John Marzano (TRADING CARD DB)

John Marzano

This article was written by John Stefano

John Marzano (TRADING CARD DB)The neighborhood surrounding 11th and Wharton Streets in South Philadelphia is known for producing entertainers Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Fabian Forte, and Chubby Checker. John Marzano wasn’t a teen idol. He didn’t star in Beach Blanket Bingo and he didn’t invent “The Twist.” However, at one point in his baseball career, Marzano was considered the best Red Sox catching prospect since Carlton Fisk.1 After his playing days, the magnetic personality of “Johnny Marz” inspired Michael Barkann, his “Phillies Post Game Live” co-host, to crown him “the Prince of South Philadelphia.”2

Marzano’s story is one of talent and bravado. Ted Williams saw his potential and once predicted that John would “make the Big Leagues almost immediately and be the Rock of Gibraltar for a decade.”3 That promise was never fully realized in a big-league uniform, though Marzano spent parts of 10 seasons (1987-1998) in the majors with the Red Sox, Rangers and Mariners.

John Robert Marzano was born on February 14, 1963 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended church and grade school at Annunciation Blessed Virgin Mary, the Roman Catholic parish two blocks from his family’s row home. The Marzanos were a close-knit Italian family with patriarch John Sr., matriarch Laura (Lezzi), and their four children: Robert, Kathy, Joyce, and John. Like most red-blooded American boys, John loved baseball, but what set him apart from his peers was the countless hours he spent practicing with his dad.

John Sr., a retired Army Warrant Officer, practiced with his son for eight to 10 hours a day at nearby Columbus-DiProspero Playground. At lunchtime, Laura brought sandwiches to her husband and son. During batting drills, John Sr. sat on a milk crate and soft-tossed balls to young John, who would hit them into the park’s cyclone fence. The constant daily abuse caused the fence to warp, much to the irritation of the city’s parks and recreation department. Once his son’s hitting ability surpassed his pitching, John Sr. took $1,000 from his military pension and bought him a state-of-the-art pitching machine. Marzano’s hitting improved, and his batted balls routinely cleared the playground’s outfield fence, breaking windows at Annunciation’s school.

Luckily, Marzano’s Little League coach and mentor, Gabriel “Spanky” DiFeliciantonio, had a maintenance job at Veterans Stadium, the nearby home of the Philadelphia Phillies. After speaking to Phillies management, DiFeliciantonio and John Sr. arranged for John to hold daily, two-hour workouts in the team’s batting cage. Phillies coaches Mike Ryan and Deron Johnson began working with the boy and John became a local Little League legend. He once received a large trophy with five baseballs; representing the four no-hitters and the perfect game he pitched that season.4

Marzano attended Philadelphia’s prestigious Central High School, locally known as “Central”. After two years, he quit football to focus on baseball. John played third base his first two seasons and wore number 20 in honor of his hero, Phillies Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. As a junior, John attended Steve Boros’ baseball camp in Florida. Boros advised Marzano to switch from third base to catcher, believing John had a better chance of making the majors at that position given the relative lack of competition.

As a senior, Marzano drove in 27 runs in his first dozen games, batting .527 with a 1.167 slugging percentage. In recognition of his outstanding season, Marzano was named the Philadelphia Daily News City Player of the Year and first team All-State in 1981. The major leagues came knocking. On June 8, the Minnesota Twins selected John in the third round of the amateur draft, but he opted to accept a scholarship to Temple University. Marzano noted the scholarship was “worth almost twice the money that the Twins were offering.”5

Marzano became one of Temple’s best baseball players ever. During his three collegiate seasons, he amassed the highest career batting average (.413) in school history. He also ranks second in slugging (.676), third in RBIs (147) and tied for sixth in home runs (25). As a junior, John batted .448 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs to lead Temple to a second consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference title in 1984, homering twice against Penn State in the championship game. The Sporting News and Baseball America both named Marzano to their All-American teams that year. He was inducted into Temple’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.

The Boston Red Sox had been following Marzano since his Central days and drafted him in the first round (14th overall) of the June 1984 amateur draft. Scout Phil Rossi signed him on August 21.

Before embarking on his professional career, Marzano took a brief detour to Los Angeles to play in the 1984 Summer Olympics, which featured baseball as a demonstration sport. He was Team USA’s starting catcher and batted .407 with 11 extra-base hits in 59 at-bats during the club’s pre-Olympic tour. When the Games began, he hit the first home run by a U.S. player in a 2-1 victory over Chinese Taipei. On a roster including future MLB stars like Ken Caminiti, Will Clark, Barry Larkin, and Mark McGwire, Marzano’s .333 (4-for-12) performance helped Team USA earn the silver medal after losing to Japan in the gold medal game.

The Red Sox sent Marzano to the Florida Instructional League that fall. He hit .380, convincing Boston that he could skip Class A ball and start the 1985 season with their Double-A affiliate in New Britain, Connecticut. Although Marzano got off to a slow start as he adjusted to the grind of the professional season, he finished the year batting .246 with four home runs and 51 RBIs, and he tied for the lead among Eastern League catchers in putouts and assists. On November 16, 1985, John married his college sweetheart, Theresa “Terri” Cava. They had taken a kinesiology class together at Temple; baseball teammate Cliff Carter introduced them after John, with all of his South Philly swagger, proved to be too shy to ask her out.

The first-round pick excelled at New Britain in 1986. His .283 batting average in 118 games ranked third in the Eastern League and he led the Red Sox with 28 doubles and 62 RBIs. Marzano’s home run total increased to 10.

While Marzano appeared to be on the fast track to the majors, Boston’s catcher, Rich Gedman, was considered one of the American League’s best. Gedman’s backup, Marc Sullivan, was also capable — and it didn’t hurt that Marc’s father, Haywood Sullivan, was part owner of the Red Sox. In 1987, however, since Gedman was a free agent who couldn’t re-sign with Boston until May 1 — nearly a month into the season — many presumed that Marzano would become the starting catcher. Instead, Sullivan was in the Opening Day lineup, the backup role went to Danny Sheaffer, and Marzano began the season at Triple A in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The snub bothered him, and Marzano wanted to know why Sheaffer was promoted ahead of him. Pawtucket skipper Ed Nottle explained that it would be better for Marzano to play every day in the minors rather than once a week in the majors. “We felt that Sheaffer’s future would be as a backup at the major league level whereas John might be a #1 catcher.”6

With Pawtucket, Marzano was batting .282 with 32 extra-base hits through 70 games when Gedman suffered a season-ending injury. On July 31, Marzano made his major-league debut against former Cy Young winner Bret Saberhagen and the Kansas City Royals. Marzano went 0-for-3 at the plate but caught Roger Clemens’ three-hit shutout. On August 3, Marzano collected his first big-league hit, a three-run homer, off Texas pitcher José Guzmán. He also threw out the first baserunner who attempted to steal on him; future MLB All-Star and NFL Pro Bowler Bo Jackson. He later gunned down Rickey Henderson twice before the year was over. By season’s end, Marzano had appeared in 52 games and batted .244 with five homers. He also caught nine of Clemens’ wins during the righthander’s second Cy Young Award winning season, including his 20th victory.

The cocky Italian kid from South Philly who ruined playground fences and broke school windows had finally made it to the majors. Marzano’s parents traveled to Fenway Park to watch him play towards the end of the 1987 season. Recalling the countless hours he had spent at the playground practicing with his son, John Sr. couldn’t stop pointing to him on the field saying to his wife, “I can’t believe that’s our boy out there!”7 The son held his father in equal esteem, calling him daily for pep talks and advice. Sad to relate, John Sr. died of a heart attack at 61 years old in January 1988. Without his father’s guidance, John struggled and began pressing in an effort to impress the Red Sox brass, saying, “I tried to be Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams and everybody rolled into one.”8

Marzano started the 1988 season by hitting .138 over 10 games for the Red Sox. He received no sympathy from Boston’s gruff manager, John McNamara, who disliked Marzano’s gregarious personality. McNamara chastised Marzano for chatting up home plate umpires instead of giving pitchers their signs more quickly. The manager also chafed at the Philadelphian’s wisecracking demeanor. After one particularly bad loss, the old-school skipper seethed when some of his young players broke with sports etiquette and joked around in the back of the team bus. McNamara singled out Marzano, telling him, “It’s hard to make it to the big leagues, but it’s even harder to stay.”9

When McNamara called Marzano’s catching style “lackadaisical” four days later, it was a blow to the 25-year-old’s reputation.10 In 1990, Marzano told David Cataneo of the Boston Herald, “I’ve always worked hard, all of my life. I didn’t make the Olympic team sitting on my butt. I didn’t get to be a No. 1 pick by sitting around and doing nothing. I think Mac saying that hurt me.”11

Marzano had a point, since he was the only Red Sox teammate who could keep up with Clemens’ grueling running regimen. Within a week of the bus incident, Boston signed former Yankee Rick Cerone to replace the injured Gedman, and Marzano was sent down to Pawtucket.

The demotion caused a downward spiral for Marzano. According to Steven Krasner of the Providence Journal-Bulletin, Marzano failed to take the demotion in stride — “he sulked and his numbers in Pawtucket showed it.”Indeed, Marzano hit .198 with no home runs, five RBIs and eight throwing errors in 33 games.12

Less than two months later, Marzano was demoted again. to Double-A New Britain, where he hit .205 with no home runs and five RBIs in 35 games. He would later attribute his poor performance to his dad’s death. “I was touted as one of the top rookies in 1988,” said Marzano, “but my father died that January. I didn’t hit and I didn’t field. I was going through a depression.”13

Marzano vowed to return to the majors for his dad in 1989 following his abysmal 1988 season. Though McNamara had been fired by the Red Sox at the 1988 All-Star break, Marzano failed to supplant Cerone as Gedman’s backup and hit .211 with eight homers and 36 RBIs for Pawtucket. During seven September games with the Red Sox, he hit .444 with 3 doubles.

Boston signed All-Star Tony Peña to be the starting catcher in 1990. Marzano opened the season in the majors as a reserve but was sent down to Pawtucket after a single at-bat. After Gedman was traded to the Astros in June, Marzano rejoined the club as Peña’s backup. Prior to his call-up, Marzano batted .320 at Pawtucket and threw out 42.1% of attempted base stealers. On June 13, Marzano had his first four-hit game in the majors in a victory over the Yankees. In 32 games with the Red Sox, he hit .241. Boston finished 88-74 to win the AL East but was swept by the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS.

Marzano spent the entire 1991 season with Boston batting .263 with nine RBIs over 49 games backing up Peña, who won a Gold Glove. Although Marzano hated the backup label, he embraced his role. “I’ve never seen a backup catcher as helpful as he is. He lets you know what you’ve got, what you should throw, and maybe what you shouldn’t throw…he makes you feel like a million bucks,” opined Red Sox closer Jeff Reardon.14

That June, Marzano became a cult hero in Boston by saving Clemens from a bat-wielding opponent. After Clemens allowed two home runs to the Detroit Tigers on consecutive pitches, he nailed the next batter, John Shelby, in the back. A furious Shelby stormed the mound with his bat in hand — but before he could make it to Clemens, Marzano intercepted him with a flying tackle from behind. Marzano’s teammates praised him for protecting the team’s star player but mocked his poor tackling technique. “It was definitely the fastest that I’ve ever run in my Major League career,” Marzano said.15

In 1992, Marzano suffered a major setback when he needed arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He did not return until July and hit .290 in 18 games with Pawtucket. Marzano also appeared in 19 games for Boston.

Marzano’s tumultuous career with the Red Sox ended when the team released him during spring training 1993. The Cleveland Indians signed him in early May, but Marzano played only three games for their Triple-A affiliate before undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery.

After Cleveland released him on May 23, Marzano returned to South Philly. He heard that a local attorney, Steve Koplove, had converted a nearby warehouse into a batting cage and asked to use it. Koplove agreed if Marzano would help his son, Michael, work on his swing. Marzano obliged and Michael Koplove went on to become a relief pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians.

The Philadelphia Phillies signed Marzano in December 1993 and assigned him to their Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. It was the closest Marzano came to playing for his hometown team. In 88 games in 1994, he batted .211 with 19 doubles. His middling performance, as well as the season-ending August players’ strike, denied Marzano the possibility of a late season call-up to Philadelphia. The Phillies released him on October 15.

In April 1995, Marzano was signed by the Texas Rangers and assigned to their Triple-A affiliate, the Oklahoma City 89ers. Healthy that season, the 32-year-old played in 120 games, batted .309 with 41 doubles and 56 RBIs, and made the American Association All-Star team. The game was held in Scranton, a 120-mile drive from Philly, so friends and family made the trip to cheer him on. Marzano appeared in two games for the Rangers in September but, despite his outstanding Triple-A showing, Texas released him on October 16.

Two months later, Marzano signed with the Seattle Mariners and served as the backup to All-Star Dan Wilson in1996. Marzano established himself as the clubhouse clown and amused Seattle’s fans by running to sit beside teammates in the dugout after they made a big play in the field or hit a home run so he could mug for the cameras and give his daughters a chance to see him on TV. Marzano’s teammates playfully dubbed him “Johnny NFL” since John, like all backup catchers, “only played on Sundays.”16

Marzano became close friends with Ken Griffey Jr. The superstar and backup catcher rarely allowed a day to pass without playfully insulting each other. Although there was a significant disparity in their talent levels, they shared a genuine mutual affection. Marzano said, “When I got here, I expected the superstar to be off limits, but that wasn’t the case.” Griffey noted, “[Marzano] was blessed with a gift to make people laugh.”17 That became apparent on one Opening Day in Seattle when Griffey was set to receive Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in a pre-game ceremony. As the PA announcer read off Griffey’s list of achievements from the previous season and said, “And now … here he is!”, Marzano popped out of the dugout and jogged over as if to accept Griffey’s hardware. When Griffey’s name was announced, Marzano didn’t break stride and casually made a loop back to the Mariners’ bench.18

On July 20, Marzano was catching in a game against the Angels and Edgar Martinez was making what would end up being his final career start at third base. When California’s Pat Borders hit a foul popup, Marzano looked to Martinez so as to determine who should catch the ball. “I thought Edgar was indicating that I should take it. So, I looked back up and went after the ball and ‘Bang!’”19 Marzano and Martinez violently collided. Martinez broke four ribs and missed three weeks. “I was lying there bleeding, I needed 40 stitches, and everyone ran over to Edgar,” Marzano recalled. Only Griffey came to Marzano’s side. “[Griffey] leaned over me as I lay on the ground with my eyelid hanging off and he told me ‘Edgar is hurt. You’re screwed.’”20

When Paul O’Neill took offense at being brushed back by Mariners’ pitcher Tim Davis later that season, the Yankees outfielder glared at the mound and complained to the home plate umpire. Marzano, who was catching that day, instructed O’Neill to “shut up and hit.”21 O’Neill went after Marzano, who rammed his catcher’s mitt into his opponent’s face and threw a haymaker at him, causing a bench-clearing brawl. The umpires ejected Marzano, O’Neill, and four other players. AL president Gene Budig suspended Marzano, O’Neill, and Jeff Nelson for two games and fined O’Neill and three other players for their roles in the melee. He did not fine Marzano. “I guess [AL] officials looked at my salary and decided, ‘We can’t fine this guy,’” Marzano quipped.22

Afterwards, Griffey asked the Seattle Times to help him play a practical joke on his friend. A fake news story was written claiming that Mike Tyson had seen the Marzano-O’Neill fight and expressed an interest in a non-title bout with the catcher. The newspaper also designed a faux front page to its sports section entitled “Marzano’s Next Fight: Tyson?” and 50 copies were circulated in the Mariners’ clubhouse.23

Marzano played 41 games for the Mariners in 1996, batting .245 with six RBIs behind Wilson, who made the All-Star team. On December 19, 1996, the Mariners re-signed Marzano to a one-year, $250,000 contract. He saw scant playing time backing up Wilson again in 1997, appearing in 39 games while batting .287 with 10 RBIs.

The Mariners re-signed Marzano to another one-year deal to be one of three catchers on the club’s roster at the start of the 1998 season. Marzano’s intangibles factored into Seattle manager Lou Piniella’s assessment of the player’s value in the clubhouse. “He’s the kind of player that every team should have. A team needs a guy like him that keeps it loose,” opined Lee Pelekoudas, Seattle’s VP of Baseball Administration.24

Marzano appeared in 50 games in 1998, batting .233 with four home runs, but he was released at the end of the season. In January, Texas signed him to compete with Gregg Zaun to back up Ivan Rodriguez in 1999. Marzano wound up with Oklahoma City once again, hitting .244 in 44 games. After 14 seasons of professional baseball, he retired to South Jersey near Philadelphia with his wife Terri and their two daughters, Danielle and Dominique.

In 2001, Marzano opened a baseball academy in the garage of an old bottling plant near South Philly’s famous Italian Market. Later, he moved the academy to a warehouse in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood. Marzano taught his students life lessons and gave them self-confidence while regaling them with stories about baseball, family, friends, and South Philly.

Destiny intervened when Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, the Phillies’ regional cable TV outlet, visited Marzano’s academy for a story and CSN’s leadership noted his on-air potential. “The guy asked me if I would like to do some post-game stuff for the Phillies,” Marzano said. “I gave it a shot and was a nervous wreck.”25

CSN’s anchors — Ron Burke, Matt Yallof, and Michael Barkann — mentored Marzano and he improved significantly, becoming the sole color analyst for “Phillies Post Game Live” after just two seasons. Marzano’s baseball knowledge, wit. and South Philly attitude made him an instant favorite with the city’s provincial fans. Marzano also appeared on WIP (610-AM), Philadelphia’s sports talk radio station.

The big personality that drew the wrath of John McNamara proved to be a strength for Marzano in his second act as a baseball analyst. In addition to his Phillies postgame work, Marzano began hosting “Leading Off”,’s online morning show, with Vinny Micucci in 2007. The show’s blog described John as “Rocky [Balboa], Vince Papale [the Philadelphia Eagles’ underdog cult favorite of the late 1970s], Mike Schmidt, and the Liberty Bell all wrapped into one.” 26 Marzano was excited that the MLB Network was set to launch in 2009 because he expected to be a prominent on-air personality. However, it was not to be.

Estranged from his wife and living alone, Marzano died tragically on April 19, 2008 from an intoxicated fall down the stairs of his second floor apartment in South Philly. He was 45 years old. His cause of death was listed as “postural asphyxia contributed to by blunt trauma and ethanol intoxication.”27

Former Seattle teammates Jamie Moyer, Dan Wilson, and David Segui were among those who attended his funeral. Michael Barkann, Marzano’s “Phillies Post Game Live” co-host, spoke at the funeral mass held at Annunciation BVM. Barkann observed, “John was one of the rare people who put a smile on your face the moment you saw him. You always knew when John was in the room. He always made an entrance, and it was big and it was loud and it was full of joy.”28

Marzano was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

John Marzano’s memory lives on in the half-ball tournament bearing his name held annually during South Philadelphia’s South Ninth Street Italian Market Festival. The tournament’s proceeds support youth baseball through the John Marzano Scout League started by its namesake to showcase the talents of top Philly-area high school baseball players for college and pro scouts. The league was wrapping up its second season when he died. Major League Baseball also established a broadcasting internship in his name.

The most fitting memorial for Marzano is located at the home field of his scout league, a reconditioned vacant lot among the oil tanks of an old Sunoco refinery in South Philly. Marzano himself helped build the baseball diamond, “from moving rocks and debris to leveling the field.”29 There, a red sign was placed honoring him as “a friend to all young people that play baseball.”30



I would like to thank Michael Barkann, Matt Yallof, and Edie Pepe for graciously sharing their favorite Johnny Marz stories. I would also like to thank Bill Nowlin and Malcolm Allen of SABR for their deeply appreciated expertise and the patience that they showed this rookie contributor to the BioProject. Special thanks to my friend Jack Fleming for reading several extremely rough drafts and providing invaluable insight. Lastly and most importantly, I want to express my gratitude to my lifelong batterymate, Jennifer Stefano, for her encouragement, keeping the family afloat while I was squirreled away writing and for helping me convert a 9,720-word novella into a workable draft.

This biography was also reviewed by Rory Costello and fact-checked by Karen Holleran.



In addition to the sources cited in the Notes below, the author also consulted,,, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library’s player file for John Robert Marzano.



1 Larry Whiteside, “Marzano Receives Golden Opportunity,” Boston Globe, February 27, 1987: 44.

2 Jim Salisbury, “Marzano Loved the Game, South Philly and Fun.”, April 26, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

3 Randy Giancaterino, “Marzano Made His Mark,” South Philly Review, April 24, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

4 Edie Pepe, telephone interview, July 8, 2016.

5 David Pevear, “Sox’ Marzano is a Hot Prospect; but the Plate May Be Blocked,” Lowell Sun, May 29, 1986: 36.

6 Ted Silary, “Catcher on the Rise – Marzano Near Shot at Majors,” Philadelphia Daily News, July 28, 1987: 78.

7 Jim Salisbury, “An Appreciation: John Marzano, A Player At with South Philly Flair,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 2008: E1, E10.

8 Giancaterino.

9 Angelo Cataldi, “Temple to Fenway: A Catcher’s Long Path,” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 17, 1988: 1E, 3E.

10 Cataldi.

11 David Cataneo, “Marzano Can’t Catch a Break,” Boston Herald, April 30, 1990: 71.

12 Steven Krasner, “Promise Fulfilled,” Providence Journal-Bulletin, August 1990: 11.

13 Murray Dubin, “Back at Home Former Big-League Catcher John Marzano Grew Up in South Philadelphia. He’s in the Neighborhood Again, Teaching Youths at His Academy to Keep on Slugging,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 11, 2001: D1, D4.

14 Nick Cafardo, “Marzano Puts No. 1 Effort into No. 2 Job,” Boston Globe, July 26, 1991: 53-54,

15 Mike Loftus, “Danger At Home,” Patriot Ledger, July 8, 1991: 20.

16 Matt Yallof, telephone interview, June 27, 2016.

17 Dan Raley, “Laughing Gas in a Mask,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 1998: D3.

18 Anonymous. “Marzano Dies,” April 19, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

19 Arne Christensen, “Some Stories About John Marzano.”, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

20 Christensen.

21 Jim Salisbury, “Marzano Brought South Philly to Game.”, April 20, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

22 Jim Street, “Marzano to Sit for Yankee Fight,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 4, 1996: D2.

23 Rick Lund, “Take 2: The Night My Family Got to See a Different Side of Ken Griffey Jr.,” Seattle Times, January 8, 2016, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

24 Raley.

25 Bill Gelman, “Diamond Visions: South Philly Native John Marzano Will Analyze the Phillies Wild Card Chase This Week on Comcast SportsNet,” South Philly Review, September 29, 2005, (last accessed on January 26, 2021)

26 John Schlegel, “Ex-Catcher, Host Marzano dies,”, April 19, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

27 Michael Klein, “Medical Examiner Says Fall Killed John Marzano.”, July 18, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

28 Bob Monek, “Tests: Fall Didn’t Kill Marzano.”, April 21, 2008, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

29 Joseph Santoliquito, “Koplove Continuing Marzano’s Legacy.” July 17, 2008. (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

30 Coryn Wolk, “Without Remediation, Diamond in the Rough a Risky Play.”, September 22, 2017, (last accessed on January 26, 2021).

Full Name

John Robert Marzano


February 14, 1963 at Philadelphia, PA (USA)


April 19, 2008 at Philadelphia, PA (USA)

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