Vince, Joe, and Dominic DiMaggio were his sidekicks. He and Joe wore their first uniforms while playing with the San Francisco Boys Club team. He played with Joe at Francisco Junior High. Joe played shortstop and Dario was his double-play partner at second base. When he moved on to Galileo High School, Dario played with Dominic, starring in baseball, soccer, and football. Selected to the All-City team in each of the three sports, Dario’s one season on the gridiron saw him as the team’s quarterback.
Dario Antonio Lodigiani was born June 6, 1916, in San Francisco’s famed North Beach section. He was the son of Carlo and Antonietta (Arrigotti) Lodigiani, who came to the US in 1913. Carlo was a baker and Antonietta was a housewife. Dario had three brothers, Louis, Aldo, and Eddie, and a sister, Rita.
Dario seemed destined to spend a lifetime in baseball. His home on Telegraph Hill was only two blocks from the North Beach playground. Except for time spent selling newspapers, he spent every available hour at the paved-surface playground. Baseball, touch football, basketball, and tennis were played according to the season. Nearby was Funston Field with grass diamonds.
During his high-school days, Lodigiani acquired the nickname Dempsey. He won the Catholic Youth Organization boxing championship in his weight division. When the neighborhood bully interfered in their baseball game, Dario decked him, and earned the nickname in reference to noted boxer Jack Dempsey. Old-time North Beach natives called him Dempsey until his death.
After high school, Lodigiani played baseball in the very fast Golden Gate Valley semipro league, soon drawing the attention of the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League. He was signed to a contract by the Oaks’ owner, Cookie DeVincenzi, on the advice of Spike Hennessy, an instructor who scouted local ballfields. Oscar Vitt was hired as manager for the 1935 season, and it’s said this was a factor in his choice of team. There was no bonus, but Lodigiani received a contract for $150 a month. He played with Oakland for part of 1935 and all of 1936 and 1937.
At first the Oaks couldn’t decide if they needed to farm Lodigiani out to a lower minor-league club so he could play every day or keep him in Oakland as a reserve, but when the Oaks’ second baseman injured his groin, Dario stepped in as the regular second baseman. When the injury healed, the other player was traded to Seattle and Lodigiani remained with the Oaks. A right-handed batter,, he hit .395 in his first ten games, .280 in his first full year (1936) and a solid .327, with 18 home runs, in 1937. He was small in stature – 5-feet-8 and 150 pounds – but he had some power, ultimately hitting 75 homers in the minors and 16 in the big leagues (with 71 doubles and seven triples thrown in).
After the 1937 season, Lodigiani was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics for cash and five players. He debuted with Philadelphia on April 18, 1938. He went on to have a solid year for the Athletics, hitting .280, also spending some time in the minors with Williamsport of the Eastern League.
Lodigiani’s salary with the Athletics was $4,000 and he expected a raise for the 1939 season. When he received his contract, it was for the same $4,000. He sent it back unsigned. A second contract was received, again for the same amount. Negotiations between Dario and Connie Mack continued for some time. Lodigiani consulted with San Francisco native and future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri, who told him he should get $5,000 just to sit on the bench. Mr. Mack finally agreed to a contract for $6,500 and Lodigiani reported to spring training.
When Lodigiani arrived at spring training, it was noticed that he had not signed his contract. The team’s traveling secretary was asked to take care of the problem. He sat at the typewriter and asked Dario what amount he had agreed to sign for. Lodigiani said $7,000 and that amount was placed on the contract. The next day Connie Mack saw him in the lobby reading a newspaper. He told Dario he would start the next day and be a regular. As he walked away he turned and said, “And I know about the extra $500.”
In 1940 Philadelphia signed Benny McCoy to play second base. Lodigiani said he could hit and field better than McCoy, but he was sent anyway to Toronto to play every day. He got into just one game with the Athletics that season. At Toronto, Lodigiani was reunited with Lazzeri, who was managing the club. Late in 1940 Lodigiani was traded by Philadelphia to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for pitcher Jack Knott. In 1941 he hit .239 in 87 games and in 1942 he hit .280 in 59 games.
With the Second World War under way, Lodigiani enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and spent 1943-45 in the service. He was first stationed at McClellan Field in Sacramento, with the 73rd Bomb Group, and then at Hickam Field in Hawaii. While in the Army he played on a service team made up of many major leaguers including Joe DiMaggio. The team went undefeated and then played a series of games with a Navy all-star team. After 11 games on different islands in the Pacific, the team was broken up.
Lodigiani was stationed on the island of Tinian when the Enola Gay took off with the atomic bomb targeted on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. He said he knew something big was in the works because the plane was so securely guarded and parked away from the others. Though the baseball work was undeniably good for morale, each player had assignments other than just to play baseball. Lodigiani fueled airplanes, worked on tires, and completed other maintenance tasks.
After being discharged, Lodigiani returned to the White Sox in 1946 and was leading the league in hitting when he was hit by a Bill Bevens curveball in Yankee Stadium. He played five more games and was still hitting .386 but a bone chip “popped loose in Lodigiani’s arm,” and on May 20 he had surgery on his right elbow in Mercy Hospital in Chicago.1 He returned on July 26, but never recovered his form and saw his average plunge to .245 by season’s end. The following spring Lodigiani had trouble throwing and the White Sox released him on April 15. He signed with the Oakland Oaks, who awarded him a $5,000 bonus. He got into 141 games and hit .311. Lodigiani preferred the easier travel and good salaries of the Pacific Coast League, choosing to play there rather than attempt a return to the major leagues. His major-league career ended after 1,364 at-bats and a .260 batting average.
Casey Stengel was the Oakland manager in 1947 and 1948. The latter club won the PCL championship with a club made up of former big leaguers and veteran PCL players and was nicknamed the Nine Old Men. The exception was 18-year-old Billy Martin, who played second most of the time, with Lodigiani moving over to play third base. Dario said it was the most fun he ever had playing baseball and Stengel was the smartest manager he ever played for.
In 1949 most of the Oakland players were placed on waivers as an opportunity to explore the trade market. Lodigiani was a bonus player and could not be removed from waivers. San Francisco claimed him and he moved on to play for manager Lefty O’Doul and the Seals. He stayed there until he was hired to manage the Yakima club in the Pacific Northwest League in 1952. He started 1953 with Yakima, and later managed Ventura and Channel Cities in the California League.
Like many players of the time, Lodigiani needed to work in the offseason. His most exciting job was as a cable stringer on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. He also worked as a longshoreman, a carpet cutter, and a scavenger.
In 1954 Lodigiani left his job as a player-manager to become a scout for the Chicago White Sox at a salary of $5,000 a year. He stayed with the White Sox until 1959, when his old friend Joe Gordon asked him to be an instructor in spring training for the Cleveland Indians. When Gordon moved on to the Kansas City Athletics in 1961, Lodigiani went with him, coaching two years with the Athletics.
With a wife and young daughter living in San Francisco, Lodigiani decided he needed to stay closer to home. He rejoined the White Sox in 1963, scouting in Northern California. He scouted for the White Sox full time until 2001 and was still listed as a part-time scout for Chicago when he died in 2008.
While scouting for the White Sox, Lodigiani was asked to sign a young player named Walter Waddy. Since he had never seen him play, he asked Waddy to get a couple of friends together and meet him for a workout. Three young boys arrived with Waddy. Dario had brought a bucket of baseballs and began pitching to the young men.
The first batter was a small guy but one ball after another left the playing field. The next player was tall and thin. Again, ball after ball left the yard. Lodigiani began to worry that he would run out of baseballs before he got to see Waddy hit. He hired a couple of kids to retrieve the balls, telling them they could keep the baseballs when the workout was over.
The third batter was also tall and thin. He also hit many balls out, perhaps even farther than the first two hitters. Waddy then batted, also impressing Lodigiani. The three batters were Curt Flood, Joe Gaines, and Frank Robinson. Lodigiani immediately called White Sox manager Paul Richards and recommended that Chicago sign all three players – but Richards said the White Sox were in a pennant race and wanted only experienced players. Had the White Sox accepted his recommendation, it might well have been the most productive workout in big-league history.
While Lodigiani was in Seattle on a scouting mission, Hollis Thurston of the White Sox told him the team was about to trade Rocky Colavito back to Cleveland in a complicated deal. He asked Lodigiani to go to Portland to look over an outfielder, Tommie Agee. Agee impressed Lodigiani, who felt he could cover the ground in the large Comiskey Park outfield. But since he was an untried major leaguer who would be replacing an established star, Lodigiani felt the White Sox should receive more in the deal, and insisted that the White Sox also get a left-handed pitcher he liked, Tommy John. By the time the trade was done, the White Sox had picked up Agee, John, and catcher John Romano.
Lodigiani scouted for the White Sox for more than 40 years, eventually working for a man he had once signed as a player, general manager Kenny Williams. On May 1, 2006, the 89-year-old Lodigiani received a 2005 World Championship ring from the White Sox. In front of close friends, relatives, and fellow scout Charlie Silvera, Lodigiani was presented his ring by White Sox executive Roland Hemond. The ceremony took place at the Napa Valley St. Clement winery. Hemond and Lodigiani had been friends since 1970, when Hemond joined the White Sox front office. The longtime friends exchanged hugs and tears on the happy occasion.
Press and television covered the event. Pictures were taken for the newspaper with Lodigiani, Hemond, and Silvera comparing their rings. (Former New York Yankees catcher Silvera had so many rings that he had to display both hands.) Lodigiani soon received a call from White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Dario’s reply included these words, “I want to thank you and the White Sox for taking care of me. Thanks a million. This is a day I’ll never forget.”
Soon after the ceremony, Lodigiani celebrated his 90th birthday. His daughter Diane said she was going to have a birthday party for him, but Dario said, “You’ll never throw one that will top the one when I got my ring.”
Lodigiani died on February 10, 2008, in Napa, California. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California. He was survived by his daughter, Diane, and granddaughter, Julie. His signings include Johnny Callison, Stan Johnson, Gene Leek, Rich Morales, Ron Lolich, Bob Spence, Ken Hottman, Mike Buskey, Nyls Nyman, Dave Frost, Mike Colbern, Rusty Kuntz, Chris Nyman, Guy Hoffman, Fran Mullins, Ken Williams, and Jack McDowell.
Interviews with Dario Lodigiani and his family from June 2004 through January 2005.
Napa Valley Register, May 2, 2006
- 1. The Sporting News, June 5, 1946