After a week of seeing pics of Alex Rodriguez patting players on the back and stories of Derek Jeter taking young prospects to dinner, there really hasn’t been much to talk about in the Yankees Universe. Things should start to pick up with the first spring game tomorrow featuring a start for rotation hopeful Bryan Mitchell.
Nevertheless, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remember one of my favorite all-time Yankees. We always hear about Lou Gehrig (my personal all-time favorite Yankee) and Babe Ruth, but we rarely hear about the guys that played prior to Gehrig’s arrival. Ping Bodie has long been one of my favorites. I’ve always enjoyed hearing stories about Bodie and I am sure that he was a fan favorite in his day.
Francesco Stephano Pezzolo was born in the Cow Hollow section of San Francisco on October 8, 1887. He anglicized his name to Frank Steven and adopted the name of a now defunct city in California he once lived as his last name (Bodie). He acquired the nickname of “Ping” for the sound of the ball coming off his monster 52-ounce bat.
By today’s standards, Bodie was very small (5’8” and 195 pounds). He was primarily an outfielder , and he played during baseball’s "dead-ball" era. Sportwriter Wood Ballard once described Bodie as anthropoid-like with broad stooping shoulders and long dangling arms which seemed to hang lower when he trotted to and from his outfield position.
In 1910, while playing for the PCL’s San Francisco Seals, Bodie hit a then unheard of 30 home runs. This opened the door for his major league debut with the Chicago White Sox on April 22, 1911. He responded by hitting 4 home runs, 97 RBIs, and had a .289 batting average.
On March 8, 1918, the Yankees acquired Bodie from the Philadelphia Athletics for first baseman George Burns (no, not that George Burns) whom the Yankees had purchased earlier in the day from the Detroit Tigers. In the 1918 season, Bodie hit 3 home runs and 46 RBI’s to go with a .256 batting average. It might not sound like much, but the 3 homers placed Bodie 7th in the American League for total homers. By comparison, Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox had 11 home runs, while the Yankees third baseman Home Run Baker had 6. Burns would actually go on to have a better 1918 season than Bodie (6 HR, 70 RBI, .352 BA), but the Yankees already had Wally Pipp entrenched at first base. Apparently Pipp didn’t have a headache that year.
Bodie would go on to have two more productive seasons with the Yankees with .278 and .295 batting averages in 1919 and 1920. He also had 77 RBI’s in 1920 (his most productive year as a Yankee). During those 1919 and 1920 seasons, he roomed with new Yankee Babe Ruth. Once asked what it was like to room with Ruth, Bodie said, “That isn’t so…I room with his suitcase”.
Also, during the Yankee years, at a tour stop in Jacksonville, Florida, Bodie entered a spaghetti-eating contest against an ostrich named Percy. Bodie was declared the winner when Percy passed out after his 11th bowl of spaghetti. This was obviously before the creation of PETA.
At games, his young son would boast “My dad is the best hitter in all the league”. When asked how he knew, he would respond “Dad told me so”.
In 1921, Bodie’s playing time and performance deteriorated substantially and he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox in August. The Yankees would go on to win the American League Pennant but lost the World Series to the New York Giants. Having spent the majority of the season with the Yankees, Bodie requested a half share of the World Series money for the losing Yankees but was denied. After the season, he refused to go back to the Red Sox (who wouldn’t?) and played the next 7 years in the minors.
For his major league career, Bodie finished with 43 home runs, 514 RBI’s, and .275 batting average. He also had 1,011 hits and a .965 career fielding percentage. With only 83 career stolen bases (in 9 seasons), sportswriter Arthur “Bugs” Baer once said, “There’s larceny in his heart but his feet were honest”. Sounds kind of like Chris Carter on the basepaths.
When his playing career ended, Bodie became a bit actor and electrician, often working on the Universal lot, in Hollywood. Bodie would routinely make references to his baseball career with statements like, “You should have heard me crash the old apple. I whaled the onion”. Late in life, Bodie was asked if he could still hit. He replied, “Give me the mace and I’ll drive the pumpkin down Whitey Ford’s throat”.
Bodie died in San Francisco on December 17, 1961 due to throat cancer. He was 74 years old.
Bodie, one of the first Italian Americans to play major league baseball, is credited as an inspiration for players like Tony Lazzeri, Frank Crosetti, and the DiMaggio brothers. He was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1980.
Forgotten by many, Ping Bodie was one of a kind and a great part of Yankees history.