This article was written by David E. Skelton
Four decades after being banned from Organized Baseball for life, Chicago White Sox great Eddie Cicotte said, “Nobody can hurt me anymore. … I’ve tried to be a good father, a good grandfather and a good husband.”1 He could easily have added a good uncle. In 1953, when his great-nephew Al Cicotte was making an impression at the New York Yankees spring training, Eddie offered him the following advice: “Work on your control, boy. This is a good game. Always was … [and] there’s no telling how far you can go.” Then in afterthought he added, “Watch yourself, but watch your companions more. Stay away from gamblers. Stay away from wrong people.”2
In the same 1953 Yankees camp, catcher Yogi Berra also took note of Al Cicotte (pronounced SEE-cot). “How that kid can throw that ball!” the future Hall of Famer exclaimed. “He’s had a little trouble with his control … but I like Cicotte.”3 But this “little trouble” became a pressing problem when, throughout his five-year major-league career, Cicotte walked 119 batters in 260 innings as he struggled to corral his blazing fastball. In 1961, the flamethrower bitterly remarked, “You can’t learn to pitch sitting in the bull pen, and that’s what I’ve been doing the last ten years.”4
Alva Warren Cicotte was born on December 23, 1929, the second of three children of Alva A. and Eileen Edith (Moore) Cicotte, in Melvindale, Michigan, a small suburb southwest of Detroit. His paternal grandfather was an older brother of the White Sox hurler. The Cicotte family’s long roots in the Western Hemisphere started when Al’s seventh great-grandfather, 19-year-old Jean Cicot (possibly “Sicot”) immigrated from France to Montreal, New France (present day Canada), in 1650. A decade later, Jean married French native Marguerite Maclin and before the turn of the eighteenth century, the family adopted the surname Cicotte. In the early 1700s, Zacharias Cicotte, Jean’s grandson, moved to Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit when France, seeking to encourage settlement, offered colonists free land around the burgeoning fur-trading community. For generations thereafter, Detroit and its surrounding suburbs became home to the Cicotte family.
In 1926 Alva A. Cicotte, Al’s father, married Detroit native Eileen Moore. Alva supported his family as a public-works foreman, having followed his father into the public-works field just a few years earlier. The children attended Melvindale High School, where Al quickly established his athletic prowess in baseball, basketball, and football. In 1948 he was selected as the quarterback on the All-State Michigan High School team. But Cicotte idolized Cleveland Indians hurler Bob Feller and pitching became the youngster’s true passion. Under coach Val DeLuca, who himself was an outstanding Melvindale High School athlete in the 1930s, Cicotte won 29 games against one loss in prep-school competition. Attracting interest from various major-league teams, he was especially courted by the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Athletics; the former frequently invited Cicotte to work out with the major-league club while the latter often used him as their batting practice pitcher when the team was in town. These incentives went for naught when in 1948, shortly after graduating from high school, Cicotte inked a $250-a-month contract with scout Red Meyers to join the Yankees organization. Assigned to the Butler (Pennsylvania) Yankees in the Class C Middle Atlantic League, the 18-year-old tied for the club lead with 32 appearances while yielding 169 hits and 74 walks in 136 innings. He finished the season with a middling record of 7-8, 5.49.
After the season, Cicotte enlisted in the US Air Force Reserve. In 1949, while pitching for the Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, he helped lead his team to success in varied sandlot tournaments. Cicotte was named as the outstanding hurler in the Colorado State Tournament and shortly thereafter was dubbed the number-one pitcher in the National Tournament at Wichita, Kansas. In December, the National Baseball Congress selected him as Sandlotter of the Year.
In early 1950, shortly after Cicotte’s military discharge, rumors surfaced that the Yankees, who had closely monitored the youngster’s progress, intended to promote him to the Kansas City Blues in the Triple-A American Association. Instead Cicotte’s challenging spring caused the organization to assign him to the Norfolk (Virginia) Tars in the Class-B Piedmont League. Despite receiving little support from the offensively inept Tars, Cicotte earned more than one-quarter of the club’s 58 wins while placing among the circuit leaders in wins (15), ERA (2.58), and innings pitched (234). Cicotte delivered a 4-1 no-hit win over the Newport News Dodgers on July 12. One of the few downsides to his all-star season was a league-leading 137 walks. When the season ended, The Sporting News wrote that the organization was “counting the days when young Cicotte will be wearing the flannels of the Yankees.”5 This optimistic projection was put on hold when Cicotte was called back into military service. He spent 1951 with the Military Air Transport Service at Hawaii’s Hickam Air Force Base, where he earned a promotion to sergeant. He stayed sharp by pitching in the Hawaiian Interservice League.
In February 1952, after his second military discharge, Cicotte was invited to the Yankees pre-spring-training camp at Lake Wales, Florida. After making a strong impression on the camp director, Yankees manager Casey Stengel, Cicotte was one of nine nonroster players invited to spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida. “He looks like a pitcher [and] acts like one,” Stengel said. “I have a hunch he is ready right now.”6 Despite these accolades, the veteran presence of hurlers Eddie Lopat, Vic Raschi, and Allie Reynolds left little room for Cicotte to maneuver onto the reigning world champions’ roster. On March 30, he was assigned to the Blues.
Success did not follow Cicotte to Kansas City. Used primarily as a starter, he struck out or walked more than half the batters he faced en route to a disappointing record of 4-7 and a career-worst 7.20 ERA in 75 innings. In late July, Cicotte was demoted to the Class-A Binghamton Triplets, where he promptly rebounded by striking out 42 batters over three starts. On September 20, in Game Four of the Eastern League playoffs, Cicotte got 16 strikeouts and surrendered just one hit in a 4-1 win over the Reading Indians. During the offseason, he was added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster where, at 23, he was listed as the club’s youngest pitcher.
In 1953 Cicotte reported to the Yankees spring training hoping the struggles in Kansas City were behind him. They were not. On March 7, in his first Grapefruit League appearance of the season, he yielded eight walks in three innings in the Yankees’ 6-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The outing was a snapshot to a miserable spring training that resulted in Cicotte’s assignment to the Birmingham Barons in the Double-A Southern Association. Over the next three seasons he compiled a meager 14-27 record in 87 appearances bouncing among various minor-league affiliates. On July 28, 1954, Cicotte suffered a shoulder injury during pregame drills that caused him to miss most of the remaining weeks of the season. Made eligible for selection in the Rule 5 draft after the Yankees removed him from the 40-man roster, Cicotte found no takers. The same results occurred in 1955 after the Barons attempted, with little success, to convert Cicotte into a reliever.
During the 1954-55 and 1955-56 offseasons, Cicotte, attempting to resurrect his career, played winter ball in the Mexican Coast League and Veracruz League, respectively. In the latter season the fastball-curveball hurler developed an effective slider that in 1956 contributed to success with the Richmond Virginians in the Triple-A International League. Cicotte benefited from tips received from rookie manager and former AL All-Star left-hander Eddie Lopat regarding delivery of his curve. Cicotte won his first five decisions with the Virginians en route to a record of 15-12, 3.03 in 205 innings. In four of Cicotte’s 12 losses the Virginians were shut out. Once again the only downside to Cicotte’s season was walks: 106 free passes. In October, shortly before Cicotte was reinstated onto the Yankees’ 40-man roster, Lopat and Yankees farm director Lee MacPhail predicted that 1957 would usher in youngster’s long-awaited advance to the big leagues.7
On April 22, 1957, Cicotte made his major-league debut in Washington’s Griffith Stadium against the Senators. Entering the ninth inning with a 15-5 lead, he surrendered a run on two singles and two walks before retiring the side.
On May 8 Cicotte made his next appearance, entering in the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians with the Yankees trailing 8-3. He immediately ran into trouble but escaped via a double play. Cicotte was not as fortunate in the next inning when Roger Maris got a two-run homer. On May 30, after a third relief appearance, Cicotte got his first major-league start in the first game of a doubleheader against the Senators. He retired the side in order only once while surrendering five runs (three earned), seven hits, and three walks in 5⅓ innings en route to his first loss. Three weeks later, Cicotte was removed in the second inning after yielding two runs on three hits and four walks. On June 25 Cicotte encountered Maris and the Indians again. After retiring the future Yankees slugger on two infield outs, Cicotte was directed to walk Maris intentionally with runners on second and third. The strategy backfired when Indians outfielder Rocky Colavito hit a grand slam.
Cicotte’s season turned on his next outing. On June 29 he got his first major-league win after shutting out the Kansas City Athletics on one hit over four innings in the Yankees’ 7-6 extra-inning win. Over five July appearances Cicotte picked up a second win while holding opponents to four hits and no runs over 4⅔ innings. Used primarily in long relief, Bozo, the nickname Cicotte earned for his enjoyment of Bozo the Clown ice cream, made six additional appearances (29 innings) through the remainder of the season. He finished with a record of 2-2, 3.03 with 37 strikeouts and 30 walks in 65⅓ innings.8 Cicotte did not appear in any of the seven games of the World Series against the Milwaukee Braves. Shortly after the Series, he joined Braves right-hander Bob Buhl and other major leaguers in a barnstorming tour of the Midwest.
During the offseason the Tigers made a run at Cicotte but nothing came of this. Despite this interest and his strong second-half finish, Cicotte barely warranted a nod from the Yankees in the spring of 1958. On May 14 the club sold him to the Senators for an estimated $25,000. Cicotte lost three games in four starts (eight appearances total) before the Senators sent him to Detroit on June 23 for right-hander Vito Valentinetti. Initially assigned to the Charleston (West Virginia) Senators in the Triple-A American Association, Cicotte was recalled by the Tigers in July. Once again used in primarily in long relief, he won three of four decisions to finish the season with a record of 3-4, 4.06 in 71 innings.
Cicotte spent the offseason playing winter ball in the Cuban League where, with five wins and a 0.82 ERA in his first six decisions, he quickly established himself as the circuit’s “most sensational pitcher.”9 This success caught the attention of Indians GM Frank “Trader” Lane who was touring the Latin American leagues. Later, as he closed in on a deal for infielder Billy Martin, Lane insisted upon the inclusion of Cicotte. On November 20, the two were sent to Cleveland for infielder Ossie Alvarez and pitchers Don Mossi and Ray Narleski. Unlike Martin, who vehemently protested the move, Cicotte was elated when he heard about the trade. “I know I will get a chance now to start with the Indians,” he said.10
Cicotte’s optimism was well founded. The Indians had a projected 1959 rotation composed in part of a rookie and two sophomore hurlers 23 or younger. But Cicotte’s hopes of breaking into the rotation were dashed when injury sidelined him for most of the Indians’ spring training. Used sparingly during the season, he averaged slightly more than four appearances a month. Cicotte finished with a record of 3-1, 5.32 in just 44 innings.
During the offseason, Cicotte again tinkered with his mechanics by developing an effective side-arm delivery. The Indians were not impressed. A week before the start of the 1960 season they sold him to the International League’s Toronto Maple Leafs for $12,500. Cicotte briefly contemplated retirement before reporting to the Triple-A club. He soon recaptured the attention of major-league scouts en route to his finest year in Organized Baseball. He was named International League Player of the Month for August. And on September 3, he struck out 11 batters and allowed only four balls to be hit to the outfield in an 11-inning no-hitter against the Montreal Royals. Cicotte did not surrender an earned run over his last 56 innings while winning five of his last six decisions. On September 19, Rochester Red Wings correspondent George Beahon wrote that “he simply terrifies opposing swingers.”11 After capturing the league’s Most Valuable Pitcher award with circuit-leading marks in wins (16), strikeouts (158), shutouts (8), and ERA (1.79), Cicotte carried his unearned-run streak into the playoffs with 24 innings in three complete-game wins (continuing a complete-game streak that began on July 26). He helped lead the Maple Leafs to the league championship. Though he realized far less success in the Junior World Series (0-2, 13.50 in 5⅓ innings [two starts]), Cicotte was selected as Minor League Player of the Year by the Topps Chewing Gum Company. “I felt like 19 again,” he said after the season. “I’ve got my control down to a point where it’s as good as it ever was and I’m throwing just as fast as ever.”12
On October 11 the St. Louis Cardinals acquired Cicotte from the Maple Leafs for the sizable package of pitcher Cal Browning, outfielder Leon Wagner, cash, and a player to be named later (outfielder Ellis Burton). “[Cicotte]’s learned to master pitches,” Cardinals manager Solly Hemus said after the trade. “Our reports on him indicate that he has the stuff to become an outstanding pitcher.”13
Cicotte played winter ball in the Venezuelan Association in preparation for his National League debut. This groundwork provided immediate dividends with his strong showing in 1961 spring training, including a six-inning one-hit performance against the Pittsburgh Pirates. But Grapefruit League success yielded little gain when the season began. Cicotte suffered two losses in April, surrendering 7 runs and 12 hits over five innings in a relief appearance and a start. After showing some promise over the next two months, he was moved into the rotation, where he yielded 25 runs and 32 hits over 28 innings. On July 2 Cicotte surrendered two home runs to Chicago Cubs hurler Glen Hobbie. He finished with a meager record of 2-6, 5.28, and 16 home runs given up in 75 innings. On October 13, three days after the MLB expansion draft, the Cardinals sold him to the expansion Houston Colt .45’s for $25,000.
Until the last weeks of 1962 spring training, Cicotte was in the running for the club’s fifth starter role before sliding over into the bullpen. Except for a poor performance against the Milwaukee Braves on April 28, he showed some encouraging work in relief, including striking out the side against the Cardinals two days earlier. On May 8, in what proved to be his last major-league appearance, Cicotte retired all three Dodgers batters he faced. The next day he was sent to the Oklahoma City 89ers in the Triple-A American Association.
In 1961 Cicotte had vowed to quit Organized Baseball if sent to the minors again. Sensing a possible quick return to the Colt .45’s, he relented. These hopes were soon dashed by Cicotte’s rocky start with the 89ers. About midseason, he turned around and finished with a record of 5-2, 2.35 over his last 12 appearances, but there was no indication of his being recalled. Cicotte retired to his Michigan home after the season.
During the offseasons Cicotte had found work in the insurance industry. After baseball, he returned to insurance full-time and eventually owned his own agency. Beginning in the 1970s Cicotte apparently encountered financial stress, most likely due to health concerns. In October 1977, the Tigers added him to their roster for the last six games of the season so that he could qualify for a pension. Five years later, on November 29, 1982, one month shy of his 53rd birthday, Cicotte died at Wayne County General Hospital in Westland, Michigan. He was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan, a Detroit suburb. Cicotte was survived by his wife of 30 years, the former Dena A. D’Ascenzo, and five children.
In the 1950s, Cicotte became a fast favorite of Yankee greats Stengel and Berra. But throughout his five-year major-league career, he never realized his potential, finishing with a pedestrian record of 10-13, 4.36 in 260 innings.
This biography was reviewed by Len Levin and fact-checked by Steve Glotfelty.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Ancestry.com and Baseball-Reference.com. The author wishes to thank SABR member Len Levin for review and edit of the narrative.
1 “Obituaries: Eddie Cicotte,” The Sporting News, May 24, 1969: 44.
2 Milton Gross, “Advice From Uncle Ed Sped Al Cicotte to Yankees’ Camp,” The Sporting News, March 18, 1953: 15.
3 “Berra Booster for Cicotte; Calls Kid ‘Real Sleeper,’” The Sporting News, March 4, 1953: 22.
4 Cliff Evans, “’I’ll Make It This Time or Quit,’— Cicotte,” The Sporting News, May 31, 1961: 14.
5 Tom Fergusson, “’Cicotte, P.’ Likely in Box Scores Again,” The Sporting News, August 9, 1950: 20.
6 Dan Daniel, “Andy and Kal Rated Cream of Cup-of-Coffee Yankees,” The Sporting News, March 5, 1952: 6.
7 Ray Gillespie, “Hurlers Top Majors’ Peach Crop for ’57,” The Sporting News, October 24, 1956: 1.
9 Ruben Rodriguez, “Ramos, Pascual Prove Surprise Mound Failures,” The Sporting News, November 19, 1958: 24.
10 Ruben Rodriguez, “Marianao, Almendares Set Up Two-Club Race,” The Sporting News, December 3, 1958: 36.
11 “Al Cicotte ‘Terrifies’ Opposition,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1959: 32.
12 “Lopat’s Help Turned Career,” The Sporting News, November 16, 1960: 13.
13 Ralph Ray, “Redbird Brace Twirling Corps With Al Cicotte,” The Sporting News, October 19, 1960: 6.