Mike Pasquella had more names than a viscount and a gift for running in fast company and sharing a good story about it afterward. His best tale revolved around his own Major League career, which was short, colorful, and quirky.
Born in Philadelphia seven months after Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders had charged up San Juan Hill, Mike was the first of seven children for John and Julia Pasquariello. Both parents were Italian immigrants. His father worked as a presser for tailors, although his son later recalled him as a clothing designer. Mike grew up in the Quaker City playing baseball as a first baseman and catcher and excelled in other sports as well. He graduated from Roman Catholic High School in 1915. By some accounts he then lettered in baseball, football, and basketball at nearby Villanova College (now University), while others say he turned down athletic scholarships there and at two other Catholic schools.
He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in May 1917, weeks after America entered the First World War. Military records reverse his first and middle names to list him as John Michael Pasquariello (although he had a brother named John). At least one sports page would refer to him years later as Jack, a diminutive of John, compounding confusion for curious historians. For reasons now unknown, he (along with other family members) also gradually changed his last name to Pasquella, for a time apparently using both.
Pasquella began marine training near home at the League Island Navy Yard in Philadelphia. He continued to play baseball while in khaki and starred in a September 23 exhibition game on the island’s ballfield versus manager Connie Mack’s Athletics. The marines’ pitcher was former Harvard football and baseball star Eddie Mahan, who beat A’s rookie Walter Anderson, 8 — 7. Pasquella’s “terrific slugging greatly assisted Mahan in defeating the Athletics … connecting for a homer, with two on in the first inning, followed by two singles. In the seventh with the score against the marines, two on bases, he drove out his second circuit clout placing the winning runs over the plate.”1 Mack later asked to have a word with the swatting first baseman.
The 1918 season found Pasquella stationed at Quantico, Virginia, a member of a marine ball team that played many of its games in nearby Washington, D.C. This “exceptionally strong” squad boasted several pro ballplayers, including St. Louis Cardinals infielder and captain Jack “Dots” Miller, former Detroit and Cleveland catcher Jay “Nig” Clarke, ex-Yankee and future Phillie Mike Cantwell, and longtime former minor leaguer Paul Cobb, Ty’s brother.
The Quantico club was “so well supplied with good players and so well trained that, according to the marines, other Army and Navy teams are giving it a wide berth.”2 Pasquella received several favorable mentions in district newspapers, his name appearing in print and box scores in several ways: Pasquella, J. Pasquella, Pasquariello, or any number of misspellings of the latter.
The team shipped with the 11th Marine Regiment, Fifth Marine Brigade, to join the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in France in October 1918. “Before I could get any action the armistice was signed” November 11, Dots Miller said later in disgust. “I was soon enough to be too late.”3 The marines kept the ball club together. “The Leathernecks demonstrated that they have one of the best nines in France, playing well together, hitting the ball hard and often, and showing an inside knowledge of the fine points of the game,” the military newspaper Stars and Stripes said the following March. “Individually each man is a star and collectively they represent a diamond machine of great strength.”4
Now a sergeant, Pasquella also played on a championship inter-service AEF basketball team. The coach and and six other players were fellow Philadelphians. Among them was a wealthy champion oarsman, army Lieutenant John B. “Jack” Kelly, whose stunning daughter Grace (born a decade later) would become a Hollywood movie star and then Princess of Monaco. A Stars and Stripes article about the basketball team praised commoner Pasquella as “an all-round athlete. He is one of the speediest forwards in the game.”5
Dr. Naismith’s sport also led to an enduring nickname for Pasquella. In his telling, the ball club was in Italy, marching near Rome, when kids began pelting the marines with oranges.6 The leathernecks rounded them up and taught them how to play basketball, Pasquella perhaps talking to them in their own language. For reasons not recorded, the youngsters dubbed him “Toney,” which became Tony to the Yanks.7 For the rest of his life more people would call him Tony than Mike or Jack.
Discharged in July 1919, Pasquella began working out with the Phillies at the Baker Bowl. Within days the club fired manager Jack Coombs and replaced him with outfielder Clifton “Gavvy” Cravath. Pasquella watched from the stands July 9 as the Phillies suffered their thirteenth straight loss during the first game of a Cubs-Phillies doubleheader. According to the ex-marine’s account decades later, Cravath pressed him into emergency service between contests, although a Philadelphia paper said Coombs had signed him days earlier. Whatever the sequence, Pasquella made his major league debut that afternoon, various sports pages offering several misspellings of “Pasquariello.”
Elongated southpaw Eppa Rixey, another ex-serviceman home from France, pitched for the Phils. Rixey “should have won this ball game without the necessity of pitching overtime, had his pals exhibited any desire whatever to help him,” sportswriter Edgar Forrest Wolfe wrote (under his pseudonym, Jim Nasium).8 Pasquella took over first base for Fred Luderus after the home team tied the game 4 — 4 in the ninth inning. He said later he’d worn Coombs’ uniform, borrowed outfielder Cy Williams’ shoes, and used a glove given to him by Cub first baseman Fred Merkle.
The game remained tied with one out in the eleventh when Pasquella stepped to the plate versus Cubs reliever Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbread” Bailey, also a young war veteran. Pasquella bounced a single over shortstop Charlie Hollocher, followed by George “Possum” Whitted, who did the same. Dave Bancroft then drove a single to right, “and to this stranger [Pasquella] belongs the credit of having lugged over the winning tally.”9 He touched the plate to break the losing streak, driven in by one future Hall of Famer to win the game for another.
Nine days later Pasquella was unexpectedly heading west to join another team. “Philadelphia wanted to sign him but he received a telegram from the St. Louis Cardinals informing him that he had agreed to their terms in France,” according to one newspaper profile written long afterward.10 Other, probably more accurate, contemporary accounts say that St. Louis club president Branch Rickey (another returned veteran) snagged him for the waiver price on the recommendation of Miller, now too a civilian.11 A Philadelphia sportswriter thought Pasquella could be “used advantageously by Rickey, who is short of both maskmen and first basemen.”12
“The big Italian population of St. Louis plans to give Tony a great sendoff when he appears in a Cardinal uniform,” numerous newspapers said (relying on an outdated wire report, several days after he had already done so).13 Pasquella debuted with St. Louis at home July 31, during an 11 — 4 thumping delivered by his old team, the visiting Phillies. Pinch-hitting in the fourth inning for reliever Bill “Wee Willie” Sherdel, he “fanned sweetly” against Gene Packard.14 A few days later the Cards sent him down to the Waco Navigators in the Texas League.
The Philadelphian never returned to the big show. His entire major league career consisted of two games, played for different teams, which was rare but not unique. Billy Maharg had done it earlier, appearing in one game for the Tigers and another for Phillies, albeit during separate seasons (1912 and 1916) and under questionable circumstances; nor did Maharg get a hit during two plate appearances.
Pasquella appeared in 46 games for the Navigators, playing first base and hitting .202. He decided afterward he could make better money elsewhere. “Released to Houston of the Texas league, he refused to report and played in the ‘outlaw’ leagues for several years, drawing a five-year suspension.”15 His name disappeared from the record books until 1926, when he joined younger brother Dan on the Crisfield (Maryland) Crabbers in the Class D Eastern Shore League.
Dan Pasquella played pro ball during the same period as Mike and was likewise a catcher, which led to many transpositions in the sketchy records of the day. Dan was Crisfield’s player-manager when Tony signed on as his first baseman. A few box scores differentiated the brothers as D. Pasquella and J. Pasquella, further fogging the question of Tony/Michael John/John Michael’s preferred moniker.
Rising young infielder Paul Richards starred for Crisfield before playing eight seasons in the big leagues and subsequently managing the White Sox and the Orioles. Tony Rensa, another future big leaguer, also played for the Crabbers. Tony Pasquella hit .324 for the team during 46 games and “helped materially in winning the 1926 season championship.”16 After beginning the next season with the Williamsport Grays in the New York-Penn League, he returned to Crisfield and again played for brother Dan, hitting .328 over 71 games in 1927.
Tony later led an offseason squad of mostly Eastern Shore leaguers, including Richards, on a two-month jaunt to Puerto Rico. The team represented Ponce in a series of games against nearby clubs. The Pasquella brothers returned to the Eastern Shore in 1928, neither with the Crabbers. Tony was player-manager for the Parksley (Virginia) Spuds, while Dan had the same role with the Easton (Maryland) Farmers. Tony was hitting .308 before the circuit folded early in July.17
Records are lacking, but according to the family Tony stayed on the field as a player-manager until 1932; Dan definitely managed at least five years longer. Tony had married the former Anna Mae Doris in 1920. Together they raised two sons, John Anthony and Edward Michael.18 The ex-ballplayer fashioned a new career, working for many years as a salesman for furniture companies in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and in war industries during World War II.
A columnist in Pasquella’s adopted hometown later invoked an eighteenth-century Hanoverian storyteller in trying to describe the bespectacled, cigar-smoking old ballplayer. The two-game big leaguer, the journalist wrote in 1961, could “spin yarns with vim and his stories at least keep you happy, for most ring clear enough to prove he is no Baron Munchausen.”19 Anna Pasquella died in 1963. Widower Michael “Tony” Pasquella died two years later at sixty-six, survived by his mother, all his siblings, both sons, and five grandchildren.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Jan Finkel and fact-checked by Terry Bohn.
Besides the sources listed in the Notes, the author consulted Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 “Marines Win Hard Battle with Macks,” Philadelphia Inquirer, September 24, 1917: 14.
2 “Marines Too Good to Get Contests,” Washington Sunday Star, May 5, 1918: 5-2.
3 “Dots Miller Back with Hard Luck Tale and a Grouch,” New York Tribune, April 22, 1919: 18.
4 “Cannes Beaten by Leatherneck Nine,” Stars and Stripes, March 14, 1919: 6.
5 “Tours Team Is Winner in A.E.F. Basketball Race,” Stars and Stripes, April 18, 1919: 6. The article identifies Pasquella as “Sgt. John ‘Toney’ Pasquerillo [sic],” as does the caption (omitting the nickname) of an accompanying team photo.
6 A short regimental history doesn’t show the 11th Marines deployed outside France. Stars and Stripes, however, reported the baseball team touring army rest areas, perhaps including Rome. Army and Navy teams had played a widely reported baseball game in the Eternal City in May 1918.
7 The nickname might have stemmed from an enduring joke, that for Italian immigrants “Tony” stood for “To NY.”
8 Jim Nasium, “Phils Finally Check Their Long Slide,” Philadelphia Public Inquirer, July 10, 1919: 14.
9 Nasium, “Phils Finally Check.”
10 Edward J. Shugrue, Between Ourselves, Bridgeport Post, September 17, 1961: D-1.
11 “Have a peach of a ball player on the team with me and I will surely grab him for the Cardinals,” Miller wrote to a friend from France in late January. He didn’t name the player, who almost certainly was Pasquella. Clarence F. Lloyd, “Jack Miller Has Found Young Star in Marine Corps,” St. Louis Star, February 12, 1919: 13.
12 Edwin J. Pollock, “Pasquerillo [sic] Steals Away with Cardinals,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, July 23, 1919: 15.
13 “Sport Briefs,” Muscatine (Iowa) Journal, August 5, 1919: 6.
14 James M. Gould, “Sixteen Safe Drives Won Tilt Yesterday for Cravath’s Crew,” St. Louis Star, August 1, 1919: 12.
15 “Pasquella Dies; Baseball Figure,” Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post, April 6, 1965: 31.
16 “Sho’ Players on Long Trip,” Baltimore Sun, November 8, 1927: 15.
17 “Leading Hitters Shore League,” Salisbury (Maryland) Times, June 23, 1928: 7.
18 Although known as Pasquella for some time, he entered his name on the wedding license as Michael Pasquariello. https://www.ancestry.com.
19 Shugrue, Between Ourselves.