Mike Fiore

This article was written by Bill Nowlin

Brooklyn-born Mike Fiore was signed by the New York Mets on July 2, 1962, while he was still a 17-year-old student at Lafayette High School. He’d been the unanimous choice for all-city first baseman in the 1962 season, batting .476 with nine home runs. In three years of high school baseball, he had struck out only two times and both came on called third strikes.1 Signed by the Mets’ Clarence “Bubber” Jonnard, Fiore was given a bonus reported as between $12,000 and $15,000 and was asked to report in the spring of 1963.2 Present at the workout at the Polo Grounds was his high school coach, Ed Mitko. Though from Brooklyn, Fiore had been a Yankees fan growing up. “Mickey Mantle was my favorite. Who else?”3

Michael Gary Joseph Fiore was born on October 11, 1944. “My father Charles was into baseball,” Fiore said in a June 2018 interview. “He told me he actually had a shot to go with the Giants — he was a pitcher — but they wanted him to go to A ball. He said, ‘No, I want to go to the big leagues or forget about it.’ They said, ‘Forget about it,’ so he went to work for the transit authority in the city. The I.R.T., I believe it was.  The subway. He had a good job; he didn’t do much.”4

He added, “My mother’s name was Genevieve; she was a schoolteacher. I had a sister Lorraine; she has passed.”

Mike attended P.S. 177 and Lafayette High School. He played in Florida Winter League ball in 1962, and in 1963 was assigned to the Quincy (IL) Jets in the Single-A Midwest League. A left-hander, he stood an even six feet tall and was listed at 175 pounds.  He played in 122 games, almost all of them at first base, and batted .268 with 7 homers and 60 runs batted in. He stole 20 bases. His stats were good, but not good enough for the Mets to add him to their protected list and he was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles on December 2, 1963, in the first-year player draft.

He spent the next five seasons in minor-league baseball for the Orioles. He started spring training with the Baltimore club in 1964 but his year was mostly spent in South Dakota, playing for the Aberdeen Pheasants in the Class A Northern League. In 113 games he batted .283 with 23 homers and 73 RBIs. The Orioles also had him play in the Florida Instructional League that fall.

Fiore was assigned even further away from Brooklyn in 1965, playing in Pasco, Washington, for the Tri-City Atoms in the Class A Northwest League. He excelled, batting .320 with 24 homers and a league-leading 106 RBIs. He was the league’s All-Star first baseman. The Atoms won the league playoffs, with Fiore driving in nine runs and playing key offensive roles in three consecutive Atoms victories.5

In 1966, he split his season between Double A and Triple A. He started the season with Eastern League Elmira Pioneers, mostly playing outfield. After batting .308 in 45 games, and earning league Player of the Month honors in May, he was promoted to the Rochester Red Wings (Triple-A International League.) There it was tougher going; he hit. 244 in 60 games. He did have some big hits, however, such as the two-run homer in the 13th inning in an exhibition game at Rochester on July 25 that beat the visiting big-league Orioles. On August 9, though, he suffered a broken right wrist attempting a shoestring catch in the outfield.

In early 1967, he received word to report to Fort Bragg for six months’ duty with the United States Army. He was discharged and traveled to Elmira on August 8, with the injury and Army duty having cost him almost exactly one year of playing time. He got into 19 games, batting just .176. He drove in four runs. The Orioles had him play in the Florida league again, after the regular season.

He began the 1968 season with Rochester again, and put up solid, though not spectacular, figures: .271/16/62. His biggest day was June 2 when he hit three home runs in the first game of a doubleheader at Toledo, all off Dick Radatz. His year had been briefly interrupted for two weeks of reserve duty. He also got married on June 29. His wife, Camille Santora, was a sixth-grade teacher in Jamaica, Long Island. It’s a marriage that has lasted 50 years. After the IL season ended, he was called up to Baltimore.  

Fiore made his major-league debut on September 21, 1968, in Chicago. He came on in the bottom of the eighth as a defensive replacement for first baseman Boog Powell. He didn’t get an at-bat, but recorded two putouts at first base. He played in five more games, all at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. He started in left field on September 23. grounded out in his first at-bat, but reached on an error, took second base, and later scored. A fly out and two strikeouts followed. The final score was 2-1, Orioles. The next day, he was 0-for-3 but got on base twice with a walk and a hit by pitch. He walked again, and scored another run on September 25. Finally, after 17 plate appearances, he collected a single to right field in his fifth time up on the 26th. It’s good he got that hit; it was the only one he had in the big leagues that year. He was 1-for-17 (.059).

He had to wait until April 19, 1969, to get his first run batted in.When he did, it was for the Kansas City Royals. It was the inaugural season for the Royals, who had selected Fiore from the Orioles in October 1968 in the second round of that year’s expansion draft. He was the 17th pick overall.

That first RBI came in the fifth game the Royals ever played. It was a leadoff home run in the second inning, the first home run in Royals history, hit off Blue Moon Odom.

Fiore was the first-string first baseman for Kansas City. He appeared in 107 games and hit a very good .274 — second only to Lou Piniella on the team. He homered 12 times in all and drove in 35 runs, including some game-winners. He scored 53 runs. It was his most complete season in the majors.

For the 1970 season, Charlie Metro succeeded Joe Gordon as manager of the Royals. The chemistry wasn’t there, Fiore said. “Metro disliked me from the start, and it was mutual. There wasn’t a player on the club who liked the guy.”6 It had at first seemed that Fiore had won the first-base job.7 But Bob Oliver became the Royals’ first baseman in 1970 and played in 160 games. Fiore appeared in 25 games for the Royals and accumulated 85 plate appearances, but was only batting .181 and with four RBIs by May 28, when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox for left-handed-hitting infielder Tommy Matchick (who had only one hit on the season — a single — in 16 plate appearances.) Boston manager Eddie Kasko said he planned to use Fiore in pinch-hitting roles. The Boston Globe was unimpressed with the trade, running a cynical headline: “Matchick for Fiore Doesn’t Shake Up Baseball World.”8 Pat Horne of the Boston Record American was far more generous: “Fiore had displayed the ability to hit the long ball and to get on base…Fiore’s history indicated an exceptionally good eye at the plate. He got on base in all but 14 of his 107 games last year. In addition, he is regarded as a good glove man, who can also play in the outfield.”9

Neither player prospered, though Matchick brought his average up to .196. When George Scott was moved from first base to third base, Fiore had hoped to have his shot at first base, but Carl Yastrzemski was brought in from left field to play first. Fiore saw little action. He drove in four more runs for the Red Sox, finishing the season with eight. He had seven base hits (all singles) in 59 plate appearances.

During the offseasons, Fiore worked as a department store supervisor. He explained, “Yes, for a store we had called Abraham & Strauss. One scout who worked for the Dodgers – Steve Lembo – he was a boss at the downtown Brooklyn store. I worked there. Jake Wood worked there. Joe Pignatano worked there. PepitoneGeorge Bamberger. He said any players…if you’d go into any of the stores, or the main store, he’d give you a job for the winter. For a month, six weeks, or two hours. That’s what we did. The money was not what they’re making now.

“I did that when I was first signed. After we got married, I had to commute in from Long Island but I did that three or four years.”10

Fiore really impressed the brass in spring training 1971. He said he’d lost weight over the winter, and stopped smoking. He said his wife Camille had told him he was “holding my bat higher thanI used to.” He was among the team leaders in spring training batting average, homers, and RBIs.11 Kasko saw him as valuable: “I consider Fiore a very good bench man. He’s got the proper mental make-up for such a role. He’s not a moaner.” Kasko intended to use him to fill in at first base, play outfield in emergencies, and pinch-hit. He knew that Fiore had been disappointed not to have been used more in 1970, “but this year he came into camp with the attitude that he’s going to be ready at all times.” For his part, Fiore said, “I guess not playing regularly [in 1970] had some effect, but I’m not making any excuses.”12

He stayed with the Red Sox for the full 1971 campaign, but he went into a slump when the regular season began and never really had enough playing time — if that’s what it takes — to break out of it.13 He played in eight complete games, but either pinch-hit or played as a late-inning defensive replacement in 43 others. Once again, he lost a couple of weeks midseason due to military service obligations. He hit .177 for the season and drove in six runs. Two of the six came in his last at-bat for Boston, pinch-hitting and doubling in the winning runs on September 16 against Cleveland.

He was told he had a shot at winning the first-base role during spring training 1972, but lost time with a pulled back muscle. On March 20, Fiore was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfielder Bob Burda. He was assigned to Tulsa but almost immediately called up to the Cardinals, where he saw little action. Three months later, Fiore was batting and had driven in just one run. It was a significant one, however, a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth on May 7 against Atlanta. On June 20, the Cardinals sold him to the San Diego Padres, sent Bob Chlupsa to San Diego’s club in Hawaii and purchased Rafael Robles for Tulsa.14

For the Padres, he pinch-hit seven times. He drew an intentional walk in one game, but otherwise made outs in the other six, three by striking out. His last major-league game was on July 2. The Padres sent him back to the Cardinals, who sent him to the minors to play for their Triple-A affiliate Tulsa Oilers. With Tulsa, he was used in 49 games and hit .250 with 14 RBIs.

For the next six years, Fiore played minor-league ball, all at the Triple-A level. 

In early February 1973, the Atlanta Braves traded minor-league pitcher Garry Hill to the Cardinals for Fiore, who began the season playing for the International League Richmond Braves. On June 7, he was assigned outright to the Yankees’ Syracuse Chiefs. He hit a combined .244 with 46 RBIs in 110 league games.

On March 19, 1974, Fiore was dealt to the Rochester Red Wings for a player to be named later. From 1974 through 1977, he stuck with the same team for all four years. His average was steady — .265, .268, .268, and .284. He played most of the games each year, except for 1975 when an injury cost him about 30 games.  “I sprained my knee. It wasn’t a tear, but I was out…maybe I was out a month. I remember the first time I was with Rochester, in ’66, I was in the outfield and Reggie Smith hit a fly ball. It was hooking away and I dove for it. And I came down on my hand and broke a bone in my hand. I missed the rest of that season. It was my knee in ’75.”

In both 1974 and 1975, he pitched — albeit very briefly. He threw two innings in two games in 1974 and four innings in two games in 1975. He had pitched an inning with Quincy back in 1963 and three innings for the Tri-City Atoms in 1965. All told, over the four seasons, he worked 10 innings, giving up only two earned runs. He was 0-0 (1.80) for his pitching career.

Defensively, Fiore was very good at first base, with a career fielding percentage at all levels of play of .991 in a total of 9,429 chances. In the majors, he’d been .988 in 1,136 chances.

Fiore’s last season of minor-league play was in 1978, when he hit .229 with seven RBIs (and the final home run of his career) for the Columbus Clippers, the Pirates’ I.L. affiliate. He was released in early July.15

Life after baseball saw both Mike and Camille Fiore working for the local school system. “When I finished with baseball, I got a job here in the school district in Mineola. My wife was an elementary school teacher, so it was good. We had the same days off. I was in transportation. I was the dispatcher. I did that for 20 years.

“We had to make sure of the runs they had to go on, where the pickups were. Where they came in. Make sure everything in the yard was all right. As long as everyone came in, it was a great job. If we had three or four guys out, or girls, then we had to do some shuffling. But it was a good job. It was fun. It was close, and you had plenty of time off.

“We’ve been living out here since we got married. We rented an apartment one year. They gave us an option. The next year they gave us a lease for about $20 more, but we decided to buy a house and we’re still in the same house.”

In fact, the Fiores have three residences, not just one — two houses and one condo.

“We have no children. We’ve got a place in Pennsylvania and we’ve got another place in Florida.  We stay here like six months a year. The taxes are ridiculous. We do that. We go to Pennsylvania like every other week for about a week. Florida — we usually go down in October. Make sure everything is straight. Get anything fixed if it isn’t. And then we go back in January and stay until May.”

Does he follow one team or another in 2018? “I like the [Red] Sox when they’re on. My wife’s a Yankees fan. I watch them once in a while.  I was always a Yankees fan until I started playing. Everyone was a Yankees fan. I just stick with Boston more now.”

Last revised: September 18, 2018

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by David Kritzler.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Fiore’s player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com. Thanks to Rod Nelson of SABR’s Scouts Committee.

 
Notes

1 Associated Press, “Mets Sign Fiore, Lafayette High Slugger, At Bonus,” New York Times, July 3, 1962: 17. Just the week before, the Mets had signed Ed Kranepool from James Monroe High.

2 Jonnard is mentioned in John Ferguson, “Nice Change: A ‘Cup of Coffee’ in Triple A for Promoted Fiore,” The Sporting News, May 6, 1972: 31.

3 Ibid.

4 Author interview with Mike Fiore on June 5, 2018. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Mike Fiore are from this interview.

5 “Fiore Leads Tri-City,” The Sporting News, September 25, 1965: 38.

6 Neil Singelais, “No Matter Who He Spells, Fiore Spells it ‘a-c-t-i-o-n,’,” Boston Globe, April 4, 1971: A13.

7 See Joe McGuff, “Metro Sees .500 Plateau Just Over K.C. Horizon,” The Sporting News, April 11, 1970: 43.

8 “Matchick for Fiore Doesn’t Shake Up Baseball World,” Boston Globe, May 30, 1970: 18. Ray Fitzgerald unkindly repeated what he said he’d heard, that it was “a deal in which neither cash nor talent was involved.” Ray Fitzgerald, “Nagy Disdains Long Relied Role,” Boston Globe, March 21, 1972: 28.

9 Pat Horne, “Sox Trade Lands KC’s Fiore,” Boston Record American, May 30, 1970: 7.

10 Mike Fiore interview June 2018.

11 Neil Singelais.

12 Fred Ciampa, “Fiore Give Sox Flashes of Power,” Boston Record American, March 5, 1971: 21.

13 Fiore was still appreciative of being on the big-league roster: “I’m not complaining. I’d rather be pinchhitting up here than playing in the minors.” Bud Collins, “Hit A Day Keeps Gray Hair Away,” Boston Globe, May 19, 1971: 25.

14 Associated Press, “Cards Send Fiore to San Diego Padres,” Hartford Courant, June 21, 1972: 51.

15 “Minor Deals,” The Sporting News, July 15, 1978: 46.