This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Joe Cascarella was the son of a fruit merchant and grocer who had come to America from Italy in 1886. Joseph and Freda Cascarella were both Italian natives, and they gave their four children standard biblical names: Mary, James, Joseph, and John. The younger Joe’s 2002 obituary in the Baltimore Sun characterized his father as a “prominent importer.”1
Joe Cascarella became a right-handed pitcher in the major leagues who worked the mound for four teams in five years. Cascarella had the unusual history of working parts of two seasons for each of the four teams: the Philadelphia Athletics in 1934 and 1935, the Boston Red Sox in 1935 and 1936, the Washington Senators in 1936 and 1937, and the Cincinnati Reds in 1937 and 1938. He never once had a winning season, though in the 1936 portion of his time with the Senators he went 9-8.
Joe’s career record in the majors was 27-48, with a 4.84 earned run average over the course of 143 game appearances. As a batter, he hit .121 with 10 RBIs in 182 plate appearances. He was listed at 5-feet-10 and 175 pounds, and numerous times throughout his career one newspaper or another commented that he was “handicapped by lack of size.”2 He brought seven years of minor-league experience with him to his April 17, 1934, debut in the big leagues.
Joe was born in Philadelphia on June 28, 1907. He attended the George W. Childs school for both elementary and middle school and graduated from South Philadelphia High School. He played a year of semipro ball in an amateur league before being recommended for a pro trial by “Mr. Miller” of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin.3
He might have taken another athletic route in life; his best sport in high school was basketball. But it was baseball that offered him $10 a game on weekends, bumped up to $25 per game by 1924. He enrolled at Temple University but signed to play for the Martinsville (West Virginia) Blue Sox in the Blue Ridge League in 1925.4 At just 18 years old, however, he was a little young and didn’t make the grade. However, he did play semipro ball for three years (1924-26) for the Girard Estate A.A., “a fast semiprofessional team,” and for the Philadelphia Electric nine. He even pitched against the Philadelphia Athletics in an exhibition game in the summer of 1926.5
He got another shot at professional baseball in 1927 at age 19, signed by the Eastern League’s Pittsfield Hillies thanks to fellow Philadelphian Bill Whitman. Cascarella’s first professional ballgame was one to remember. It was on April 23, 1927, in Pittsfield – Opening Day. He threw a 10-inning complete game, beating Albany, 4-3. All three of Albany’s runs scored on errors. The Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican wrote that he was “a right-hander of sturdy physique, [who] displayed a sharp breaking curve and a commendable change of pace. For a youngster he was certainly good to look upon.”6 He got a season under his belt, 5-10 in 29 games, with a 5.02 ERA.
Cascarella reprised with Pittsfield in 1928, this time completely turning things around and going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA. The Hillies finished second under new manager Shano Collins, and Cascarella was named to the Eastern League All-Star team. By midseason scouts were already looking him over, and on December 6 the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League purchased his contract for a reported $5,000. Collins may have deserved considerable credit for Joe’s improvement. He had told Cascarella during the springtime that he was tipping his pitches by not using his glove to conceal his grip on the ball.7
It didn’t take long for Portland’s Oregonian to let readers know that Cascarella had another talent: at a luncheon held by the Progressive Men’s Club in late April, the paper reported that he “proved quite a vocalist” and added, “It came out at the luncheon that Cascarella spent the winter singing over the radio in New York.”8 Some sources report that he acquired the nickname “Crooning Joe.” On a Cincinnati Reds questionnaire that he completed some years later (in 1937), he was asked “What is your ambition outside of baseball?” and he answered, “Radio.” He was asked what his winter occupation was; it was “Radio.” His hobbies were golf and music.9 He was a tenor and opera was what he sang.10
The purchase by Portland had been conditional, but in late May they notified Pittsfield they would keep him. At this higher level of play, however, Cascarella’s ERA climbed to 4.80 in 1929; his won-loss record was 13-15. And it climbed yet again in 1930, to 6.61. He was 5-5 in 1930, but only worked 109 innings “almost entirely on relief pitching.” In the words of longtime sportswriter L.H. Gregory, Joe “was not of great value to the Beavers, though he had his occasional sweet days.”11
One of his sweet days came on July 16, 1929 against the Hollywood Stars, when he threw a no-hitter through 8 2/3 innings only to have it spoiled by a “Texas Leaguer” off the bat of Bill Rumler; before the game, Cascarella had given Rumler some bats he’d himself been given by a Portland sporting goods store.12
The Beavers were a losing team both years, sinking to last place in 1930. Cascarella’s 1929 season had been “Not so hot for most of the season, but (he) showed some great flashes.”13 On January 22, Joe was traded to the Seattle Indians for pitcher Andy House, only for Seattle to swap him immediately to the International League Baltimore Orioles for second baseman “Stuffy” Stewart. He was 4-7 with an improved 3.61 ERA for Baltimore in 1931.
Joe became known as a “five-inning pitcher” for Baltimore, but seemed to improve when they dealt him to the Jersey City Skeeters in June 1932.14 Nonetheless, he walked 110 batters in 169 innings as part of a combined 4-12 (5.38) season for the Orioles and the Skeeters. He had a decent 1933 with Jersey City (10-16, 4.09) for a team that was only 61-104.
At that time Connie Mack, owner-manager of the Philadelphia Athletics who had “known the bitter experience of losing money with a championship club,” was being forced to make moves to keep his club afloat.15 He had been selling off players and was working on a deal that would send pitchers Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg to the more affluent Boston Red Sox in December 1933. Perhaps Mack was stocking up on pitchers who would cost him less; in any event, he acquired Cascarella in late November.
Joe’s career was not on the ascendance. He had been thinking about quitting baseball and pursuing vocalizing full time, but now he was suddenly presented with the possibility of pitching in the majors.16
Cascarella was in the right place at the right time to get a shot at the big leagues. He debuted with the Athletics on April 17, 1934, on Opening Day with the A’s hosting the Yankees. The A’s were down 5-4 after eight innings. Cascarella pitched a scoreless top of the ninth, with a base on balls but no hits, and then saw his teammates score twice in the bottom of the inning. Bing Miller pinch-hit for him and drove in the winning run. Cascarella was credited with his first major-league victory. He won again nine days later, also against New York, this time working 4 1/3 innings of scoreless relief.
By May 13, he was 4-0, but by June 5, he was 4-4. After winning four in a row in late June and early July, he lost nine consecutive decisions ranging from July 7 through September 2. By season’s end, he was 12-15 (4.68) in 42 appearances with 194 1/3 innings of work. He’d started 22 of the games, and his 12 wins were second on the squad only to Johnny Marcum‘s 14-11 mark.
One of Joe’s most satisfying wins of that year may have come after the season. In Tokyo’s Meiji Stadium on November 5, 1934, he pitched for Babe Ruth‘s touring All-Star American League players in front of 65,000 fans and held the Nippon Stars to three hits, for a 5-1 win. On December 6, Joe won what USA Today somewhat misleadingly called “the first and only major league game played on the Chinese mainland.”17
The Athletics finished last (58-91) in the American League in 1935, but Cascarella didn’t finish the season with them. Connie Mack sold him to the Boston Red Sox on the last day of June. Two of the losses he had by that time had been in close games, but that still couldn’t disguise his 1-6 (5.29) record. Even before the season began, the Charleston Evening Post declared that he faced the “critical second year test” and observed, perhaps unfairly, “As a pitcher, Cascarella is a good singer.”18 Indeed, he sometimes did sing during that season; on May 3, for instance, he was scheduled to sing in Cleveland on radio WHK at 10 PM with Lou Rich’s Orchestra. 19
There are indications that Connie Mack had lost patience with both him and pitcher Merritt “Sugar” Cain, who was 0-5 at the time the two of them were cut loose. Boston Red Sox manager Joe Cronin said, “Connie said that he got rid of two bad influences on the A’s when he sent Cascarella to Syracuse and Sugar Cain to St. Louis. Cascarella thought he was an actor and Sugar thought he was a fighter.”20
Joe’s last appearance for Philadelphia came on May 29; he spent June with the Syracuse Chiefs. It was part of a three-way deal on May 31 that involved the Red Sox, Athletics, and the Chiefs.21 He was purchased by the Red Sox on June 30 and recalled to Boston on July 2. Cascarella lost his first three starts and got a no-decision in the fourth. He relieved in two more games, but the only work he had with the Red Sox was in July. He had an ERA of 6.88 to go with his 0-3 record. On the 27th he was optioned back to Syracuse. In his time with the Chiefs he went 11-7 with an International League-leading 2.35 ERA. At least one headline writer noted the discrepancy between Joe’s success in the minors and mediocrity in the majors: “Writer Thinks Inferiority Complex Affecting Work of Joe Cascarella.”22
Joe was good enough to start the 1936 season with the Red Sox, but after 10 appearances he was 0-2 with an ERA of 6.97. The Boston press was not impressed, Edwin Rumill of the Christian Science Monitor bluntly writing, “Judging from what he has shown in Boston, the singing hurler still lacks major-league ability.”23 The Washington Senators were willing to give him a shot and on June 13 traded pitcher Jack Russell to Boston for him (and a “small amount of cash,” per the next morning’s Boston Herald). Manager Bucky Harris planned to use him as a spot starter.24
After going 1-11 for the 1935 A’s and the 1935-36 Red Sox, Cascarella righted himself with Washington, working the rest of 1936 with a 4.07 ERA and a 9-8 record. Some of the losses were due to tough luck; three times he lost 4-3 games, and he lost a 2-1 and a 4-1 game as well. Cascarella no doubt enjoyed his seven-hit shutout of the Red Sox on September 22. (Jack Russell didn’t pan out for the Red Sox; he was 0-3.)
Cascarella had been dubbed a “long shot in the preseason discussions” in the Washington Post, but was named Opening Day starter for 1937.25 He lost, 4-3, to the Athletics. All told, he appeared in 10 games for the Senators in 1937 and didn’t win one; he lost five and compiled an ERA of 8.07. It couldn’t have been a surprise when on July 1 the Senators announced the sale of his contract to Syracuse. Cascarella, for his part, said he would quit baseball rather than return to the minor leagues.26 A deal was worked out whereby Washington sold him for cash to the Cincinnati Reds on July 3. He appeared in 11 games for Cincinnati (three starts) and cut his earned run average in half, to 3.92, with a record of 1-2.
In 1938, Cascarella worked in 33 games, all but one as a reliever; he closed 23 games. He pitched the full season and was 4-7 with a 4.57 ERA. It was his last year in baseball. In early December 1938 Cincinnati sold his contract to the Buffalo Bisons. On March 22, 1939 the Reds announced that he had retired.
Joe Cascarella finished his major league career at 27-48, with a 4.84 career ERA and a 1.607 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched).
On July 9, 1936, Joe had married Gertrude “Jerry” Schapiro. Jerry’s father, Morris Schapiro, was a scrap metal dealer from Baltimore who in 1950 became owner of the Laurel Race Course in Laurel, Maryland. His son, John D. Schapiro, became president and Cascarella served as secretary-treasurer and later as executive vice president. Joe devoted the rest of his life to horse racing. He made a pair of celebrated trips to the Soviet Union in the late 1950s and early 1960s, inviting Russian horsemen to race their horses in Laurel’s International race.
Becoming a “racing tycoon” (Red Smith used the phrase in a headline for one of his columns), and often described as “dapper,”27 Cascarella likely let Joe Williams’ comment about his 27-48 record roll right off his back. “Having spent so much time in the showers,” said Williams, “he was the cleanest man in baseball.”28
On May 22, 2002 at age 94, Joe Cascarella died of pneumonia at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore. His wife had preceded him in death by a year. The couple had no children.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Cascarella’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com.
1 “Joseph T. Cascarella, 94, Pro Pitcher,” Baltimore Sun, May 24, 2002.
2 See, for instance, Gordon Cobbledick, “Mack Depends on Youngsters of 1934 Staff,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 27, 1935: 30. Cobbledick added, however, “Cascarella nevertheless is smart enough and courageous enough to be a useful member of the staff, although he probably will never be a really big winner.”
3 Such was the information provided by Cascarella in his player questionnaire at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
4 Information about these early years is obtained from Richard Kuchner, “Baseball: A Right Decision for Joe,” unknown newspaper clipping dated February 9, 1969 and included in Cascarella’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
5 “Two Philadelphia Men To Play with Hillies,” Boston Globe, April 2, 1927: 9.
6 “Hillies Win 10-Inning Game for Home Opener,” Springfield Republican, April 24, 1927: 21.
7 “Joe Cascarella Sold By Hillies to Coast League,” Springfield Republican, December 7, 1928: 25.
8 “Ball Team Men Guests,” The Oregonian, April 26, 1929: 11.
9 Cincinnati Reds questionnaire dated September 23, 1937 may be found in Cascarella’s player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
10 L. H. Gregory, “Gregory’s Sport Gossip,” The Oregonian, January 29, 1930: 15. At least one later article, five years later, dubbed Cascarella a baritone. It’s not clear if his voice changed with a little age, which is quite possible, or if the sportswriters were less than precise regarding the art of singing.
11 L. H. Gregory, “Gregory’s Sport Gossip,” The Oregonian, January 22, 1931: 15.
12 Associated Press, “Bat He Gave Away Costs No-Hit Tilt,” Washington Evening Star, July 8, 1934: 48
13 L. H. Gregory, “Gregory’s Sport Gossip,” The Oregonian, January 29, 1930: 15.
14 “Cascarella Acquires Merit in Jersey City,” Trenton Evening Times, June 24, 1932: 17.
15 Associated Press, “Connie Mack Holds Faith in New Club,” Hartford Courant, March 15, 1934: 15.
16 “Joe Cascarella Found Americans ‘Easy’ at First,” Hartford Courant, December 23, 1934: C3.
17 Richard Willing, “Chinese Fan Plays Catch Across an Ocean,” USA Today, December 12, 1997. Willing’s story tells of Chinese fan Li Bao-Jun, who had been a catcher on the St. John’s Christian missionary college team in Shanghai and invited the touring players to a restaurant and a tour of Shanghai. They gave him, among other things, an autographed baseball signed by the whole touring team, which include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Cascarella, among others. In 1989, Li gave the ball to a visiting American coach, to present to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Li’s son Francis emigrated to the US in 1991, worked at the post office, and umpired softball games.
18 “48 Major Leagues Face Critical Second Year Test,” Charleston (South Carolina) Evening Post, January 25, 1935: 13.
19 Robert S. Stephan, Music Editor, “Joe Cascarella Will Sing over WHK Tonight,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 3, 1935: 14.
20 “Cronin Thinks A’s Big Factor,” Boston Herald, June 29, 1935: 6.
21 “Cascarella Goes to the Syracuse Club,” Boston Globe, June 1, 1935: 5.
22 Pat Robinson, “Writer Thinks Inferiority Complex Affecting Work of Joe Cascarella,” The Repository (Canton, Ohio), July 11, 1935: 11.
23 Edwin Rumill, “Red Sox Players Pass in Review,” Christian Science Monitor, May 28, 1936: 6.
24 Shirley Povich, “Harris to Use Chapman as Lead-Off,” Washington Post, June 16, 1936: 17.
25 “Cascarella Is Named to Pitch First Game,” Washington Post, April 18, 1937: X1.
26 “Cascarella Balks at Joining Minors,” Washington Post, July 2, 1937: 25.
27 In his obituary, he was described thus: “a dapper man with movie-star good looks, Mr. Cascarella favored bowler hats, tailored suits and velvet-collared Chesterfield overcoats.” Baltimore Sun, May 24, 2002.
28 Joe Williams, “International Still Hopes to Land St. Paddy,” New York World Telegram Sun, July 16, 1960.