“They set all the records and we won the Game
Let ‘em stuff that on their mantelpieces”
That was Gino Cimoli’s comment after Game Seven of the 1960 World Series, won in dramatic fashion by the Pirates when Bill Mazeroski’s home run fell over the ivy in left field as Yogi Berra could only watch.
Cimoli had come to the Pirates in a trade prior to the 1960 season and, although not a star, played an important role as the team marched to their first pennant since 1927 and their first World Championship since 1925.
Gino Anichletto Cimoli was born on December 18, 1929 and grew up in the predominantly Italian-America section known as North Beach. When he was young, the middle name was changed to Nicholas. He was an only child, and he was the center of his parents’ lives. His father, Abramo, who immigrated from Italy, was a night supervisor for Pacific Gas and Electric. His dad was also a shrimp and crab fisherman who had a sideline making wine. It was not unusual for young Gino to go to school in purple feet. His mother, Stella, worked for Chase and Sandborn Coffee.
Gino graduated from Galileo High School in January, 1948. Gino, known primarily for his basketball exploits in High School, did not play baseball until his senior year (1947), so as to avoid the mandatory calisthenics sessions for the basketball team. His baseball success was astounding. In his one year of high school ball, playing for legendary Galileo coach Tom (The Fox) DeNike, he hit .607.
He became even more noticed for his baseball ability when he competed in the Hearst Sandlot Classic at New York’s Polo Grounds on August 13, 1947. He played left field for the U. S. All Stars in that game alongside the likes of Moose Skowron (who played right field) and Dick Groat (who played second base). They defeated the New York team, 13-2. Cimoli went 1 for 2, stealing a base and scoring a run.
He had been a top performer in basketball, and was named the MVP of the California North-South game on February 3, 1948 when he led the North team to a 60-44 victory, scoring 15 points. He was scouted and offered basketball scholarship by as many as 16 colleges, including the University of San Francisco. He also attracted interest from the Baltimore Bullets of the fledgling National Basketball Association.
He passed up the basketball scholarships, figuring he was too small at 6’ 1”, to make a career out of basketball.
In the summers of 1947-1948, he played semipro baseball for the Portola Merchants team in San Francisco. After completing High School, he enrolled at Menlo Junior College in the spring of 1948. Not long after, the major league scouts came calling.
He was actively recruited by Joe Devine of the Yankees, as well as Howie Haak of the Dodgers. Devine was speaking with Cimoli’s mom. Dodger brass, notoriously cheap, decided to loosen up, and told Haak to up the ante and work on Gino’s father. As Haak recounted it, he spent the better part of four days drinking Ancient Age with Gino’s father, Abramo, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Gino’s father would then work the late shift as a night supervisor for PG&E, until midnight. Usually, after Gino’s father got home, there were scouts waiting. Howie, on the last night, went into the Cimoli house at 3:00 AM. It was decision time, so he asked Gino’s dad, “Who wears the pants in this family?” In short order, Dad woke up mom and Gino, and Cimoli was signed for $15,000.
It was not his last encounter with Howie Haak.
His switch from basketball to baseball enabled him to use the baseball bonus money to buy a house for his family in San Francisco.
Gino got a bit of notoriety that very first spring, on March 7, 1949, when he broke up a no-hitter in an intra-squad game at the Dodgers training complex in Vero Beach.
He was sent to Nashua in the New England League, where he played for Greg Mulleavy. Gino was not going to Nashua by himself. He had wed his High School sweetheart, Irene Zinn, on June 11, 1948, and she joined him, temporarily, in Nashua. She was expecting their first child later in the season.
The league started the season with eight clubs. Nashua was atop the standings in July when the league was forced to condense to four clubs. Providence (RI), Manchester (NH), Fall River (MA), and Lynn (MA) dropped out of the league due to financial issues. The remaining four clubs agreed to have the season split into two parts, with the second season, with a revised schedule, to commence on July 20. On July 3, Gino was hitting .370 with 6 triples. However, with the league in trouble, Dodger owner Branch Rickey began to reassign his top prospects including Gino, as well as Wayne Belardi and Billy Loes. Gino was sent to Montreal, the Dodgers AAA affiliate in the International League. Nashua wound up finishing behind Pawtucket (RI), Portland (ME), and Springfield (MA) in the final standings.
Gino’s season with Montreal was disappointing. In only his sixth game with the Royals, he injured his knee, crashing into a wall in Montreal in a game against Toronto, and saw limited action, mostly as a pinch hitter, in the team’s remaining games. He appeared in only 15 games with Montreal, batting .231. Montreal did win the International League Championship, and Cimoli did get some post season experience, playing in the Little World Series against Indianapolis. Indianapolis, the American Association Champion, won the series.
After the season was complete, he went home to San Francisco and saw baby Cheryll, then five weeks old, for the first time.
At the end of the season, the Dodgers exposed him in the annual Major-League draft of unprotected Minor Leagues, but there were no takers.
Gino Cimoli, still shaking off the effects of his injury, only played in 85 games for Montreal in 1950. He played alongside the likes of Chuck Connors and Tom LaSorda and hit .275. In the playoffs that year, Montreal was eliminated by the Baltimore Orioles in seven games.
Early in the 1951 season, Cimoli was sent to the Dodgers’ Double A affiliate in Fort Worth, where he hit .262, tying for the league lead in triples with 12. (A speedster, Cimoli hit more triples than home runs in both the majors and theminors.) One highlight of his season in Fort Worth came on May 10 when he tied the Texas League record for outfield assists in the same inning, throwing out two runners. Over the course of the season, he had 33 assists.
In 1951, as he told it, Cimoli and Ft. Worth teammate Bill Sharman worked out at Boston Garden. Sharman had played with the Washington Basketball team during the 1950-51 season after graduating from USC, and his rights had been obtained, during the off-season, by the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were also interested in Gino knowing of his achievements during his high school days. However, Gino elected to stay with baseball. Sharman signed with the Celtics, playing both NBA Basketball and Professional Baseball for several years until sticking exclusively with Basketball after the 1955 season.
In 1952, Cimoli began the season with Montreal, but six games into the season, Cimoli was sent to the St. Paul Saints, the Dodgers Triple A team in the American Association. In the early going, Gino had seven hits in nineteen at-bats with Montreal. With St. Paul, Gino hit .319 for the season, appearing in 142 games.
Off his 1952 performance, Gino was invited to the Dodgers Major-League training camp in 1953 for a tryout with the big club. However, he was not deemed ready, and it was back to St. Paul, where he batted only .262. One of his teammates on that squad was Don Zimmer, a most promising shortstop. Zimmer was amongst the league leaders in batting when his season was cut short by a beaning.
A frustrated Gino Cimoli held out prior to the 1954 season and was the last player signed. At the end of Spring Training, he was sent to St. Paul. In May, he was back in Montreal. His first games at Montreal were frustrating, and his manager, Max Macon, let him pitch. He had two outings as a pitcher. In the first, he pitched three perfect innings against Richmond. His next outing against Ottawa was far less impressive. He faced five batters, walking the first three, hitting the fourth, and giving up a triple to the fifth. That put an end to his pitching career. His hitting came around, and he hit for a .306 average.
That year, Montreal had a promising young outfielder on their team. They were trying to hide him. One day, Gino ran into Howie Haak, the scout that had signed him. He mentioned this outfielder was the best player in the league but wasn’t being played. Manager Max Macon admitted that indeed, the Dodgers were hiding him as the Dodger were overstocked with outfielders and elected not to include him on the twenty-five man roster. Haak, by then, was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. So was Branch Rickey, who had been the Dodger GM. His son, Branch Rickey, Jr., had scouted the young man in Puerto Rico. The Pirates wasted no time in drafting the young Puerto Rican prospect on November 22, 1954, and Roberto Clemente went on to a Hall of Fame career.
It was very difficult for Gino to break into the Brooklyn outfield. Duke Snider and Carl Furillo were set in Center and Right respectively. Left field seemed always up for grabs. After a good spring in 1955, Gino once again found himself in Montreal, as the Dodgers decided on Sandy Amoros as their left fielder.(Duke Snider and Carl Furillo were locked into center and right.) Walter Alston, the Dodger Manager, made few lineup changes and did not use his bench extensively. Had he stayed with Brooklyn, Gino would have gotten little in the way of meaningful playing time. Also, by that time, Cimoli had gotten the unenviable tag of “Lackadaisical Latin.”
Gino was well liked by his teammates, and was very competitive. On the way up North, the Dodgers were playing the Milwaukee Braves in Atlanta. Lou Burdette was pitching for the Braves against Joe Black of the Dodgers. Burdette was known to throw inside and on this day, he nailed Roy Campanella of the Dodgers. The next inning Burdette came up to the plate and Gino expected Black to drill Burdette. He didn’t. After the inning, Gino asked Black why he hadn’t retaliated. Black (who was an Afro-American) said, “We are in Atlanta. If I had done that, I would have been lynched.” Once the season began up North, Black wasted no time in hitting Burdette. Of course, by that point, Gino was back in Montreal.
Things did not bode well. Enroute to Montreal from San Francisco, Gino’s wife and two daughters were in a serious automobile accident in Rawlings, Wyoming, when their car collided with a bus. Gino left Montreal on May 12 to join his family. His five year old daughter, Cheryl, had sustained a broken leg, and three year old Linda had just emerged from a coma. His wife Ilene required thirty-five stitches in her arm. Gino was able to rejoin the Royals, but came back very much a changed man. He returned to the lineup on May 20, and delivered a home run and a double in a 6-2 win over Toronto. He also was reunited with Greg Mulleavy, for who he had played in Nashua in 1949.
Dick Carroll wrote for the Montreal Gazette during Gino’s tenure with the Royals. He quoted Dodgers GM Buzzie Bavasi stating that, “He’s really hustling, and he can just about cover the whole outfield by himself.”
He hit .306 for Montreal in 1955, and hopes were high for 1956.
1956 started early for Gino when he and twelve other promising minor leaguers reported to training camp early on February 22. However, he once again was fighting for a roster position and playing time with Amoros, who had made a game-saving catch to secure the Dodgers’ World Championship victory the prior season. Another leftfield candidate was second baseman Junior Gilliam, whose job was in jeopardy due to the emergence of Charlie Neal. Cimoli could no longer be optioned out by the Dodgers. After a good spring, Cimoli finally made it to the “Show” along with Neal and nineteen- year-old pitcher Don Drysdale.
He was also reunited with former St. Paul teammate Don Zimmer. As fortune would have it, Zimmer’s 1956 season was cut short by another beaning, this time by Hal Jeffcoat of Cincinnati.
Cimoli’s season was very disappointing. He only got into 73 games, often as a defensive replacement, and only came to the plate thirty-seven times, garnering four hits and a walk.
His first game appearance came in the team’s second game, a 5-4 win over the Phillies on April 19. The game was held at Jersey City, and Gino entered the game in the tenth inning as a defensive replacement for Junior Gilliam in left field.
Gino’s first hit came on April 23 in a 6-1 win over the Phillies in Philadelphia. He had gone in as a defensive replacement for Junior Gilliam in left field. He came to bat in the ninth and stroked a single off the Phillies’ Duane Pillette that drove in Carl Furillo who had doubled. It was a bone-chilling 40 degree evening. The game also marked the first major league win for Drysdale.
In May, Gino got some playing time in right field as Carl Furillo was benched. He had his first extra-base hit, a double, off Warren Hacker in a win over the Cubs on May 8, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Don Newcombe. However, once Furillo returned to the lineup, Gino was used most often as a defensive replacement for the regular outfield trio of Amoros, Snider, and Furillo.
At bats were rare, and frustrating. He got a start against the Giants’ lefthander, Johnny Antonelli on May 25th at the Polo Grounds. The Dodgers had a rally going in the second inning. Cimoli hit a hard drive down the first base line, but Bill White made the defensive play of the game, ending the rally. Cimoli went 0 for 3 as the Giants won 6-5.
His third RBI came in a ten inning win at Cincinnati on June 9. His last base hit of the year came on July 4.
In the World Series, he got into Game Two as a defensive replacement in a lopsided high scoring Dodger 13-8 win. He never got to bat. That was his only appearance.
But he had “the best seat in the house” for what was one of his career highlights – witnessing Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game Five.
Gino’s attitude had been such that could not hide his disappointment and, in the off-season, the Dodgers sought to trade him, but there were no takers.
After the 1956 season, Gino accompanied the Dodgers on a Goodwill Tour of Japan. It was during that tour that Gino’s attitude toward the game was to change. He had not played much in 1956, and often his play on the base paths and in the field had been erratic. Walter Alston felt it might be the time to give Gino the chance to play regularly.
Duke Snider related the following story. In one of his more interesting at-bats during the Japan tour, Cimoli hit a line drive up the middle. It careened off the pitcher’s head and into the outfield, rolling all the way to the right field corner. Gino wound up with a triple.
In one game, he scored all the way from second base on a sacrifice fly. That evening, Dodger Catcher Roy Campanella took Gino aside for a chat, telling him that he had all the tools, but his attitude had to change. His words, “Stop popping off, stay out of trouble, and play,” were taken to heart by Cimoli, and when spring training came, Cimoli was ready to turn his career around.
Jackie Robinson, who retired after the 1956 season, said, “Gino (in 1956) seemed more interested in bridge than in baseball.” Last year (1956) Gino seemed to be the last man out on the ball field. This year (1957) he’s the first.”
1957 was the breakout year for Gino Cimoli. The outfield of Sandy Amoros, Duke Snider, and Carl Furillo was aging, and Gino was inserted into the lineup on a more regular basis. Walter Alston found a place in the lineup for Cimoli. Sandy Amoros started less than 60 games in left field, and Junior Gilliam became the everyday second baseman, opening up left field for Cimoli. If he wasn’t stationed in left field, he would spell Duke Snider in center or Carl Furillo in right.
Gino connected for his first career home run on Opening Day, April 16, in Philadelphia. He victimized Phillies great and future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts with a game winner, when he took a 1-1 pitch out of the park in the twelfth inning, as the Dodgers won 7-6. It was Gino’s third hit in six at bats in the marathon.
His second home run, this time in the fourteenth inning, was also a game winner, this time against the Milwaukee Braves on May 6, giving Sandy Koufax, who was pitching in relief, his first victory of the season, and fifth of his career. It was perhaps Gino’s best game in a Dodger uniform. He had five hits, and scored three of the five Dodger runs. In the bottom of the twelfth, he had been instrumental in prolonging the game. The Braves had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the inning. In the Dodger half of the inning, with two outs, he stroked a double and eventually scored on a bad hop base hit by Furillo. In the first inning, Gino had ignited a first inning rally with a single and had scored in front of a three run home run by Furillo.
Injuries were not about to deter Gino in 1957. A twisted ankle and a pulled muscle kept him out of the lineup for just a couple of games.
Although Gino was playing well, the defending National League Champions were having their problems, falling to fourth place in early June. Gino was instrumental in stopping a four game skid on June 3, when he and Gil Hodges homered to back up Johnny Podres’ stellar pitching in a 4-0 win over Philadelphia.
By then, however, the box scores were becoming secondary to the increasing noise about a pending move of the Dodgers out of Brooklyn. Owner Walter O’Malley was very much disenchanted with Ebbets Field and the expectation was that if the Dodgers moved, most likely to California, they would be accompanied by the New York Giants who had major attendance problems at the antiquated Polo Grounds in 1956 and into 1957.
Gino was getting strong support in the All-Star balloting. Although he was the left fielder, he was on the ballot as a right fielder and second to only the Henry Aaron in the early balloting.
In late June, the Dodgers were in the thick of a five team race for the pennant, with only two games separating the contenders.
His average was up to .314 after the July 4 doubleheader, and he was named to the National League All Star team by his manager, Walter Alston.
The All-Star game was played in St. Louis. Gino came off the bench as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and struck out against Billy Pierce, injuring himself slightly when he fouled a pitch off his ankle. The American League went on to win the game by a 6-5 score.
And the Dodgers began the second half of the season in fifth place.
On July 12, the Dodgers moved into fourth place in the closely-bunched standings. A triple by Cimoli drove in two runs as the Dodgers won 3-1. Gino was sporting a .313 batting average, good for fifth in the league.
On July 20, the Dodgers were playing the Cubs. A win, coupled with a Braves loss would put the Dodgers into a first place tie. Cimoli drove in two runs with a double and scored a third as the Dodgers defeated Chicago, 7-5. But the Braves also won and the Dodgers remained in second place, one game behind.
By the end of July, the Dodgers were in third place, but it was still a log jam with four games separating the top 5 clubs. Cimoli’s average had dipped below .300, but he was still making his presence felt. July became August, and in that month the Italian group, Unico, International, named Cimoli its first player of the year. It was in August that the Milwaukee Braves created some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack. While the Dodgers were playing .500 baseball against the Pirates, Giants, and Cincinnati, the Braves were streaking and had opened up a 7 game lead over Dodgers.
But the Dodgers were not about to die. It had become a three team race. However, by Mid-September, the Dodgers had been effectively eliminated. A loss to the Cardinals on September 17 put the Dodgers eight games back of the league leading Braves and five games back of the second place Cardinals.
So when it came down to the last home game on September 24, all that was left were the memories. That night, as if it mattered, the Dodgers beat the Pirates. Only 6,702 fans were in attendance. The score was 2-0. Gino scored the final Ebbets Field run. In the third inning, he reached base on an infield hit, advanced to second on an out, and scored on a single by Gil Hodges. All this as Gladys Gooding, the longtime Dodger organist was playing “Don’t Ask me Why I’m Leaving.”
Gino had had a great season. He finished tied for third in the league with 7 game winning hits. He had 10 Home Runs, 57 RBI’s and a career best .293 batting average.
His fan club, presided over by Gilda Calabrese, had begun in 1956 when he hit only .111, and would be missed by Gino. Its 200 female members just adored the handsome Gino, and he missed them when the Dodgers moved west. Eventually, Gilda made the move west as well and Gino and his wife Irene were godparents to Gilda’s daughter Michelle.
In 1958, when the Dodgers headed West, they were a different team. And they were most definitely in a different ballpark.
While waiting for their new ball park to be built in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers had a number of choices for their temporary home, finally deciding on the Los Angeles Coliseum. The Coliseum was essentially a football stadium and as they set it up for baseball, the left field fence was only 250 feet from home plate. With their right handed lineup featuring Gino, Hodges, Campanella, Furillo, and Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers figured to do well.
And then the wheels started to come off.
In late January, Campanella skidded on an icy patch of road. The ensuing accident left him paralyzed and put young John Roseboro, a left handed hitter, behind home plate.
Center fielder Duke Snider was coming off of five consecutive years with 40 or more home runs. However, the Coliseum’s spacious right field would doubtless hurt his home run production and a knee injury threatened to cut his playing time.
There were other moments as well.
After breaking spring training camp in Vero Beach, the Dodgers headed west. They stopped off in Mesa, Arizona, to play an exhibition against the Chicago Cubs on Friday, April 11. In the first inning, Cimoli reached first base. The next batter, Duke Snider, singled and Gino scampered to third sliding in just ahead of the throw from the right fielder. Snider took second on the throw. A photographer had taken a picture and asked the third base coach, Charlie Dressen, the name of the player. Dressen said “Cimoli.”. It just so happened that the signal for the squeeze play was for the coach to shout out the player’s name. Hence, Gino thought the squeeze may be on. Once again, the photographer asked Dressen the name of the player, and this time Dressen yelled, even more loudly, “Cimoli.” On the next pitch, with Gil Hodges at the plate, Gino charged for home and was, of course, tagged out. OOPs! The Dodgers went on to lose the game in the eleventh inning when Ernie Banks hit a three-run home run.
It was going to be that kind of year.
By April 15, the hype and speculation of the spring were over and the Dodgers opened their season against the Giants in San Francisco before 23,448 fans (including a large contingent from North Beach), many of whom were been rooting for Gino Cimoli, the hometown kid. Manager Walter Alston knowing of Gino’s great record at Galileo High School, inserted Cimoli into the leadoff spot. When Gino stepped up to the plate in the first inning against Ruben Gomez, he became the first batter for the Dodgers in California. In that first plate appearance, he fouled off the first pitch and eventually struck out. In his last at-bat, he singled, but the Giants won the game 8-0.
The series in San Francisco did not bode well for the Dodgers. The Dodgers lost the series, winning only the second game 13-1. Gino was beaned in the seventh inning of the second game by Giant Pitcher Paul Giel. The scene was so horrifying that Gino’s father rushed onto the field and helped carry his son to the clubhouse. But Cimoli was determined not to miss any action, and he connected for his first West Coast home run in the third game. Unfortunately, the Dodgers lost that game 7-4.
The Dodgers first month in California was not what the fans had hoped for.
The only thing that came from Brooklyn intact was home plate. Cimoli took part in the ceremony when home plate was installed at the Coliseum.
Many of the Brooklyn stars were gone and others were injured. Gino was playing regularly on a team that lost more games than it won.
Things did not improve. By the end of May, the Dodgers were in last place, and the Newspaper Headlines they were routinely were referring to “The Bums,” their old Brooklyn nickname, and not too affectionately.
Injuries were a big factor in the Dodgers continued woes. By July 4, no less than 21 players had missed time during the season due to injury. Cimoli had missed three weeks in June due to a knee injury and wasn’t seeing much action when healthy. Fearful of a repeat of 1956, he asked to be traded.
There were a few nights when the Dodgers and Gino showed the winning touch. A 5-3 win on July 17 against Pittsburgh featured home runs by Cimoli, Hodges, and Don Zimmer but the Dodgers were still seven games below .500 and last in the eight team league.
Milwaukee was well on its way to a successful defense of their championship, but the Dodgers had a good August to climb within 3 games of .500 and advance to fourth place. A 4-2 win against Cincinnati on August 25 was their 10th in 13 outings and pushed their post all-star game record to 27-20. The latest win had been insured by Gino’s seventh home run of the campaign, leading off the eighth inning.
A rocky September sent the Dodgers skidding to a seventh place finish.
Cimoli’s numbers for 1958 were disappointing. Due in part to injury and in part to differences with team manager Walter Alston, Gino had only played in 109 of his team’s 154 games and batted .246.
After the 1958 season, moves had to be made. Cimoli was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Outfielder Wally Moon and Pitcher Phil Paine. Moon, like Cimoli, was coming off a lackluster season. Moon found a paradise in Los Angeles. The left hand hitting Moon lacked the power to reach distant right field at the Los Angeles Coliseum. So he took to hitting to the opposite field and his “Moon Shots” were a key towards the Dodgers march to the 1959 World Championship. He was named by UPI as the National League comeback player of the year.
The Cardinals quickly penciled in Gino as their center fielder for 1959. This came as somewhat of a shock to Curt Flood, who had played the position for the Cardinals in 1958. Flood played right field in 1959.
The Cardinals had also acquired Bill White from the Giants. White was expendable as he returned from the military to find that the Giants had replaced him with National League Rookie of the Year Orlando Cepeda. The Giants, always looking for pitching in those days, traded White to the Cardinals at the end of March, for Sad Sam Jones.
Cardinal first year manager Solly Hemus had more players than positions between outfield and first base. Where would that leave Gino Cimoli? The Cardinals opened their 1959 campaign by losing three in a row to the Giants. Gino was positioned in center field, and did not disappoint, getting off to a good start for the Cardinals.
He exploded out of the gate and in early May, after a stellar performance against the Cubs in a doubleheader, where he went seven for ten, his average was up to .349 with a team leading 12 doubles, as well as 3 home runs and 15 RBI’s. But the Cardinals were mired in last place with a 9-18 record.
With Gino Cimoli around, things were never quiet for long.
On June 2, the Cards were facing Harvey Haddix of the Pirates. In his prior start, Haddix had thrown twelve perfect innings against the Braves, only to lose in the thirteenth. This time around he was pitching well again, but the Cards had an opportunity when Gino singled with two outs in the third inning. Stan Musial followed with a long double, and Gino tried to score from first. He was gunned down by Bob Skinner and argued the call vehemently. He was ejected for the first and only time in his career. The Cards lost the game 3-0.
The Cards were playing the Phillies in a doubleheader on June 7. In the fifth inning of the second game, Gino stepped in against right hander Don Cardwell. Gino took exception to a brush back pitch and approached the mound. A fight ensued, but order was restored and the game continued. The teams split the doubleheader. Subsequently, Cimoli was fined $100 by National League President Warren Giles for his role in the brawl.
The Cardinals had moved into sixth place, but were still five games under .500, after splitting a doubleheader on June 21. Their hitters were getting the job done, but the pitching was inconsistent. Gino Cimoli was hitting at a .322 clip and had a league-leading 28 doubles.
The Cards were not out of it. Cimoli’s heroics continued. He had two triples and a double with five RBI’s as the Cards beat the Reds 11-8 in the second game to sweep a doubleheader on June 28. The Cards had moved to within four games of .500.
The doubles kept coming for Gino, and by July 24, he was leading the league with 35.
The Cards were poised, in late July, to make a move, but were swept in a three game series by the Reds. As the season headed towards August, the Cards were still in sixth place, 6 games below .500. They continued to falter in August and, by Labor Day were 11 games below .500 in seventh place. They led only the lowly Phillies, and were reduced to the role of spoiler in a three team pennant race between Milwaukee, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Cimoli finished the 1959 season with a .279 batting average, finishing fourth in the league with 40 doubles and eighth in the league with 7 triples. He also had a career high 72 RBI’s. He was the first Cardinal to hit 40 doubles in a season since Stan Musial hit 41 in 1954, and the first right hand batter to accomplish the feat since Joe Medwick hit 48 doubles in 1939.
Cimoli’s season in St. Louis was productive, but the Cardinals were undergoing changes. They were in need of pitching help. At the end of the season, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. In return, the Cardinals received Ronnie Kline. Kline had been with the Bucs since 1952 and had gone 11-13 in 1959. It had been a busy off-season for Cardinal GM Bing Devine, who had made several trades. The 1960 Cardinal team only had 5 players who had started the 1958 season with the squad.
The Pirates also were seeking to turn things around. They had rarely been in contention over the prior three decades, reaching an all-time low in 1952. Since that time, they had built themselves the core of a good ball club.
Manager Danny Murtaugh was confident that his team would improve on the pior year’s fourth place finish. He had three quality starters in Vernon Law, Bob Friend, ano Harvey Haddix. His infield was solid with Dick Stuart, Bill Mazeroski, Dick Groat, and Don Hoak.
The outfield was a bit of a question mark. The trio from the previous season, Bob Skinner, Bill Virdon, and Roberto Clemente, were back, but they had no serious power threat in spacious Forbes Field. The acquisition of Cimoli did not address that shortcoming. Indeed, during the off-season Kansas City had offered Roger Maris to the Bucs, but Murtaugh was reluctant to give Groat in return. Hence, the Bucs obtained Cimoli. Gino had a great arm, but so did the guy in right field. Clemente’s arm was the stuff of legend. Willie McCovey of the Giants once came to the plate with Willie Mays on first. McCovey lined a ball down the right field line for what should have been a double. Clemente fielded the ball, made a 360 degree turn and rifled a throw to third base, gunning down Mays. McCovey was credited with a single.
1960 did not start well for Cimoli.
He held out for a time, not signing until February 25, and was quick to effectively say “Play me or Trade me” on his arrival at Training Camp. Then, he injured his hand in the first inning of the spring training opener when he ran into a wall making a spectacular catch of a drive hit by Brooks Robinson, during a loss to the Orioles in Miami. He was out for two weeks, and did not see action again until March 25.
However, Gino showed enough in the remaining spring games to get the nod as the Opening Day center fielder against the Braves in Milwaukee. Murtaugh had decided to platoon Cimoli and left-hand-hitting Virdon. Braves ace lefty Warren Spahn faced Friend. The Braves won 4-3. Cimoli doubled in the ninth and came around to score the Bucs third run on a double by Hal Smith. Two days later, in the Bucs home opener, Gino went one for four with a key double that ignited a six run fifth inning. The Pirates cruised to a 13-0 win behind Vernon Law.
Cimoli and Virdon were platooned for most of the season.
The Pirates got off to a great start, winning 13 of their first 18 games and taking the league lead by two games.
It was obvious early on that the Pirates had the blend of veteran clutch performers, including Cimoli and a bench that included the likes of Rocky Nelson, Hal Smith, Dick Schofield, Hal Smith, and Bob Oldis to make a serious run at the pennant. These guys could be counted on for timely hits, and they did deliver. Not only could they hit, but guys like Cimoli and Oldis kept the team loose with their undying sense of humor and flare for pranks.
Gino was an integral part of the Bucs staying on top. On May 30, he singled, doubled, and tripled in a win over the Braves.to bring the team’s record to 26-14, good enough for a half-game lead over the Giants.
On June 15, the Bucs were in the midst of putting some distance between themselves and the Giants, winning by a score of 14-6 behind Haddix. In the second inning, the Giants had jumped into the lead as Orlando Cepeda homered to center over the outstretched glove of Gino Cimoli. Gino’s glove accompanied the ball over the fence and right fielder Roberto Clemente brought over a ladder from the right field clubhouse and fetched Cimoli’s mit. The Bucs scored 4 in the third and cruised on to their 34th victory and a three game lead over the Giants. Cimoli had two hits, including a double, and scored three runs in the win.
By month’s end the Bucs were still leading the pack and the Giants, with their patented June Swoon, had slipped to third, six and one-half games out of first, and replaced manager Bill Rigney with Tom Sheehan.
The Bucs were on a roll. By July 16, they had stretched their league lead to five games and Cimoli’s batting average was at .296. They went into the all-star break having come from behind after the fifth inning for 17 of their 50 wins. Eight of their wins were in extra innings.
They stayed hot after the All-Star game.
Cimoli, however, was seeing his playing time diminish. He was slumping at the plate, and Bill Virdon, with whom he was being platooned, caught fire.
Roberto Clemente injured himself on Friday, August 5 in a game against the Giants. After making a spectacular catch on a ball hit by Willie Mays, he went into the wall, face first. He missed six games and was replaced by Cimoli in right field.
Cimoli wasted little time emerging from a 6 for 40 slump. In Saturday’ game, he had three hits including a single that ignited a tenth inning rally, as the Bucs came from behind to win 8-7.
On August 7, after a doubleheader sweep of the Giants, the Bucs had stretch the lead to five and one-half games. In the sweep, Cimoli had tripled in each game.
The Cardinals were next on the agenda. On August 11, despite a defensive gem by Cimoli, unleashing a perfect throw to cut off man Mazeroski to cut down Kenny Boyer in the ninth inning to force extra innings, the Bucs lost the opener to the Cards 3-2 in 12 innings.
They lost the next game as well, but came back to win on Saturday, August 13. A friend of Cimoli’s had a pool, and Gino, Bob Friend, Bill Virdon, and Don Hoak gathered at the friend’s house on that Saturday night. Hoak cut his foot getting out of the pool. There was a doctor present. He stitched up Hoak. Hoak played both games of the team’s doubleheader the next day, driving in the winning run of the second game. The Pirates swept the doubleheader to split the series with the Cards.
The Pirates were back in the groove and it was contagious. On a plane trip to Cincinnati to face the Reds, Cimoli threw a pillow and before you knew it the entire team was involved. Then things calmed down and the card games and storytelling began. The team had won 14 of 18 and led the league by seven and one-half games.
Things began to tighten up in mid-September. Gino made the last out in the Pirates loss to Cincinnati on September 16, and the Braves, who had been counted out on Labor Day had pulled to within 5 ½ games of the lead, with the Cards were hanging tough as well. That same night, in Beaver Falls, PA, High School quarterback Joe Namath completed eight of nine passes for two touchdowns in a 39-7 win over Sharon High.
But it was a temporary lapse. When the Bucs swept the Cubs in a doubleheader on September 22, the Braves were eliminated and the second place Cards were running out of chances, trailing by seven and one-half games.
The Pirates were hoping to clinch the Pennant on September 25, but they lost to Milwaukee. As the Bucs returned to their locker room, they were somewhat dispirited. Cimoli looked at the somber scene and said, “Somebody dead?” He had been scoreboard watching and knew quite well that the Cardinals had been eliminated, losing to the Cubs. So Gino, having been on a pennant winner in 1956 with the Dodgers, was quick to begin the celebration.
During the celebration that took place at County Stadium in Milwaukee, Cimoli created one of the more memorable images when he took the hat of Pittsburgh Press reported Lee Biederman, doused it with champagne and wore the hat, inside out, for the bulk of the celebration, even wearing it in the shower.
Gino finished the season with a .267 batting average. However, his power numbers were off. He did not have any home runs during the season, and drove in only twenty-eight runs.
As the World Series was about to begin, Cimoli was slated to play leftfield against the New York Yankee lefthanders, and Bob Skinner would face the righties. Bill Virdon, with whom Cimoli had been platooned in Center during the season, would have centerfield to himself in the series, in large part due to the amount of ground to be covered in Yankee Stadium. However, Cimoli got more playing time than expected due to an injury sustained by Skinner in the opener. Skinner had jammed his thumb sliding during the fifth inning of the opener, a Pirates 6-4 win against the Yankees.
In Game Two, with the Bucs trailing 3-0, Cimoli led off the fourth inning with a single and came around to score the first run for Pittsburgh on a double by Hoak.
nfortunately for the Pirates, that was as close as they would come. Although they had runners on second and third with none out in the fourth, they were unable to capitalize, and the Yankees went on to win easily, 16-3. Cimoli got another single, driving in a run later in the game, but by then things were out of hand. Game 3 was another Yankee romp, this time by a margin of 10-0.
The Pirates, who made it a habit of winning the close games in this series, evened things up at two games apiece with a win game four. Cimoli went one for four. His single came in the fifth inning. He advanced to second and scored on a double by Vernon Law, tying up the game at 1-1. The Bucs went on to win 3-2.
The Pirates took the series lead, beating the Yankees 5-2 in Game five. Cimoli went hitless but did score the Bucs’ first run in the second inning. He had forced Dick Stuart at second base, advanced to third on a double by Smoky Burgess, and scored on a ground ball by Hoak to Tony Kubek at short.
Game Six was another blowout for the Bronx Bombers, cruising to a 12-0 win behind Whitey Ford. Cimoli had one single in 4 trips. After the game, Dick Groat, noting the three lopsided Yankees wins stated, “The Yankees win them big, but we bounced back after those two earlier losses. We’ll bounce back again tomorrow.”
Tomorrow was game seven in Pittsburgh.
Cimoli, who had started five straight series games, would not start Game Seven. Skinner’s thumb was better and he got the start in left field against Yankee righthander Bob Turley. The Pirates jumped to a four run lead by the end of the second inning, and the Yanks brought in Bobby Shantz to pitch in the third inning. Shantz pitched five brilliant innings, holding the Bucs scoreless, and the Yanks took a 7-4 lead into the Pirates’ eighth inning.
Cimoli was called upon to pinch hit for pitcher Elroy Face. Feeling somewhat “weak in the stomach”, he worked the count to 2-2 against Shantz, and stroked a single to right. The next batter was Virdon. He hit a hard double play grounder at the shortstop, Tony Kubek. But the ball took a bad bounce and struck Kubek in the throat. Both runners were safe. Cimoli scored the Bucs’ fifth run on a single by Groat. The Pirates went on for a five run rally, climaxed with a three run home run off the bat of catcher Hal Smith, and took a 9-7 lead to the ninth inning. In the elation that followed Smith’s home run, Abramo Cimoli, Gino’s father, threw his coat, hat and glasses into the air. All were retrieved and the game went on.
The Yankees scratched out two runs in their half of the ninth inning, and the Pirates came to bat, in the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied. By that point, Cimoli, who was no longer in the game, went into the clubhouse. When the Yanks tied the game, he was so angry that he picked up the television in the clubhouse and threw it against the wall.
Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth and launched the second pitch he saw over the left- field wall to give the Pirates the World Championship.
This marked the thirty-first time that the Pirates had won a game in the ninth inning in 1960.
The World Series check for Gino Cimoli and his Pirate teammates came to $8,417 per player.
During the off-season, Cimoli’s name was in various trade rumors, but he stayed with Pittsburgh.
The Bucs were tied for the league lead through the first dozen games of 1961. In early May, Cimoli suffered an injury to his rib cage when he was hit by a batted ball during pre-game warmups, and missed a few games. Injuries to Virdon and Skinner, as well as Cimoli, depleted the Bucs outfield, and May proved to be a bad month, with the Pirates dropping to fourth place, 3½ games behind the Reds, Dodgers, and Giants who were tied for the league lead.
At the June 15 trading deadline, Cimoli was dealt to the Milwaukee Braves for shortstop Johnny Logan. Logan had been a fixture on the Braves championship teams in 1957 and 1958, but had just lost his job to Roy McMillan, recently acquired from Cincinnati. The Bucs saw the versatile Logan as a backup for Groat and Hoak on the left side of the infield. They had, in Joe Christopher, a 25-year-old player (Cimoli was 31 at the time) who had distinguished himself during his apprenticeship at Salt Lake City and Columbus, batting .317 with 283 hits in 893 at bats. At the time of the trade, Cimoli had appeared in only 21 of his team’s 60 games, but was hitting .299. With the Braves, Gino joined Henry Aaron and Frank Thomas in the outfield. Against certain right-handed pitchers, Cimoli was on the bench in favor of left-hand-hitting Lee Maye.
Cimoli’s joining the Braves did not bring about a change in the Braves’ fortunes. After a slow start, Gino contributed one of his team’s five home runs in an 8-6 defeat of the Giants on June 22, but the Braves were still in fifth place, nine games behind the league leading Reds. He followed that up with 3 hits in a 13-4 trouncing of the Cubs two days later. Cimoli stayed hot with another 2 hits as the Braves beat the Cards 9-6 on June 26. But the Braves were unable to move up in the standings.
Cimoli was not able to keep up his momentum. His average had dropped from .299 at the time of the trade to .246 on July 8, and the Braves called up Mack Jones. Gino’s playing time dropped sharply, but he did have one special game during his remaining time with the Braves.
August 11 was a special night for the Braves as Warren Spahn won his 300th game, defeating the Cubs. Cimoli’s third home run of the season in the eighth inning was the deciding blow in the 2-1 win. He then saved the game with one out in the ninth with a diving catch of a live drive him by the Cub’s Jerry Kendall. Although the Braves had climbed to fourth place, the pennant race was essentially a two team affair between the Reds and the Dodgers.
Gino did make history of a sort during this stretch. In 1961, the Philadelphia Phillies were the worst team in baseball. They had lost 22 games in a row and were in danger of going 0 for August, when they faced the Braves in a doubleheader on August 20. The Braves won the first game extending the Phillies streak to 23, the longest such streak in the twentieth century. In the nightcap, Cimoli, appearing as a pinch-hitter, hit into a force play to make the last out as the Phillies defeated the Braves 7-4. The Phillies losing streak ended at a record 23 in a row.
The Braves were playing out the schedule and finished the season fifth place. For all his early heroics, Cimoli’s numbers with the Braves were disappointing. With a .197 average and weak power numbers (only 3 home runs and 10 RBI’s ), it was not surprising that he was put into the pool of players eligible to be selected by the expansion Mets and Colts. He was not taken, and was eventually sent to the Vancouver of the Pacific Coast League. In the post-season draft of Minor League Players, Cimoli was selected by the Kansas City Athletics.
The Athletics were one of the weaker teams in the American league, and were known for several years as little more than a farm team for the New York Yankees. New Manager Hank Bauer was hoping that things would change and was counting heavily on Gino Cimoli.
His Kansas City stay got off to a great start, as his three run home run was the key hit in a 4-2 win over the Twins. The A’s got off to a good start and in a doubleheader sweep against the White Sox on April 22, Cimoli had his best day ever, driving in 10 runs with a double, a triple, and two home runs. The A’s, through 13 games were a game over .500 and within ½ game of the league lead. And Cimoli’s hot bat wasn’t cooling down. On April 27, he had five hits as the A’s been the Orioles 14-5. The A’s were within one and one-half games of the league lead.
The hits kept coming and coming. Two doubles and a triple led the A’s over the Tigers on May 2, but the team’s record was staying around .500. As May came to a close, Cimoli was fourth in the league in RBI’s, with 31, more than he had hit in either of the previous two seasons.
As the season wore on, the A’s fell further back and assumed their customary place in the second division.
One of the more frustrating games was on August 19. Cimoli was part of a three run outburst when he, Wayne Causey, and Billy Bryan started the seventh inning by hitting consecutive home runs against the Yankees. It was all for naught, as the Yankees were cruising to a 21-7 win.
Gino had some timely hits and was on his way to leading the league in triples. The hopes of April encountered the reality of September, and the A’s trailed the league leading Yanks by eighteen and one-half games, leading only the lowly Washington Senators in the standings on Labor Day.
Cimoli’s numbers for the year were his best since 1959. As the A’s everyday right fielder, he had career highs in games played and at-bats, and finished with a .275 batting average. His career best 15 triples were good enough to lead the league. His 10 home runs matched his 1957 output with Brooklyn and his 71 RBI’s were one shy of his career best of 72 in 1959.
Off his showing in 1962, Cimoli was looking forward to 1963. The A’s once again got off to a good start. In the very early going, through 6 games, the A’s were tied for first and Cimoli was leading the league in hitting. Would this continue? For a while, it did. As April drew to a close, the A’s lead the league by one-half game.
Cimoli at times felt himself to be “The Forest Gump of Baseball,” always close to famous events. The Mazeroski home run was big, but an even bigger blast came off the bat of Mickey Mantle on the evening of May 22, 1963. Gino’s Kansas City A’s were playing the Yankees and the game went into extra innings. Mantle led off the eleventh by hitting “the hardest ball I ever hit” off the façade high above right field at Yankee Stadium. Gino was playing in leftfield that game. The next day, Gino, true to form, trying to help pitcher Bill Fischer, found a long ladder and propped it up in right field.
Another “Forrest Gump” moment came that year, interestingly enough, after a round of golf. One of this golf partners was Ken “Hawk” Harrelson. One day, as Harrelson tells the story, he sustained a blister on the links after playing 36 holes with a foursome that included Cimoli. That night, Harrelson was in the lineup facing Whitey Ford of the Yanks. He used one of his golf gloves to relieve the pain, and deposited a Ford pitch over the fence to win the game. To this day, Harrelson takes credit for the use of batting mloves by baseball players.
But then reality set in and by mid-July, the 1963 A’s, this year being managed by Ed Lopat, were in ninth Place. They were able to get as high as eighth place as the season came to a close. Gino’s numbers for 1963 were again impressive. He was fourth in the league with 11 triples, and hit .263 for the season.
Cimoli had two of his most productive seasons playing for Kansas City. His 26 triples over two years topped all major leagues for the 1962-63 time frame.
However, 1964 started out poorly for the A’s. The A’s were looking at younger talent, and Gino, after playing regularly for two years, found himself being used sparingly, as the A’s were giving a good look at Tom Reynolds. Appearing in only his fourth game of the season on May 2, he injured his left tendon running to first base. In all, he only appeared in eight games before being released on May 14. At age 34, Gino was nearing the end of his major league career.
He played with the Orioles after being released by Kansas City, but batted only .138, playing in parts of 38 games and garnering 8 hits in 58 at bats. In late July, the Orioles assigned Cimoli to their Rochester Triple A farm club. He played well for Rochester, hitting .315 in 45 games with 4 home runs and 23 RBI’s.
His career ended in 1965. He signed on for a brief stint with the Angels, appearing in only four games, going hitless five at-bats. He was cut from the squad on May 9, when the Angels pared the roster to 25 players. He finished up with Spokane in the Pacific Coast League, where the manager was his old Dodger teammate Duke Snider. He got into 33 games but was only hitting .235 when Spokane released him on June 25.
Over the course of his major-league career, Cimoli batted .265 with 44 home runs. Few, however, could match his achievements in the realm of the three-base hit. He had 48 triples in the majors and, including his minor league numbers, he had 98 triples as a professional.
Towards the end of his career, Cimoli had worked part-time for UPS. At the end of his playing days, he worked full-time for UPS, delivering to his native North Beach section of San Francisco. In 1989, he retired and was honored for completing his years at UPS without an accident. He was known as the “Iron Man” of UPS.
After he retired from baseball, Cimoli was reunited with Lorraine Vigli. Lorraine and Gino had gone to school together at Galileo but went their separate ways. In 1973, they ran into each other at LaRocca’s corner. Lorraine worked for a podiatrist at the time, and the podiatrist’s office was on Gino’s UPS route in the Marina. Before long, they began dating, and Gino and Lorraine were together for the next 38 years.
Italian Heritage was very much on display on April 13, 1976. The Giants staged Italian-American Heritage Day at Candlestick Park. They honored Joe DiMaggio. Gino, Babe Pinelli, and Dolph Camilli were on the field during the ceremonies.
His retirement days were full. On occasion, he would be reunited with old teammates, such as when the Pirates reassembled the 1960 Championship team on Saturday, July 6, 1985, and when the Giants reenacted the 1958 opening pitch at the beginning of their fortieth season in San Francisco on April 1, 1997. On April 15, 2008, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the first west coast game.
He appeared at card signing events and at Charity Golf Tournaments, including a fundraiser for cystic fibrosis in 1995.
He was a fixture in San Francisco.
In February, 1987, Gino was just being Gino. Giants’ owner Bob Lurie was dining at Ristorante Marcello with his wife and the police chief. Disguised as a waiter and wearing an Oakland A’s cap, Gino steps up to the table and tells Lurie, “Say, I hear you are looking for a coach!” Vintage Cimoli.
On the afternoon of October 17, 1989, Cimoli and his friend Big Ed went to Epplers for coffee after Gino completed his shift at UPS. Then the rumbling began, as San Francisco was experiencing one of its more turbulent earthquakes. Gino and Ed ran out into the street and in short order, the UPS truck became an ambulance. Gino and Ed checked the houses along Scott Street. Cimoli entered one of the homes and saved a woman who had been trapped on the third floor. He helped out other victims as well, traveling throughout the Marina area.
He served a term as President of the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club, and in his later years could always be found there at the card table. With his trademark unlit cigar dangling from his mouth he was always outspoken and friendly with everyone. One of his favorite sayings was, “If I were playing today, I would need a Brinks truck!”
On at least ten occasions, he emceed at the annual Dante Benedetti Dinner, a fundraiser for the Friends of Marino Pieretti Charitable Organization. Benedetti had served as the baseball coach at USF for 17 years, and was known for his charitable endeavors teaching baseball and life’s skills to the children of the North Beach area for forty years.
Gino and Lorraine travelled extensively, visiting Italy three times, as well as Mexico and the Panama Canal.
Gino’s daughters presented him with three grandchildren . Shortly before his death, he became a great-grandfather.
Gino Cimoli died on February 12, 2011 at the age of 81. His number did not adorn the sleeves of any of the teams for which he had played.
Not long thereafter, Duke Snider also passed away. Even on heaven’s baseball team, it would seem, Gino Cimoli would be struggling for playing time, or going in as a late-inning replacement. This may have prompted Gino to say, “Play me or trade me” one last time.
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The story of Cimoli trashing the television set came from an obituary for Willard G. Bellows that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on February 10, 1993.
Sports Illustrated, March 31, 1958, Story about Campanella in Japan.
Those interviewed for this biography included: