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A Life in Baseball

"I'd like to start things off with my vendor Hall of Fame," says Angelo Giuliani, standing in the middle of his kitchen and waving a bag of potato chips. I haven't been in his house long enough to get my shoes off before the monologue begins. Back in the early 1960s, when he roamed the state in his baggy flannels with a station wagon full of baseballs and bats, Giuliani was the first man I ever saw in a Twins uniform. I had no idea at the time that this was a man who had played baseball against the likes of Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio. I knew he scouted for the Twins, though; all of us were informed that if we were ever to realize our Big League dreams, our performance in Mr. Giuliani's Twins youth clinic could make an important first impression.

But now Angelo has baseball's great vendors on his mind. "At Lexington Park where I played for the old St. Paul Saints, there was a vendor who sold ice cream bars, and he would holler out, 'Have delicious Tutti-Frutti ice cream bars! Anyone else here? Tutti-Frutti! Freeze your teeth and give your tongue a sleigh ride!' The greatest popcorn vendor I ever saw was a fellow in old Comiskey Park, where I played against the White Sox for the Washington Senators and the St. Louis Browns. Now, this man never even mentioned popcorn. The acoustics in that ballpark were tremendous and you could hear this fellow's great baritone throughout the grandstands like a ruffle of drums: 'Buttered all over! Buttered all over!' And, boy, he sold the popcorn hand over fist and certainly belongs in my Hall of Fame of vendors. And, finally, I'll turn back the clock a bit to Nicollet Park in Minneapolis, where there was a peanut man named Gus who presented his pitch in a way that was very original, and he had a great arm; unfortunately Gus was a little long in years, so I couldn't sign him as a pitcher. At any event, Gus used to throw the peanuts down the rows and he was very accurate, and he would shout out, 'Pee-nots! Pee-nots! Anyone else here?' They all had that last jargon, 'Anyone else here?' It was a trademark of the great vendors."

That is only the abbreviated roster of Angelo's Hall of Fame vendors. At 83, Giuliani remains a reservoir of stories that come pouring out in torrents. His status as a figure in Minnesota baseball--as a player, scout, and longtime director of the Twins baseball clinics--is almost certainly unequalled by anyone still living. He continues to live in the two-story colonial he built in Highland in 1940. His wife of 59 years, Genevieve, passed away last year, and these days Angelo seems grateful for the company. "You're two minutes late," he says at the front door. "Not bad. I shoveled and sanded the driveway and sidewalks this morning. How'd it look to you? We'll go down in the basement and have some lunch." The house is an impossibly tidy shrine to the passions of a good Italian boy from St. Paul: baseball, family, homing pigeons, and the Catholic church.

Down in the basement Angelo cranks up the gas fireplace and plugs in his carbon monoxide detector. The basement is filled with 75 years of baseball history. Here is a picture of Angelo huddled together with his grade school team on a St. Paul sandlot in the early '20s. Over there is a framed photograph of him and Kent Hrbek bowling.

Giuliani has deep roots in St. Paul. He was born in 1914, "two and a half blocks from the centerfield gate at Lexington Park," to Italian-speaking immigrant parents. While still an infant, he accompanied his pregnant mother back to Italy to tend to his ailing grandmother. They were stranded there by the outbreak of World War I, and when they finally made it back to St. Paul, Angelo was 7 years old. In the family's absence his father had become a baseball fan. "Because of the proximity to Lexington Park," Angelo remembers, "my father could hear all the screaming and yelling that went on down there and of course that will make a fellow curious. He started going down there to investigate and became a tremendous fan."

Angelo's father took him to his first game in 1924, the minor-league World Series between the American Association champion Saints and the International League's Baltimore Orioles. "Alphonse Thomas was the winning pitcher for Baltimore that afternoon," he says. "Twelve years later he was my first major-league roommate with the St. Louis Browns."

In those days Angelo would make the long daily hike over to St. Luke's Catholic School on Summit Avenue, where he was a catcher--his first and only position--with the St. Luke's Silkstocking Lads in the Parochial League. "Here I was, an Italian kid from the shadows of the gas tanks," Giuliani says, "playing ball with all these Summit Avenue boys. You know who also was a St. Luke's boy, don't you? Paul Molitor. Of course that was well after my time."

 

Father Joe Gibbs was the athletic director at the St. Thomas Military Academy in 1927, and his promise of free tuition and books was enough to lure Angelo from Cretin High, which didn't then offer athletics. "My father was of the impression that this was a tremendous offer," Angelo says. "Money was tight in those days. Little did we know that I would have to buy my own uniform, and that the uniform would cost more than the tuition and books combined."

Summers, Giuliani would barnstorm on the town ball and semi-pro circuits, riding trains out into the Dakotas to take on local teams. "You'd run into a lot of old pro players winding down their careers with those teams. I remember playing against Swede Risberg, the old Black Sox conspirator."

After high school, Giuliani tried a semester each at several different colleges before deciding to give baseball a shot as a career. "During my senior year of high school I had been a bullpen catcher for the Saints," he says. "It didn't pay anything, but this was at a time when Miller Huggins of the Yankees would send players to St. Paul for seasoning, so I had the pleasure on one occasion of warming up Lefty Gomez. Some years later, then, I was playing for the Northern Pacific railroad team and a scout from the St. Louis Cardinals made an offer to me."

That was in 1932. The depression was in full swing; Babe Ruth was making somewhere in the range of $80,000, but baseball as an industry was suffering along with the rest of the country, and Angelo considered himself lucky. The Cardinals had apparently offered $800 a month, but the money wasn't guaranteed. Branch Rickey was then building his famous farm system and signing players all over the country; he would structure his offers to players so that he could send them down to the low minors and pay them as little as $50 a month. As it turned out, Giuliani never took the Cardinals up on their offer.

"Through some friends of mine, Bob Connery, who was the owner of the Saints, heard about the St. Louis offer and called me down to his office in the Shubert building. Connery offered me $200 a month, guaranteed, and I signed my first professional contract."

In those days the Saints' rivalry with the crosstown Minneapolis Millers was at its height. "We had split doubleheaders with the Millers on all the big holidays. Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. We'd play a morning game, say, at Lexington Park, then cross the river and play an afternoon game at Nicollet Park. All along the Marshall side of the river fans would line up and cheer us as we set out. As soon as we crossed the river, there would be Millers fans lined up along Lake Street booing and jeering as we went past."

Giuliani continued to live with his parents a few blocks from the ballpark, and his father continued to walk over to Lexington on game days. Being a hometown boy gave him some advantages, he admits. "I definitely gained some popularity in St. Paul. The big thing was it assured me of a nice job in the winter. In those days that was a very important consideration in establishing a baseball career. You had to go out and get a job when the season was over."

During prohibition Giuliani sold sacramental wine to the clergy, and for many years after the repeal he spent his offseasons distributing what he calls "spiritus fermenti."

In all, Giuliani spent four seasons with the Saints, and in 1935 the St. Louis Browns purchased his contract. He was headed for the major leagues. He celebrated by marrying his high-school sweetheart, Genevieve. "She was my dream come true," he says, "my loving bride through 59 winters, springs, summers, and falls. Before my first spring training we honeymooned in Palm Beach, Florida. In those days that was the ultimate, a real top of the line, John D. Rockefeller kind of place."

Upon reaching the big leagues, Giuliani's first manager was Rogers Hornsby, a Hall of Fame second baseman who was possibly the greatest right-handed hitter who ever lived. And, by most accounts, a real bastard. "I got along with him fine," remembers Giuliani, "but he did have his difficulties with players. Right off the bat he decided he didn't want to call me Angelo. It was always 'Tony,' which no one had ever called me in my life." To this day, his entry in the Baseball Encyclopedia is under Tony Giuliani.

 

For eight years Giuliani had a journeyman career in the major leagues, shuttling between the majors and the minors and making stops along the way in St. Louis, Washington, Dallas, Montreal, Brooklyn, and finally back in Washington. The record shows 243 big-league games and a .233 lifetime batting average, but there were plenty of highlights. He played in an exhibition game against Babe Ruth. ("The only thing that separated us as players," says Angelo, "was 714 home runs.") Giuliani was on hand for Joe DiMaggio's debut in Yankee Stadium, caught Hall of Famer Early Wynn's first major-league game, was behind the plate the afternoon Lou Gehrig gave his emotional farewell speech, and caught the last game of Lefty Gomez's career, 13 years after warming him up in the bullpen at Lexington Park. His last claim to fame as a player was being traded to St. Louis in 1944 for Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell. That spring Giuliani suffered a herniated disc in spring training and retired.

"I loved to play baseball," he says. "The atmosphere is so tremendous, the vendors, the smells, the crowds, the different flavor of each ballpark. I remember when I was playing up in Montreal with the Royals of the International league. I was fascinated by the French culture there. I became 'Gee-Gee' Giuliani to those fans; every time I came to the plate they would shout, Gee-Gee! Frappez la balle!" To this day he can recite the entire starting lineup of that team in a rambling imitation of the stadium's French public address announcer.

When he hung up his spikes in 1944, Giuliani moved right into scouting. "My first job," he says, "was as an area scout for the New York Giants. I once drove Mel Ott and Carl Hubbell to Winona to watch Paul Giel pitch in a high-school game. Big guys like that weren't too happy about a 100-mile drive to see some high-school kid. I assured them we wouldn't be alone down there. There were 16 major-league teams at that time, and there were 15 other scouts in the bleachers." Giel, of course, went on to football stardom at the University of Minnesota, but he did ultimately sign a baseball contract with the Giants after college.

Scouts in those days went out into the field with little but their experience, instincts, and stopwatch. There were no scouting combines, computers, or radar guns. "One wink from the pitcher's hand to the catcher's mitt was a 90-mile-per-hour fastball," Angelo says. "A guy like Bob Feller might come in under a wink." Scouts also studied batters' reactions. Were they having a tough time pulling the ball, or bailing on breaking pitches? There were no agents to contend with, and no amateur draft; the scout was the middleman between the teams and the prospects.

When the Giants moved across the country to San Francisco in 1958, Angelo went to work for the Washington Senators. "I had always had a wonderful relationship with the Griffiths during my playing days in Washington--with the old gent, Clark, and also with Calvin. My home was in St. Paul, so when Calvin moved the club here in 1961, I couldn't have been happier. I was a scout for 47 years, and the best years I had were with the Twins."

Starting in 1961, Giuliani ran the Twins Baseball Clinics for kids. From April to September, he and his initial partners--Bill Kane, John Mauer, and, for a time, Billy Martin--traveled around the Midwest in their familiar white station wagon with the Twins logo on the side. "We hit all the towns at one time or another," he says. "We went up to Winnipeg, out to the Dakotas, down into Iowa, and over into Wisconsin. We'd get the kids out on the field and run 'em through drills built around the eight basics of baseball: throwing, fielding, baserunning, sliding, catching, pitching, hitting, and bunting. Over the years we had over 600,000 kids go through the program, and out of the bunch we found five youngsters who later became big league ballplayers.

"I remember one time this fellow came up to us at one of the clinics and asked us if we'd heard of a young man from a small town called Rothsay. The name didn't ring any bells, but I made a note of it anyway. Later we were on our way to Fargo and all of a sudden there was
this sign: 'Rothsay, population 698.' We pulled off and I went into a store and asked the proprietor if he knew where this youngster lived. He gave us directions and we went over to the house and knocked on the door.

 

"Well, here comes this big, strapping kid. Of course, he could look over and see the station wagon with the Twins insignia painted on the side. We asked him if he'd throw a few for us, and he was happy to oblige. I'll tell you, that catcher's mitt was popping like a firecracker, and while we were out there in the yard of this young man's residence here came the druggist, the baker, the mayor; it seemed like half of that little town came down that street to watch the proceedings. That youngster was Dave Goltz, and I later signed him and he won a great many games for the Twins."

The '70s were big years for Giuliani as a scout. "The Twins sent me to Chicago after John Castino, because I was Italian," he says. "I recall greeting his father at the door in Italian, and that was the last word of Italian I ever spoke in that household. None of them spoke a word of the language.

"I started following Hrbek during his junior year of high school. I got a tip from a fellow named Smokey Teawalt about this kid out in Bloomington who could really hit the ball. I watched him everywhere--high school, Legion, whatever--and I rarely saw another scout. This kid was the most instinctive player I've ever seen. Everywhere I went he was hitting balls over the light towers, into the woods, into the Red Cedar River, onto the tops of buildings. I was very nervous about it, but we managed to get him in the 17th round, if you can believe that."

Angelo landed Hrbek in 1978. Tim Laudner followed in 1979, and Jim Eisenreich in 1980. In 1983 four of Angelo's prospects were in the Twins' opening-day lineup: Castino, Hrbek, Laudner, and Eisenreich.

Giuliani's monologues are long chronological recitations, polished by repeated tellings; when new details are elicited, he backs up and shoehorns them into their appropriate place in the chronology. His stories are punctuated by numerous retreats, corrections, and clarifications, all of them in the service of the official record. "I like to get these things right," he says. "We're going back a long ways, and the old memory comes and goes." The modern game seldom surfaces in Angelo's stories, but the one consistent characteristic of his storytelling is that he refuses to say a bad word about anyone, on or off the record. The best that one can aspire to, in his view, is to be "a cup of human kindness."

Scattered about the basement and interspersed with all the memorabilia from his lifetime in baseball are trophies, plaques, and other mementos from Angelo's other great passion, racing pigeons.

"I got my first birds in 1928," he says fondly. "So they've been a part of my life almost as long as baseball. I built the loft here in my backyard in 1940." He has 41 birds at present, and is still active in local racing circles. He is a homing pigeon historian, and can talk as enthusiastically about his birds as about baseball. "I believe that racing pigeons is still the national sport in Belgium. There's a great deal of history behind these birds. Homing pigeons announced the defeat of Napoleon. They saved the Lost Battalion in World War I. Back in the days before night ball, the New York Times used to have a loft on top of their building in Times Square, and they would train birds from Yankee Stadium to bring the scores from the afternoon games." Angelo still breeds and trains his own birds, and has won first place in races ranging in distance from 100 to 600 miles.

"It's the ears," he says. "Their ears bring them home. They act almost like antennae. It's still very much a great mystery. There are scientists at Cornell University even now studying the secret of migration. The Arctic Tern migrates 22,000 miles. Isn't that amazing?"

Since retiring in 1991, Giuliani has kept busy with his birds, a little golf, and the occasional bowling night. He still gets out to see baseball whenever he gets the chance. "It's still an interesting game to me," he offers. "Even after all these years, I see things I've never seen before. I went down to the Dome a couple weekends ago for the Gophers' tournament and I saw a first inning in which there were eight walks, no hits, and six runs."

 

He pauses for a second to consider it. "You know what lesson number-one still is, don't you? Throw strikes."


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