two months. His first game back after the surgery Cuccinello had 10 assists in a 22-inning game while playing third base. The knee never really improved despite the surgery, and Cuccinello was traded to the Giants midway through the 1940 season. At the end of that season Cuccinello retired for the first time, so that he could manage the Jersey City Giants in the International League.
Jersey City finished fifth in the eight-team league in 1941, and Cuccinello was prepared to manage again in 1942, but instead was called by his former Brooklyn manager Casey Stengel, then with the Braves, who asked Cuccinello to join his staff as a player-coach.
In 1942 Cuccinello threw batting practice, coached third base, and pinch-hit for Stengel, and in mid-season 1943 was released so that he could sign with the Chicago White Sox, a team desperately in need of players to replace those who enlisted in the military. Cuccinello, who suffered from chronic laryngitis, was not drafted into military service, and therefore was able to continue his career.
From mid-1943 through the 1944 season Cuccinello was a reserve infielder who appeared in fewer than 50 games each year, and he later said that but for the war he likely would have retired before the 1945 season.
But in 1945 Cuccinello went to a spring training in, Indiana where he had a mineral bath every day, followed by a rubdown and a nap, and entered the season feeling the best he had ever felt. Perhaps it was the mineral baths or the naps, but nevertheless after the Indiana spring training Cuccinello embarked on a near-title-winning year, and retired from playing for good at the end of that campaign.
Cuccinello was involved in what remains the closest batting race in major league history, when, as a member of the Chicago White Sox, he lost the 1945 American League batting title to George “Snuffy” Stirnweiss of the Yankees by a margin of .000087.
Cuccinello had a fast start in 1945, keeping his average in the .380–.390 range for the first few months. The heat of the Chicago summer eventually wore him down, however, and at what was then the advanced age (for a ballplayer) of 37, Cuccinello did not play every day, and in fact had to play more in September to achieve sufficient at-bats to qualify for the batting title. Stirnweiss edged out Cuccinello on the final day of the season, when a White Sox doubleheader was rained out and Stirnweiss went 3-for-4 against the Boston Red Sox. One of those hits, however, was scored an error initially, and then changed to a hit by the official scorer, who just happened to be a writer for the Bronx Home News. According to Cuccinello, he was told at the time that the official scorer only changed the call after he was informed that the White Sox had been rained out and Cuccinello’s season was over. Ironically, Cuccinello later coached Stirnweiss with the Cleveland Indians, and Snuffy confirmed the shenanigans when he told Cuccinello: “He (the writer) gave it to me.”
Cuccinello was out of baseball in 1946, but managed in the minor leagues in 1947. The following year he reunited with Al Lopez in Indianapolis, where they coached the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association.
In 1949 Cuccinello began a three-year stint as a coach with his first major league team, the Reds, and in 1952 he joined Al Lopez’s coaching staff on the Cleveland Indians, the first of several such positions he would hold.
Cuccinello’s first postseason experience came as a coach with the Indians in the 1954 World Series, which the heavily favored Indians lost to the San Francisco Giants. In 1957, Cuccinello followed Lopez to the Chicago White Sox, and in 1959, as third base coach, was involved in a controversial play that some said at the time led to the White Sox’ demise at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1959 World Series. In Game 2 of the Series, Sherm Lollar, the White Sox catcher, was on first base in the bottom of the eighth with nobody out, a man on second, and the score 4–2 in favor of the Dodgers. The next batter, Al Smith, doubled to left-center. The runner at second (Earl Torgeson, running for Ted Kluszewski) scored easily. Cuccinello waved Lollar home, where he was thrown out—by a good margin, by all accounts. When the Sox went on to lose the Series four games to two, Cuccinello immediately was awarded goat horns and tagged with the blame for the Series loss.
Lopez defended his friend and fellow coach, telling a Chicago Daily News reporter first, that in his opinion the play itself was fine, and more importantly, that the play was not the turning point of the Series, that the Sox’ inability to run in the Coliseum was what led to their demise.
Lopez repeated that opinion in an interview with The Sporting News, noting that it took a perfect play by the Dodgers’ defense to nail Lollar at the plate. One of the Dodgers involved in the play, outfielder Wally Moon, expressed the same opinion during the off-season after the World Series when he said that he also might have sent Lollar if he were in Cuccinello’s shoes, because the odds were against the Dodgers making the play.
In any event, Cuccinello survived the controversy and continued coaching in Chicago into Eddie Stanky’s managerial tenure, which started in 1966. In 1967 Cuccinello joined the staff of new Tigers manager Mayo Smith.
Cuccinello enjoyed his first and only World Series championship in 1968 when the Tigers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games.
Cuccinello left the Tigers in 1969 to reunite with Al Lopez, who managed the White Sox for 17 games that season. Cuccinello then retired to Tampa, Florida, where he worked as a Yankees scout in the area until retiring from baseball completely in 1985.
Tony Cuccinello died on September 21, 1995, in Tampa, FL at the age of 87.
A large part of this biography comes from the SABR Baseball Biography Project written by Barb Mantegani. It can be found online at http://bioproj.sabr.org
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Well, that’s it for today’s Baseball History Podcast. I’ll see you later at the ballpark.