Was Joe Giannini potentially the wealthiest player ever to appear in the Red Sox lineup? Joseph Francis Giannini was born in Drytown, Amador County, California, on September 8, 1888 (per the California Death Index – though according to his World War I draft card, he was born on that date in 1889). He had played for San Francisco in 1910, in the California League. In 1911, he began the year with the San Leandro Cherry Pickers in the Central California League as their “sterling third baseman.” [San Francisco Call, June 18, 1911]
At the time of his death on September 26, 1942, by heart attack in San Francisco, Joe Giannini was an assistant manager at the Bank of America. The Bank of America grew out of the Bank of Italy, founded by A.P. Giannini in San Francisco. Coincidence? Apparently. Librarians at the San Francisco Public Library have been unable to trace any connection between Joe and A.P., despite consulting the various resources available to them.
What we do know about Joe is that he played one game in major league baseball, on August 7, 1911, for the Boston Red Sox against Cleveland. Smoky Joe Wood was pitching for the Red Sox. It was his second start after his July 29 no-hitter. Steve Yerkes was out after hurting the index finger on his throwing hand on August 6, so Giannini started the game at shortstop. He was 5-feet-8 and weighed 155 pounds, batted left and threw right.
He had a tough day at the park. The Boston Herald claimed, “It was his general all around weakness that allowed the Naps to secure the majority of their half a dozen runs tallied in the sixth inning.” The New York Times concurred, leading its brief game account, “The errors of Giannini, a Red Sox shortstop recruit from the Pacific Coast, together with four hits, including a homer by Lajoie, netted Cleveland six runs in the sixth inning and gave them the game today, 8 to 3.” [New York Times, August 8, 1911]
His first time up at bat, Joe took four balls and was entitled to a walk, but the umpire had lost track of the count and denied him the base. Joe grounded out short to first on the next pitch. Next time up, in the fifth inning, he doubled down the third-base line. There was some difference in the press as to how hard-hit the ball may have been. The Boston Globe called it a “scratch double” but the Herald wrote that he “almost knocked the pins from under Neal Ball.” Wood walked, Hooper walked, and the bases were loaded. Clyde Engle grounded to third and Ball stepped on the bag, forcing Wood at third, then threw home to Cleveland catcher Gus Fisher at the plate, who tagged Giannini. The Globe faulted Joe, saying he “failed to run with the pitch.”
In the field, Giannini was charged with two errors, both in the sixth inning. The Indians scored two runs on Lajoie’s inside-the-park home run. Then, with one out and two men on base, Fisher hit a tailor-made double-play ball to Giannini. Joe threw wildly to Heinie Wagner at second and the bases were loaded. The next batter hit a grounder that reporters thought Giannini should have reached, but he did not. Two runs scored. A double steal moved the runners up. A grounder hit right at Giannini went through his feet, and he was charged with his second error of the inning, while the fifth and sixth runs of the inning crossed home plate. After Wood struck out the final batter, a change was made at short and Joe G was given the rest of the day off. The Herald noted, “[Billy] Purtell was played after that disastrous showing, and was a big improvement.”
The 1911 Red Sox were nothing to write home about. They finished in fourth place with a record of 78-75 under manager Patsy Donovan. Despite the injury to Yerkes, he played 142 games as the team’s regular shortstop. There wasn’t a lot of need for Giannini, and he became one of those cup-of-coffee ballplayers who saw action in only one game. In his case, he batted an even .500 but also suffered a .500 fielding percentage, with two errors in four chances. He just wasn’t going to get another opportunity.
The Sox pretty much gave up on the 22-year-old graduate of the University of San Francisco, and he was traded to the Brockton Shoemakers of the New England League on August 10, along with 19-year-old first baseman Tracy Baker, in exchange for outfielder Olaf Henriksen and infielder Walter Lonergan. Giannini finished out the year with the Shoemakers, batting .244 in 25 games. Three years later, in 1914, he gave baseball one more shot, closer to home, playing second base for Sacramento/Mission Wolves in the Pacific Coast League. He hit only .176 in 13 games. What he did in between, we do not know. What he did afterward, we do not know other than his work with the Bank of America.
As Giannini’s name may suggest, he was of Italian heritage. His father, Giacomo, was born in Canton Ticino, in the Italian area of Switzerland, in April 1846 and was a farmer in Drytown, which was founded in the 1840s during the California Gold Rush. (Its name may refer to the lack of gold, which was panned from rivers and streams, not to the lack of whiskey.) Giacomo is listed as divorced in the 1900 Census; his ex (and Joe’s mother) was Mary Esola Giannini, born in Italy around 1865 and arriving in the United States in 1871 (naturalized in 1888, the likely year of Joe’s birth). Joe was the couple’s only child. Giacomo remarried in 1902.
Joe himself married Rose Cecilia Purcell on June 10, 1930, and they honeymooned in Europe, coming back by sea from Southampton, England, in August to take up residence in her native San Francisco. They had four children: Cecilia, Claire, Joseph Francis, Jr., Junior, and Mary Elizabeth.
Joe worked in banking throughout, in 1920 as a collections clerk at a bank and in 1930 as a sales manager at a bond firm, and is listed in the 1937 city directory as the assistant manager of the Bank of America in San Francisco, a position he still held at the time of his death in 1942.
In addition to the sources cited in this biography, the author consulted the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and Bill Lee’s Baseball Necrology. Thanks to Maurice Bouchard for genealogical research.