I remember 1987 like it was yesterday. The Yankees weren’t too good finishing in 4th place in the American League, yet, as an Italian American kid who loved the Yankees, there was always a connection between me and the Italian Yankee ballplayers and this goes all the way back to my dad’s days in the Bronx and my grandfather before him.
Phil Rizzuto was huge to many of us in my family and before that, it was Tony Lazzeri. These 2 guys defined Italian. Joe DiMaggio was the the biggest guinea of them all and for good reason, he was a God and my grandfather loved that he represented Italians and played for the greatest baseball team in the world.Rick Cerone was around when I watched the Yankees play. I remember the old Yankee Stadium and Eddie Layton, the organist, playing his best Italian music as Cerone came up to the plate. You just got into it.
(in photo: Danny Pasqua)
Then came the mid 80's and 1987. That was when I became seriously attached to 2 other Yankee players, Danny Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo. For 1, they could hit home runs, which was always a fan favorite, but besides that, they were Italian Americans playing in pinstripes and at the time, I didn't really have what my father and his father before him had, true legends. Instead, I had guys you hoped could be legends. Following and rooting for a 4th place Yankee team all season, you really wanted them to shine, it was really all you had.
As a kid in the 80’s, you couldn’t help but love these guys. Let’s not forget, the Yankees were about to take a dive to 7th place in the American League East. That happened in 1990, so we were on our way to empty stands and forgotten games. In 1987, you really felt bad for players like Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Ron Guidry. We had players like Bobby Meacham, and Joel Skinner and Lenn Sakata and we had no real decent pitching with guys like Steve Trout. We were going no where fast, but it didn’t matter, as a kid, I wanted my guys to do well; Danny Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo. I remember lining my baseball cards up according to the order of the lineup and just crossing my fingers.
Danny Pasqua was a William Paterson University graduate and he was local and for us, he was a symbol of life in the Yankees lineup with 17 home runs that year. Yes, Mattingly was on this team and we all loved Donnie, but Danny was the new young stud with something to prove and you just wanted him to do well. I remember being at one batting practice at Yankee Stadium, standing with my family on the right field side and Danny Pasqua cranked one and it accidentally hit a poor woman in foul territory and she fell right to the ground in pain. It was devastating for me to see, but you just knew how much power was in that swing. Pasqua went to the White Sox after that season and then retired, but to this day, I still think of him and smile.
Mike Pagliarulo was destined to be the leader on the Yankees around that time, at least to me he was. A third baseman with great athleticism and great power. No, he wasn’t among home run leaders each year, but he hit them enough so people would take notice. Pags later moved on to the San Diego Padres in 1989, then the Twins and then he eventually vanished. But one thing's for sure, if you ever want to see the best shrine of Mike Pagliarulo in all of New Jersey, you need to go to Lina’s Restaurant in Bloomingdale, NJ. As you walk in the door, there are photos, and autograph’s with the former Yankee great there. It just goes to show the Italian roots run deep and Mike Pagliarulo is still remembered fondly.
Danny Pasqua and Mike Pagliarulo were stars for some of us Italian Americans in the 80’s, long retired but definitely not forgotten. A salute to Danny and Pags. You represented the pinstripes well guys, carry on.