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Mudville: June 23, 2024 7:45 am PDT

The Tom Satriano Story

BY JON CAROULIS

The story of Tom Satriano’s first few weeks in the majors would have made a perfect movie for the Great Depression, when people desperately needed inspiring, happy stories to take their minds off their troubles.

It would open with him as the starting third baseman on the University of Southern California’s baseball team winning the 1961 College World Series. Then it would show him meeting in Fred Haney’s office, the General Manager of the Los Angeles Angels, who wants to sign him to a professional contract.

Satriano accepts their offer of $50,000, albeit with one condition: a junior at USC on a baseball scholarship, he would lose his amateur status if he signed. He told the Angels he would accept their offer, but under one condition: they would have to pay for his final year of college including all required curriculum. The first-year expansion Angels agree.

Next, the Angels tell Satriano that there are no openings for him in their minor league system, so they want him to report to the big club.

“When do I go?” He asks.

“Tomorrow”, they reply.

The next day, July 23, 1961, he’s in the Angels locker room at Wrigley Field, a stadium where he watched many minor league games of the Pacific Coast League.

The game against the league’s other expansion team, the Washington Senators, begins. In the sixth inning, manager Bill Rigney had him pinch hit for pitcher Ted Bowsfield. While he was walking up to the plate, he asked right fielder Albie Pearson about the Senators pitcher, Mike Garcia, who had been part of Cleveland’s’ great rotation in the mid-1950s.

“Oh, he hasn’t got the same stuff that he used to,” Pearson told the rookie.  “He has a medium fastball. You won’t have any problems. Go up there, you’ll have him.”

When Satriano stepped up to the plate, “I could feel my knees almost shaking so much they were touching each other,” Satriano recalled. “He threw the first pitch and I hardly saw it.”

“I was thinking, ‘What the hell? What do you mean he didn’t throw very hard? I thought that was super fast.’  I was now in the big leagues. I was playing in Los Angeles, my childhood dream. So it was quite an experience.

“I finally was able to adjust to his speed as I worked him to a three and two count. So, I thought I had him. I was ready to really hit his next fast ball. But instead, he threw me a changeup, which he hadn’t thrown all day. I was out in front of it and grounded out to the second baseman.”

On August 7, the Angels are in New York to begin a four-game series against the Bronx Bombers.

“I walk into Yankee Stadium, come into the dugout and the first person I see taking batting practice is Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris is next, and then Yogi Berra, and Moose Skowron. I’m going, oh my God, oh my God, what am I doing here?”

On August 12 at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, Satriano came to the plate facing Mudcat Grant. There are relatives in the stands watching him. With Los Angeles leading 1-0 in the top of the ninth, Satriano gets his first hit and his first home run off Grant, a two-run shot to give the Angels a 3-0 lead – which was ultimately the final score.

“And when I hit the home run, I was so excited I started racing around the bases. A week or so prior to this, I pinched hit for the pitcher in Baltimore in the 3rd inning I hit a home run against Dick Hall. By the time I reached 3rd base, it started to rain. By the time I hit home plate, the sky opened, and a deluge came down – and subsequently the game was called off as well as my home run. Not sure that ever happened before. First hit a home run rained out – followed by another first hit that counted.”

But he faces another prank by his veteran teammates.

“They do a little joke on (a player’s first home run),” said Satriano. When he returns to the dugout, “they just ignore you and they just pretend like it’s a run of the mill. So, they didn’t say anything for about three minutes or something like that. I was really excited, and my teammates were just silent as hell. They wouldn’t say a word. They do that just as a joke. Terrible, terrible.

“Then suddenly, they hugged me and congratulated me.”

His story is true, and what a movie scene that first time in a major league locker room would have made during the Great Depression.

“I’ll never forget it,” recalled Satriano. “Here I am, 20 years old, and I’m sitting in the locker room before the game. There was a team meeting, and I’m with a bunch of players (who) were old-timers because the Angels were an expansion team and most of the people that we had were from other teams that they had been playing for quite a while, like Ted Kluszewski.  He was an icon of mine when I was just a kid, and then Ryne Duren and other major league players.”

Angels manager Bill Rigney introduced Satriano to his new teammates. Then he told center fielder Ken Hunt he was late for the meeting and fined him $100.

“I was so scared. $100 back then? Oh my God.  I wanted to sleep there that night, so I wouldn’t be late the next day,” said Satriano. “So that was my first introduction to my first major league baseball game.”

He appeared in 35 games in 1961, batting .198, and played third and second base and one game at shortstop.

(Original Caption) Boston: Yanks' Bobby Murcer (2nd, L) is restrained by teammate Thurman Munson as he tries to get at Bosox catcher Tom Satriano (R) 4th inning fight, night game, Fenway Park. Murcer thought Satriano tagged him too hard when he was put out at plate on hit by Frank Fernandez to Bosox LF Joe Lahoud who threw to plate for out. Both teams came on field, but fight was over quickly. Plate umpire Merel Anthony (rear, R).

After that season, Satriano took classes at USC to finish his degree. During the offseason he went to work part-time for Price Waterhouse, an international accounting firm. Of course, any movie with a theme of the Great Depression must have a sequence about facing difficulties, which began for Satriano in spring training of 1962.

The Angels told Satriano he needed more experience, and he was assigned to the team’s AAA affiliate in Hawaii. But there would be trouble in paradise.

He played a season there and said, “I never wanted to go back to Hawaii. I still don’t like it. I mean, so you’re on the mainland for two weeks and then you’re on the island for two weeks. And the thing that was really tough with playing in Hawaii every day was the drain. It’s kind of dry, or humid at times and you’re playing every single day and it just wears you down really quick.” The ballpark in Hawaii had a short right field fence, Satriano noted, “and I hit 21 home runs. But it was just not a good experience. After the first couple of months, it was a drag.”

At the end of the season, he was called up to the big club and played in 10 games, getting eight hits in 19 at-bats.

Then the Angels told him he didn’t run fast enough so they wanted to convert him to a catcher. In 1963, he was assigned to the club’s AAA affiliate in Nashville, where his manager, John Fitzpatrick, was a former MLB catcher. “He’s going to teach you how to catch,” Satriano was told.

In Nashville, he remembers the first game he played behind the plate. “I went to catch the first pitch, the first guy hit a foul tip off the top of my left shoulder, and the whole side went numb. The next hitter came up and he hit (a foul ball) off my right shoulder.

“I looked at the manager and took my glove off and I put my hands up said, ‘What the hell?’

“He says, shut up, get back there. You’re gonna get more of that. So that’s how I started as a catcher.”

But learning how to catch helped keep Satriano in the big leagues. His best season was 1968, when he appeared in 111 games, batting .253 in 297 at-bats with eight home runs  and 35 RBI, both career bests.

In 1969, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox. He played with them through the 1970 season; the Red Sox released him at the start of the 1971 season,  he played with the San Diego Padres AAA affiliate in Hawaii, then retired. That’s when he went to work full-time for PriceWaterhouse.

Satriano has six children: sons Nick Satriano and Anthony Satriano, and four daughters: Gina Satriano, Lisa Satriano, Amber Pruis, and Gianna Satriano. He currently lives in Tarzana, CA with his wife, Belinda, although they have plans to move to Tennessee next year.

By this time the Depression-era movie is in its final stage, the older, wiser hero has achieved his dream of playing in the big leagues, and now faces life after baseball.

When he went to work full-time for PriceWaterhouse, he had to take additional accounting courses and auditing classes in order to sit for the CPA exam, which he passed.

Armed with his expanded accounting knowledge, Satriano worked at PW for three years, and then joined a private firm called Susquehanna Corp. Then he and a colleague started their own practice in 1965. “After he left I had my own practice until 2000 and sold it to an international firm,” he said.  He continued to work there, but after six years he then bought the company back. “They wanted big business (clients) and I had only small clients, so I sold it again for second time with the firm I’m now with.”Satriano is now 83 years old, and still works regularly. “I’m never going to quit,” he said. “My kids kept saying, when are you going to retire? I said, I’ll tell you what, when you see my gravestone, it will read, ‘I finally retired: ‘Are you happy now?’”

In the 1990s, his daughter Gina pitched for a professional women’s baseball team called the Colorado Silver Bullets (it was sponsored by Coors brewing company). The club played against men’s teams and was managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro.

Satriano noted Gina’s jersey number with the Silver Bullets was 42. His number with Boston was four and his number with the Angels was two.

The team lasted a few seasons, and it was included in a Hall of Fame exhibit called “Diamond Dreams.” Satriano and his daughter were in Cooperstown as the Silver Bullets were included as part of the exhibit.

“I always knew somebody was going to follow in my footsteps,” said Satriano. “But I didn’t think it would be my daughter.”

Music from the movie swells, the lights come up, the audience leaves smiling after watching a very happy ending.

Jon Caroulis has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years. Many of his articles have been about "unusual" events or players. He is a graduate of Temple University.

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