Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Life is so very fragile. Some people are blessed with a long life while others are burdened with a shorter yet eventful life. Tony Lazzeri was in the latter category. From the time he was born in San Francisco to the time of his unexpected passing at the age of 42, Tony Lazzeri lived a full life. During his baseball career, he traveled the continent and wound up in New York where he won five World Series with the Yankees. This is his story.
Anthony Michael “Tony” Lazzeri was born on December 6, 1903 in San Francisco, California to Italian immigrants. Living in the Cow Hollow district of the city, his father worked as a boilermaker. Lazzeri was not much of a student and was expelled at the age of 15. To bide his time, Lazzeri worked for his father, earning $4.50 per day. In his spare time, Tony Lazzeri played semi-pro baseball for the Golden Gate Native Police Department and trained to be a prizefighter.
In 1922, a friend of his convinced the Salt Lake City Bees of the PCL to give Lazzeri a chance. He didn’t start off well, hitting just .192 and was sent down to the Peoria Tractors for further development. After batting .248 and hitting 14 home runs for Peoria, Lazzeri regained his spot with the Bees. He began 1924 as the Bee’s shortstop but his batting .285 and hitting 16 home runs, Lazzeri’s spot was ultimately given to Pinky Pittener. As a result, Tony Lazzeri was sent to the Lincoln Links of the Western League where he batted .329 and hit 28 home runs in the remaining 82 games.
Returning to Salt Lake City in 1925, Lazzeri wanted to prove himself to the new manager, Oscar Vitt. Lazzeri accomplished this by batting .355, hitting 60 home runs and driving in 222 scores, the most in baseball history. This feat was impressive, but major league teams that were initially interested were turned away by his epilepsy. The New York Yankees were not so deterred and signed him for the 1926 season, costing them three players and $50,000. Tony Lazzeri had no idea just how much his life would change after signing with the Yankees.
The Yankee Years
Going into New York, Tony Lazzeri stepped into one of the most talented locker rooms in the major league. Legends such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Waite Hoyt were just a few of the great collection of talent that worse the Yankee pinstripes during that era. In his first as a Yankee, Lazzeri settled into his role at second base and batted .275 and hit 18 home runs while the Yankees went to the World Series. They lost the Series to the Saint Louis Cardinals in seven games.
The following season was one of the most legendary seasons in major league history. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig battled for home run supremacy for much of the season but in the end Ruth won, hitting 60 home runs to Gehrig’s 47. Tony Lazzeri contributed to the Bronx Bomber’s success by averaging .309 and slamming 18 home runs of his own. The Yankees tore through the regular season, determined to avenge the previous year’s heartbreak in the Fall Classic. The Pittsburgh Pirates didn’t stand a chance in the World Series, losing in a four game sweep. Lazzeri contributed in that series by hitting .267 and driving in two runs. All those years of hard work had paid off and at long last, Tony Lazzeri was a world champion.
The 1928 season was much the same for New York, with the Yankees winning the World Series over the Cardinals in four games. Tony Lazzeri contributed to that season by hitting .332 and slamming ten home runs while averaging .250 in the World Series. The next few years were tough for the team, with the Yankees failing to make the World Series until 1932. However, not all was lost as Tony Lazzeri’s bat proved to be consisted during their three year hiatus from the Fall Classic. He hit a career best .352 in 1929, .303 in 1930 and .267 in 1931 while slamming 35 home runs during that stretch.
The Yankees were back to their usual selves in 1932 and returned to the World Series. At the same time, Tony Lazzeri’s bat was livelier than ever, averaging .300 for the first time in two years, slamming 15 home runs for the first time in three years and driving in 113 scores. In a legendary four game sweep over the Cubs in the World Series, Tony Lazzeri batted .294, collected five hits, slammed two home runs and drove in five scores.
In the following years, as Ruth’s bat became quieter, Tony Lazzeri remained consisted. He was named an All Star for the only time in his career in 1933 after hitting .294, driving in 104 scores and slamming 18 home runs. He hit 27 home runs the next two years as his average hovered above .265.
The New York Yankees began a tremendous stretch in 1936 where they won four straight World Series. Tony Lazzeri was a part of two of those teams and he contributed by hitting 28 home runs and driving in 179 scores during those two years. After defeating the Giants 4-1 in the 1937 World Series, Tony Lazzeri was traded to the Cubs where he hit five home runs and batted .267 in his lone season in Chicago.
The Cubs made the World Series that year but Lazzeri only played in two games while the Cubs ultimately lost to the New York Yankees, Lazzeri’s old team. Tony Lazzeri was getting older and 1939 was his last in the major leagues. He spent his final year with two teams, the Dodgers and the Giants, and only hit four home runs between the two clubs. After getting released by the Giants in June of 1939, Lazzeri retired.
Following his release from the Giants, Tony Lazzeri returned to the minor leagues where he managed the Toronto Maple Leafs of the International League for the rest of 1939 and all of 1940. He played for the San Francisco Seals in 1941 and served as a player-manager for the Portsmouth Cubs of the Piedmont League in 1942. After serving as a player-manager for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern League in 1943, Tony Lazzeri was released by the team and retired from the game that he loved, returning to San Francisco. He passed away from what was believed to be a heart attack on August 6, 1946. Due to his frequent bouts with epilepsy, many today believe that he really succumbed to an epileptic seizure, not a heart attack. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in 1991.