This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Shortstop Al Naples’ major-league career was limited to two back-to-back games at the end of June 1949. He doubled to right field his first time at bat. It turned out to be the only base hit of his brief time in the big leagues.
Naples was born on August 29, 1926, in Staten Island, New York. Aloysius Francis Naples Jr. was the son of Aloysius and Mae Naples. The elder Aloysius worked as the office manager in a stock brokerage house. Mae raised three children — Al, Donald, and Richard. The family was of Irish, Spanish, and German heritage.
Al attended St. Peter’s High School, an all-boys Catholic high school on Staten Island. The school was founded in 1917. He was active in both baseball and basketball at the school and graduated in 1944. St. Peter’s won the New York City championship in both sports, in 1944. Al’s brother Don was also on the championship team.
When he was still in his middle teens, Al also played Catholic League baseball on Staten Island and on some of the playgrounds around New York City.
The Second World War was still in progress. After he graduated from high school, there followed 23 months of service in the United States Navy.
He entered the Navy right after graduation. The choice of the Navy was probably dictated by his envisioning a career on the water. “I was going to be a Sandy Hook pilot,” Naples explained in a November 2019 interview. It’s in our family. My oldest cousin was a pilot. Another cousin became a pilot. Bringing the ships into New York City into the Harbor. I spent a year and a half in the North Atlantic with the [USS Franklin Delano Roosevelt1 and the ship I was on, [USS Charles R. Ware [DD-865, a destroyer]. I think I had enough of the Navy. So I reneged on going into the Sandy Hook pilots and went to Georgetown when I got the call.”2
The Roosevelt was an aircraft carrier. The Charles R. Ware was one of two escort destroyers, on the lookout for German submarines. They never encountered any. “But we knew that they were in the area. They were off Cape Cod, off the Virginia coast. We patrolled all the shores in Europe, to the fjords and so on. We went from Guantanamo all the way up to the Arctic. Greenland and so on.”
“I was a seaman third class. I did a lot of navigational stuff with the captain.”
Al’s wife, Rose, prodded him to tell about his time boxing in the Navy. “It was the second or third day I was at Great Lakes for training, working out in the gym, and this one man who was a coach in the Golden Gloves. He asked me if I wanted to go into boxing. I thought about it. My father was a boxer, a lefty. He’d probably be proud of me if I went into boxing so I said, ‘Sure.’ It got me out of KP, running the grinder in the morning and all. He was a good teacher. After the war, he used to write me and ask me to continue with it, but it was a dangerous sport even though we had helmets and gloves. They used to do it at smokers, at boot camp. On Saturday night, you’d get up and do three rounds. I enjoyed it.”
“One time at Guantanamo Bay, they had a thing with six fights. I won it and they gave me a five-gallon thing of ice cream I took back to the ship.”
After separation from the Navy, he returned home to Staten Island. He was talented enough that he earned a position on the semipro Gulf Oil baseball team in New York City, gaining valuable experience alongside teammates including Heeney Majeski, Herb White, Chuck Connors, and Danny Gardella.
“We used to play against all the black teams like the Kansas City Monarchs, the [New York] Black Yankees and so on, so I was playing against high-level players when I was just a junior in high school. That’s basically where I learned my game, playing against the Negro League teams, the House of David, semiprofessional teams and so on. That got me the opportunity to play in all-star games in the New York City area, some of which were played at Yankee Stadium.”3
An opportunity presented itself. He received a basketball scholarship to play for Georgetown University. Elmer Ripley had been coaching Notre Dame basketball and then left to coach Georgetown. “He called me up when I got out of the Navy, a couple of weeks later. I knew nothing about Georgetown. I went down there and I got a good education. I think I had enough of the Navy. So I reneged on going into the Sandy Hook pilots and went to Georgetown when I got the call.” Naples majored in mathematics and spent three years at Georgetown — receiving attention for his play in both basketball and baseball.
In the spring of 1947, his work at shortstop for the Georgetown Hoyas was earning some attention in the press. On April 15 the Hoyas were trailing the University of Maryland Terrapins 5-0, but scored two runs in each of the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings to win. The Washington Post credited Naples with “two timely hits” — an eighth-inning triple driving in one run and a two-out ninth-inning single that drove in the tying and winning runs.4
A sophomore majoring in mathematics, he had caught the eye of Georgetown baseball coach Joe Judge, the former major leaguer who in April 1948 predicted that he had a chance of making the majors despite his small stature (Naples was 5-feet-9 and listed at 168 pounds).5 Naples was right-handed.
He enjoyed a big day kicking off the 1949 season on March 30, playing Dartmouth and going 3-for-5 with two singles and a triple.6 His clutch two-run double in the 11th drove in both runs as Georgetown beat Maryland, 2-1, on May 18.7
On June 23 Naples signed a contract with the American League’s St. Louis Browns. Apparently the Browns had made a move. Both Bob Dillinger and Jerry Priddy had been injured and the Browns had an urgent need for a shortstop.
The June 24 Boston Globe reported that Naples had joined the Browns, in Boston to play the Red Sox. The paper wrote, “Naples was to have worked out with the New York Yankees Newark farm, but Vice Pres. Charley DeWitt’s long distance call weaned him to St. Louis.”8
Dillinger had suffered an ankle injury, and Priddy was expected to be out for a number of days with a pulled muscle in his right leg.
As Naples told the story, “I was from the metropolitan area and I used to work out with the Yankees. I was All-City in baseball and so on.”
“I had a few scouts from the New York City area that were talking to me all the time. When I was in high school, and I was picked on an all-star team, I was hitting .500. The East All-Stars played the West in the New York Giants’ stadium [Polo Grounds]. I couldn’t tell you who was following me. What happened was, I was working out with the Yankees and the St. Louis Browns were in there. I was taking infield with them. Then the Browns went to Boston. When they went to Boston, Eddie Pellagrini was hurting. He was a shortstop at the time. I got a call from Charley DeWitt, the [Browns’] owner, from Boston. He asked me if I would be interested in the Browns.”
“The coach that I had at Georgetown was Joe Judge. He played first base for the Washington Senators for a number of years and then I think he went with the Dodgers. He had connections. I used to work out with the Washington Senators, too.”
“I went up to Boston and signed a contract. Back then, they didn’t have agents. I signed on Friday and I played Saturday and Sunday. It was real bang, bang, bang.”
Naples reported being given a bonus of $5,000 — rather large for a team like the Browns, but perhaps reflecting both their urgent need and the hope to persuade him not to sign with any of the competition. His salary was $800 per month. The bonus money and $2,000 more from his father allowed Al and Rose to purchase a home in Silver Lake, Staten Island, upon their marriage the following year.
Naples was in Boston but manager Zack Taylor “decided to let him ride the bench for the present as he tested the combination of [Roy] Sievers on third, [John] Sullivan at short and [Andy] Anderson at second.”9
The Browns had come to Boston in last place with a record of 18-42. The Red Sox were in fourth place, at 31-28. Naples apparently did ride the bench for the first two games of the scheduled four-game set, and saw the Browns lose, 7-0 and then 21-2. Taylor may have felt it incumbent to give Naples a start.
Starting for St. Louis was Bill Kennedy (0-4) and for the Red Sox it was Mel Parnell (9-3). Naples was eighth in the Browns batting order. Leading off the top of the third inning, he doubled to right field. He was left stranded there by two strikeouts and a groundout. The Red Sox scored seven times in the bottom of the third.
On his second time up, Naples grounded back to Parnell and was thrown out at first. He grounded out third to first in the seventh, and again hit the ball back to Parnell in the top of the ninth, the play going 1-3. The final score, a complete-game 10th win of the season for Parnell, was 13-2, Boston.
Harry Mitauer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat wrote of Naples’ debut: “Naples slammed out a double on his first trip to the plate, but failed to get the ball out of the infield on the next three tries. He looked good in the field, handling five assists and one putout at shortstop.”10
Jack Barry of the Boston Globe offered pretty much the same assessment: “Young Al Naples, a junior at Georgetown, playing his first major league game, looked good. He slapped a double to right on is first appearance at the plate in the majors, and handled himself well at shortstop.”11
Naples played again on Sunday, going 0-for-3 at the plate. He fumbled Vern Stephens’s infield roller in the bottom of the sixth inning. Stephens scored a bit later with the first of three runs scored in the inning. The final score was a more respectable 5-3. Chuck Stobbs held the Browns to seven hits. He struck out Naples his first time up, induced a groundball to second base, and then a ball hit back to the mound. Naples was in the on-deck circle when the game ended.
Priddy was back in the Browns infield for their next game.
Naples never got another chance to play in the majors. He was injured, suffering a “broken finger on his right hand during fielding practice.”12
He tells the story: “We went out to Cleveland and Chicago and then Detroit and I was supposed to play a game out in Detroit. My name was on the list to start. I was taking infield and they had a catcher playing first. He threw the ball and I tried to catch it with my right hand. It broke my finger and I had to go in and tell Taylor, the manager, that I didn’t know what happened to my finger but I couldn’t throw. I didn’t play that game. We went to St. Louis the next day and I had it X-rayed.”
“I had to go down to one of their farm teams and get rehab.”
That was Springfield. On July 17 the Browns optioned Naples to their Class-B farm club, the Springfield (Illinois) Browns. The team ultimately finished in last place in the Three-I League.
He appeared in 56 games for Springfield, batting .232 in 181 at-bats. His extra-base hits were three doubles and four triples.
“Yeah, Springfield. I finished the season out with them and I was supposed to go back up, but I never did. Of course, I wanted to finish my college education. I guess a year and a half later, the St. Louis Browns put me on the restricted list. That’s where I was for a number of years.
“I never went to San Antonio. That’s where the Browns had sent me to [in the spring of 1950]. I never went there and that was the end of my career.” He was, he explained in an email, actually kept on the restricted list until sometime in 1961.13
On January 7, 1950, Naples married Virginia Penny on Staten Island. The couple remain married as of the end of 2019. Virginia goes by the name “Rose.”
Indeed, Naples did want to complete his college education. He did so, and then some. Rose urged him to go into teaching after he completed college, and he continued to pursue advanced degrees. “I spent a lot of time going to college. I went six years going to NYU nights. At that time Rose and I had five children, and it was a chore because we lived in Jersey and I had to travel over the George Washington Bridge and all the way down to NYU. I got my master’s up at Fordham.”
He took a position as a math supervisor at Regis High School in New York City, for one year. “It was just too much traveling since I lived in Staten Island. I finally got a job at the school I graduated from — St. Peter’s High School.”
At Regis, Naples also coached both baseball and basketball. The same was true at St. Peter’s, where he coached for five years.
Another opportunity presented itself. “I got a national foundation scholarship to Columbia University with Watson Labs, a full scholarship. Watson was the founder of IBM. The intent was to get teachers — I was teaching at the time — to try to get them computers into the high schools. It was just a promotional type thing. I was picked out of 30 teachers from the metropolitan area; 12 completed the course. I was able to get with the president of the Board of Education of Oradell and River Edge, New Jersey. His name was George Howitt. He was one of the vice presidents for Hewlett-Packard and he got the computer in our school.”
The school was the River Dell School, named after two New Jersey towns — River Edge and Oradell.
“I was able to contact other teachers that I knew in Jersey that were tied up with our computer. They were able to get time. It meant that we didn’t have to pay anything. We just housed it.”
“We were using punch cards for computers back then. It was quite an experience because nobody really knew much about them at the time. I had to get a teacher. He had to give up his job. He was a bartender down on the Jersey shore. He ended up teaching it. It was very successful. The students loved it. We used an Apple computer, the desk computer that they had at the time.”
He taught from 1956 to 1958 at Dwight Morrow, and then began to teach at River Dell. “I lasted 30 years with that school, from 1958 to 1987.” He also kept his hand in coaching, helping coach both baseball and basketball. He helped coach baseball for two years and basketball for five.
Al Naples calls his wife, Rose, “my right-hand person. She’s 93, too. We had seven children. We have 15 grandchildren.” They had met in August 1944. She worked as a playground supervisor. At the time of their marriage in 1950, she was a physical education teacher at the College of New Rochelle. Their seven children are Alyce, Virginia, Aloysius Jr., Bill, Thomas, Adrienne, and Kevin.
After he retired, more than 30 years ago, Al and Rose moved to Massachusetts.
Why Massachusetts? “Because all our kids basically moved this way. Tom was in the Coast Guard up in this area. We had kids in Wayland and Gloucester. We just have one who’s out of the area, living in Florida.”
At the time of the November 2019 interview, Naples was undergoing chemotherapy. He had beaten leukemia once before after going through some experimental and extended treatment that lasted from 1985 to 1992. “It came back again eight months ago. I’m taking this chemo and they’re whacking the hell out of me.”
He had just the two brothers. “My brother Don, he was a year behind me. When we went to St Peter’s we won the New York City championship in both baseball and basketball.”
Don got a scholarship to St. Michael’s. He was a Yankee. He played in Wellsville [52 games in 1945 for the Class-D PONY League Wellsville Yankees, where he hit for a .313 batting average] and in the Mexican League. “He was going in, breaking up a double play or something, and got hit in the eye. He got some publicity in the New York papers and they took his scholarship away. He got into the Fire Department. He ended up dying of cancer. Smoke. He was a hero, cited twice by the New York mayor for heroism.”
“My other young brother, Richard, he was killed in the Korean War in 1950. He was young. He was 21. He was in the Army.”
Naples is very appreciative of the attention given him and his fellow St. Louis Browns alumni. “A lot of people don’t even know the St. Louis Browns existed,” he notes. The franchise moved to Baltimore after the 1953 season and became the Baltimore Orioles.
When St. Peter’s High School celebrated its 100th anniversary (the school was founded in 1917), it started a school hall of fame and inducted Naples into it.
Reflecting on his baseball career from his home in Orleans, Massachusetts, Al Naples says, “You know, when you went onto a team like that, nobody really took you under their wing. You’re on your own.”
“I managed to survive and sort of went my own way.”
“I enjoyed the little trip that I had, but I always say what happened to me out in Detroit was the best break I ever had. I broke my finger, and that changed the whole complexion towards playing baseball. I stayed in Springfield until the end of August and that’s when I took off. They didn’t particularly care for that.”
“It was a short-lived thing. It was a different life then.”
Last revised: December 19, 2019
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author relied on Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org.
1 The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt was the second Midway-class aircraft carrier and the first ship in the Navy named after President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Initially, the carrier was launched as the Coral Sea but was renamed on May 8, 1945, following the death of the president.
2 All direct quotations from Al Naples come from an interview with the author on November 3, 2019, and from email exchanges over the following few days, unless otherwise indicated.
3 Ronnie Joyner, “Al Naples,” Pop Flies (St. Louis Browns Historical Society and Fan Club Spring Newsletter Vol. XXII, No. 1), 2006.
4 “Hoyas Edge Terps, 7-6,” Washington Post, April 16, 1947: 13.
5 Lewis F. Atchison, “Basket Ball Castoffs Shine for GU Nine,” Washington Evening Star, April 23, 1948: 42.
6 “Hoyas Beat Dartmouth, 4-3, In 9th Inning of Opener,” Washington Post, March 31, 1949: 20.
7 “Hoyas Beat Terps in 11,” Washington Post, May 19, 1949: 21.
8 “Red Sockings,” Boston Globe, June 24, 1949: 22.
9 “Brownie Notes,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 24, 1949: 21.
10 Harry Mitauer, “Browns Roll Over Before Bosox Again,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 26, 1949: 43.
11 Jack Barry, “Sox Slaughter Browns Again, 13-2, Gain on Leaders,” Boston Globe, June 26, 1949: 36.
12 “Browns’ Notes,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 6, 1949: 11.
13 Al Naples email to author, November 12, 2019.