SABR

Dick Barone

This article was written by Joe Schuster.

But for a bit of luck—if he'd been with a different organization, in which he wasn't caught behind an all-star like Dick Groat or if he hadn't suffered two broken bones in the seventh of what would turn out to be 10 minor-league seasons—shortstop Dick Barone might have had a longer stint in the major leagues than he had: three games, six at bats, with the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of September 1960.

Richard Anthony ("Dick") Barone was born on October 13, 1932, in San Jose, California. He was the youngest of six children of Gus and Anna Barone, who operated a small grocery, Sunnyside Market. 1 Barone's parents were born in Italy and immigrated to the United States in 1901.2 Barone's father died at 45 when Dick Barone was 8 years old; his mother lived to the age of 94.

As a boy, Barone was obsessed with baseball: "One of my brothers pitched and was catcher and first baseman for a semipro team [that the family market sponsored] and I was the batboy and mascot," he said. "That was where I got my love for the game. Because of the weather, we could pretty much play it year round. And we did. If there was no one around to play with, I would spend hours throwing a tennis ball against the gutter and working on my fielding."

Barone said that when he was 12 he wanted so much to play on a recreational league team that when he couldn’t find one he organized one himself, and was its manager and starting pitcher. "I talked to a gym teacher at the middle school about how to register a team with the league," he said. "Then when we started the season, I made up the lineups. I would hit infield to the team and then go and warm up so I could pitch the game."

At San Jose High School, Barone played both basketball and baseball, and was an all-star in both sports.3 In 1950, when he was a senior, Barone had tryouts with the Chicago White Sox and the Pacific Coast League’s San Francisco Seals. According to Barone, Vince DiMaggio, the manager of the class D Far West League Pittsburg (California) Diamonds, offered him a contract to play the summer after he finished high school but, partly because the pay was so low ($300 a month), he turned it down for an opportunity to attend college. "That idea didn't last long and I decided I would rather play baseball," he said.

The next year, he had another tryout, with the Pittsburgh Pirates:

“I used to spend a lot of time playing ball at [San Jose’s] Backesto Park and I often saw [Pirates scout] Bob Fontaine there," Barone said. "I knew he was a scout and I asked him about trying out for the team. The Korean Conflict was going on and he said that because of that a lot of teams would be folding. I told him that I understood that but I still wanted a tryout because I'd always wanted to play professional ball. He arranged for me to go to Anaheim for a tryout and the Pirates signed me to a contract for their [Class C Pioneer League] Great Falls [Montana] team."

While the team didn't give him a bonus to sign his contract, his manager at Great Falls, Buck Elliott, did give him a new pair of baseball spikes because, Barone said, "he thought the ones I had were too big."

Going into his first professional season, 1951, Barone was projected to compete with teammate Don Swanson for the starting third-base job.4 His manager, Buck Elliott told a sportswriter that Barone "is a power at the plate, has a strong throwing arm and is a better than average runner."5

Barone won the job and, despite his relatively small stature (5-feet-9, 165pounds), proved his manager correct in at least part of his assessment almost from the start: in his second professional trip to the plate, he hit a grand slam in the third inning of what turned out to be a "lopsided 14-2 victory."6

Barone was the starting third baseman until the last few games of the season when, because of his strong arm and good range, Elliott moved him to shortstop.7 He ended the season hitting .255 with six home runs. At least one sportswriter picked him for the second team on his post-season Pioneer League All-Star team, behind the Pocatello Cardinals' Nick Ananias who hit .318 with 18 HR.8 In retrospect, Jamie Selko in Minor League All-star Teams, 1922-1962 suggests that Barone should have been on the first team since Selko noted that Ananias played fewer than half of his games at third base, and said that Richard Barone was the best full-time third baseman in the league.9

In 1952, Barone played the full season at shortstop at Billings, Montana, also in the Pioneer League, where one of his teammates was future major-league star Dick Stuart, who led the PL in home runs that year with 31. After the season, Barone was drafted into the Army, where he spent 18 months.10 He completed his basic training at Fort Ord in California then went to Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, where he was in the military police, before ending up in special services, playing baseball for an Army team that traveled the US playing for the troops.

After Barone was discharged, the Pirates sent him to Williamsport in the Class A Eastern League for 1955, where he played shortstop alongside future Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski and hit .264 with 9 HRs. The next year, the Pirates promoted him to New Orleans of the Double A Southern Association. Coming into the season, Barone was tagged as "a flashy 23-year-old shortstop" who had "all of the equipment of star baseball material."11 An opposing manager from the previous year, Reading's Jo-Jo White, rated him "the best [major-league] prospect [in the league]."12 White added, "He's a fine fielder, good base runner, fair hitter, and probably will be playing for Pittsburgh during the coming season."13

Barone hit .270 at New Orleans and earned a spot on the major-league roster to take spring training with the Pirates the next season. In February, Pirates manager Bobby Bragan told reporters that Barone was "ticketed for reserve duty."14

As it turned out, after spring training the Pirates sent Barone to Columbus of the International League, where he had an injury-plagued season in 1957, breaking bones in his foot and hand. He got into only 95 games and batted .182.15 Even so, the Pirates added him to the major-league roster in September of that year, with yet another spring training invitation for 1958.16

Barone was with Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League for both 1958 and 1959, where his hitting was weak but fans appreciated his defensive work. Wrote Salt Lake Tribune sports editor John Mooney, "[One] of the great defensive shortstops in baseball is performing right out there in the person of little Dick Barone. Eddie Leishman [a former PCL shortstop who went on to become a minor league and then major league executive] is amazed every time Barone goes in the hole and throws out a speeding runner.. . .he says, 'It's worth the price of admission to see that guy field.' "17

Barone's play there earned him yet another shot at making the major-league roster in 1960. Reporting on the Pirates once again acquiring his contract, Mooney took another opportunity to praise Barone, saying, "Bee fans will miss little Dick Barone, the hard-throwing shortstop. . .but they will be glad to see Dick get a chance at the majors, especially after working so hard to succeed in the minors. There are those, among them Glen (Buckshot) Wright [a major-league infielder for 11 seasons], who have contended that Barone was a major-league fielder all the time. His only drawback was a light batting average. . ."18

Echoing the writer, Barone's manager at Salt Lake City, Larry Shepard, said, "Dick Barone. . .rates with me as the best defensive shortstop out of the major leagues. . .[He will] be a fine prospect for the majors. Good hands, great arm and speed—he's got them all."19

In spring training that season, Barone ended up being the last player cut. "It was between me and Gene Baker for a utility infield spot and they decided to go with him because he had more experience already," Barone said. At that point, Baker had six seasons in the major leagues, including several years as a starter and one season (1955) as an All-Star second baseman with the Chicago Cubs.

The team's decision did not sit well with at least one fan, who wrote a letter to The Sporting News, expressing his dissent: "I was disappointed to learn the Pirates sent Dick Barone back to the minors. I protested when Frank Howard was named the top minor league over Barone last year. . .I look for Barone to be recalled soon."20

Although he ended up at Columbus in the International League for the season, the Pirates gave Barone a major-league contract, and his $7,200 salary for the year was the highest he ever had in baseball. Despite that, by his own assessment, he "didn't do well there at all," He ended the season hitting .204, the worst average of his career except for the season when he broke two bones. He did, however, win a spot on the midseason All-Star team.21

It was ironic, then, that at the end of what turned out to be the worst full season of his professional career, Barone finally got the call to the Pirates that September. The team intended it to be a "paper" move, but when Dick Groat broke his wrist and the team found itself down an infielder as it closed in on its first National League pennant since 1927, Barone finally had his ticket to the major leagues. To activate him, the Pirates needed special permission from the baseball commissioner's office since his International League season was not yet over.22

Barone got into his first major-league game on September 22 as a pinch-runner for Mickey Vernon with two on, one out in the bottom of the ninth of a 2-2 game against the Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field. "A little earlier," Barone said, "[Pirates Manager Danny] Murtaugh had told me to go down in the runway [beside the dugout] and warm up since I might pinch run. When I took the base, I was just thinking about breaking up a double play." He ended up stranded on first.

The team clinched the pennant three days later. Without having had a single major-league plate appearance, Barone found himself in the middle of a celebration. "I remember being in the clubhouse in Milwaukee where, even though we lost the game, everyone was drenching everyone else with champagne," he said. "As I remember, we got back into Pittsburgh at 2 a.m. and fans were lined up all the way from the airport to downtown." A New York Times article about the parade from the airport estimated that 125,000 Pittsburgh natives turned up for "a torchlight parade" to cheer the Pirates players passing by in convertibles; the newspaper said it was the largest crowd in the city since the late President Franklin Roosevelt had visited in 1932.23

On the day after the celebration, Barone was in the starting lineup for a game against the Cincinnati Reds, playing shortstop and batting eighth. He wound up going hitless in five at-bats, striking out in his first at bat, against Bob Purkey. His second time up, he hit a fly ball to left that he was certain was going to fall in for his first hit. "I remember, because this was Forbes Field, I came out of the [batter's] box thinking I would go for three but [Frank Robinson] tracked it down."

Barone batted three more times, grounding out each time, but playing flawlessly in the field, handling five chances. He got into one more game, as a late-inning substitution at shortstop; he went 0-for-1 and made an error on a groundball.

That was the end of Barone's brief major-league career. He was not a member of the postseason roster, but the players voted him a small World Series share that he recalls was "a few hundred dollars." The day Bill Mazeroski's walk-off home run won the Series was Barone's 28th birthday. Shortly afterward the team sent him back to Salt Lake City.24

Barone played two more years in Triple-A. The Pirates traded him to the White Sox organization and he played shortstop for San Diego in 1961. Then he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels organization and played short for their Hawaii team in 1962. In his last game in Organized Ball (in Salt Lake City where he'd been such a fan favorite) Barone went 3-for-4 and drove in three runs.25

When the Angels didn't call him up at the end of the season, Baron decided it was time to leave the game. "That [1962 season] was the last hurrah," he said. "I'd played [10 seasons] and I was just tired of the travel. I decided it was time to move on."

His decision was partly influenced by the fact that he had a family by then. He had married Ruth Talty in 1956 and had two sons at that point. For the first five years after baseball, he drove a milk truck for the Berkeley Farms dairy and then after that became a route salesman for a company called Langendorf Bakery in San Jose, for which he worked for 24 years until he retired at the age of 59. The Barones moved to Hollister, California, south of San Jose, in 1997, where the family began a business, selling Christmas trees and firewood.

Barone's first wife, with whom he had two sons and two daughters, died in the early 1970s and he married Victoria Kangalos in 1976; she had two daughters. As of 2011, he had nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His grandson Daniel Barone spent six years in the minor leagues (2004-9), primarily with the Florida Marlins organization, and appeared in 16 games as a pitcher for Florida in 2007, six as a starter. As of 2011, he was planning to undergo Tommy John surgery and attempt a comeback.26

Last revised: September 3, 2014

 

This biography is included in the book "Sweet '60: The 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates" (SABR, 2013), edited by Clifton Blue Parker and Bill Nowlin. For more information or to purchase the book in e-book or paperback form, click here.

 

Notes

1 Unless otherwise noted, all information about Dick Barone's life before and after baseball, and all direct quotes from Barone, come from an author interview with him, June 4, 2011

2 Year: 1930; Census Place: San Jose, Santa Clara, California; Roll: 218; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 98; Image: 464.0.

3 Barone player information card on file in the archives of the A. Bartlett Giamatii Research Center of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

4 Al Warden, "Great Falls to Start Season with 11 Experienced Men," Ogden (UT) Standard Examiner (April 8, 1951): 10A.

5 Joe Stell, "Great Falls Has Talent Aplenty," Salt Lake Tribune (April 15, 1951): B11.

6 "G.G. 14, Mustangs 2," (Idaho Falls ID) Post Register (April 25, 1951): 12

7 Barone player information card

8 Joe Shepperd, "Spray of the Falls," (Idaho Falls ID) Post Register (August 24, 1951): 10; Ananias statistics from Baseball-Reference-dot-com <http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=anania001nic>

9 James Selko, Minor League All-star Teams, 1922-1962. (Jefferson NC: McFarland & Company: 2007), 331.

10 Barone player information card

11 Hale Montgomery, "Thirty Uniforms Hang Unclaimed," Aiken (SC) Standard and Review (April 5, 1956): 8

12 JoJo White, "Believes Grid Star Will Be Big Leaguer," The Gettysburg (PA) Times (March 16, 1956): 5

13 Ibid.

14 "Bragan Still Sure of 4th Place for Pirates," The (Huntington and Mount Union PA) Daily News (February 28, 1957): 5

15 "Shortstop Test Under Way – Bees Wait Outcome," Salt Lake Tribune (March 19, 1958): 21

16 "Four Optioned Pirates Report," The (Monessen PA) Daily Independent (September 3, 1957): 7

17 John Mooney, "Sports Mirror," Salt Lake Tribune (July 28, 1958): 26

18 John Mooney, "Sports Mirror," Salt Lake Tribune (October 21, 1959): 27

19 Larry W. Shepard, "Rookie Frank Howard's Power Reaps Raves Despite Tendency to Cut at Bad Pitches," Joplin (Missouri) Globe. (January 22, 1960): 13A

20 Mike Conway, "Barone Booster's Protest," The Sporting News (May 11, 1960): 11

21 "All-Star Team Roster Filled," The Lima (OH) News (June 21, 1960): 12

22 "Bucs Recall Dick Barone," The (Uniontown PA) Morning Herald (September 10, 1960): 13

23 "125,000 Cheering Pittsburghers Greet Their Champion Pirates," The New York Times (September 26, 1960): 43

24 "Bucs, Farms in Exchanges," The (Uniontown PA) Morning Herald (October 20, 1960): 21

25 John Mooney, "Buzzers Lose Pair as Season Ends," Salt Lake Tribune (September 10, 1962): 27

26 Daniel Barone interview, June 4, 2011

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