The headlines in 1950 spoke of the deepening crisis in Korea and many young men already or soon to be of draft age could not ignore those headlines as they descended on New York for the fifth annual Hearst Sandlot Classic.

Columnist Frank Graham dwelled on the game’s significance on August 23, 1950.  “Many of them, such as kids on the United States team from San Francisco and Oakland and Los Angeles and San Antonio and Seattle and Des Plaines, Illinois and Alice, Texas never had seen a major league ballpark until they saw the Polo Grounds and the Stadium and never had seen a major league game.  You take kids like that and bring them in and show them around and you do things to them and you cannot even guess where it will take them.  But at least you know that all they are getting they have earned and that these are days that they will remember as long as they live.  And that what they are doing here tonight will benefit thousands of kids, less talented and less fortunate than they, whom they never have seen and never will.”[1] – Such was the vision of Max Kase the Journal American sports editor who had conceived of the Hearst Classic in 1946..

In 1950, the Hearst players, when not practicing, toured West Point, seeing the newly unveiled statue of General Patton, and saw two ballgames.  The first game was at the Polo Grounds on Friday August 18 and featured the Giants and the Phillies. The second game, at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday August 22, was a matchup between the Tigers and Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The boys had a Saturday night dinner in Chinatown. Sunday, the players found their way to Radio City and saw “Sunset Boulevard.” On the Tuesday evening before the big game, the players went to see a Broadway Show, “Where’s Charley” featuring Ray Bolger.[2]

The 1950 game was the highest scoring affair in the twenty years of the Classic as the U. S. All- Stars won 13-11, coming from behind as 21,241 fans came out to see the game. It was a veritable slugfest that lasted three hours and 55 minutes, and had 46 young men take to the field.

The New Yorkers, with a seven-run fourth inning, had assumed an 8-1 lead.  As the game entered the eighth inning, the score was 9-3. The visitors retaliated with seven in the top of the eighth go out in front 10-9. The New Yorkers still had life.  Second baseman John Keenan of Woodhaven, Queens, reached base when he led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a sharp single off Wayne Smallwood.  With two outs, Joe Nunziata of Brooklyn walked and the runners advanced on a passed ball.  Sal Aprea, who ws chosen the game’s MVP, hit his second triple of the game to regain the lead for the home team, 11-10. However, they squandered the lead in the ninth inning, allowing the U. S. Stars to score three runs and gain a 13-11 triumph.

Joe Nunziata, of the New York All-Stars who had walked ahead of Sal Aprea’s eighth inning triple, went on to sign with the New York Giants and played during the 1951 season at Oshkosh in the Class-D Wisconsin State League. The following season, he was to be back with Oshkosh, but he did not recover well from off-season groin surgery, and was released by the Giants in April, 1952. In 1953, he signed on with Green Bay, another team in the Wisconsin State League.[3] However, he never got to play with Green Bay as he was drafted and entered the Army in early April, 1953, and for a time, was stationed in Korea.

He joined the New York Police Department in 1957, and served for a time on a mounted patrol. His name popped up in one of the more interesting stories in the annals of local history, and his story was included in Prince of the City Robert Daley’s tale of the New York Police Department in the early 1970’s. In the film directed by Sidney Lumet, which was part fact and part fiction, the character Gino Mascone was based on Nunziata, and the role was portrayed by character actor Carmine Caridi.

In 1964, Nunziata joined the Narcotics Division, and became friendly with Detective Edward Walter “Eddie” Egan of “French Connection” fame. Gene Hackman’s “Popeye” Doyle character was based on Egan and both Egan and Nunziata appeared briefly in the award-winning motion picture about the case. He worked with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

In 1971 Nunziata was amongst the first of the officers to be assigned to the Joint New York Narcotics Task Force. His death, ruled a suicide, in March 27, 1972 came in the midst of an investigation into corruption and the taking of bribes by members of his unit. Indeed, he was scheduled meet with Nicholas Scopetta of the Knapp Commission on the day on which he died. His wife Anna contended that he had been murdered.

Subsequent to his death, his name became connected, inaccurately, to the theft of several bags of heroin and cocaine (398 pounds in all) from the Police Department’s Property Clerk’s Office.[4] Much of this heroin and cocaine had originally been seized during the case on which the “French Connection” film had been made. After Nunziata’s death, the investigations into the theft of the heroin, said to have taken place between 1969 and 1972 linked his name to that of Mafia Kingpin Vincent Papa. Nunziata’s signature, likely forged, appeared in the records of the property clerk’s office. The stolen drugs had a street value estimated to be as high as $70 million. Did Nunziata actually remove the heroin and upon returning the pouches substitute flour for drugs? There was no conclusive evidence condemning or exonerating Nunziata, who had died before the scope of the thefts had been determined. Did someone forge Nunziata’s signature? Was he murdered or did he commit suicide? The investigation into the matter lasted into 1974.

On March 8, 1974 federal indictments did come down against 12 individuals in the police department. Nunziata, who had died almost two years before the indictments were issued, was not indicted posthumously. It was not determined conclusively if he ever took a bribe, but it was determined that his signature had been forged on several occasions. The indictments involved five overlapping cases and the Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District, who first gained a degree of notoriety for his prosecution of these cases, was Rudolph Giuliani who later became Mayor of New York.[5] It eventually came to light that Nunziata’s only misdeed had been splitting, with his partner, a $4,000 bribe from a Federal informant only known as “Carlo Dandalo” to conceal the fact that Dandalo, who was facing charges himself, was fleeing the United States. Who was this Carlo Dandalo? It appears he was actually a federal undercover informant of dubious character posing as a criminal seeking a favor.[6] This bribe was a sting operation orchestrated by a less than honorable Federal Narcotics official named Andrew Tartaglino. Investigators were looking to question Nunziata about the bribe when he allegedly took his own life in 1972. Nunziata’s partner was eventually placed on probation for two years.[7]

Sources:

In addition to the sources shown in the notes, Sal Aprea and Jon Keenan were interviewed for this story.

[1] Frank Graham, “Sandlot Kids at the Polo Grounds,” New York Journal American, August 23, 1950, 37.

[2] San Antonio Light, August 22, 1950, 14-A

[3] Green Bay Press-Gazette, February 17, 1953: 45.

[4] James M. Markham. “One Name on 5 Slips in Police Drug Theft,” New York Times, February 2, 1973: 1.

[5] Paul L. Montgomery. “12 on Drug Squad are Indicted Here,” New York Times, March 9, 1974: 1.

[6] Daley, Robert. Prince of the City: The True Story of a Cop Who Knew Too Much, (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1978): 127-141.

[7] “Detective Here gets Two Years on Probation for Taking Bribe,” New York Times, October 2, 1973: 15.

 

 

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